Positive punk politicos mistaken for the devil

The last time D.O.A. played Whitehorse, there was holy oil dripping down the arena door. It was wiped on there by a bunch of evangelical Christians…

The last time D.O.A. played Whitehorse, there was holy oil dripping down the arena door.

It was wiped on there by a bunch of evangelical Christians who held a prayer circle on the sidewalk out front.

“We were up there on our Festival of Atheists tour, in ’98,” said Joey Shithead Keithley from Vancouver on Thursday.

“And there were these fervent Christians that took atheist to mean devil worshippers.

“They thought D.O.A. was the devil incarnate.”

Even the guy from the PA company backed out, he said.

“They thought we were trying to turn the youth of Whitehorse onto the worship of devil idolatry.”

The punkers were shocked.

The idea behind the Festival of Atheists album was to get people to think for themselves, said Keithley.

“My basic philosophy is — think for yourself, be your own boss and try and affect some sort of positive change in this world.”

It’s been Keithley’s mantra since he was a teen.

Hoping to make a difference, the young Vancouverite started off studying civil law at Simon Fraser University.

Around the same time, he bought a guitar from a downtown pawnshop.

“It’s been downhill ever since,” said Keithley with a laugh.

After one semester, he dropped out of school and started playing music full time.

It was the disco era.

Rock music was at an all-time low, said Keithley.

“Then punk rock came along and it had this primal appeal. It was anti-establishment, stick it to the man — like the counter-culture of the 1960s and the underground jazz scene of the ‘40s.

“And I thought, wow, is that ever radical, is that ever me!”

In ‘77, Keithley started playing in a band called The Skulls. But after a four-month stint in Toronto, they broke up.

Back in Vancouver, the 21-year-old punkster got together with a 15-year-old drummer named Chuck and an 18-year-old drummer named Randy Rampage.

With too many drummers, Keithley handed Rampage a bass, and the three started practising in an old warehouse on the North Shore.

“It was one of those jam spaces where people would just drop in,” said Keithley.

And one night, a guy showed up with a big bottle of whiskey and a girl on each arm.

 “He said, ‘You guys are pretty good.’

“Why don’t you guys be the band; I’ll be the singer, we’ll call it D.O.A. and we’ll make a million dollars.”

Chuck, Rampage and Keithley had a two-minute tête-à-tête and then agreed.

But it all fell apart after the first show.

Turns out, the whiskey-swilling singer named Harry couldn’t keep time.

“We did one show and then we realized Harry was one of the few people in the world who has absolutely no sense of timing,” said Keithley.

Harry realized it too.

Graciously, he stepped down and said they could keep the name.

Keithley took over and wrote D.O.A.’s first hit — Disco Sucks.

After mailing the single to college radio stations across the US and Canada, the guys jumped in a rundown van and headed out on tour.

It was 1978 and “we were rough and ready,” said Keithley.

The tour was a success, he said, mentioning that van broke down and the punks were repeatedly hassled by police and border guards.

“We’re always harassed by cops,” said Keithley.

“This hasn’t changed.

“We’re a magnet for trouble although we’re not trying to promote it.”

Keithley quickly rethought this.

“I guess philosophically we are,” he said.

That tour brought punk rock to small-town America.

“We were punk-rock pioneers,” said Keithley.

“Those kids might have seen a clip of the Sex Pistols on TV or something, but we were playing in many of these towns before anyone else.

“We gave them the template of how to do it.”

Three years later, D.O.A was performing with The Dead Kennedys.

When they started out, D.O.A. was playing shows like Rock Against Racism and events targeting the arms race between the Soviet Union and America.

Unfortunately, things haven’t really changed, said Keithley.

“We’re still doing the anti-war stuff and focusing on people’s rights.”

Punk rock doesn’t have as wide an appeal as a band like U2.

“But D.O.A. is still good vehicle to say what I think,” he said.

“And it gets people thinking and not just swallowing the crap from the mainstream media.”

Thing is, punk has suddenly become mainstream.

Keithley calls the new stuff “mall punk.”

“In the old days you’d never find punk albums at the mall,” he said.

“And now you find everything there — the bracelets, the haircuts, the clothes and the CDs.”

Punk was designed as something perfect for pissing off parents, cops, teachers and authority figures, he said.

“And it only took business 20 years to catch on.”

Culture is starting to revert back to the 1950s, added Keithley, citing shows like American Idol.

“There’s more emphasis on bling and glitz than real content,” he said.

“Music comes out of a band in their basement practising for years and years and coming up with something unique; that’s how you get good bands — you don’t get them from a record company or a TV producer throwing them together.

“There’s nothing homegrown or interesting about that.”

Keithley hopes D.O.A. will keep making people think.

“It’s positive-punk thinking,” he said with a laugh, adding that there’s no need to worry, he won’t be writing a book along those lines.

“We want to inspire people to realize there are a lot of things, particularly in Canada, that are right, but there are a lot of things that are not so right in the world,” he said.

“And you have to get people to be more open-minded.”

Keithley would love be in a position like Willie Nelson, who is using his notoriety to champion bio-fuel.

“Truckers love country and love Willie,” he said.

“And it shows people can make changes.”

But getting people to think is only part of it.

“We also try to have a wild crazy time, because the band is a wild rock band and it’s the modus operandi of the band,” said Keithley. “And we have fun by playing funny songs or being goofy on stage — we don’t take ourselves too seriously.

“To like music, you’ve got to have fun listening to it in the first place, that’s why you’re drawn to music, there’s something good or infectious there and that still happens with D.O.A.”

The punkers play Whitehorse Friday and Saturday night.

The Friday show is an all-ages event at the Legion.

Saturday, D.O.A. is at Coasters.