Making the World Safe for Punk Rock

doa_talk_action_=_0Before Blink 182, Nirvana, Rancid, Green Day, Pennywise, NOFX,  or the Offspring, there was D.O.A.

Before bands and the wider independent music community created a network that enabled bands to survive on the road and (almost) make money, there was D.O.A.

Before it was trendy for musicians to support environmental causes because it could increase their own popularity, there was D.O.A.

Before the Iron Curtain fell and bands didn’t play in Eastern Europe, there was D.O.A.

Joey “Shithead” Keithley

On the frontlines of punk rock since the late 1970s, the Vancouver band D.O.A. has been playing music, touring the world, supporting political causes, and developing alternative cultural institutions….mostly all out of a broken down van. D.O.A. has gone through many changes over the years, but the one person that has stayed steadfast, loyal and true is Joey “Shithead” Keithley. Not only that, but he’s written a book.

I, Shithead: A Life in Punk by Joey Keithley. 2003. Arsenal Pulp Press. $19.95 US 22.95 CAN.

This book is Keithley’s autobiographical account of his involvement in the punk milieu from the late 1970s to the early 1990s. It’s written in the same way Keithley tells stories in between songs at shows – easygoing and down to earth.

The book sheds a lot of light on the early punk network in Canada and the United States in the early 1980s – namely, that there wasn’t much of one outside of urban centers. D.O.A. trudged around the continent, playing and sleeping wherever they could – cement and gravel are words that could apply to both their gigs and their beds. Their hard work paid off though – maybe not for them, but for many of the band that started out opening for D.O.A. and then went on to mainstream notoriety. On 1 December 1988 Nirvana opened a D.O.A show. Keithley had this to say about the band:

Nirvana were really important in changing music, and I’m not even thinking about the vast numbers of records they sold. They changed the sound of what was acceptable on American radio. Previous to their making it big, the music that was acceptable was oldie stuff like the Rolling Stones and hard rock and metal from the eighties like Mötley Crüe and Van Halen. But those sounds were much tamer than the sheer aggression of Nirvana. A new generation had grown up with bands like Hüsker Dü, the Dead Kennedys, the Clash, and the Ramones, bands that were never played on mainstream radio stations. But the early punk bands had paved the way, so once Nirvana became hugely popular, it kicked the door wide open for well-promoted punk bands like Green Day and the Offspring, then Rancid and a revitalized Bad Religion. That in turn set punk up to become almost mainstream, with the likes of Blink-182.

And D.O.A. didn’t just tour in North America. They toured all over western and eastern Europe, even when the Cold War was still hot. They were the second punk band to go into Poland (Youth Brigade being the first), and they left the communist country with something that they hadn’t brought in: some cassette tapes. They played in Poland in 1985, and because of the general stike in Poland in 1981, it was hard for a band from there to release music the authorities judged to be politically subversive. Dezerter, one of the seminal Polish punk bands, asked Keithley  to take some recordings back with him across the pond, and:

I agreed to take some cassette tapes of theirs back to Canada and produce a new album for them. Later, Tim Yohannon, of Maximum Rock’n’Roll fanzine, agreed to bring out a Dezerter album on their label, as long as I got all the lyrics translated into English. Finally, I found somebody who could do it…I am proud of this project, and it was well worth the effort. Incidentally, Dezerter is still going strong. In 1998, we played with them in Poznan; it was D.O.A.’s twentieth anniversary and Dezerter’s fifteenth.

Back home in Vancouver, D.O.A. was playing the role of the Light Brigade when it came to political and environmental charges. When the Stein Valley in southern B.C., the last bastion of unlogged terrain in the area, was in danger of being chopped up, D.O.A. played a benefit concert in the heart of logger territory. Ignoring threats from loggers and warnings of trouble from reporters, D.O.A. played a show in a high school gym. A year later, a big named country boy was behind the cause. Keithley discusses the whole issue of timing:

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: many things in life have to do with timing. In 1986, a bunch of redneck loggers wanted to kill us. The next year, the Stein Valley became a cause celebre. Some high-powered show-biz and eco types got John Denver to come up and play a big “Save the Stein” concert. They did this two years in a row, and eventually most of the logging was stopped, with the help of the local First Nations people. In any war, somebody’s got to go out and make the initial charge. D.O.A. was cannon fodder more than once over the years.

Yup, it’s hard to separate politics from D.O.A.’s music. And it’s hard not to see what an impact they’ve had on independent music across the world since they formed in the late 1970s. At least, that’s my take on it. Why don’t you go ahead and read about it for yourself?

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Explore posts in the same categories: "Intellectual" Sources, Music from America's Hat, Punk and Politics, Punk and Protest, voices from the underground

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One Comment on “Making the World Safe for Punk Rock”


  1. […] Making the World Safe for Punk Rock « The Past is Unwritten Related Posts:VIDEO: Green Day's Rock Opera 17 Years In The Making? « The Bay … […]


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