Q & A: Burnaby councillor Joe Keithley's political journey the focus of Something Better Change documentary

D.O.A.'s Joe Keithley is the focus of a new documentary exploring the connections between music and activism

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From punk rock belter to Burnaby City councillor, the journey of D.O.A.‘s Joe Keithley is to be the focus of a new documentary titled Something Better Change.

Announced with the start of a Kickstarter campaign by well-known filmmaker/director Scott Crawford, whose previous work includes CREEM: America’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll Magazine,  and producer Paul Rachman (American Hardcore), the film follows singer/guitarist Joey “Shithead” Keithley journey from fronting the band D.O.A. to his entry into politics in his native Burnaby. Examining the relationship between hardcore punk rock’s activist roots and working toward genuine social change, the film includes interviews with former Texas musician-turned-politician, former U.S. Congressman Beto O’Rourke, Donald Trump-praising Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic, Dead Kennedys ranter Jell-O Biafra, Guns N Roses’ Duff McKagan and others.

Throughout D.O.A.’s storied career, Keithley has always been a strong proponent in the fight against corporate greed, social inequalities and championing human rights. Elected in 2018, Keithley is up for re-election in 2022, and Something Better Change will follow his grass roots campaign for a second term. Along the way, there might be some music making as well.

Postmedia caught up with Keithley for a chat about the film, and a career following his band’s credo of Talk — Action = 0.

Postmedia: To quote the Grateful Dead, what a long, strange trip it’s been. Did you ever expect to be the subject of a documentary?

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Joe Keithley: Besides being a lot of fun, great music and crazy antics from all of the performers, punk was a really political force from the start. There was always a lot of misinterpretation, with Sid Vicious being the personification of everything people thought was wrong about punk, but there was always Rock Against Racism, the anti-nuclear protests, the prisoner’s rights movement, environmental stands and so forth. So it isn’t that surprising that the backstory has lead to the present story.

Q: A number of punk musicians have gone onto politics, including Beto O’Rourke. Did D.O.A. ever play a gig with his old band?

A: We never did, but I was thrilled to have him in there. I was really hoping he would get the nomination, because anyone who was in a punk band and road a skateboard to a campaign event is my candidate for president. So I was sorry when he didn’t get it, but Joe Biden is a fine choice as well. Anyone would be an improvement to his predecessor.

Q: How did you come to meet Scott Crawford?

A: I was familiar with his film Salad Days: A Decade of Punk in Washington, DC, and he came recommended by Ian MacKaye who is the godfather of the whole DC scene and has done so much great work with Fugazi and Dischord Records and so on. I knew Paul Rachman and Scott suggested that he be brought on board too, which was great.

Q: What is the film going to contain?

A: At the start of COVID, I went through about one hundred old VHS’s to see what great footage of the original trio and on through the years. There was quite a lot, and I expect that there is some great stuff in the CBC and other archives as D.O.A. was always involved in activist work and that got us on TV a lot. Then there is running for politics, which I did six times before getting elected. I went from coming 23 out of 25 in my first run in 1997 to running for re-election next year. By my reckoning, I think I devoted about 3 years of my life to this.

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Q: And there is still this little old group you play in isn’t there?

A: Yep, D.O.A. is still going strong. We were supposed to do about 40 shows in 2020, but COVID meant all of those get cancelled. It’s been good that I can fit little three day weekend things in for short tours or head over to Europe for a few weeks of vacation in the summer and play festivals. We are scheduled to play the 25th anniversary of Rebellion in the UK this August. Knock on wood that people have the vaccine by then.

sderdeyn@postmedia.com

twitter.com/stuartderdeyn

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