Finding Vancouver's Punk Legacy, by Tom Harrison
Finding Vancouver's Punk Legacy
By Tom Harrison, The Vancouver Province, July 8, 2012
For true believers, however, punk still holds out the promise of change. That’s probably what keeps Joe Keithley going. He formed his first punk band, The Skulls, 35 years ago and has been the leader of DOA for at least 33. Joe was raised in a family of activists where he formed a highly developed sense of right and wrong and punk rock was a good forum for his views.
“Yeah, I did think I got a lot of my views from that,” Keithley agrees. “I got a lot of my political angle from my sister, Karen. She’s older than me and started bringing home all these folk records.”
Two books, a political career, world tours that include China, and many albums later, punk is still the best forum for Joe. “I look for all kinds of ways to express myself,” he agrees. “Punk is one of those ways,”
He alluded to as much in Susanne Tabata’s film Bloodied But Unbowed, itself taken from the title of a DOA album. Tabata emphasizes the sociological above the historical, which is smart. In Bloodied But Unbowed punk is an idea who’d time had come, not a war between “us and them,” the punks versus the music establishment. There was an element of war, but what made Vancouver punk different are the elements that the film examines. “I thought the film was good; it gave a pretty good description of the times,” Keithley says. “I’m glad somebody made it. Vancouver was unique for its time. Vancouver had a real consciousness to it. Anyone looking for an alternative could find it here.”
In the film, Tabata targets many of its main players — Keithley, Art Bergmann, John Armstrong (Buck Cherry), Randy Rampage, Brad Kent, members of The Pointed Sticks, members of The Subhumans, Jade Blade of The Dishrags — some of whom, she says now, were in and out, sometimes wanting to participate, sometimes not. Most of them came from the suburbs: White Rock, Surrey, Burnaby, New Westminster, North Vancouver. Who knows what they were expecting to find in Vancouver? Perhaps, as Keithley speculates, a better alternative to what they had. They probably didn’t expect to be embraced by the gay and art communities. The gay population related to punk’s freedom; the artists to its expression. Conversely, the punks identified with the gays living outside the social norm; the arts’ individualism. The three movements bonded and became one.
The problem was, what was a punk anyway? Figuring that out took a few years, during which a harmful dogma took shape.