Joe Keithley

From punk rock to politics

The punk rocker who came up with the slogan “Talk minus Action equals Zero” is now putting his money where his mouth is.

The punk rocker who came up with the slogan “Talk minus Action equals Zero” is now putting his money where his mouth is.

Joe Keithley, founder and frontman of the Vancouver hardcore punk band DOA, is slicking down his bleached blond hair, trading his leather jacket for a suit, and going door-knocking as a potential candidate for B.C.’s New Democratic Party.

Keithley is seeking the NDP nomination for the Coquitlam-Burke Mountain riding. If chosen by the membership in January, he will run as a candidate in B.C.’s provincial election next spring.

While this incongruous punk-turned-politician move might prompt smirks in some circles, Keithley is deadly serious about his efforts to crack into provincial politics.

“After 35 years of trying to change the system from the outside, this is my foray into trying to change it from the inside,” said the singer and owner of Sudden Death Records, who’s embarking on what could be his final tour, depending on the results of the nomination meeting.

He performs a solo show on Thursday at the Slumland Theatre in Red Deer.

(“Elegantly named,” observed Keithley, who recalled a previous gig he played at a Cleveland club called Now That’s Class, which “looked like it hadn’t seen new paint in 30 years.”)

For his one-man tour of Alberta, Keithley will be slipping on his leather jacket again, mussing up his hair and playing familiar DOA songs on his electric guitar. Without a thundering drum and bass behind him, he figures more people will get the chance to actually focus on lyrics to tunes such as World War 3, The Enemy and The Prisoner.

“It would be great if people heard the lyrics,” said the 56-year-old, who’s known for ranting against racism and globalization — and standing up for the environment and free speech.

He might even play The Only Thing Green from an early album that protested clearcut logging in his native province.

The singer/songwriter and activist is embarking on this solo Billy Bragg-like tour because his political obligations put him on a different time schedule than the rest of the band. “The other guys were all busy and my schedule got all screwed up with the door-knocking.”

But his political efforts are worth it, said Keithley, who believes he’s making inroads with people in the constituency.

“There was one guy that invited me into his house and we spoke for 20 minutes” about things like “gold-plated” political pensions, recalled Keithley.

“He asked me, ‘Can you put a stop to this?’ And I said, ‘Well, I’m just one man, but I’m willing to do my best.’ ”

So far, he’s heard a lot of concerns about the high cost of living in the Vancouver area. Keithley said he empathizes with young people, families and seniors on fixed incomes.

“We’re paying 25 cents a litre more for gas out here than in Alberta,” and provincial taxes are high, so “everything is expensive,” he said.

Keithley, who has three children and the same spouse for the last 26 years, previously ran for the Greens but switched to the NDP — which he first supported as a young voter — because “you have to have a coherent policy on all matters.”

As to whether his celebrity will help or hinder his political efforts, Keithley joked that as long as he doesn’t mess things up, as Clint Eastwood did in his recent tirade against the U.S. president, which was directed at an empty chair, he should be fine.

“I was a big Clint Eastwood fan and I couldn’t believe it. My jaw was slack” watching it, he said, with a chuckle.

For more information about the show at 4732 Ross (50th) St., call 403-307-3528.

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