I, Shithead: A Life in Punk: By Joey Keithley, 237 pages By Jimmy

Aug 06, 2007

            DOA were easily one of punk’s greats, an inspirational and influential band who had one hell of an initial run that lasted from the late ‘70s to the early ‘90s. They were responsible for some the genre’s greatest tunes – “America the Beautiful,” “Fucked Up Ronnie,” “Disco Sucks,” “Race Riot,” “Fuck You” and “Class War” (the latter two admittedly covers of songs originally by the Subhumans and the Dils, respectively, but it was DOA that made them honest-to-goodness anthems) – their extensive touring regimen inspired thousands of other bands to do the same, and their Hardcore 81 album is allegedly where North American Punk Phase Two derives its moniker. I bring all this up to point out that DOA lead singer Joey “Shithead” Keithley could easily, and justifiably, take on a bigger-than-God tone to the proceedings, toot his own horn loudly and get away with it, considering his achievements in the underground, yet in this, his autobiography, he maintains an unflagging level of humility, opting to tell his story as if he were recounting his exploits to a friend.

            The proceedings start with his beginnings as a bored kid in Burnaby, British Columbia who decided to start a band, the Skulls, with some friends, all of whom in their own right went on to be just as important to Canada’s punk scene. With the dissolution of that band, he and a few of the members decide to start another band and, thus, DOA is born. The remainder of the book is part recollection, part tour diary of the band’s assorted excursions throughout every nook and cranny of North America and Europe. He offers up oodles of anecdotes and stories, like being fucked over by the Clash when the band opened up for them, playing a benefit show with one of his big influences, folk musician Pete Seeger (!), and the numerous politically inspired actions the band took over the years, such as releasing a single of the aforementioned “Fuck You” to help pay the legal costs of former bandmate and friend Gerry Hannah when he found himself up to his eyeballs in trouble as one of the infamous “Vancouver Five,” who were eventually convicted for some bombings.

            The minuses to be found in this book, mostly in the occasional klunky writing passage, a lack of a clear explanation for why he was attracted to punk in the first place, and why it has managed to maintain his dedication when so many of his peers left it by the wayside decades ago, are very few and far between, leaving I, Shithead one of the best tomes on the punk scene to come out thus far. The book gives little space to DOA’s reformation and more recent endeavors, but does end with the indication that the band, and punk itself, carry on, and we, despite any griping about the recent work of either the band or the movement, are better off for it. –Jimmy Alvarado (Arsenal Press, 103 - 1014 Homer Street, Vancouver, B.C., V6B 2W9, Canada; www.arsenalpulp.com)