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Awesome Men Throughout History: Joey Shithead

shithead1Being a fan of classic punk rock, I feel like it’s high time Awesome Men Throughout History took a look at a guy who’s been around forever and was one of the first guys to combine punk rock and political activism: DOA’s Joey “Shithead” Keithley.

Only in punk rock, by the way, would someone voluntarily call himself Shithead. I get why this sort of thing never caught on outside of punk, but angry self-deprecation is a refreshing change from the modern glut of pop stars giving themselves all kinds of compliments they haven’t earned.

Anyway, Joey is a Canadian, born in British Columbia, and was a fan of Bob Dylan and 1970s heavy rock (Deep Purple, Zeppelin, Alice Cooper, etc.) before getting interested in punk rock as a teenager. Like many punk musicians of his generation, the first Ramones album got him hooked, and he took that sound one step further with DOA once they got going.

DOA’s songs were as blunt and uncompromising as they were politically outspoken, and Joey would often go into rants onstage about then-current political topics—Reagan was a frequent target of those—because he felt like the kids in the audience needed to know what kind of world they were inheriting. And since no one who listened to punk rock in the 1980s was very keen on trusting adults, Joey figured he’d try and educate them himself, since he was their age at that point.

That sounds a bit pretentious, but DOA backed up Joey’s ideas with a grueling, relentless touring schedule that rivaled Black Flag and Dead Kennedys, and surpassed them when you consider that DOA were Canadians who willingly played every backwater club and redneck bar in the US, as well as in their home country. Back before the Internet made it easier for people to communicate, Joey was willing to bring his message to people directly, and at no small risk to his safety; clashes with police were common at punk shows back then.

DOA’s live show was one of the best around, too. Henry Rollins described them as “monumental, change-your-life blowaway time,” and Keith Morris put them right up alongside Bad Brains as the best band he’d ever seen live.

Offstage, Joey is very involved in leftist activism, most recently the Occupy movement, and still tours, both with DOA and as a solo act. He often surprises people by not being a mohawked, leather-jacketed buffoon, and that might be what I like about Joey Shithead the most. Even his humility is straightforward.

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About Dave Kiefaber Dave Kiefaber is a Baltimore-based writer who regularly contributes to Adfreak and the Gettysburg Times. His personal website is at www.beeohdee.blogspot.com.

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