Sunday, July 31, 2011

Book Review: Talk–Action=0: An Illustrated History of D.O.A., by Joe Keithley

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2011
Book cover image and videos from the Internet

Talk–Action=0: An Illustrated History of D.O.A.
By Joe Keithley
Arsenal Pulp Press (Vancouver), 2011
304 pages; USD/CND $27.95
ISBN: 978-1-55152-396-5

This is not only a follow-up to Joe Keithley’s excellent life on the road with a punk band memoir, I, Shithead: A Life in Punk, it’s also a companion.

D.O.A., who formed in 1978 and are still touring, are arguably the punk / hardcore band from the west side of Canada, and possibly everywhere to the Maritimes, as well (has Steven Leckie’s head exploded yet?). Their political polemics are sharply left; the lead singer and writer of this book, commonly known as Joey Shithead, ran unsuccessfully for political office in Vancouver more than once on the Green Party ticket.

Some of the text here overlaps a bit with the earlier autobio, which is as essential as Henry Rollins’ Get In the Van, but by Great Zombie Jesus, the illustrations in this new book are astounding. It is full of the minutia of a band’s career, such as flyers, ticket stubs, photos (candid, on stage and posed), lyrics, song lists, posters, artwork, and their records covers (single picture sleeves, albums, CDs, and compilations, usually both front and back). The condition of some of the earlier images are faded, stained, ripped, and have tape residue, but how can that be a surprise as they were in boxes, stored for up to three decades? Actually, the reproductions in the book are quite crisp; it’s the condition of the originals that vary.

Along with the many, many, many great images are notations about D.O.A.’s origins, what happened at a particular gig an illustration represents, or other anecdotes, such as being about some of the people involved. Joe does not pussyfoot in any way about his bandmates, friends, people attending his shows, or especially himself. For example, he talks about a confrontation with skinheads at one show, a promoter who tried to stiff them, a run-in with the Clash, or how the band spent the last of their money in New York City on booze, four days before a show at the Yippee warehouse across the street and just a few doors down Bleecker from CBGB (I saw one show there, and swore never to go back; it was wall to wall stacked full and high with bundles of new and old issues of the Yippster Times, making it a scary firetrap, and those were the days when smoking was permitted at shows; I was so nervous, I actually don’t even remember which bands I saw there).

Joe is such an interesting character who knows solidly where his heart lies, no matter how much beer he drinks, how many miles he travels, or who he shares the stage with (counting other bands and his own). Without any mention (except once in passing) of his family life back in Vancouver, he still tells lots of stories. This isn’t a deep, philosophical book in its telling (the reprinted lyrics are something other), but it is a constant joyride for the reader, as Joe shares his experiences in Europe, Asia (including China), Central and South America, and especially North America. It’s fun to hear him talk about working with Jon Mikl Thor, Black Flag, the Circle Jerks, and a plethora of other bands. I must say, there were a bunch of flyers that made me wish I was present, such as one shared bill with Black Flag, Adolescents, and the Minutemen in Santa Monica in 1981.

[As a random side note, I love that their white tour van was named Reid Fleming, after the indie comix about the angry milkman (no, I did not need to look that up, I still have a few issues).]

One interesting aspect is how the flyers start off usually cut and pasted, and slowly but surely they look more professionally printed, as the technology changes over time. While there is some repetition in artwork, it never seems to be exactly the same, and always remains interesting, especially the European and Asian ones.

Joe writes a compelling song lyric which looks simple in a punk mode, but actually is rather sharp, especially if taken as a group. Reading quite a number of them included here shows that there is wisdom within the anger. Now, as for the prose of his stories, well, his grammar ain’t the greatest (typically on the level of “your” rather than “you’re,” and double negatives and the like occasionally show up), but it’s the content rather than the form for the words, and the content and form of the images, and their (just kidding) all strong. And I find it admirable that Arsenal Press, who publishes many academic books, didn’t feel the need to edit the book to death, leaving it in Joe’s voice.

I also be partial to the fact that this isn’t just Joe’s work, even though it mostly is; for example, he reprints part of his roadie’s European travel diary at one point, or some articles written about him / them in local magazines and fanzines.

The form of the book is simple: certain dates are given for a chapter (e.g., 1977-1979, 1981-1984), and there is an overview of the period, followed by the images and the relatively more detailed chronological text. Also included are a very complex D.O.A. family tree and a discography.

While I realize the point is more that this is an “illustrated history” than a band account, I would have liked just a bit more detail here and there (“It was time for so-and-so to go…” Why?). Yes, I know if he did that this would be a lot larger than the oversized (physical, not content) book it is. In other words, as good as it is, it left me wanting more, in a positive way. Yes, there is I, Shithead to give some more facts up to 2004, but this book ends with the closure of 2010. Guess I’ll just have to wait around to read more when the next book comes out, and if it’s as good as this, I’ll be happy to do so then.

Meanwhile, D.O.A. is planning a major cross-Canada tour, once again, for the fall of 2011. While I missed them play Amigos in Saskatoon earlier this year, I’m hoping to see them this time around. Now, about the guest list, Joey…

Bonus videos:

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