In January 2008, 30 years after forming, D.O.A.—Canada’s original punk rockers and one of the world’s first hardcore groups—made history once again, becoming the first Western-based political-punk band to tour China. All this week, guest editor and D.O.A. frontman Joey “Shithead” Keithley looks back on the historic trip and gives a fascinating and uncensored glimpse into a part of the world most of us will never see.
We are off to Wuhan today and have to take a cab to the airport. You would think one of the easiest things in the world would be catching a cab; in China, sometimes it is not. We found most of the drivers did not like Dirty Dan Sedan’s bass case; they somehow thought of it as dirtier than the rest of our shit. So after having trouble getting taxis because of this, we took to hiding the bass case behind us, then when a cab stopped, one of us would jump in and refuse to leave the cab. We would then cram the trunk as full as humanly possible; Dan, drummer Floor Tom Jones and tour promoter Abe (Deyo) would get in the back seat, I would put the bass case across their laps, I would then get in the front and stuff of duffel bag under my legs and put a huge bag of T-shirts on my lap, then I would try to push the T-shirt bag down enough so the driver could see his right sideview mirror. By the way, the tour T-shirts were great; they were white with a big, black D.O.A. on the front, with Chairman Mao’s face in the middle of the O.
We are now in the fast lane of the Beijing expressway going to the airport, driving about 70 miles an hour, the traffic heavy. Everything seems to be going smooth, when the car in front of us slams on the brakes. Our driver hits his brakes as hard as he can, and we come screeching to a halt, six inches behind the car in front. The four of us look behind at the van that has come to an abrupt halt about a foot behind us; we can see the smoke coming off of his brakes. The three guys in the back came within a foot of all losing their teeth, because if we had of been rear ended at that speed, the bass case on their laps would have have broken all three of their jaws. Our driver rapid fires a ton of curses in Mandarin at the car that stopped, then he pulls ino the right lane and gets moving again. I look at the stopped car; it is a middle-aged lady who looks confused. As we get going, I keep watching her car; she pulls a wild maneuver to get over three lanes to the right so she can get off at her exit. So, she had stomped on the brakes in the fast lane because she did not want to miss her exit …
At the Beijing airport we find out our flight time had been changed to two hours earlier. China Airways claimed they had informed Abe the day before about this via his cellphone. He argues with them but to no avail. It seems if the airline wants to change the flight time, they can do that. So I end up sleeping on a booth in the airport restaurant.
We get into Wuhan. I had never heard of this town till recently, but it has a population of five million, so it’s bigger than Philadelphia. Abe negotiates a deal with two off-license cab drivers to save a few bucks. So we leave the airport with Dan and Floor Tom in one cab and Abe and me in the other. The cab driver Dan and Floor Tom have speaks no English, and those guys do not have the address of the club or hotel in Wuhan. Quickly, Abe gets a call on his cell. Our cab driver gets Abe’s cell, and he and the other cab driver decide that we must pay more RMB than already agreed upon, a ripoff in the making, indeed. We have heard stories where a cab driver will take you out to the countryside and 10 guys will be waiting there and they beat you up, take your money, take your passport, then strand you in the countryside. So this must be going through Floor Tom and Dan’s minds at this time.
Abe is forced into a slightly higher price. It takes more than an hour to get from to airport to central Wuhan. What a grim looking town—giant, ugly apartment buildings everywhere. Blue-and-silver 40-gallon chemical drums, containing who knows what kind of toxic crap, are piled up indiscriminately in various suburban neighborhoods. I looked up “shithole” in the dictionary when I got back and there was a picture of Wuhan. Anyway, we get to the central area, get out of the cabs with our gear, and Abe tells us on the sly where the hotel is. He then tells us to run across the street with all the gear and get out of sight. He is afraid that the cab drivers will follow us to the hotel and try and extort some more cash out of us.
That afternoon, we went for lunch at a restaurant across the street. This experience really drove home one big thing we noticed all over China: Almost every place we went there was an overabundance of employees. When we walked into the restaurant, we were greeted by eight women, and three of them showed us to our table upstairs. Then four people came and set the table and brought us lunch. Later that afternoon, Dan and I went to the local supermarket; again, there was no shortage of people to help you. Dan went to buy some wine, and three people immediately showed up to tell him what the best bargain was. There’s something to that. If people have a job, they are a lot less likely to foment revolution and change.
The gig that night was at a great club called The Vox. The opening bands were real good, the audience was cool, the equipment rocked, and so did D.O.A. After, the show’s promoter, who has a record/clothing store downstairs from the club, invited us to a party at the store. The joint is called Wuhan Prison. There were a few people there who spoke English, including one guy I did an interview with for a fanzine. After the interview, he offers to do a Mandarin translation of my book, I Shithead, A Life In Punk. “Fuckin’ cool,” I say. After a couple of hours, the kids there invite us to come out and have a party on the street. There is a tent set up there, on the side of the main street; they sell beer and Chinese BBQ. It is totally cool, figuratively and literally. The street BBQ is a great way to eat in China. They take seafood, meat and vegetables and put them on skewer and roast them. I have been buying from these from street vendors since I got here, but I never knew what kind of meat was on the skewer. So I named it “unknown animal on a stick.” Very tasty indeed. At the outdoor party, there’s Floor Tom, Abe and myself and about 20 Chinese punks. Maybe four of the punks spoke OK English, so we had a lively yak-a-thon going. One punk from Nepal, whose English was excellent, kept cracking us up with some of the worst jokes you ever heard. This party went from about 2 a.m. to 4 a.m. We finally had to pack it in, as it was about 10 degrees Fahrenheit and I felt like a frozen popsicle. But you know what? Wuhan rocks as hard as any town!
We awake about 9 a.m. to get to the airport. Abe informs me the shower has a bunch of rat crap in it, so I decide to forego a shower that morning. We get to the Wuhan airport, only to find out flight has been delayed about four hours. Fuckin’ great! I crash on the floor of the airport, lying on top of the T-shirt bag and my shoulder bag. There is announcements going on constantly, and each new flight announcement is preceded by this awful electronic chime, so it’s pretty tough to catch some zzzzs, but somehow I do.
We arrive at the airport in Shanghai, and it’s massive and brand new, just as the Beijing airport is. We collect our gear and find out where to catch a van cab this time. We schlep our gear for a seemingly and unending amount of time and start to understand how Mao and the People’s Army felt during “The Long March” in 1934.
We eventually get a van cab driven by the best driver in China. He raced by everybody on his way into central Shanghai. We get to the Yuyintang Club at about 7 p.m. There’s a horrible Randall guitar amp for me to use (one of my last choices in the world), but the rest of the gear is passable. We head out to grab some fast food, then go to get some beer and wine from the local grocery store. In the store, I find myself in the predicament of asking the two women that ran the store, “Is this beer any good? How’s this wine?” Of course, they understood no English, and I only knew how to say “hello” and “thank you” in Mandarin. So I buy it on spec. It turns out later, the wine was OK. Great Wall brand, as I recall. But the beer was pure shite!
Back at the club, I go to use the toilet, which is outside in the garden area, and observe that the designated place for crapping is thus. There are four legs of a chair with a toilet seat welded to it, and it’s been positioned over top of one end of a 30-foot-long urinal trough with no cubicle. So I decide to use the can back at the fast-food place.
The show turned out to be great. The joint was jumpin’—half Chinese kids and half expat Americans, Australians and Brits. The opening band was Boys Climbing Ropes, who had a female Chinese singer, though the three guys in the band were Canadians who lived in Shanghai. Backstage, a journalist brought us a gift: rice wine and spicy goose neck. Let me tell you, the goose neck was all bones, and the rice wine was one of the biggest hangover producers this side Jägermeister. We played pretty well, but Dan got zapped by some sort of electronic short onstage, and I don’t think he could hear a goddamn thing after I cranked that Randall amp up to 11.
After the show, Abe drops us off at the hotel—the craziest hotel I had seen in awhile—to get to the rooms. There’s a pedestal 10 feet away from the elevator doors that looked like it had been produced by the set decorators of Star Trek. The hotel seemed like it been designed to wow Westerners 30 years ago. Nothing in the room really worked, but still it felt like the Ritz compared to the hotel in Wuhan.