Mr. Chi Pig at home in the city that punk built
Ken Chinn – aka “Mr. Chi Pig” – has been spotted wandering old Edmonton haunts as he prepares for SNFU’s CD release show at the Pawn Shop. He seems to be having a pretty good time.
He shows up for an interview in a jolly mood, attired like a WWI pilot. First thing he does is cackle with laughter, “This is my gay-viator get-up,” he says, adding, “I’m a faggot! Didn’t you know that about me?”
Sure, we’ve all heard the rumours. Does it matter?
He replies that it does not, or words to that effect.
In the company of his friend and “sort of” personal manager Cameron Noyes, who helps fill in the blanks (among many other tasks), we meet for beers in the morning (Chi had the beers) before proceeding at a leisurely pace down Whyte Avenue in search of a copy of the SNFU biography. “SNFU: What No One Else Wanted To Say” is purported to tell all about this legendary Canadian punk band born and bred in Edmonton. It’s a hot item. They’re sold out at Permanent Records, where Chinn greets proprietor and Jr. Gone Wild singer Mike McDonald like they’re old friends, which of course they are; but they have a copy at Whyte Knight Comics, which happens to be co-managed by another of Chinn’s local musician friends, Dana Robertson of the late punk band Punched Unconscious.
“They were a great band,” Chinn says. And they were!
Is there anyone in Edmonton’s punk rock scene that Mr. Chi Pig has not touched in some way?
He’s lived in Vancouver for more than 20 years, had his share of personal troubles there, which are well-documented, so coming back to Edmonton seems to be a fantasia of nostalgia for the 51-year-old singer. He brings up fond memories of punk clubs from a bygone age, like the “Nosedive,” an infamous band house whose very walls became holy relics. They hung out at what is purported to be the city’s first punk rock venue, the Suicide Club. Also Spartan’s, the Polish Hall, the Dinwoodie Lounge, places SNFU often played, back in the day, where they met and befriended Edmonton’s most famous and most eccentric musical export, k.d. lang.
“She was with us. She was part of the alternative community,” says Chinn, who once dressed up as k.d. lang in cowpunk regalia one Halloween.
Most of Edmonton’s most famous artists became more successful after leaving town – but in this case, it at least didn’t happen before SNFU made a significant dent in the local music scene.
“SNFU was like the guiding light for all the other punk rock bands,” Chinn says, “to wake up to the potential of what you can possibly do. We were the ones that were touring constantly, hundreds of shows in Canada and the States, and it woke people up and they were like, ‘Hey, if these asshole losers can do it, we can do it, too!’”
They even made it to Europe – twice. Hence the term: Do It Yourself. More importantly, the band name SNFU. Chinn reminds the fans, “Everyone has a gift when they’re born. Some people see it. Some people didn’t see it, or they conform to society. What this name means is ‘Society is No Fucking Use!’ Conforming to society’s rules? Not worth it! No, you want to be you.”
The break-up of SNFU in 1990 – for the first time – was only part of what drove the singer to Vancouver. The circle of musicians who formed Edmonton’s early alternative scene were not to be toyed with as a group, Chinn recalls. It’s in ones or twos, walking late at night in dodgy areas where they had to watch out. Chinn says he used to get beaten up on a regular basis by people who didn’t like the way he looked. He likes to say he was born at the Royal Alex, went to school at Victoria High and played his first show at the Polish Hall – forming a tiny triangle in the heart of Edmonton – but it came time to move on.
Edmonton, he says, “Had this environment of jocks and rednecks and construction workers and lumberjacks, however you want to describe them, and I felt this sense of hate, this un-open-mindedness. I’m like, come on, people are different, it doesn’t matter if you’re black or green or purple of what you’re fucking wearing. What matters is what’s in your soul and what’s in your heart. I think a person should be allowed to express themselves as they are.”
Having a smoke in front of Permanent Records, Chinn suggests to Mike McDonald that there be an Edmonton Punk Rock Walk of Fame, maybe stretching in front of the record store itself. One story leads to another, one beer to another, one cigarette to another, and once you get him going it’s hard to stop. It’s all there in the SNFU biography, which ends on a note of finality: “The future remains unwritten,” writes the writer, Chris Walter.
Chi is pretty happy to be the subject of a book, and about the new record “Never Trouble Trouble Until Trouble Troubles You,” but hastens to add that the story isn’t over quite yet, “What happens later? A new fucking record! It ain’t over till I die!”