Open Your Mouth And Say”Â¦.Mr. Chi Pig (2009)
Director: Sean Patrick Shaul & Craig Laviolette
Starring: Steve Bays, Jello Biafra and Brendan Canning
Prairie Coast Films [ca]
The lead singer of Canadian punk rock band SNFU, Mr. Chi Pig, was recently the subject of a documentary, one that touches not only on punk rock but also on mental illness. It makes for a fascinating watch, something Louder Than War writer Chris Hearn recently did & after which he wrote what you can see below.
The one, the only, the wacky, the wicked Mr. Chi Pig is a Canadian punk rock institution all by himself. Add some childhood friends and great musicians, create some killer songs, put them on a record, put them in a box and shove them all into a van for a tour and you have SNFU!
For the life of me, I can't remember the year that I saw SNFU. I know it was after their big heyday. And, I remember that after seeing them, they seemed to disappear for a while. Then, a few years ago, voila!, they were back! And I saw a picture of the band and thought, “Who is that skinny guy with the scraggly beard??”Â It was Mr. Chi Pig (Ken Chinn), lead singer, but he looked like a haggard old homeless man. What the hell happened to him!? Well, this documentary explains exactly what happened to him and it wasn't pretty.
As the story goes, filmmaker Craig Laviolette (from Chi's hometown of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada) ran into Chi who was bussing tables at a hole in the wall bar in Vancouver called The Cobalt (a far cry from his days captivating audiences from a stage). They struck up a bit of friendship, and Chi ended up becoming the focus of his new project with co-producer Sean Patrick Shaul. And he is an excellent subject, being the lead singer of one of Canada's most celebrated punk bands, and having had an unusual, hard and interesting life.
In many ways, this documentary is more about raising awareness about mental illness (whether intended or not) than about music. This is an excellent insight into the mind of someone suffering schizophrenia. And, this also seemed to be as much a therapeutic exercise for Chi as anything else. It was his chance to spill his guts, tell the whole story, lay it out all on the line, get it out in public, and he did. He was very candid throughout the entire film about everything from his father being in jail, the issues with his mom and stepdad and alcohol abuse, to being gay, his own extreme drug abuse which led to him losing his teeth, band breakups, and what it has been like living with his illness, including losing friends and ending up homeless. It's very detailed and often disturbing story.
The biggest strength of the film is the sheer amount of interview time they had with Chi, including spending time with him while he was living in a care shelter while homeless. Each time they interviewed him, he was in a slightly different state of mind, and you could almost see the illness at play. When pissed off or in a dark mood, his swearing got intense, his eyes darker, he had a meaner look. When happy, he looked like an innocent old man recounting tales of his youth. It helps to give a more three dimensional look at his personality.
Of course, there are also interviews with a wide range of people who came in and out of Chi's life, including Jello Biafra of the Dead Kennedy's, Joey “Shithead”Â Keithly of DOA, John Kastner of the Doughboys. Of course they talked to most of the members of the band from past to present, and then just scene friends or other musicians from Edmonton and Vancouver like Moe Berg, Corb Lund and Ford Pier. A notable absence from the documentary was any interviews with the main music writer and original member of the band, Mark Belke. They appear to have had a falling out although it's a bit unclear as to what it was about. Mark seemed to be a constant in Chi's life from before the band even started until their falling out, so his insight would have been very interesting and it is missed.
It would also have been nice to even have at least one person say, “Look, he was a constant dickhead and I couldn't stand being couped up in a van with him!”Â or something that reflected another side of the story. Most everyone interviewed were quite sympathetic to and respectful of Chi. But, overall, this really is an excellent, solid peace of Canadian documentary film making and well worth watching, whether you like SNFU or not. It is about much more than music; it's about being human and all the challenges that entails, which for some of us are more extreme than others.
All words by Chris Hearn. More articles by Chris can be found here.