Visceral recollection of an artist

Around the World with Mr. Chi Pig: a memorial
by Chris Walter

New Westminster: GFY Press, 2023
$31.00  /  9781927053393

Reviewed by Catherine Owen

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As an inveterate metalhead, SNFU weren’t per se on my radar until I met Frank Bonneville from Montreal in 2000 at the Corazon art salon on 1st and Commercial in Vancouver. He, a bassist, photographer and schizophrenic drug addict, was a massive fan and he played tunes for me like “Reality is a Ride on the Bus” and “Victims of the Womanizer” many times before his eventual suicide in 2003. Fascinatingly, I first met Mr. Chi Pig at The Cobalt in the Fall of 2006 where I was launching my Anvil Press book about Frank and Vancouver/Montreal alleyways called Cusp/detritus, later writing in my tour diary: “I ended the crazy reading with ‘The Hitler Room’ – the hit of the set – and actually received quite a few positive comments from Chi Pig before getting beer dumped all over me!” Over the next decade or so, I would see and nod to Chi at Funky Winkerbeans, JJ Bean on the Drive, and, as Chris Walter conveys with such loving descriptiveness, his favorite hangout, Pub 340. He was often wasted, sometimes with a drag queen on his arm, surrounded by his buddies or band members, grinning like a toothless goon, and I only knew the surface of his vast and mad existence. Therefore, I couldn’t be more thrilled to have the chance to read this gorgeously illustrated and beautifully produced tome about Chi’s wild life.

Chris Walter

Chris Walter, the founder of GFY Press and the author of easily 30 books of fiction and non-fiction, including other homages to SNFU, DayGlo Abortions, The Real McKenzies, and Canadian Punk Rock, is a legend in his own right and, as the close friend of Chi for decades, perfectly positioned to compose this detailed honouring. Beginning with the sentence, “I first met Mr. Chi Pig in 1981 when I was roadying for a Winnipeg punk outfit, the Nostrils,” Walter draws the reader in from the get-go. We get the whole sensory shebang with beer and farts, “bad feet and stinky pits”; the real feel of being on the road in a hardcore era when everyone was young.

Over the course of twenty-one short-ish and highly readable chapters, Chi Pig’s tumultuous journey with his multiple musical projects and especially, of course, the incessantly re-formed (with nearly 25 members circulating over the years) SNFU is traced, tracked like a junkie’s arm, tripped out on. One forgives the few typos scattered about (and the occasional sideline surmise) as the narration is so steadily paced, balanced between fragments of Walter’s own reality as he skirmishes with his drug demons, difficult financial situations and sometimes fragile family life, and the central narrative of how a half-Chinese, skinny, wacky, gold-suited and Wookie-hatted gay man became, and sustained himself in whatever form, as the lead singer of an infamous Canadian punk band. That, I learned to my shock, had also extensively toured the world! Utterly a testament to the power of music-making that a band with so many line-up shifts, substance abuse issues, problems with fines caused by pyrotechnics or bodily fluids, and usually a total dearth of income could still go on so many international tours and release such an array of fantastic albums.

Mr. Chi Pig leaps at an SNFU show. Photo SNFU Facebook

It’s an indubitable challenge to recount any temporal trajectory and while Walter at times can slump into the “he did this then he did that” rhythm, for the most part, he sustains an engaging tale. Chi leaps in the air off the drum riser. He has a black eye. Chi meets his boyfriend, Lon. He gets hooked on cough syrup. He sings with Bif Naked. He hacks off his dreadlocks. The band tours in a van called Earl Grey. He gets deeper into meth. The album In the Meantime and Between Time is released, including classics like “Cockatoo Quill.” And so so so many more anecdotes!

SNFU show poster. Photo SNFU Facebook

Here’s an example of Walter’s visceral writing style: “In June of 2004, SNFU set the attendance record at the Cobalt Hotel…Stage diving fans were passed hand-over-hand…Human waste flowed in filthy rivers from the washroom as the besieged toilets overflowed. There was no line-up for drinks, just hordes of sweaty guests packed tightly against the bar like sand in a shoe…Nobody seemed to care if the band was a bit sloppy because the fans knew the words to every song.”

There are accounts of fierce squabbles between band mates, lists of relentless shows with alternate projects or further instantiations of SNFU, descriptions of what it was like to play not only across Canada where they were especially popular in Chi’s birthplace of Edmonton, but also Austria (“fun and beery”), Slovenia (“bullet-pocked buildings and mounds of trash”) and Russia (“magnificent architecture, guttural language and good vodka”), and acknowledgements of debacles like Chi losing his false teeth before they played the Commodore with DOA, his drunken crudities in Japan and his being refused entry at the Costa Rican airport. Even towards the final decade of Chi’s life, there were triumphs amid the continuing health crises. Among these was the release of the Chi Pig documentary in 2009 and Chris Walter’s encouragement of Chi’s eclectic artistic abilities in the last few years he was alive, when he produced an amazing number of prints, canvases, and other pieces of genius from his perch at the Pub 340 table. Not only did such works enable these two one-of-a-kind artists to survive (I myself own two canvases) but they created a seriously enduring legacy (along with the eternal music) in people’s homes and on the pages of this unforgettable tribute to the type of human the lowest common denominator never nurtures but who firmly belongs in the trashy-majestic annals of true makers.

Mr. Chi Pig. Photo SNFU Facebook

*

Catherine Owen

Catherine Owen was born and raised in Vancouver by an ex-nun and a truck driver. The oldest of five children, she began writing at three and started publishing at eleven, a short story in a Catholic Schools writing contest chapbook. She did her first public poetry readings in her teens and Exile Editions published her poetry collection on Egon Schiele in 1998. Since then, she’s released fifteen collections of poetry and prose, including essays, memoirs, short fiction and children’s books. Her latest books are Riven (poems from ECW 2020) and Locations of Grief (mourning memoirs from 24 writers out from Wolsak & Wynn, 2020). She also runs Marrow Reviews on WordPress, the podcast Ms Lyric’s Poetry Outlaws, the YouTube channel The Reading Queen and the performance series, 94th Street Trobairitz. She’s been on 12 cross-Canada tours, played bass in metal bands, worked in BC Film Props and currently runs an editing business out of her 1905 house in Edmonton where she lives with four cats. Editor’s note: Catherine Owen has also reviewed books by Andrea Warner, Aaron Chapman, Emelia Symington-Fedy, Sean Kelly, Jason Schreurs, and Adrienne Fitzpatrick for The British Columbia Review.

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The British Columbia Review


Interim Editors, 2023-25: Trevor Marc Hughes (non-fiction), Brett Josef Grubisic (fiction)
Publisher: Richard Mackie


Formerly The Ormsby Review, The British Columbia Review is an online book review and journal service for BC writers and readers. The Advisory Board now consists of Jean Barman, Wade Davis, Robin Fisher, Barry Gough, Hugh Johnston, Kathy Mezei, Patricia Roy, Maria Tippett, and Graeme Wynn. Provincial Government Patron (since September 2018): Creative BC. Honorary Patron: Yosef Wosk. Scholarly Patron: SFU Graduate Liberal Studies. The British Columbia Review was founded in 2016 by Richard Mackie and Alan Twigg.

“Only connect.” – E.M. Forster

One comment on “Visceral recollection of an artist

  1. F**ing beautiful, I am so glad to have met you all, and supported your music and writing when and where I could. I admire the f*** out of you all. I’m in tears reading this review from Catherine, someone who has also crossed over into my other world, when she read poems from Shel Silverstein, and one of her own, to a Grade 5 class I worked with. All I remember is the line about her dog being a lawn shitter, she was the talk of the playground and staffroom that day. As a videographer teaching at-risk High School students, I was coaching at Inner City High how to shoot videos. It was an honour to play her Black Metal Band Inhuman on Mind Compression.

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