Remembering SNFU's Mr. Chi Pig: The Finest Moments from Canada's Punk Poet Laureate
A career-spanning look back at Ken Chinn's most poignant, poetic and occasionally profane songs
Published Jul 22, 2020As the outpouring of tributes over the last week has made clear, few hardcore vocalists were as visceral, impactful or entertaining as the late Mr. Chi Pig of SNFU. Ken Chinn was your punk singer's favourite punk singer, a livewire entertainer constantly ricocheting off drum risers and speaker cabinets. He also had a flair for the theatrical, engrossing audiences with a stage-prop collection of cyclopean baby dolls, Astro Boy-styled rubber pompadours and more. He brought that energy to crowds for decades, whether touring the world or entertaining a half-dozen skate-punk goons on a farm property in rural Langley, BC.
Chi Pig's lyrical wit was just as staggering, alternating from the hilarious to the heart-rending to the horrifying with a quick twist of phrase — it's not for nothing that Propagandhi's Chris Hannah dubbed the SNFU singer "Canada's true poet laureate" on multiple occasions. Chi Pig could turn the mundanity of a bus ride into a mortifying hellscape of snot-eaters, crying infants and punch-worthy braggarts; absurdist odes on collecting armpit mould sat perfectly alongside deeper introspections on mortality. The legacy of his lyrics even lives on outside of punk rock via the Cannibal Cafe, a Vancouver burger joint named after a raging early SNFU track about a spot that serves its customers, in all senses of the word.
Dive deep into the Edmonton-by-way-of-Vancouver band's mighty catalogue and you'll find countless bizarre novelties penned by Chi Pig's cockatoo quill. In a salute to SNFU's precision wordplay — note how each of their impressionistic album titles clocks in at exactly seven words long — Exclaim! presents a career-spanning baker's half-dozen of Mr. Chi Pig's most poignant, poetic and occasionally profane punk rock poems.
1. "She's Not on the Menu"
...And No One Else Wanted to Play
SNFU's debut LP, ...And No One Else Wanted to Play, showcased the band's teeth-baring hardcore chops — but the social critiques Mr. Chi Pig delivered on songs like "She's Not on the Menu" were just as biting. An indictment of the male gaze and its effects on the service industry, it has Chi Pig detailing the inner thoughts of several unsavoury diner customers as they lust over a new waitress. It's a grotesque smorgasbord of food-based wordplay ("He wants to eat her body just like a plate of fries / And suck out all the gravy that seeps into her thighs"), but the meat of the piece is the incontrovertible notion that this particular worker — not to mention any on-shift employee just doing their job — is "not a sex object, but a person too...she's not on the menu."
2. "I Forget"
If You Swear, You'll Catch No Fish
Chi Pig's lyrics contemplated mortality in many ways, whether wistfully looking back at a long life ("A Better Place"), eagerly anticipating death from inside a nursing home ("He's Not Getting Older, He's Getting Bitter"), or as a gallows-humour PSA on the dangers of intoxicated night riding ("Drunk on a Bike"). "I Forget," which focuses on the effects of Alzheimer's on an aging parent, somewhat splits the difference between these different approaches.
There's a shocking tactlessness as the narrator introduces us to his mother, who will "forget who you are in two or three minutes." Dark humour can be a defense mechanism, though, with the intro leading to a truly gutting passage in the second verse, where Chi Pig quips, "This disease has deadened her brain / It'll soon deaden the rest of her / So in a way she'll kind of die twice." He doubles down on this disquieting notion by wishing he can also come down with Alzheimer's, so he too can forget this painful moment. It's a particularly jarring perspective to come hurtling at you via an otherwise blistering, '80s-style hardcore romp.
3. "G.I. Joe Gets Angry with Human Kind"
Better Than a Stick in the Eye
Some of Chi Pig's most memorable lyrics were also his goofiest. Take this buzzsaw punk cut, where the SNFU singer describes the frightening night when a toy soldier booted down his door and violently grabbed a handful of human genitals, because he was "mad at the fact that he had none of his own." The battle for the fate of humanity is capped the next morning when the narrator torches his toy box ("With matches and gasoline, I sent him to Hasbro Hell / Now I can't trust any toy, not even ones made by Mattel"). On the one hand, you could argue that the track is a scathing critique of the insidious role toy manufacturers play within the military industrialist complex, but sometimes a song about a eunuch toy going rogue, Child's Play-style, can just as easily be taken at face value.
4. "Painful Reminder"
Something Green and Leafy This Way Comes
"Painful Reminder" is an oddly tender, if problematic missive about a student's crush on their homeroom teacher. Thankfully it doesn't play into a "Hot for Teacher" trope, with Chi Pig instead exploring the awkwardly unbearable, irrational feelings adolescence ushers in. That said, there's a dark side to this unrequited love song. Upon learning that the teacher is married, the dejected teen heads into his art class and paints "a picture of her with an axe in her head" — he keeps this in his binder as a painful reminder that they will never be together. There's a lot to unpack here: teenage angst, toxic infatuation, misogyny, entitlement, abject loneliness. While ugly in tone, Chi Pig sells the pathos with a booming, forlorn sensitivity.
5. "Eric's Had a Bad Day"
The One Voted Most Likely to Succeed
"Eric's Had a Bad Day" is Chi Pig's tribute to Eric "Flexyourhead" Thorkelson, a Vancouver college DJ and bassist for Vancouver hardcore unit Strain, with whom SNFU shared a practice space in the '90s. Following a punchy radio tag from Flexyourhead ("It's fresh and it's new, it's SNFU!"), Chi Pig tears into a series of Eric's unfortunate blunders, which snowballs from getting a speeding ticket, to stepping in human shit, to going into convulsions after downing a pint of salsa, and finally by breaking his jaw at the local skatepark. Thorkelson has myth-busted some of these moments — confirming with Exclaim! that it was actually a parking ticket, and that drinking that Pace Picante was the "easiest $20 I ever made" — but this "Bad Day" still makes for a master class in disaster-based storytelling.
6. "Better Than Eddie Vedder"
FYULABA (a.k.a. Fucks You Up Like a Bad Accident) is a curiously celebrity-focused effort which finds Chi Pig wondering whether Dean Martin was a Martian and questioning intrusive thoughts of Michelle Pfeiffer donning a diaper. "Better than Eddie Vedder" takes a different psychological approach by focusing not on the titular Pearl Jam frontman, but on a former devotee ripping band posters out of her high school locker, banishing the grunge-era moodiness of Sir Eddie "for someone less miserable." It's not so much a diss on Vedder as it is a case study on the fickleness of fandom. Change the names and a few details, and its theme of fans moving on to the next big thing is just as relevant today.
In hindsight, it's somewhat fitting that the track sat on the last of SNFU's three albums with Epitaph Records, who chose not to renew the band's recording contract as the dust from the label's post-Offspring boom began to settle.
7. "Cement Mixer (to all my beautiful friends)"
Released shortly after his passing, "Cement Mixer (to all my beautiful friends)" is Chi Pig's final gift to SNFU fans. Though set against a gentle acoustic arrangement, the vocalist's words here are arguably the heaviest of his near 40-year career. His strained vocals indeed sound, as he describes himself in the song, "rusted and old." There's a brutalist beauty, however, in his desire to be thrown in the titular cement mixer, rolling around its cylinder for a few moments before becoming "one with the pavement." It's an unconventional self-eulogy, to say the least — made even more devastating by the sweetness of Chi Pig's closing "I'm going to miss you guys" — but ultimately makes for a fitting farewell from one of punk's most iconic poets.