Just days after the world learned of the death of 57-year-old Canadian punk rock icon Ken Chinn, friends of the late singer of SNFU are already mounting an effort to publicly honour the musician in his hometown of Edmonton.
Cameron Noyes was a longtime friend of Chinn’s. He met him as a young teen in the 1980s and lived with him at times, including at a downtown Edmonton house known as the Nosedive.
He is part of a small group that includes the local concert venue the Starlite Room that is working on a pitch to the city to have a mural painted and a statue erected in honour of Chinn, and also to organize an online memorial for him.
“For the punk scene, the art pieces will be a shrine,” Noyes told Global News on Wednesday. “But he meant a lot to people beyond punk. Especially to Edmontonians.
“His connection here runs deeper than local icons like (pop and country singer) k.d. lang or (blues and jazz musician) Big Miller.
“Love him or hate him, he was ours and we knew it.”
Noyes, a community activist, musician and promoter who says he has spent much of the COVID-19 pandemic trying to help vulnerable Edmontonians in the Old Strathcona community overcome various challenges, said he thinks it’s important his late friend is honoured in a public way.
Chinn’s SNFU bandmate Dave Bacon publicly broke the news of the death of the charismatic frontman on Facebook late last week.
“It breaks my heart to say this, but our beloved friend has left this mortal coil just a short while ago,” the post reads in part. “He is now at peace. May he live on in our hearts and memories forever.”
Chinn, one of the most well-known punk rock singers of his era to be openly gay, had struggled with addiction and mental illness for much of his life and later other chronic health issues. Noyes, who told Global News Chinn’s death relates to a bout of pneumonia, said he was not shocked when he was called about his friend’s death last week.
“I thought I was prepared but it was still difficult. I think I’ll carry that around for a long while.”
Since Chinn’s death became public, tributes from friends, fellow musicians, fans and others have flooded social media to pay respect to the man known on stage as Chi Pig and Mr. Chi Pig.
Former Alberta premier and current opposition leader Rachel Notley took to Facebook last week to tell Albertans they “lost a trailblazer in independent music last Thursday in Ken Chinn, lead singer of SNFU.”
“My condolences go out to his family friends and many fans,” her post reads in part.
“This breaks my heart,” Green Day singer Billie Joe Armstrong wrote in a post on Instagram. “Chi Pig was one of the greatest front people I’ve ever seen. I saw SNFU at Gilman when I was 16. I thought he was going to jump through the ceiling. Super smart. Great lyrics. Amazing album titles.
“Sending love to all the Edmonton and Vancouver punks. What a loss.”
Jello Biafra, former singer of the seminal punk group the Dead Kennedys, who called Chi Pig “one of the greatest frontmen ever.”
The Dead Kennedys were just one of some of the punk genre’s most recognizable groups that toured with SNFU, a list that includes Bad Religion, another pioneering punk group from California.
Anyone who saw SNFU in the band’s heyday will likely remember Chinn as a wildly acrobatic frontman who spent much of the band’s sets airborne and often played with the crowd using props like bags of popcorn.
Noyes told Global News that as a musician, he thinks Chinn will be remembered “as one of the most dynamic, athletic frontmen in the history of rock and roll.
“The photos speak for themselves.”
He said that despite Chinn’s struggles with addiction, he doesn’t believe the musician let it interfere with his craft.
“He was incredibly well-focused on any matter at hand, whether it was writing, art, performing or anything else,” Noyes said. “When he didn’t have those things to keep him on his game, he could lose himself.
Chinn was born and raised in Edmonton. According to Noyes, he was the second youngest of 12 children whose parents were Chinese and German.
“His childhood could be described as difficult. Even exceptionally difficult,” Noyes said. “I think his family were the last in Edmonton to have no running water.
“I’d say he and his younger brother were primarily raised by their older sister Peggy. It was beautiful that she stepped in to do that. His life would have been very different without her influence.”
It was in Alberta’s capital that Chinn helped form SNFU before moving to Vancouver where he spent the last few decades and where he died last week, surrounded by a small group of loved ones.
Noyes noted that the musical legacy left behind by Chinn and SNFU is significant beyond Canada as well.
“I don’t think I’ve been in a European city where there weren’t people wearing SNFU merchandise,” he said.
Noyes said he will fondly hold onto the memories he has from his friendship with Chinn.
“I will remember Ken as one of the most hilarious, mischievous pranksters I will ever meet,” he said. “His charm is unique, and although he could be prickly when situations called for it, he was one of the warmest people you could ever meet.
“I’ll remember him in more recent years too. That will always sting a little.”
SNFU recorded eight studio albums during the band’s long run. In the early 1990s, the band was signed to Epitaph Records, a record label that was putting out albums by bands like Rancid and The Offspring as punk rock was suddenly seeing massive commercial success.
Chinn was the subject of a 2009 documentary called Open Your Mouth and Say… Mr. Chi Pig.
An online petition has been launched to have Chinn included on Canada’s Walk of Fame. As of Wednesday night, it had over 10,000 signatures.
Last week, SNFU posted a moving final song sung by Chi Pig on Facebook called “Cement Mixer (to all my beautiful friends).” In it, the late singer sings about his death and finishes the song by simply saying the words “gonna miss you guys.”
You can hear the song by clicking here.
View some online tributes to Chinn (a.k.a. Chi Pig) below: