Recently an interesting clip of blues-rock musician Derek Miller showed up on YouTube—it’s called “Guilt Free Zone intro” and it looks like an opening sequence for a late-night talk show. Miller runs around doing various inappropriate things (using the ladies’ restroom, eating a hot dog in one bite, stealing a dog) and apparently not feeling guilty about any of it.
It’s a fun clip to watch, and it touts appearances by some of Canada’s hippest natives. But the original questions remains: What is the Guilt Free Zone?
“We’re not really sure what it is at the moment,” Miller admits. Big Soul Productions, an aboriginal owned and operated production company located in Toronto, was due to celebrate its 12th anniversary, and Miller figured that was as good an excuse as any to throw a party. “I had this idea of putting a talk show together,” he says, then goes on to describe something that might have been a little risqué even for late-night network TV. “We had a lot of gogo dancers wearing sexy outfits,” he recalls. “Lisa Charleyboy played my secretary and I kept sexually harassing her. I called her a high-priced whore, so she whipped me throughout my [musical] performance. That was all improv. She was really whipping me hard. We had a ninja—a guy in a ninja costume—giving out Jagermeister shots to everyone. My stage manager Rai-Chi said he needed a little help, so we had this little person dressed up in the same clothes…”
(Ashley Callingbull, second runner-up in Miss Universe Canada 2010, was the host at the very beginning of the show, before things went downhill, and did not participate in the debauchery. Probably a good move.)
And the lesson here is…?
“I think it’s important to have these things out there,” says Miller. “There’s a place for the traditional, and there is a place for people who like to push the envelope. The Guilt Free Zone is a positive place. We’re saying, have fun, you shouldn’t feel guilty about having fun, about having a big party and letting loose. American Indians have this image of being very serious, of being not very fun. We’re saying, if it’s fun—and you’re not hurting anyone—do it.”
Showing Indians’ guilt-free fun side plays into the bigger picture as well, says Miller. “We have a lot going on, as Native Americans in media,” he says. “We have our own production companies, we have very talented people. If we’re going to show the world what we’re really like, we have to take control of the media. Because if we let other people decide how we’re portrayed—well, we know what that looks like, right?”
The Guilt Free Zone show, which happened May 31 at the Gladstone Hotel in Toronto, also included a surprise guest appearance by Adam Beach and musical performances by rapper Joey Stylez and blues duo Digging Roots, and closed with a two-hour concert by Miller himself. It was a one-off—for now. “We don’t know what will happen with it next,” Miller says. “We’ve talked about getting it on TV somewhere, maybe APTN [Canada’s Aboriginal People Television Network], we’ve also considered doing it as a webcast. We’re open to different possibilities.”
Comedy and hosting are just a couple of things Miller wants to try; he’s also interested in acting and perhaps directing. “Right now, I feel like the world is my oyster,” she says. “I don’t mean that in a conceited way. It’s true for all of us. We all have to fight the same crap, we have to overcome our self esteem issues, every day, and if we can do that our possibilities are unlimited.” On the acting front, he’s working with Sherry Wray, widow of Link Wray, on a planned film about the seminal rocker’s life in which he would play the lead. He’s also got two musical projects in the works; first he’ll be recording an album as a member of a band called Indian Booze Machine, and then he’ll head into the studio with his own band, Bliss Fiasco.
Perhaps the project he’s most excited about at the moment is a deeply personal one: Swinefest, a charity event featuring several local bands held on the Six Nations Reserve, where he grew up. It’s named after himself, in a way: “My nickname on the rez growing up was ‘Little Pig,’” he admits. Swinefest 2011 happens on August 20—“it’s on my family’s property,” he says, “on my grandfather’s land. That makes it really special for me.”