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Pussy Riot, Cossacks, Putin's Olympics and the Arizona State Legislature by Ricki C.

“Rock & roll as a force for social change
That idea got kicked to the curb
About the same time the noun ‘party’
Got turned into a verb”

- from “Old Heroes Might Be Heroes (But They’re Old Anyway)”

© 1978, Ricki C. for The Twilight Kids


When was the last time an American or British rock band actually did anything Revolutionary, or even mildly controversial?

I once had high hopes for Green Day, around the time of American Idiot, until they merchandized that great disc into a Broadway musical, of all things, not exactly the premier move in radical rock & roll protest circles, ya know?  (They really are a lot like The Who, circa Tommy in that respect, aren’t they?)

It’s immensely sad to me that The Dixie Chicks – a trio of female country singers – essentially punted their entire music career over an off-hand onstage comment in London – “We’re ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas.” – at the height of American jingoism in 2003, during the run-up to the Iraq War.  It’s even sadder to me that not one rock & roll band showed any kind of solidarity with them or mounted any kind of free-speech defense.  Where were The Rockers when that shit was going down?

Which brings us to Pussy Riot – an art-collective punk-rock band comprised of Russian women, two of whom served TWO YEARS in a Russian prison after staging a protest in a Moscow Cathedral, performing a song called “Mother Of God, Chase Putin Away.”  (You have to admit, even Bob Dylan in his topical song protest days never came up with a title that cool.  “Blowin’ In The Wind,” “The Ballad Of Emmett Till,” “Masters Of War,” indeed.)

The two women who served time – Nadezheda Toloonnikova and Maria Alyoknina – were released from prison in December, 2013, an action widely viewed as an attempt to show the lighter side of Vladimir Putin, a little PR move in advance of his Olympic Games.  “Forget the last 21 months you spent in prison, girls, let’s all be comrades.  Have a vodka tonic!”  

I saw the two women on the Colbert show and they were intelligent and committed – which I fully expected – but also displayed a great sense of humor, which I did not expect.  I expected didactic, shrill, defensive artistes.  (I’d’ve been defensive & shrill if I did 21 months in prison for singing a punk song in a church.)  What I got were two lovely, funny and articulate individuals.

So do Pussy Riot stay on in the United States and trade on their name to make some bucks, maybe do a commercial for Fancy Feast or Stoli?  No, they go back to Russia and work up a song called “Putin Will Teach You To Love The Motherland.”  (Admittedly, it’s no “Blue Suede Shoes.”)  They’re whipped in public by Cossacks – who apparently serve as a paramilitary adjunct to the Russian police force: kinda like Paul Blart, Mall Cop, only with warmer hats and whips – and were arrested yet again.  That takes balls, my friend.  I don’t care how much publicity you get or how famous you are or how many cameras are trained on you in public, if Putin wants you to disappear, you’re gonna disappear.  (Has anybody seen the Russian Olympic Hockey Team since they got eliminated in the semi’s?)  (By the way, while we’re on the subject of hockey disappointments, concerning the stocked-to-the-gills-with-NHL-players American Olympic team: if I wanted to see a hockey team display ZERO heart and not even TRY to win a Big Game, I’d go downtown and watch the Blue Jackets.)

So next time I see Ted Nugent mewling & whining on Fox News about his First Amendment Rights, I wanna see him do 21 months hard time in prison and then come back for more.  (By the way: my buddy Kyle and I had free tix to Ted’s show at the LC a few years back and he should do 21 months for not being able to play the fucking guitar anymore.  He was three or four minutes into “Free For All” before either of us recognized it.  That calls for SOME kind of punishment and incarceration.) 

I was surprised that in NBC’s woeful coverage of the Olympics – woeful because they didn’t offer even cursory explanations of sports unfamiliar to American audiences, among many other factors – I don’t think I heard even a passing mention of the unrest in Ukraine that took place during the Games.  I’m not saying that there should have been a blow-by-blow account of street battles in Kiev by Tara Lipinski & Johnny Weir during the ice-dancing finals – I understand the argument that the Olympics should not be about politics – but I am saying that if there had been a revolution in Ohio during the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics (roughly the same distance – 700 miles – as from Sochi to Kiev), it probably would’ve gotten at least a passing mention on the talking TV box.

Finally – and I SWEAR I’m gonna bring this in under 1000 words – can somebody please explain to me how the Arizona State Legislature can line up so squarely with Vladimir Putin and the nation of Uganda (once ruled so peacefully by Idi Amin, who slaughtered hundreds of thousands of his citizens) on the question of denying gay individuals their rights as citizens?  I didn't want Governor Jan Brewer to veto this week’s hate legislation for economic reasons, like because the NFL threatened to take away Phoenix’s Super Bowl in 2014, I wanted her to veto it BECAUSE IT’S THE RIGHT THING TO DO!  (And I thought the Republican Party and Fox News – in their Mindless Thrall Deification of Ronald Reagan – were supposed to be AGAINST anything Russia was FOR.  Whatever happened to The Transitive Law of Intolerance?) 

How long can we continue to be on the wrong side of history?

And where is The MC5 when we really need them? – Ricki C. / February 27th, 2014

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