Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Progressive Music Classics: "Punk Prayer" by Pussy Riot

By Marc McDonald

(Ed. note: Here's another installment of Marc's ongoing series. For the full series, check out his site. I would just note that I like Green Day a lot more than he does. Agree to disagree, Marc? (I do agree about Kiss, by the way.) -- MJWS)

I have to laugh when I hear bands like Green Day described as "punk." Green Day is about as "punk" as a cup of Starbucks coffee. Green Day wouldn't know real "punk" if it walked up to them and grabbed them by the balls. (Not that corporate cowards like Green Day have any balls in the first place).

In any case, Russia's Pussy Riot has more balls than the entire U.S. corporate recording industry.

Real punk has always been about challenging the system. The Sex Pistols (at least in their first incarnation) challenged the British monarchy and paid the price. It brought the full weight of British officialdom and right-wing tabloid outrage down on their heads. Johnny Rotten was even knifed in the streets by royalty-supporting goons.

Here in the States, the Dead Kennedys also faced challenges that brought about the disintegration of the band. The artwork for their 1985 album, Frankenchrist had leader singer Jello Biafra facing obscenity charges.

However, even these challenges to the system fade into insignificance when compared to the provocations of what may well be the bravest band in the world today, Pussy Riot.

Pussy Riot, of course, ran into major problems in 2012 when they brazenly challenged Vladimir Putin, as well as the all-powerful Russian Orthodox Church. Three of the all-female band members wound up facing harsh prison sentences as a result.

It's hard to imagine a band with more integrity than Pussy Riot. And I believe that, for all the attention their 2012 arrests prompted, the Pussy Riot's full message has been watered and obscured by the Western corporate media coverage.

Pussy Riot, you see, aren't just foes of the likes of Putin and Russian Orthodox Church. They're also outspoken opponents of global corporatism and capitalism. This radical left-wing aspect of the band has often been downplayed in Western media coverage.

It's clear that Pussy Riot has higher motives than to simply sell records and make money. As the band explained in a Radio Free Europe interview: 

[T]he only performances we'll participate in are illegal ones. We refuse to perform as part of the capitalist system, at concerts where they sell tickets.

Another aspect of Pussy Riot that has been often overlooked is the fact that, for all the controversy that has surrounded the band, Pussy Riot makes great, powerful music. 

"Punk Prayer" featured in the video above is a classic blast of punk outrage. Like all the best punk music, "Punk Prayer" is gloriously amateurish and seething with righteous anger.

I've read where Pussy Riot claims first-generation U.K. punk bands like the Cockney Rejects and Sham 69 as influences. But to me, their sound has echoes of the late, great British anarchist band, Crass (whose latter-period music often contrasted passages of pretty, melodic vocals with harsh guitar feedback).

For all the controversy surrounding the band, Pussy Riot's actual music has generated relatively little comment in the U.S. And the few comments that have been made are often hilariously misinformed and ignorant. Take (please) Kiss's Gene Simmons's idiotic 2012 remarks about Pussy Riot: 

They're very pretty girls. It is not a good band, but they have the right to do whatever they want to do.

Yeah, right: whatever, Grandpa.

Maybe I'm in the minority in my opinion, but I always thought Kiss's music was a snooze-fest. To me, Kiss was a bore even during the band's peak, decades ago, when they ripped off their musical template from the likes of (the vastly superior) Slade.

Simmons has a lot of gall in criticizing Pussy Riot. This, after all, is a money-obsessed, right-wing asshole, whose only "accomplishment" over the decades has been to boast about how many sex partners he has had.

The brave women of Pussy Riot have way more balls and integrity than corporate whores like Simmons will ever have.

Maybe they'll never get played on the radio. But give me Pussy Riot's righteous anger, integrity, and bravery any day over geriatric, commercial sell-outs like Kiss.

And speaking of cowardice, we Americans shouldn't get too smug about Pussy Riot's oppression by Putin's Russia. Too often, our line of thinking goes, "Thank goodness we live in the U.S.A. where we have freedom of speech, unlike Putin's Russia."

But let's not kid ourselves. If there were any U.S. bands around that were actually brave and subversive enough to challenge the U.S. Corporate System/Military Industrial Complex, they'd no doubt face a crackdown here, as well.

Just ask Paul Robeson.

Just ask The Weavers.

Hell, while you're at it, ask the Dixie Chicks (who faced death threats for merely making a mildly critical remark about George W. Bush).

(Cross-posted at BeggarsCanBeChoosers.)

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  • Hi, Michael, I will have to give Green Day another listen, as it does appear that you and I share similar musical tastes. Like you, I enjoy Pink Floyd. And since you've mentioned them on this blog, I've checked out Porcupine Tree and other Kscope bands like The Pineapple Thief and I've found I enjoyed those groups, as well.

    By Blogger Marc McDonald, at 4:27 PM  

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