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Two years after ‘Punk Prayer,’ Pussy Riot are the most exciting band in rock and roll — without actually being a band, or even rock and roll

 
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[dropcap]R[/dropcap]ock and roll is awesome, but let’s face it, it’s a toy: it’s a pose, it’s a phase one goes through, it’s an adolescent ideology that becomes harder to hold onto as the evidence begins to pile up in one’s life that this musical force will not save one from the way of the world. The thing is, though, that for a lot of people across a few generations all over the world, rock and roll is just something that makes sense, that is understood — it is a filter through which so many people view the world, it’s actions, it’s rights and wrongs. A meal has to “rock,” a job has to “rock,” one’s politics has to “rock,” too. Thus: Pussy Riot.

It has now been two years, to the day, since the PR crew staged their infamous “Punk Prayer” piece at Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior, an action whose reverberations were felt all across the rock-afflicted portions of the globe. As a result of the actions, several responsible parties were sentenced to lengthy jail time and in the process made the collective into worldwide superstars.


The Pussy Riot phenomenon is remarkable, mostly in the way it has energized worldwide interest in the rock group as a potent cultural symbolic force. PPR (pre-Pussy Riot), most experts agreed that the form had long outlived its usefulness; many pointed to the existence and massive and continued success of Coldplay and Dave Grohl as proof positive that rock and roll, once the most important symbol of worldwide progressive youth energy, had run its course. Consider this: prior to Pussy Riot, there existed human rights violations, unfair imprisonment, displays of political outrage, even useage of colorful winter ski masks. But when Pussy Riot thought to mix those things with rock and roll, and specifically with punk rock, they hit paydirt in terms of building sympathy amongst the Western cultural elite.

 

Pussy Riot, it must be pointed out, contradict so many of rock and roll’s central tenets: first and foremost, they don’t really play music; secondly, they don’t really release songs, produce records, play shows, embark on tours, or even have a stable lineup that trainspotters at home can keep track of and debate. We don’t know who plays bass in Pussy Riot, and we can’t yet complain that their third album is [pullquote align=”right”]It’s rock and roll to defy rock and roll, and in that regard, this non-band is currently the most exciting band in rock and roll.[/pullquote]nowhere near as rad as their debut — clearly, their career so far does not fit in with our Western standards for rock and roll orthodoxy. But there are two things to consider here: first, their primary objective it to smash orthodoxy, and second, rock and roll as a dominant art form has only survived by celebrating those that break all of the genre’s own rules. It’s rock and roll to defy rock and roll, and in that regard, this non-band is currently the most exciting band in rock and roll.

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The two imprisoned members of Pussy Riot, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina, were released by the state on December 23, 2013; as part of their ensuing PR world tour, they recently touched down in America, wowing television audiences and stadium crowds, rubbing shoulders with celebrities and cool people and being forced to be in the presence of Wayne Coyne for extended moments of time. Their interface with celebrity here was, for the most part, contained to the subculture of The West’s Musical-Industrial Complex, as they found themselves feted by such luminaries as Paul McCartney, Yoko Ono, Madonna, and other people, some of whom are maybe not even as fame-whoring as Coyne.

 
 


Their visit to the States was an occasion for our media to wring hands about the political meaning of the group’s statements, to really try to understand why Pussy Riot are so awesome while we and everything we love is so, so lame. In an absolutely face-palming press conference during their time in New York, Nadya and Maria were forced to listen to a litany of rock geezers pontificate on the group’s significance. Bob Geldof, erstwhile Boomtown Rats frontman and co-organizer of the 1985 Live Aid concerts (and a man who, unlike Pussy Riot, deserves to rot in a Russian labor camp for having penned the lyrics to “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”), while expounding on the significance of music in the new global chaos-order, had this to say:

“I don’t think music actually changes anything; I think that musicians are pied pipers — a terrible cliche, I know — but they’re gathering people around the electronic hearth, whatever that is, and they support these various organizations and then it’s up to them to gather musicians and figure out where we go next.”

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In other words, the ’50s/’60s/’70s mindset of rock and roll kids upsetting their elders with their crazy ways and loud sounds is not only ineffective in this day and age, but it never really achieved anything that political organizations, non-profits, community action and the like have been doing since long before the rock and roll era. It was rock critic Ellen Willis who once shocked her peers with the conceit that “when we’re ready for the next cultural upheaval, the catalyst may not be teenagers — or even music.” Sure sure, this was in the context of an early-’70s Grand Funk Railroad review, but it is worth considering that perhaps rock and roll’s power has less to do with sound than has been generally understood — and that the power of rock and roll rests more in the way it functions as a unit and as a political entity than as a musical combo.

 
 
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