Fri. August 17
Russia’s Rock N Roll Riot
By now it’s an established fact that the punk revolution of the late 1970s led to a genuine artistic achievement, as the movement and its Do It Yourself (DIY) ethic gave bands like U2, Green Day, and Radiohead the ability to create their own sounds in unique and imaginative ways. Incredibly, punk is still producing exciting art; one of the best bands I’ve heard recently is Neon P*ss. I know, I know–the vulgar names do get tiresome, but a lot of the music is still very cool. It remains one of the joys of life to come across a talented young band and watch them flourish.
Although it puts on an angry and nihilistic face, punk, or the best punk, is about trying to live a virtuous life in a world that often seems compromised by commercialism, war, and a basic lack of integrity. This is the 30th anniversary year of the punk magazine Maximum Rocknroll, and leafing through the anniversary issue it’s clear that punks today value what punks back in the 1970s and 80s valued: honesty, community, art for art’s sake, and real friendship.
That said, MRR has certainly fallen short in its lack of support for the band P**** Riot, a Russian all-female punk rock collective. Three members of the group were sentenced to two-year prison terms today by a Moscow court for “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred”. This for performing a song at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior which asked Mary, the Mother of God–or “Theotokos”–to “drive Putin away.”
Maximum Rocknroll has not covered theP**** Riot scandal enough, and that’s a shame, because one thing punk is supposed to prize above all else is truth-telling. Furthermore, there’s also a proud history of punk subversion of communist tyranny. After all, Václav Havel and the leaders of the 1960s revolt against communism in Czechoslovakian were deeply influenced by American rock and roll–particularly the band the Velvet Underground, which was a founding influence on punk. A group of young Czech hippies formed the group the Plastic People of the Universe (named after a Frank Zappa lyric) and were soon banned by the government. A fan of the Rolling Stones, Havel saw and heard in rock and roll “a temperament, a nonconformist state of the spirit, an anti-establishment orientation, an aversion to philistines, and an interest in the wretched and humiliated.”
Partly as a result of their love of the Velvet Underground, Havel and his friends launched “Charter 77,” which called for free artistic expression. The document spread widely through the underground, ultimately making its way to Poland and the Solidarity movement. It is no exaggeration then to say that American rock and roll helped bring down Communism.
Whether that same spirit of freedom can still withstand the challenges posed by the Putin regime remains to be seen.