As a preview to my Faculty Pub Night April 22 at the William Hannon Library, Michael Aushenker interviewed me about the Runaways and Queens of Noise for Los Angeles newspaper The Argonaut. He also talked to the seminal punk photographer Jenny Lens.
I finished reading Masha Gessen’s fascinating, intelligent, and well-written book about Pussy Riot, Words Will Break Cement, yesterday. A Russian-American who has previously written about Vladimir Putin and had tremendous access to the band, Gessen explains much about how these women came together; their context within Russian literature, politics, and dissidents; their actions and trial; and the horrors they experienced in prison. The more I find out about Masha, Nadya, Kat, and the rest of these artist/activists, the more impressed I am with their foresight and bravery in trying to stop an autocratic nightmare. The New York Times ran an article yesterday about the emergent xenophobia in Russia that reported in part:
“At Mr. Putin’s direction, a committee led by his chief of staff is developing a new ‘state policy in culture.’ Widely expected to be enacted into law, the proposed cultural policy emphasizes that ‘Russia is not Europe’ and urges ‘a rejection of the principles of multiculturalism and tolerance’ in favor of emphasizing Russia’s ‘unique state-government civilization,’ according to Russian news accounts that quoted a presidential adviser on culture, Vladimir Tolstoy.”
As evidence of this emerging monocultural supremacy, the article cites a banner hung in Moscow that decried the “fifth column” of dissenting bloggers, politicians, and musicians. Putin used this loaded phrase himself in a speech, setting the stage for the potential purging of difference. Chilling stuff, as the Times says. Interestingly, Fifth Column was the name of an amazing queer-punk Canadian band in the early ’90s, associated with the Riot Grrrl movement from which Pussy Riot gets their name. They were dissidents against the homophobia of the era of the Defense of Marriage Act, just as Pussy Riot oppress the anti-gay politics of Putin’s Russia.
Somewhat amusingly, Masha and Nadya questioned Putin’s own sexual orientation on Real Time With Bill Maher.
I still love Debbie Harry; still bored by Arcade Fire.
Thanks to Mukta and everyone else at KXLU for this incredible flyer for the Queens of Noise Pub Night April 22. And for this one:
Pussymania is everywhere. Nadya and Masha were on Charlie Rose last night. They’ll be on Bill Maher Friday. And I saw them again Monday at the Voice Project panel. I wound up writing about their LA debut for Los Angeles magazine’s website. It was a cool night — MC5′s Wayne Kramer kicked out the jams — but I wish the Project had found a better representative of American women than Anne Litt. They could have chosen anyone from my pedigreed punk feminist cohort: I was honored to be hanging out with three pioneering musicians who paved the way for Pussy Riot: Alice Bag, whose 1970s punk band hid their visages with bags, balaclava-style; Allison Wolfe, who, as a OG Riot Grrrl, led the movement that gave Pussy Riot their name; and Azalia Snail, long-time lady of lo-fi. I worry that these Russian heroes are abandoning their girl-power roots for the limelight. But I was also stoked as hell to see their laser-sharp intelligence and cool on stage — and to see them hanging out afterwards. Support girl love!
Nadya Tolokonnikova and Masha Alekhina know how to disarm. The first questioner at yesterday’s screening of Pussy vs. Putin at the Harmony Gold Theater shouted increasingly hostile comments/queries that ended with the clearly largely rhetorical question, “How do you define political prostitution?” It’s a time-honored tactic against women who venture outside of prescribed boundaries: Call them whores. In fact, it’s a charge made against Pussy Riot in the documentary that had just aired: “We are against the propaganda of whoredom.” But rather than taking offense at what seemed like an inquisition, not an inquiry, Nadya seized the moment and made it her own.
“I particularly like your second question,” she responded with enthusiasm, not resentment. “Political prostitution is when thugs are hired by the government to attack two young women who are trying to visit prisoners, as happened to us.” Continue reading