Wednesday, May 16, 2012

"And If I Could Have Chosen:" Music, Gender and Bigotry


News that a popular front-man is about to become a front-woman might not stir such intense buzz if we lived in a world that was truly sexually liberated. Hell, it might not even be “news,” just another instance of an individual becoming more like the person they envision themselves to be; end of story. We don’t live in that world, though. The furor over Tom Gabel amply reveals that.

Rolling Stone announced on May 8th that Gabel, singer and guitarist for Florida punks Against Me!, plans to begin living as a woman. According to the brief story on RS’ website:

"Gabel, who has dealt privately with gender dysphoria for years, will soon begin the process of transition, by taking hormones and undergoing electrolysis treatments.

"Gabel will eventually take the name Laura Jane Grace, and will remain married to her wife Heather. ‘For me, the most terrifying thing about this was how she would accept the news,’ says Gabel. ‘But she’s been super-amazing and understanding.'"


The full feature, which was released in the new issue of RS on May 11th, goes into further detail regarding Gabel’s transition. She hasn’t taken on her new name yet, but will do so for a year before deciding whether or not she will undergo surgery; she will also remain the lead-singer of Against Me!

Anyone who has ever come out--be it as gay or lesbian, queer, bi or trans--knows how difficult it can be to tell your loved ones, let alone announce it to the world. In a society as repressed as this, even friends and family who claim to be “open-minded” can balk at the prospect. And that’s true for anyone — not just those who have sold hundreds of thousands of records like Gabel has. Major congratulations are due to Gabel and her wife Heather for taking a step that’s both brave and beautiful.

Not that Gabel has been completely hush-hush about her struggle to forge an identity over the years. “The Ocean,” from 2007’s New Wave, included not-so-thinly-veiled lyrics: ”And if I could have chosen, I would have been born a woman / My mother once told me she would have named me Laura / I’d grow up to be strong and beautiful like her.” In March, during a performance in Corpus Christi, Texas, she performed a solo acoustic version of an as-yet-unreleased song “Transgender Dysphoria Blues.”

Against Me! have also, for what it’s worth, spoken for a variety of progressive and radical causes over the years, including the rights of queer and trans people. Still, it was never quite so obvious just how autobiographical some of these moments were.

Chalking up Gabel’s decision to mere politics (or, for that matter, art) would certainly be insulting. Coming out in any form is a personal choice way before it even gets close to the political realm. On that same tip, it’s hard to ignore the broader world in which Gabel has made this announcement.

The culture of celebrity, colliding with the realities of homophobia and transphobia, means that any well-known figure’s decision to come out instantly takes on social overtones. Comments in the blogosphere have ranged from the clueless (“How will he pass as a woman with arms like that?”) to the callous (“Wow, what an attention ploy”) to those that read as if they came straight out of the Westboro Baptist Church:

"The TRUTH is that GOD H-A-T-E-S GAY, TRANNIES, and all other such sickos. Says so right in the HOLY BIBLE, all you got to do is pick it up and read it for yourself. Do not take the word of these perverts, READ IT FOR YOURSELF. It very clearly states that they will ALL go to HELL. Especially the transsexuals, who are worse than gays. Transsexuals want to take the whole gay acceptance crap issue even further and make you believe that mutilating and hacking up a body to make it look like it is the opposite sex is fine and perfect and in line with God’s plan. That is EVIL. It is SATAN who is making them do that."

This was one of the first comments that appeared on Rolling Stone’s website after they broke the story.

Even some pieces in the “neutral” music press have been clumsy, their tone treating gender dysphoria almost as some kind of disease. Nowhere is it mentioned that even the concept of gender identity being a “disorder” remains controversial in the trans community.

Suffice to say that overall the music press is, at best, learning how to “handle” such announcements as they go–and often not even bothering with that. Says HitFix’s Katie Hasty:

"A man who sings in a hard rock band becoming a woman is a jolt to the system, in part, because it’s a hard rock band. Speaking purely in generalizations, it’s a genre and an entertainment space dominated by men, perceivably for men... [and] has some codes of machismo. While certain spaces generally embrace icons of androgyny or ambiguities of sexual preference (just read any sufficient history of punk), rock ‘n’ roll as originally a counter-culture has been lab-manufactured in years past into a norm, with ‘normal’ expectations. When a singer is gay, or cross-dresses, there’s still that initial shock. When a singer of a well-known band becomes a different gender altogether... it’s an exclamation."

And there’s the rub. The fact is that in the 21st century there still persists set-in-stone ideas of what men and women “should” be--how they should dress, who they should sleep with, what kind of jobs they can have, and even what kind of music they can play. For a society that calls itself enlightened, such norms border on the neolithic.

On the same day as Gabel’s announcement, voters in North Carolina passed Amendment One, essentially banning same-sex marriage and civil unions. If Gabel were to drop her career with Against Me! and search for a job elsewhere, it would be perfectly legal to fire her solely on the grounds of her gender identity in 34 states--including in her home state of Florida. If Gabel’s life were in danger, would authorities care? The recent cases of CeCe McDonald and Lorena Escalera say no.

In the midst of all this, it can’t be such a surprise when bigots feel free to openly spew their filth at anyone who doesn’t fall within their boundaries. All the assumptions about male and female musicians fit into this twisted puzzle. Music is, quite often, merely a reflection of this.

Then there’s the other side of the coin. Namely, how utterly false these expectations end up being in the real world--especially in the realm of the arts, where, at least ostensibly, honesty and willingness to break the mold are valued. Gabel may be the most high-profile musician to come out as trans, but she’s hardly the first. In the 1970s, electronic artist Walter Carlos, one of the earliest to feature the Moog synthesizer in his work, became Wendy Carlos. She later went on to contribute to the score for both The Shining and A Clockwork Orange.

Punk rock in particular has had a notable flurry of trans artists. Wayne County, a participant in the 1969 Stonewall rebellion, formed Wayne County & the Electric Chairs and provided important influence to punk’s first wave before taking the name Jayne County. Genesis P-Orridge of Throbbing Gristle and Psychic TV--two crucial links between post-punk and the formation of industrial music--has been living as pandrogynous for years.

Sure enough, the contradiction of punk has been its visceral nature — a stance that can just as often reproduce society’s worst diseases as reject them. For every sexist Stranglers song there was X-Ray Spex’s Poly Styrene shouting “oh bondage! Up yours!” For every macho dumbfuck threatening to kick your ass, there was a young kid provocatively smearing himself with makeup. In the ‘80s, while Boston’s SS Decontrol were complaining about the “new wave faggots,” Millions of Dead Cops’ Dave Dictor was declaring “I’m a big queer and that makes me more punk than all of you!”

Gabel recalls that it was her experiences meeting January Hunt--a transgender Against Me! fan--that finally inspired her to make the transition. Support from fans on Twitter has been easy to find, as has the same from within the music world. Indie duo Tegan and Sara’s statement of support was straightforward and simple: “So incredibly brave” (Tegan sang backing vocals on New Wave’s “Borne On the FM Waves of the Heart”).

The Gaslight Anthem, a band who has similarly cultivated a friendship with Against Me! over the years, have also been not only publicly supportive, but pointedly rebutted against the anti-trans hatred:

"So Tom’s gonna be Laura now... and in 2012 I still find people on the internet commenting on another persons [sic] life how they insult and condemn a person for his choices... How about you let another human being make a decision about their lives without your snide prejudices and bigotry?"

Yeah, how about that? How about we stop letting artists’ “fans” pick and choose what parts of their humanity are worthy and which ones aren’t? How about we stop acting like their work can be called into question dependent on their gender? How about we understand that the best artists don’t create just to meet others’ expectations, but to make themselves whole?

Most of all, how about we embrace that — with any luck — this is what Gabel is finally on her way to becoming? A whole person. That’s not a privilege, it’s a right. And we should all be so lucky to have it.

First published at Dissident Voice

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Music That Broke the Rules


Adam Yauch wasn't larger than life. Beneath the dynamic stage presence, over-the-top rhymes and highly stylized videos was someone who was quite humble and even soft-spoken in interviews. One almost gets the feeling that Yauch and his MCA alter-ego were two separate people. The hole that both leave in modern music, however, is immense.

After Yauch's death from cancer at the age of 47 on May 4, a staggering number of artists--Black and white, from across the musical spectrum--paid tribute to the profound way Yauch and the Beastie Boys helped expand music's boundaries."

Back in 1998, when he was presenting the Video Vanguard award to the Beastie Boys at the MTV Video Music Awards, Chuck D of Public Enemy described the shock of the group's emergence in 1987:

"In those days, hip-hop was truly from the streets, and everybody rapping was Black. All of a sudden, these three punk-rock white kids--there was no politically correct term for them back in the day--transcended their style and crossed into hip-hop with the shock of Jackie Robinson in reverse...

"[They were] accused of being wannabes, but eventually gaining respect in the school of hard knocks. And at the same time expanding and giving to music the diversity that it claims today. I'm proof of that. They helped me get put on, and I was on their first tour, the
Licensed to Ill tour, in 1987."

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The Beastie Boys had started out as a hardcore punk group. Yauch, at the age of 14, decided he wanted to form a punk band after seeing Black Flag at a New York show in 1978. The name was chosen by he and Mike Diamond (a.k.a. Mike D) because they liked the idea of sharing initials with Bad Brains.

America's punk scene was an unstable animal, however. As it evolved and fractured into countless sub-genres in the 1980s, hip-hop began to take center stage. By the time the Beastie Boys had recruited Adam "Ad-Rock" Horovitz in 1983, thus rounding out the trio, they were already drifting in that direction.

This was New York City after all, and they weren't the only excitable white kids aching to embrace the style as their own. "Cooky Puss," a prank call to a local Carvel ice cream store goofily set to sampled beats, is named by many as the Beastie Boys' first hip-hop track. It unexpectedly became a hit in the NYC underground club scene.

"Cooky Puss" showcased a zany sense of humor that would always remain part of the group, but was particularly prevalent in the days of Licensed to Ill, their first full-length album in 1986 that made them superstars. Paul's Boutique, released in 1989, saw the outlandishness somewhat tempered as their musical style matured. (Not everyone got the joke; Tipper Gore and the PMRC hated these albums, which to anyone who actually respected music meant they were doing something right.)

In 1992, Check Your Head was the most organic fusion yet of all things Beastie. The beats and scratches ran alongside some of the best of New York City hip-hop's then-ongoing Golden Age, but they were complemented by a razor-edged live instrumentation. The band's sneering bravado was infused with just enough wink-wink-nudge-nudge--sure, you were outside the realm of respectability, but that's where the most fun was anyway.

Music fans of all types had tired of the Vanilla Ices of the world, and bland opportunistic crossovers were looked on with suspicion, if not outright hostility. Check Your Head didn't fall into this category, though. It had authenticity to spare. This wasn't "white boys playing Black music"--nor was it an anticipation of the testosterone-laden rap-rock that emerged later in the decade.

Rather, the Beasties were a key link in a broader musical moment that was all too brief. It wasn't just about white artists embracing hip-hop, it was Fishbone and Suicidal Tendencies, Tracy Chapman and Me'shell Ndegeocello--artists of color innovating in genres of music that had for too long been erroneously considered the purview of white musicians.

For many young folks, it was a sign that maybe, despite all the attempts by the industry to keep rock and rap separate and the scenes divided, they had a lot more in common.

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That Yauch and the Beastie Boys have remained a fixture in the mainstream even while many other artists and bands from the era have receded to the underground is a testament to how easily they've been able to run the gamut. There aren't many acts wose comfort zone is so unpredictable.

Their hardcore roots were never fully relinquished ("Tough Guy," "Time For Livin,'" even an EP of punk songs in 1995). Their love of jazz and funk was always obvious, always combined in new and innovative ways with their scratches and beats.

Hip-hop continued to evolve, morph and come into its own in the 1990s. The Beastie Boys, however, could never be accused of merely following the trend. The respect they got from artists of all styles was well deserved--and considering the early accusations of cultural piracy, it was all the more impressive.

Likewise, Yauch expanded his own creative horizons in the 1990s. Under his eccentric (other) alter-ego of Nathanial Hornblower, he directed several of the group's videos, and began experimenting with filmmaking in earnest. Oscilloscope Laboratories, the indie film company he founded in 2008 with THINKFilm executive David Fenkel, has released almost 50 titles to date.

Yauch also became a Buddhist, which obviously had much to do with his increasing involvement in the campaign for a free Tibet. The Tibetan Freedom Concerts he spearheaded with his Milarepa Fund were instrumental in raising awareness of China's unjust treatment of the Tibetans. And how many social justice music festivals could attract everyone from Rage Against the Machine to Sean Lennon to De La Soul to Bjork?

Yauch's political enlightenment, so to speak, went much further than the Tibetan cause. Starting somewhere around Check Your Head, the sexual braggadocio that had characterized the Beastie Boys' early work--especially on Paul's Boutique--started fading away. The group had always claimed it was a joke, but now he was declaring, on Ill Communication's "Sure Shot":

"I wanna say a little something that's long overdue
The disrespect to women has got to be through
To all the mothers and the sisters and the wives and friends
I wanna offer my love and respect to the end."


As the decade progressed, it seemed that Yauch was increasingly aware of the unique platform he and the group had been afforded. Just as he had provided a crucial link in the Beastie Boys' creative process, so now was he providing a political rudder for the group.

When the Beasties accepted the Video Vanguard award from Chuck D in 1998, it was three weeks after President Bill Clinton had ordered missile strikes in Sudan and Afghanistan--supposedly in retaliation for the bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Among the buildings demolished by the U.S. strikes was the Al-Shifa pharmaceutical plant in Sudan, which almost certainly caused the deaths of thousands of Sudanese from treatable illnesses.

Yauch took the entirety of his acceptance speech to speak out against the bombings:

"I think it was a real mistake that the U.S. chose to fire missiles into the Middle East. I think that was a huge mistake. And I think it's very important that the United States start to look towards nonviolent means of resolving conflicts...

I think that another thing that America really needs to think about is our racism--racism that comes from the United States toward Muslim people and toward Arabic people. And that's something that has to stop, and the United States has to start respecting people from the Middle East in order to find a solution to the problems that have been building up over many years."


This was three years before the September 11 attacks. Yauch's comments foreshadowed the New Yorkers Against Violence concert that the Beasties organized in October 2001, noted for its opposition to the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan and featuring Jihad vs. McWorld author Benjamin Barber as a guest speaker.

Yauch's comments also prefigured "In a World Gone Mad," the free download the group released in 2003 to protest the invasion of Iraq. The song, quite frankly, was bad. Really bad. But it also revealed an awareness of Islamophobia that many other antiwar liberals were happy to let slide:

"First, the 'War On Terror,' now war on Iraq
We're reaching a point where we can't turn back
Let's lose the guns and let's lose the bombs
And stop the corporate contributions that they're built upon
Well, I'll be sleeping on your speeches 'til I start to snore
'Cause I won't carry guns for an oil war
As-Salamu alaikum, wa alaikum assalam
Peace to the Middle East, peace to Islam"

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The year 1999 was a formative one for the "millennial" generation. The Battle in Seattle, Napster's debut, the shooting of Amadou Diallo and other events were causing many of us to question whether the present order was the best we could do. The Beastie Boys ushered in the year being protested by cops.

Police groups were up in arms about a massive concert at New Jersey's Meadowlands, co-headlined by Rage Against the Machine and the Beastie Boys--Bad Religion and Chumbawamba opened. The show was a benefit for Mumia Abu-Jamal. Yauch, ">speaking for the group to MTV, stood his ground:

"The main reason that we wanted to be involved is, in general, opposition to the death penalty. I think the death penalty is really not a solution to anything. If we all agree that killing somebody is not a good thing, then we can all agree that killing another person is not a solution."

In the end, 16,000 people attended the concert. I wasn't among them; I was all of 16 and stuck all the way down in Washington, D.C. I weighed the options of disappearing for a few days and buying a bus ticket to East Rutherford; the grounding might be worth it. Here were four of my absolute favorite acts on the same lineup, innovators across the board.

It was a rare opportunity to experience the very best of what had become my two musical obsessions--punk and hip-hop--in the same environment. Why, oh why, couldn't they make it a tour?

I knew nothing about Mumia's case. The fact that the Beastie Boys and Rage were supporting him--and pissing off the very same people who regularly harassed me for the "crime" of putting up fliers for local shows--made me want to find out more. I did, and Mumia quickly became one of my heroes. From there, it wasn't a long jump to joining the Campaign to End the Death Penalty and marching outside Maryland's Supermax prison. I attended anti-sweatshop meetings and became part of the global justice movement.

The first (and unfortunately only) time I saw any of the Beastie Boys in person was in 2000 at DC's MCI Center. Ironically, it wasn't a concert; it was a super-rally for Ralph Nader, the Green Party presidential candidate. Yauch was one of Nader's most up-front supporters, and unlike many other Nader 2000 stalwarts, he never apologized for it. I was just barely old enough to vote and had already registered Green. I was excited enough to see Patti Smith play at the rally--the fact that Yauch was speaking was just gravy.

Certainly I'm not alone in saying that the Beastie Boys played a formidable role in shaping my politics. It wasn't just the fact that someone famous was lending their face to this or that cause. It was deeper than that. It was what their music represented.

That three white Jewish kids from Brooklyn could be taken into the world of hip-hop, even be allowed to innovate it by their peers, seemed to point a way toward something ineffable, something better. Yauch and company weren't cultural colonists--they were artists adding to the conversation, and taking the conversation seriously to begin with. Years before anyone starting abusing the term "post-racial," such a musical stance took big-time guts.

Yauch's gutsiness came across in another form when I got this Tweet from Occupy Wall Street after the news of his death: "Adam Yauch marched with us in November over the Brooklyn Bridge. He was a visionary artist who never lost sight of his community."

Here was Yauch, battling cancer's final stages, marching arm-in-arm with Occupiers and union members as police swung their batons. That's some rare bravery.

But then, artistic vision requires bravery. Adam Yauch's music and art revealed him to be always curious, always searching, always seeking to chart new territory. In short, he was someone who understood that art simply doesn't respond to boundaries. He also understood that, to a real artist, this meant breaking more than a few rules along the way.

First published at SocialistWorker.org

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

A (Pussy) Riot of Our Own: What the Russian Punks Can Teach Us About Music and Protest


Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina and Yekaterina Samutsevich–-all arrested in early and mid-March–-were hoping that they might be released after their pre-trial hearing on April 19th in Moscow. There is little evidence connecting the three women with feminist punk rock collective Pussy Riot, or the group’s “punk prayer” flash-gig at Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral urging the Virgin Mary to “chase Putin out.”

Instead, the judge ordered that Tolokonnikova, Alyokhina and Samutsevich be detained for at least two more months. No trial date has been set as of this writing. The women face up to seven years in prison, all for the offense of playing music supportive of Russia’s burgeoning democracy movement.

An estimated sixty supporters gathered outside the courthouse the day of the hearing, many facing down hard nationalist thugs defending Putin. Thirteen were arrested. All were asking the same obvious question: how the hell can music be a crime?

Even Moscow police, the very same repressive force that rounded up the “Pussy Riot Three,” have had to admit after conducting their investigation that the “punk prayer” did not constitute a criminal action. At most, the performance “could have caused offence to believers,” punishable in Russia by an average fine of around 1,000 rubles–roughly the equivalent of thirty-five dollars. Many of Pussy Riot’s previous flash performances–including “Rebellion In Russia,” the song that landed first landed them in international consciousness–have also resulted in arrest. But in all those cases, the “offenders” were released with little more than a fine.

Despite the Russian Interfaith Council’s condemnation of Pussy Riot for “blasphemy” and “inciting religious hatred,” the group’s supporters include a great many who identify as Russian Orthodox. Among them is none other than Alla Pugyachova, known as “Russia’s pop queen,” who shot to fame during the days of the Soviet Union and is now calling for the women’s release.

This while Patriarch Kirill–-he of the forty-thousand dollar Breguet watches, who called Putin’s rule over Russia “a miracle of God”–-remains steadfast in demanding that the three women face the maximum sentence.

So once again, with so much high-profile sympathy for the three women, how is it that music can be a crime? How is it that one can face seven years of jail for performing a song? And what is it about Pussy Riot that has caused the Russian establishment to dig in its heels so vociferously?

Part of it must simply be how different Russia looks now compared to a year ago. Even with anger against Putin obviously growing, nobody was able to say that his iron grip on power faced a credible threat. Last winter’s elections changed all that. Allegations of fraud were so widespread and flagrant that tens of thousands poured onto the streets demanding an end to Putin’s rule, austerity and political corruption.

It is worth pointing out that until relatively recently, much of the Russian artistic community–including sections of the avant-garde–were either hamstrung by the Russian elite. According to Kirill Kobrin, managing editor of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's Russian bureau, the country’s contemporary art scene remained, if not supportive of Putin, unwilling to take him on:

"In the beginning of the ‘noughties,’ there was a kind of common idea that Putin’s regime was about modernization, it was about reforms... This idea was very strong until Beslan [referring to the 2004 crisis where Chechen rebels took over a school in the North Ossetian town of Beslan, which Putin’s ruling party used to strictly consolidate the Kremlin’s power -AB]... But then, two things happened. First of all, the regime showed itself not as a modernizing one. And secondly, you have to understand the nature of contemporary art. Contemporary art is about radical politics, it’s about radical gender relationships..."

Recent years have seen the Russian avant-garde’s natural propensity for political mischief blossom and thrive. Voina, an anarchist art collective, has gained infamy for its public stunts staging mock executions in grocery stores, and painting a giant penis on a drawbridge outside the St. Petersburg headquarters of the Federal Security Service. Now, the winter’s mobilizations have made what once seemed merely shocking appear dangerous and subversive.

Hand-in-hand with this is the international profile that this case has received. Amnesty International has called Tolokonnikova, Alyokhina and Samutsevich “prisoners of conscience.” April 21st, an international day of solidarity called by Pussy Riot’s supporters, saw actions from Mexico to the Czech Republic to Australia.

In my own city, at a march of a thousand people organized by Occupy Chicago on April 7th, I was randomly handed a button that read “Free Pussy Riot!” The button had been designed and made by local activist who I had never met before. Something is in the air with this case. And when something is in the air, it can travel across oceans.

This is, it bears remembering, a collective of punks whose songs have urged listeners to “do Tahrir in Red Square!” In the age of indignados and occupiers, language like this is bound to strike a chord (so to speak) well beyond national borders. Pussy Riot may have only been talking about “their own” head of state when they screamed “Putin’s pissed himself.” But having watched dictators in North Africa fall and governments in Europe collapse, plenty of rulers likely feel a bit more, shall we say, on notice.

Just as austerity and repression have become world-wide themes, so has the war on women. Band members’ insistence that “the revolution should be done by women” can’t possibly fall on deaf ears with marches like Slut Walk still fresh in young people’s minds. Here in the US too, where states are passing laws making women liable for a fetus’ health two weeks before conception, where young women are forced by school districts to apologize to their rapists, the attacks necessitate a fightback.

In a recent column in The Washington Post, writer Suzi Parker asked:

"Wouldn’t it be refreshing to have an American version of Pussy Riot to lead the soundtrack on this country’s war on women? They could protest at Ted Nugent concerts, write lyrics about Rush Limbaugh and Bill Maher and call out politicians on both sides, or the Secret Service, when they insulted women. And with the protection of free speech. Pussy Riot would love to have that freedom."

Parker is chauvanistically naive to say that real protection of free speech exists in the United States–ask anyone evicted this past fall from the nation’s supposedly public parks and they’ll give you a very different answer. So does the stranglehold of the market severely limit the space for daring, avant-garde music to really grow and flourish. And certainly, the whole point of the renewed attack on women’s rights is to get them to “learn their place” and keep their mouths shut.

For these same reasons, though, Parker is right when she says America could gain a lot from having a Pussy Riot of our own on this side of the pond. The look on Limbaugh’s face alone might be enough to make such a prospect worthwhile!

In fact, what’s striking about this entire twisted tale isn’t how alien it seems to the west, but how much our own stories hold in common. Garazhda, one of Pussy Riot’s pseudonymous members told the Guardian in January that “There’s a deep tradition in Russia of gender and revolution–we’ve had amazing women revolutionaries.” The same can be said of America, from Mother Jones and the “rebel girl” Elizabeth Gurley Flynn to Angela Davis and Elaine Brown.

So too has the US seen, more recently, the machismo of punk rock turned on its head by acts like Bikini Kill, Sleater-Kinney, Bratmobile and the rest of the riot grrrl generation. Though most of that incredible movement have disbanded or moved on, there can be little doubt that its aesthetic has had a massive impact on Pussy Riot’s own actions. Plenty of reporters have similarly commented on the connection.

That sense of commonality is what’s in the air right now. And with it is the notion that your fight is mine and mine is yours, that we each have something to learn from each other in fighting the same power.

Just as Pussy Riot’s own actions were inspired by an amalgam of Egyptian protest, western riot grrrl and their own rich traditions of resistance, so do we have something to learn from them. Namely, that “protest music” isn’t merely the stuff of history books or passive hippies. It can be brash, it can be in your face and on the streets. It can be a battering ram, widening the cracks in the edifice for all to see. Putin and others like him have every reason to be nervous about that. We too would do well to pay attention.

First published at Dissident Voice