Friday, 22 February 2013

One Year Later: Why We Made a Gospel Version of Pussy Riot's Punk Prayer

This is a guest post by Irreverend James



You’ve heard of Pussy Riot, but have you ever actually listened to the music? It’s brash, raw, performance punk. Not exactly my cup of tea. Or so I thought, until I read British poet Carol Rumens’  translation of Punk Prayer on the Guardian’s website:


Congregations genuflect

Black robes brag gilt epaulettes

Freedom’s phantom’s gone to heaven

Gay Pride’s chained and in detention…


Forget the cup, I thought. I’ll take the entire kettle. Here you have protest music in its purest form. Challenging the collusion between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Russian State. Something had to be done with this. And something has. But first, a little back-story you likely haven’t read before.

Last February 21st,  Pussy Riot called out Vladimir Putin in terms that could not be ignored. By then, he had rigged elections, set up a puppet in his stead to avoid having to rewrite the constitution, then had it rewritten anyway so that he’d be in de facto power for all of 24 years (instead of the constitutionally mandated 8). Now he had the Orthodox Patriarch declaring him “a gift from God”. Though most Russians could see through the charade, they acted as Americans do in regards to congressional redistricting and lobbying: they shrugged, sighed in disgust, and went back to playing with their smart phones. Except Pussy Riot. Their prank was meant as an electro-shock. As we all know, it did not go over well.

Since their highly mediatised trial – and in part because of the West’s infatuation with the girls – the backlash in the Russian mainstream has been eerily similar to the beating Red-State America gave the Dixie Chicks in 2003 after they made an innocuous – and in hindsight, rather justified – statement about then-President Bush. Few Russians are fans of Pussy Riot and fewer still would dare speak up in their defence. Indeed, the zeitgeist in Russia today reeks of French Freedom Fries:  it is depressingly fatuous, unhealthy, cheap and badly mislabeled. It’s okay that Russia is a kleptocracy; but it is definitely not okay for you to call it that.

Most relevant to us is the fact that Pussy Riot were ultimately charged and sentenced by the Russian State with crimes against religion. In doing so, the government managed to shield itself from accusations of political prosecution. What, us? No, we’d never!

It’s much like those dozens of investigative reporters who keep getting accidentally murdered. The message to everyone else in Russia is quite clear. Delve into corruption – be it governmental or otherwise – and you may not get to see your next birthday, though no irrefutable proof will ever be found that your execution-style suicide was anything more than a robbery gone afoul. Ask me again why all those Russian cars have dashboard video cameras.

What’s shocking to me about this case is not only that the Russian judiciary is fatally flawed, but also that religion is once again muddying the socio-political waters. While refusing to back down from their criticism of President Putin, the convicted Rioters have apologized for offending the faithful with their reference to “Holy Shit”. We didn’t mean to blaspheme, they’ve said, it was merely collateral damage. The reason for their backpedalling? Religion in Russia today is akin to Religion in America. It is not to be trifled with.

And just like it’s not well received in America-the-Faithful to call out Scientologists as delusional, Latter Day magic undergarments as goofy, and the Bible, Qu’ran and Torah as historically significant works of utter fiction, so is it not well received in Russia to sing punk songs against authoritarianism in an Orthodox Cathedral.

Only we’re Canadian. So don’t mind if we do.

You can download the song for free here: www.criticalmasschoir.com/punkprayer

In solidarity,

IRREVEREND JAMES and the CRITICAL MASS CHOIR

a Montreal-based subversive gospel music band. www.irreverendjames.com - freethink everything.