Pussy Riot and Four Other Bands That Lost the Battle with Authority But Won the War

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The members of Pussy Riot show the court's verdict, which led to their sentencing to two years in prison.
If there's one thing the Pussy Riot trial has taught us, it's that protest music can still be a dangerous, subversive tool. By performing an anti-Putin "punk prayer" during a guerrilla action at a Russian Orthodox church, Pussy Riot intended to provoke and offend. Many saw their action as blasphemous, and it's not surprising that ordinary Russians disapproved. But whereas such a stunt would have earned them, at worst, a fine or a light sentence in most Western countries, the three Rioters are about to spend two years in a Russian prison, essentially for protesting Putin and his policies.

Here in the United States, it's been some time since rock and roll, hip-hop, or any other form of popular music shook society's pillars. Even when certain musicians have attracted government heat, they've benefited from a Constitutionally derived and strongly-defended free speech tradition. The Weavers spent a few years on a government blacklist in the 1950s; John Lennon battled the Nixon administration to procure American citizenship; and Ice-T found his band, Body Count, dropped from its record label and chastised by Charlton Heston post-"Cop Killer." Yet despite the great personal and career damage each of them experienced, there was never any real question that they'd end up doing hard time for their statements. Hundreds of artists and punk rockers protested Ronald Reagan in the 1980s and the Iraq and Afghanistan wars during the George W. Bush era; almost all continued to create without fear. Meanwhile, in Russia, even chess legend Garry Kasparov found himself allegedly arrested and beaten while demonstrating against the Pussy Riot verdict. It's a scary, surreal thing to behold.

But Pussy Riot is hardly the first group of young people to be branded as dissidents by its homeland government. As their story continues to evolve, here are four other musicians that fell afoul of their respective regimes. Inevitably, all of them ended up being celebrated worldwide.

1) Plastic People of the Universe. In 1968, inspired by Frank Zappa, the Velvet Underground and a temporary period of liberalization, this Czechoslovakian band formed and began playing around Prague and elsewhere. After drawing on the work of Czech writer Egon Bondy for inspiration (even titling an album Egon Bondy's Happy Hearts Club Banned), the Plastics and their fans found themselves harassed by the Communist government. The band went underground: lyric books were surreptitiously and selectively passed around, and their concerts were billed as "weddings" to take an advantage of a loophole in Czech law. In 1976, however, several band members were tried and arrested for "organized disturbance of the peace." In protest, some of their biggest fans, including Vaclav Havel, wrote the Charter 77 initiative, and eventually ended up running the country.


Plastic People of the Universe playing a "wedding party."

2) Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso. In the late 1960s, the Brazilian tropicalia sound merged traditional bossanova and samba with Jimi Hendrix, Jefferson Airplane, and the psychedelic Beatles of Sgt. Pepper and Magical Mystery Tour. Today, tropicalistas such as Os Mutantes, Gilberto Gil and Caetano Valoso are considered among the era's most innovative artists, In 1968 Brazil, though, playing anything that could be branded "rock and roll" was enough to make you a genuine governmental threat. In December of that year, Veloso performed a satirical version of the Brazilian national anthem on national television. Gil and Veloso were arrested shortly afterward; they spent three months in prison and four months under house arrest before ultimately being deported. Gil ultimately returned to Brazil in 2003 as the Minister of Culture. Like Plastic People's fans, the very people ostracized by their government ultimately had a role in running the country.


Gilberto Gil with Os Mutantes, "Domingo no Parque," 1967


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12 comments
ijosborne
ijosborne

@KerryMP That was interesting. They could've added Jello Biafra's beating that ridiculous obscenity charge back in the Eighties.

DelroyHibbert
DelroyHibbert

@KerryMP 2/2 and became a marketing tool that helped the sales of Hip-Hop by pointing out the 'controversial' contents!

DelroyHibbert
DelroyHibbert

@KerryMP that article bring back memories of the hip-hop vs Tipper Gore row. Enforced Parental Advisory stickers on CDs backfired 1/2

akalionrule
akalionrule

@KerryMP well there producer is suggesting them as Russia's eurovision entry.

NappyCrappy
NappyCrappy

"But whereas such a stunt would have earned them, at worst, a fine or a light sentence in most Western countries, the three Rioters are about to spend two years in a Russian prison, essentially for protesting Putin and his policies."

 

If a flash mob music group stormed the altar at the New/Old Cathedral downtown and played the Beach Boys much less an anti-government song, the police would FIND charges against them.  They would face jail time here in STL just the same as in Moscow.  Trespassing, disturbing the peace, hope you have $5 in your pocket because if not then thats vagrancy charge, not to mention some "back room" justice when the got to the precinct.

 

The Russians have no right to free speech, and we have to give them some credit that they are honest about the charges they press.  Hooliganism is a crime in Russia, and the defendants plead guilty

travisbursik
travisbursik

Good call on Plastic People. One of my favs. "@rftmusic Pussy Riot & 4 Other Bands That Lost the Battle with Authority http://t.co/SacekAqD"

wood5y
wood5y

@DelroyHibbert @KerryMP on a parallel line, has home taping killed music yet? :-)

KerryMP
KerryMP

@DelroyHibbert yes, if you're a teenage boy you're going to look for the sweary stickers!

USAallTHEway
USAallTHEway

 @NappyCrappy Yea, its true they would have found some charges against them.  No where in the world would they have gotten away with desecrating a church

DelroyHibbert
DelroyHibbert

@wood5y @KerryMP no but video killed the radio star....taxi!

DelroyHibbert
DelroyHibbert

@KerryMP exactly! I worked in record shops and witnessed just that. Also did well selling t-shirts with the warning logo for a while.

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