Russian feminist punk act Pussy Riot today received a sentence of two years in prison, on the old-timey charge of hooliganism, for this. The news came on the same day in which Moscow banned the staging of gay pride parades for the next one hundred years, and in which one of the nation’s favorite sons, chess icon Gary Kasparov, was arrested and allegedly beaten by police while attending a protest of Pussy Riot’s trial.

Last night I waited in line to enter Liberty Hall at the Ace Hotel, to attend a public reading of the band’s “letters, poetry, lyrics, and trial statements”. The venue is typically reserved for the upper crust of Very Important People, hosting glorious after parties which makes the parties themselves feel like a discouraging morning at Kinko’s. Of the evening’s readers, only Chloe Sevigny and Justin Vivian Bond seemed to have the nightlife cache of those who’d been here before. On this evening, the Hall would house as unique and diverse a crowd as I can recall meeting at any New York reading event that I’ve attended. Day-glo costumes of fishnet and pleather spanned the city block, looping all the way back down Broadway from the Ace’s ever-growing occupancy of 29th Street. I was particularly fixated on one cherub of a boy no older than twenty-five, stationed ten feet ahead, in face and hair resembling a young Laura Dern, wearing clip-on granny earrings, a pastel blouse, Mom jeans, and Jelly sandals.

Of the reading itself, I can say the experience fittingly reminded me both of attending punk rock shows at cramped venues, and of attending the sporadic mass at Catholic churches (always in the name of science, experience, novelty, and air conditioning). The length of the show, its tight quarters requiring much of the audience to stand for a few hours, and dry air prompting the purchase of a thirteen dollar gin and tonic all recalled old times spent in Market Hotel, Death by Audio, and assorted basements throughout Metrowest Boston. Having the malted Cambridge diction of the delightfully tenacious Eileen Myles among the evening’s readers only further offered Liberty Hall a kind of curious nostalgia of being a little boy sitting in cathedrals, transfixed by recitations describing a world – in Putin-smothered Russia and scripture alike – that felt at once archaic and still of immense consequence to our own charmed lives here on 29th and Broadway.

On the semantics tip, I was particularly amazed by the testimony of an employee of the Christ the Savior Cathedral, at which the band gave their incriminating performance. This woman, when asked if the word “feminist” is an obscenity, said that it indeed was when used in church. Such is the specificity of her outrage, and that of the courts in trying to quantify heresy. This same employee found it mortally sinful that the group would wear mismatched tights, and such bright colors at that.

The closing statements of the three women on trial are thoughtful and nuanced: one can imagine the required for such eloquence to take hold in a confined jail cell. I’m particularly drawn to Yekerterina Samutsevich’s informative explanation of the Putin regime’s co-opting of the Orthodox church: “Here,” writes Samutsevich, “apparently, the authorities took advantage of a certain deficit of the Orthodox aesthetic in Soviet times, when the Orthodox religion had an aura of lost history, of something that had been crushed and damaged by the Soviet totalitarian regime, and was thus an opposition culture.” At times last night I felt I had fallen into a Cold War time warp, particularly when thinking of Mitt Romney – that cavalier champion of church-and-state separation – recently slagging Russia as a grave threat to America’s well-being.

My habit of skepticism tends to make me a squirm a bit at times during rallies of this sort, not because the raison d’etre is vitally important and its proponents not brave and admirable, but because my impatient generation has been trained to mistake the art of protest as humorless, maudlin, and worst of all – ineffective. Yet a message of solidarity is nothing to sneeze at, and I both thank JD Samson (Le Tigre, MEN) for organizing this noble pursuit, and hope that news of it will reach these three jailed women, who charmed the cynic in me by coyly smiling when their guilty verdict was read.

Posted up near a table of photocopied anarchist manifestos stood a thick-and-goateed hotel security guard, who asked to herein be referred to as Nobody.  Past this point I would walk upstairs to a loud stampede of Very Important People in the hotel’s ballroom bar, slurping cocktails and living the good life a million miles from Moscow.  I asked Nobody what he thought of the evening’s proceedings.  He shrugged and nodded simultaneously.  We got to talking about Pussy Riot’s closing statements also cite that curious irony in which Christ himself was executed on charges of blasphemy.  As if wistful and a little embarrassed for the sometime state of our world, Nobody tempered his icy exterior by releasing a stilted laugh and saying,  “If he’s not beating that rap, who is?”

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