Jeffrey Lewis has been busy.
Just three months after releasing his latest album, Hey Hey It’s…The Jeffrey Lewis & Peter Stampfel Band - his second LP with the former Fugs and Holy Modal Rounders member - Lewis is issuing three more tracks as a 7″ single in tribute to Pussy Riot. He’s also been touring with various configurations (including his new backing band The Rain, and shows with Stampfel or others) and will play Reading Festival next Friday (August 23rd) and Leeds Festival next Saturday (August 24th). Jeffrey has several book projects as well. He’s rewriting every Sonic Youth song as a Shakespearean sonnets for a poetry volume called Sonnet Youth; Paul Buhle 2014 book Bohemians will include a nine-page comic biography of Woody Guthrie by Lewis; and he’s illustrated Jaimee Garbacik’s just released Gender & Sexuality For Beginners. An excerpt of Lewis’ drawing from the new book is below:
Jeffrey contributed to another book earlier this year, Let’s Start a Pussy Riot - the group’s collaborative book curated by performance artist Emely Neu and launched in June at Yoko Ono’s Meltdown Festival. Also featuring art and writings from Ono, Kim Gordon, Antony Hegarty, The Knife, Robyn, Billy Childish, and others, the book is available now at roughtraderecords.com/store. All profits go directly to Pussy Riot.
Which brings us back to the topic of his 7″ vinyl single (33rpm) out August 27th. Titled “WWPRD” – an acronym for “What Would Pussy Riot Do,” a play on the popular Jesus saying – Jeffrey softly but passionately asks,
“What is this middle ages?
Let those women out of their cages…
‘Cause progress is not guaranteed
I say Pussy Riot is what we need
This ain’t the old Red Army Faction
This is bold, non-violent action…
We might not share all [Pussy Riot's] beliefs
And we might even have some beefs…
[But] let’s just have the decency
For you to ask yourself, and I’ll ask me
We’ll have to wait to hear how the recorded version is arranged (the front cover and rear credits suggest he is backed by The Rain), but live it is spoken-sung a capella – a bare expression directing all attention to Lewis’ words that’s already been praised by Amnesty International Press Officer Neil Durkin. Likewise the simplicity of the rhyme scheme and meter accentuate Jeffrey’s views in no uncertain terms. In many ways it’s like Bob Dylan’s “Last Thoughts on Woody Guthrie” for a new generation of times a-changin’ (footnote #1 – Lewis, also a cartoonist, has drawn a Guthrie comic for publication next year). But it may be more accurate to describe it as the latest example of Lewis’ lo-fi twist to the spirit of anarcho-punks like Crass (footnote #2 – Lewis released a tribute album in 2007, “12 Crass Songs”).
Hear “WWPRD” for yourself, live in London on August 10th below:
The new 7″ can be pre-ordered here and includes two B-sides, “Sunbeams” and “The Fall Of The Soviet Union.” The latter is part of the history of Communism song series that Jeffrey has written and illustrated, as well as one of his works featured on the History Channel’s website. In concert he flips through the comic pages while reciting the song, jokingly referring to these performances as “lo-fi videos.” The back of the new 7″ sleeve shows “The Fall Of The Soviet Union” comic pages. Take a look at the comic and hear Lewis perform at history.com.
Jeffrey is the latest in a wide array of musicians to support Pussy Riot in the year since Russian feminist punk collective was sentenced to prison for “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred.” On August 7, 2012 Madonna delivered a speech urging Pussy Riot’s release at her concert in Moscow. On August 12, 2012 at Helsinki’s Flow Festival, Björk closed her set with “Declare Independence.” “Let’s hope it has been a fair trial, FREE PUSSY RIOT!” she plead before doing the same on August 16th (the eve of Pussy Riot’s sentencing) at Belgium’s Pukkelpop Fest 2012, this time also dedicating the song to Julian Assange. On tour last fall Billy Bragg altered the lyrics to “The Great Leap Forward” to include the line, “Tony Abbott thinks all women should be quiet, but all I can say is FREE PUSSY RIOT.” Peaches, one of Pussy Riot’s most vocal and consistent supporters, brought attention to their case months before it became a trend. Last summer, she wrote and recorded “Free Pussy Riot” with Simonne Jones, then released it as a free download as part of her change.org/freepussyriot campaign.
Yoko Ono and Amnesty International presented Pussy Riot the LennonOno grant for peace last September, and anonymous free members discussed activism this June with Yoko at her Meltdown Festival. Ono has also used her presence on social media to bring attention to the cause – as have Coldplay, Cat Power, the surviving members of The Clash, and Peter Gabriel. All of the above mentioned artists also joined Radiohead, Animal Collective, Arcade Fire, Karen O, Thurston Moore, Kim Gordon, Patti Smith, U2, Tom Morello, Pete Townshend, Jeff Beck, Jackson Browne, Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen, and Eddie Vedder last month in signing an open letter to encourage all citizens of the world to add their names to a Free Pussy Riot petition. So have Ke$ha, Adele, Billy Joel, Sir Elton John, Sir Bob Geldof and over 100 other musicians.
Paul McCartney – another artist that signed the open letter – also individually wrote Russian authorities urging them to release the remaining members of Pussy Riot from prison this past May and displays “FREE PUSSY RIOT” on the giant screen behind him during “Back in the USSR” on his recent tour, including his headlining spot at Bonnaroo 2013. Even before Pussy Riot was sentenced Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Anthony Kiedis and Flea sent letters of support and wore Pussy Riot T-shirts at their Moscow Luzniky Stadium show. Franz Ferdinand likewise dedicated “This Fire” at their Moscow concert last July “to all of those musicians that end up in jail for just saying what they think,” in frontman’s Alex Kapranos words.
I'm sure you are all fans of their right to express their opinion. Any world leader who claims to be a fan of the Beatles and John Lennon…—
alex kapranos (@alkapranos) July 23, 2012
Marking the anniversary of their sentencing today, the second annual Pussy Riot Solidarity Concert was held yesterday at Washington DC’s Russian Embassy and many musicians continue to use social media to bring publicity to the case:
These recent tweets follow musicians outcry leading up to and (especially) following Pussy Riot’s sentencing last summer:
Official shout out to Russian riot grrls, Pussy riot!—
st vincent (@st_vincent) August 03, 2012
Thoughts go out to the brave members of pussy riot and all of Russia's LGBT….unbelievable what's going on over there for human rights—
Edward Droste (@edwarddroste) August 17, 2012
Free Pussy Riot of course. Also, all other political prisoners.—
The Mountain Goats (@mountain_goats) August 17, 2012
It's a sad day because I actually love Russia! What's happening to this great nation that it's afraid of poofs, Madonna and pussy!—
boygeorge (@BoyGeorge) August 17, 2012
FYI. We will never being playing a show in Russia as long as they imprison innocent musicians for speaking their minds peacefully.—
Patrick Carney (@patrickcarney) August 17, 2012