Celebrating their fiftieth anniversary, three wizened crones known as the Rolling Stones: Mick, Keith and Charlie (Ronnie remains Johnny Come Lately). Meanwhile in Russia, three Pussy Riot grrrls condemned as witches and sentenced to jail: Yekaterina, Nadezhda and Maria. Yekaterina’s sentence was suspended on appeal, but the others will spend their birthdays in jail, penalised for ‘hooliganism motivated by religious hatred’ – staging a ‘punk prayer’ inside Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, calling on the Virgin Mary to rid Russia of President Putin, stomping and high-kicking against the pricks of Russian Orthodoxy. Pussy Riot is a feminist-punk collective with around a dozen members. During their agit-prop performances they all wear balaclavas; but in court Nadezhda was revealed as the Face of the group. Good bones, regular teeth, lovely lips (not bulbous like Mick’s), she resembles the original leader of the Rolling Stones, Brian Jones, who died of drugs and drowning in 1969 aged 27. (A former girlfriend reported that Brian always wanted to look like French singer Francois Hardy – the spitting image of Pussy Riot’s Nadezhada). The houndstooth check shirt Nadezhda wore in court, is of equally notable descent: shades of Ben Sherman as worn by 1970s skinhead bands such as Cockney Rejects (copied and sampled in Pussy Riot’s recorded rants), all the way back to the Brooks Brothers shirts with button down collar, picked up by the Stones during their early American tours. But whereas Mick, Keith and Charlie have become more brand than a band (increasingly bland), Yekaterina, Nadezhda and Maria religiously refuse to have anything to do with merchandising Pussy Riot. No copyright, no contracts, they insist, spurning the $3m valuation of Pussy Riot TM. Neither corporate jingles nor jangling royalties, this blasphemous bunch has only one mantra: freedom.
Acres of red carpet, a plantation of decorative greenery, enough gold leaf to turn the ceiling’s vast expanse into a midsummer night’s dream forest. Xi Jinping’s Big Hair: blue-black and quiffed back as high as Elvis’. Further down the production line of suits, ties and the heads and shoulders inhabiting them, a preference for see-through plastic spectacle frames as worn 30 years ago by Andy Warhol. The staging is as camp as Rylan going Gangnam Style on X-Factor. But this is Reality TV: real-time footage of the first public appearance of the newly appointed Politburo, highest ranking body of the Chinese Communist Party, possibly the six most powerful men in the world after Barack Obama. In the West, not famous even ‘for 15 minutes’ (Warhol); but these men in suits will be holding the reins of power for years to come. Like their stylistic counterparts in Reservoir Dogs, they don’t do double entendre. Whereas in the West we have an endless supply – a double take for everything they say; a re-make of everything they are. Accordingly: Xi says a few words – raising the level of productive forces, against corruption and ‘bureaucratism’ – before waving and walking off stage; unlike Rylan, he is never going to need your vote.
They came on stage together: Barack, Michelle and the two girls (look how they’ve grown). For a couple of minutes all four of them basked in the applause of the crowd. The children touching their father now and again: hand, arm, shoulder. Partly passing on to him the goodwill of the American people: this is for you, Father. Partly to claim ownership: let the People know this is my Daddy. The President, also and for the last time President-Elect (second time round the same, cropped hairstyle seems less black, now it’s shaded grey), knew exactly when his wife and children should leave the stage: having lingered long enough not to appear curt or arrogant; appreciating the adulation without milking it. Only George Burns’ timing was ever better. Now the slight touches came from him to them: fleeting hugs and they’re away, back to the Presidential apartments in the White House; no need to pack away childish things any time soon. Barack had signalled for his family to leave the stage without hesitation or any sign of a second thought. His parting gestures were affectionate but brisk, unconcerned. However, as he turned to speak to the crowd in front of him, and behind them the millions watching on TV, his face froze for a moment. In that moment, it looked as if he was having to hold his mouth in place between his chin and his cheeks. Preventing the lower half of his head from collapsing into a Fright Night fantasy, but only by an act of will. Four more years in the public gaze stretched out in front of Barack Obama like the life of Dorian Gray. So many half-truths and not-quite betrayals: don’t they amount to their own kind of debauchery? But then he composed himself, broke into a rueful smile (behold the private man for public consumption), and began his second term.