Members of the Pittsburgh music community reflect on the role of art and activism in the coming year | Music | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Members of the Pittsburgh music community reflect on the role of art and activism in the coming year

“We keep fighting because certain things have not changed.”

Peace Talks (Krystyna Haberman, center)
Peace Talks (Krystyna Haberman, center)
In the days immediately following Donald Trump’s election, some people took to the streets in protest while others looked (mostly unsuccessfully) for a bright side. A few people tossed around that evergreen phrase, “at least punk will be good again.”

The idea, of course, is that protest and political unrest breeds great art. But at best it’s a feeble, tongue-in-cheek attempt to find a silver lining; at worst, it’s offensively tone-deaf (looking at you, Amanda Palmer). Sure, the Reagan era saw a lot of great punk songs, and the G.W. Bush years spawned their share of good, angry political music. But ultimately, it’s important to remember that it’s not about the songs. It’s about what the songs and the artists who made them stand for and represent. And now more than ever, it matters what sort of action those songs inspire.

As Krystyna Haberman, who fronts the Pittsburgh-based punk band Peace Talks, puts it, “I would trade the best punk or hardcore record of a lifetime to keep all my friends safe.” Reagan and Margaret Thatcher might have inspired some great tracks, but, she says, “There’s plenty of stuff to make music about that doesn’t involve people’s real lives being on the chopping block.”

Still, Haberman and other personalities from the local music scene say politically minded musicians and artists will have a role in the new year as we approach a president who at best is seen as a loose cannon, and at worst … something much worse. But, they say, now is not the time to turn and run. If things are going to change, artists will play a big role.

Trump is about to be president. And for Haberman, that means it’s time to get serious and refocused about the fight. “I grew up going to protests … where a lot of the people there were punks and were radical, and I think it became a parody of itself. It lost some kind of soul or heart, then it led a way to a weird apathy period,” she says. “I hope we’re coming to the end of that.”

To that end, Haberman would like to see more benefit shows — “Being an insular, self-serving institution is not good for us,” she says — and she wants the punk community to better function as a support system for people of color, members of the LGBT community and other marginalized groups. “Keeping people safe is the hugest priority for a lot of us. … We need to be aware of our surroundings and looking out for each other.

“As far as our band goes, I just want to continue to be an example of not being afraid to stand for, or say something. One of our songs says, ‘Your backbone is worth its weight in gold,’ ’cause that’s what you’ve got. We all have personal power and that’s what’s going to support you and that’s what’s going to support other people. You can’t look around for someone else to solve it, it’s in front of you. And other people will join you once you take that step.”