Articles

17 Dec 2014

Hello Jo

Hello Jo, thanks for your open letter, I do remember you from the melee outside RBS and firstly, I’d like to say sorry for your paella getting cold. It’s not nice to suffer because of actions that are nothing to do with you. I imagine the disabled people of our country who have been hit with £6bn of benefit cuts during the period that RBS received £46bn of public bail-out money feel similarly cheesed off.

I can’t apologise for the RBS lockdown though mate because, I don’t have the authority to close great big institutions – even ones found guilty of criminal activity.

The locking of the doors and your tarnished lunch came about as the result of orders from “the faceless bosses” upstairs after I wandered in on my own while we secretly filmed from across the street – then security swarmed, all the doors were locked and crowds gathered outside. I must say Jo; it felt like RBS had something terrible to hide. But more of that in a minute.

Neither was I there for publicity, although you could be forgiven for thinking that; for many years I have earned my money (and paid my taxes) by showing off. If I needed negative publicity (and, believe me, that’s all talking publicly about inequality can ever get you) I could get it by using the “N word” on telly, or putting a cat in a bin, or having a romantic liaison with the lad from TOWIE.

I was there with filmmaker Michael Winterbottom making a documentary about how the economic crises caused by the banking industry (RBS were found guilty of rigging Libor and the foreign exchange) has led to an economic attack on the most vulnerable people in society. I don’t want to undermine your personal inconvenience Jo, I’d be the first to admit that I’m often more vexed by little things; iPhone chargers continually changing makes me as angry as apartheid – so I can’t claim any personal moral high ground, but a chance to make a film that highlights how £80bn of austerity cuts were made, punishing society’s most vulnerable during the same period that bankers awarded themselves £81bn in bonuses was irresistible.

The mob upstairs at RBS who exiled you with your rapidly deteriorating lunch have had £4bn in bonuses since the crash. Do they deserve our money more than Britain’s disabled? Or Britain’s students who are now charged to learn? Is that fair?

They were some of the questions I was hoping to ask your boss – but we got no joy through the “proper channels” so we decided to just show up.

Not just to RBS, but also to Lloyds, HSBC and Barclays. I know that the regular folk on the floor aren’t guilty of this trick against ordinary people; they’re like anyone, trying to make ends meet. As you point out though, it’s hard to get to the men at the top so we were forced into door-stopping and inadvertent lunch spoiling. The good news is that this film and even this correspondence will reach hundreds of thousands of people and they’ll learn how they’re being conned by the financial industry and turned against one another – that’s got to be a good thing, even if it makes me look a bit of a twit in the process and the national dish of Spain is eaten sub-par.

Now I’ll be the first to admit your lunch has been an unwitting casualty in this well-intentioned quest but I couldn’t resist the opportunity to ask new RBS boss Ross McEwan if he thinks it’s right that he got a £3.2m “golden hello” when the RBS is sellotaped together with money that comes from everyone else’s taxes. I wonder what he would’ve said? Or whether it’s right that Fred “the shred” (he shredded evidence of impropriety) Goodwin gets to keep his £320k a year pension while disabled people have had their independent living fund scrapped.

And it’s not just RBS mate. Lloyds, Barclays, Citibank and HSBC have all been found guilty of market rigging and not one banker has been jailed.

Trillions of public money lost and stolen and no one prosecuted. Remember in the riots when disaffected youth nicked the odd bottle of water or a stray pair of trainers? Criminal, I agree. 1800 years worth of sentences were meted out in special courts, to make an example. Some crime doesn’t pay, but some crime definitely does. My school mate Leigh Pickett, a fireman is being told that he and his colleagues won’t be able to collect their pension until five years later than agreed, five more years of backbreaking, flame engulfed labour – why? Because of austerity.
Put simply Jo, the banks took the money, the people paid the price.

I was there to ask a few questions to the guilty parties, now I know that’s not you, you’re just a bloke trying to make a crust and evidently you like that crust warm – but again, it wasn’t me who locked the RBS, I just asked a few difficult questions and the place went nuts. The people that have inconvenienced homeowners, pensioners, the disabled and ordinary working Brits are the same ones who inconvenienced you that lunchtime. They’ve got a lot to hide, so they locked the doors. You said my “agro demeanor” reminded you of school. Your letter reminded me of school too, when the teacher would say, “because Russell’s been naughty, the whole class has to stay behind”.

I’d never knowingly keep a workingman from his dinner, it’s unacceptable and I do owe you an apology for being lairy.

So Jo, get in touch, I owe you an apology and I’d like to take you for a hot paella to make up for the one that went cold – though you could say that was actually the fault of the shady shysters who nicked the wedge and locked you out, I’d rather err on the side of caution. When I make a mistake I like to apolgise and put it right. Hopefully your bosses will do the same to the people of Britain.

15 Oct 2014

What monkeys and the Queen taught me about inequality – second extract from ‘Revolution’

When travelling in impoverished regions in galling luxury, as I have done, you have to undergo some high-wire ethical arithmetic to legitimise your position. If you can’t geographically separate yourself from poverty, then you have to do it ideologically. You have to believe inequality is OK. You have to accept the ideas that segregate us from one another and nullify your human instinct for fairness.

Edward Slingerland, a professor of ancient Chinese philosophy at Stanford University, demonstrated this instinct to me with the use of hazelnuts. As we spoke, there was a bowl of them on the table. “Russell,” he said, scooping up a handful, “we humans have an inbuilt tendency towards fairness. If offered an unfair deal, we will want to reject it. If I have a huge bowl of nuts and offer you just one or two, how do you feel?”

The answer was actually quite complex. Firstly, I dislike hazelnuts, considering them to be the verminous titbits of squirrels. Secondly, they were my hazelnuts anyway; we were in my house. Most pertinently though, I felt that it was an unfair offering when he had so many nuts. He explained that human beings and even primates have an instinct for fairness even in situations where this instinct could be seen as detrimental. “You still have more nuts now than before,” he chirped, failing to acknowledge that all the nuts and indeed everything in the entire house belonged to me.

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13 Oct 2014

Extract from Russell’s new book ‘Revolution’

I suppose we must each ask of ourselves – or each other, have fun with it, it could be a quiz – two fundamental questions: 1) Are you happy with things the way they are? And 2) Do you believe that things could be better?

I know most people want change. I know most people can’t be happy with the current regime. In any electoral process worth having, we might assume that the 3.5 billion people who have as much wealth collectively as the 85 richest people in the world are up for some amendments an’ all. I just used the calculator on my phone to subtract 85 from 3.5 billion and the answer had a letter in it. Even the calculator has gone berserk at this injustice.

That aside, a significant number of people are not happy with the way things are. I’m not, and I’ve done all right out of this system: I’ve a big house, a nice cat, and when I write books, they’re immediately put on the school curriculum. So this system has not been bad to me. I’ve been given everything I wanted. The problem is, I didn’t really want it. That desire was put there. Who put it there? And why?

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14 Aug 2014

Robin Williams’ divine madness will no longer disrupt the sadness of the world

I’d been thinking about Robin Williams a bit recently. His manager Larry Bresner told me that when Robin was asked by a German journalist on a press junket why the Germans had a reputation for humourlessness that Williams replied, “Because you killed all the funny people.”

Robin Williams was exciting to me because he seemed to be sat upon a geyser of comedy. Like he didn’t manufacture it laboriously within but had only to open a valve and it would come bursting through in effervescent jets. He was plugged into the mains of comedy.
I was aware too that this burbling and manic man-child that I watched on the box on my Nan’s front room floor with a Mork action figure (I wish I still had that, he came in a plastic egg) struggled with mental illness and addiction. The chaotic clarity that lashed like an electric cable, that razzed and sparked with amoral, puckish wonder was in fact harvested madness. A refinement of an energy that could turn as easily to destruction as creativity.

He spoke candidly about his mental illness and addiction, how he felt often on a precipice of self-destruction, whether through substance misuse or some act of more certain finality. I thought that this articulate acknowledgement amounted to a kind of vaccine against the return of such diseased thinking, which has proven to be hopelessly naive.
When someone gets to 63 I imagined, hoped, I suppose, that maturity would grant an immunity to adolescent notions of suicide but today I read that suicide isn’t exclusively a young man’s game. Robin Williams at 63 still hadn’t come to terms with being Robin Williams.

Now I am incapable of looking back at my fleeting meeting with him with any kind of objectivity, I am bound to apply, with hindsight, some special significance to his fragility, meekness and humility. Hidden behind his beard and kindness and compliments was a kind of awkwardness, like he was in the wrong context or element, a fallen bird on a hard floor.

It seems that Robin Williams could not find a context. Is that what drug use is? An attempt to anaesthetise against a reality that constantly knocks against your nerves, like tinfoil on an old school filling, the pang an urgent message to a dormant, truer you.
Is it melancholy to think that a world that Robin Williams can’t live in must be broken? To tie this sad event to the overarching misery of our times? No academic would co-sign a theory in which the tumult of our fractured and unhappy planet is causing the inherently hilarious to end their lives, though I did read that suicide among the middle-aged increased inexplicably in 1999 and has been rising ever since. Is it a condition of our era?

Poor Robin Williams, briefly enduring that lonely moment of morbid certainty where it didn’t matter how funny he was or who loved him or how many lachrymose obituaries would be written. I feel bad now that I was unduly and unbefittingly snooty about that handful of his films that were adjudged unsophisticated and sentimental. He obviously dealt with a pain that was impossible to render and ultimately insurmountable, the sentimentality perhaps an accompaniment to his childlike brilliance.

We sort of accept that the price for that free-flowing, fast-paced, inexplicable comic genius is a counterweight of solitary misery. That there is an invisible inner economy that demands a high price for breathtaking talent. For me genius is defined by that irrationality; how can he talk like that? Play like that? Kick a ball like that? A talent that was not sculpted and schooled, educated and polished but bursts through the portal, raw and vulgar. Always mischievous, always on the brink of going wrong, dangerous and fun, like drugs.

Robin Williams could have tapped anyone in the western world on the shoulder and told them he felt down and they would have told him not to worry, that he was great, that they loved him. He must have known that. He must have known his wife and kids loved him, that his mates all thought he was great, that millions of strangers the world over held him in their hearts, a hilarious stranger that we could rely on to anarchically interrupt, the all-encompassing sadness of the world. Today Robin Williams is part of the sad narrative that we used to turn to him to disrupt.

What platitudes then can we fling along with the listless, insufficient wreaths at the stillness that was once so animated and wired, the silence where the laughter was? That fame and accolades are no defence against mental illness and addiction? That we live in a world that has become so negligent of human values that our brightest lights are extinguishing themselves? That we must be more vigilant, more aware, more grateful, more mindful? That we can’t tarnish this tiny slice of awareness that we share on this sphere amidst the infinite blackness with conflict and hate?

That we must reach inward and outward to the light that is inside all of us? That all around us people are suffering behind masks less interesting than the one Robin Williams wore? Do you have time to tune in to Fox News, to cement your angry views to calcify the certain misery?

What I might do is watch Mrs Doubtfire. Or Dead Poets Society or Good Will Hunting and I might be nice to people, mindful today how fragile we all are, how delicate we are, even when fizzing with divine madness that seems like it will never expire.

 

First published in The Guardian, 12th August 2014

19 Jun 2014

I Want to Believe

Russell Brand on England and World Cup

The world isn’t made of atoms, it’s made of stories. The World Cup is an arena in which narratives are fulfilled. Heroes, villains, scapegoats, underdogs, triumphs, near-misses and tragedies, all are played out on a global stage, a pagan drama in a secular age.

Here I am, another World Cup, staying up late, worrying, hoping, like a heroine in a Motown song or Angie Watts, jumping back into the arms of my three-lion lover, murmuring the split-lipped refrain of the abused, “This time they’ve changed”.

If I could’ve told little eleven-year-old Russell, bereft in the asphalt wasteland of Little Thurrock Primary School as he listened to the bewildering lies of Jamie Dawkins (that England would be allowed to proceed in the tournament and that Diego Maradona’s Quarter Final hand ball had been retroactively banned by FIFA; he was the hardest kid in our school, I had no choice but to believe) that in 2014 I’d be once more, like a wincing white-coal fire walker, striding into the agonising known he’d’ve been dazzled.

It’s also likely that adult, time-traveller me would’ve been arrested because I’d’ve been unable to resist giving Dawkins a bit of a dig for all the bullying and that, along with my very presence in a primary school playground, would’ve been grounds for police intervention.

The excuse “I’m a time traveller from 2014 come back to warn my child self against the perils of forming an emotional attachment to England because it leads to heartache and contradicts my wider philosophy that nationalism is outmoded and conflagratory” would likely be greeted by the Essex constabulary as confirmation that they were indeed dealing with a paedophile and see me slammed in the cells.

As a child, in the spirit of Pulp’s “Disco 2000”, I’d often wonder where I’d be at the arrival of forthcoming World Cups, in ’86 when it first became relevant to me, the idea that in 2014 Gary Lineker, the Golden Boot winner, would be a silver-haired anchor and I at 39 would be older than every player in the tournament, would’ve been as inconceivable as refs using sputum sprays to mark 10 yards or a World Cup held in a desert due to alleged corruption.

When in Italia ’90 I heard that Cameroon’s Roger Milla was 38 I was amazed he could walk, let alone do that sexy pole dance he did at the corner flag to celebrate scoring, 38? It was like Father Christmas was in the team.

It is an indication of how indelible and deep the game’s grammar is seated that a relatively innocuous addition like the foam ejaculate seems so absurd and anomalous. It’s a highly territorial and aggressive piece of bureaucracy.

In the Spain vs Holland match the ref jizzed a blob of foam on Bruno Martins Indi’s bootie and the player looked furious. That moment would’ve been inexplicable to a viewer from the recent past, an aggrieved player berating the ref for spurting grog on his footwear. This addition lends further credence, though, to the beloved chant “The referee’s a wanker”.

The destruction of the invincible Spanish is a result that indicates two things; it could be a classic World Cup and no one knows anything about football. When Spain announced their squad the commentators went into an orgy of praise, fetishising even the omissions. “Negredo doesn’t even make the squad,” they gasped.

Well, Spain have been thrashed. Arjen Robben, a Nobby Styles for our day, a man born bald, who’ll die bald and looked like a gnarled Woodbine-smoking mill worker when he was 16, tore through the world’s best team the way he tears through time, like it doesn’t exist.

Is it me or did he leave Chelsea about ten years ago? I thought he arrived at Chelsea with a reputation. Who is he, Benjamin Button? If Holland get to the final he’ll probably run out wearing a bonnet and a nappy.

It is this certainty that expectation can be subverted that provides an aperture through which our nation can glimpse hope. We, like hapless romantics, can use any co-ordinates we’re given to construct a narrative that aligns with our yearning.

I swear to you, I’d given up on England, like a hardcore fan that cares more about his club side than the wet festival of Jules Rimet. But like Michael Corleone, every time I think I’ve escaped they keep pulling me back in. Here are the threads that are leading me back to dreamland.

Firstly, Roy Hodgson. I like him, I mean I think he’s lovely, decent, proper, one of yer own. A Bobby Robson, granddad of the game. He exhibits I think the type of human values we subconsciously long for in a national patriarch. We know the score with England managers, we look for ways to dislike them; turnips, wallies with brollies, saucy Swedes, austere Italians; “do we not like them”.

I think Roy Hodgson’s polite and gentle defence of Wayne Rooney who provided an assist but looked out of position and frustrated on the left was deft and sweet. He weren’t having none of it. Gabby Logan asked if Rooney looked stymied and Roy said “he didn’t agree” and that Wayne had “set up our goal, with a fine piece of play”.

He also has soft r’s, which make language flow from him in a mellifluous stream, bubbling across flat rocks.

Rooney did look well wound up though and seems like he needs taking care of. I liken his frustration to erectile dysfunction. He knows what he’s got to do but the pressure, the knowledge of the open goal, hugs his mind to facile, vascular minutia and screws his rhythm.

Contrast him with the unencumbered youths that form the most obvious hooks upon which we can hang our optimism; Sterling and Barkley look invincible and priapic, like no one’s ever explained performance anxiety to them. Firing off shots and roaring across the painted turf, lead by purple, throbbing certainty.

Leighton Baines looked exposed, perhaps due to the lack of a tracking back midfield presence in front of him. I watched the game with my girlfriend and while there was a fair amount of clichéd enquiry and a demand to know X Factor type backstory of players to give her a way to care, she also did that thing that people who know little about a subject sometimes do and pointed out obvious flaws and features that were surprisingly astute. She announced midway through the second half that Baines was her “scapegoat” which was prescient as well as in keeping with the conduct of far more experienced fans.

The world isn’t made of atoms, it’s made of stories, the World Cup too is an arena in which narratives are fulfilled. Heroes, villains, scapegoats, underdogs, triumphs, near-misses and tragedies, all are played out on a global stage, a pagan drama in a secular age.

That is why I, a self-proclaimed clever person, will feel, not think, feel a visceral connection to the men in white shirts and antipathy to those in blue. I said some borderline racist stuff watching the game on Saturday. Well xenophobic, I mentioned the war, criticised Mussolini and tortellini. I truly believed that I had a connection to the carbon-composed, sentient life forms dressed in white that I didn’t share with those in blue. I believed that my life would be improved by a favourable result for the manufactured concept of “England” over the manufactured concept of “Italy”.

I hope the world has changed by 2018 and 2022 and 2026 and 2030. I hope we have found a way of uniting in spite of our differences, of extrapolating our connection to one another beyond prescribed sporting festivals. I hope we can create an identity that brings the world together under one banner of brotherhood, love and justice that we can all believe in. Those dreams are for future World Cups though and future worlds. For now, in 2014, I just want to believe in Raheem Sterling.

06 Feb 2014

Phillip Seymour Hoffman is another victim of extremely stupid drug laws.

In Hoffman’s domestic or sex life there is no undiscovered riddle – the man was a drug addict and, thanks to our drug laws, his death inevitable

Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death was not on the bill.

If it’d been the sacrifice of Miley Cyrus or Justin Bieber, that we are invited to anticipate daily, we could delight in the Faustian justice of the righteous dispatch of a fast-living, sequin-spattered denizen of eMpTyV. We are tacitly instructed to await their demise with necrophilic sanctimony. When the end comes, they screech on Fox and TMZ, it will be deserved. The Mail provokes indignation, luridly baiting us with the sidebar that scrolls from the headline down to hell.

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06 Nov 2013

Russell Brand: we deserve more from our democratic system

I’ve had an incredible week since I spoke from the heart, some would say via my arse, on Paxman. I’ve had slaps on the back, fist bumps, cheers and hugs while out and about, cock-eyed offers of political power from well intentioned chancers and some good ol’ fashioned character assassinations in the papers.

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25 Oct 2013

New Statesman: Russell Replies to Contributors. From Russell with love

From: Russell Brand
To: Daniel Pinchbeck

Never have you written more succinctly and irrefutably on this most nebulous and complex of topics. Excellent! Other than your dismissal of the term “Revolution”, which is the magazine’s theme and, I think, a necessary galvanising signifier for the previous generation and the more truculent members of the working class. How like you to be insurgent in a magazine about insurgence.

To: Gary Lineker

Gary! This is f***ing brilliant. Great vocab, cool swearing, great structure. Keeping possession in an unflustered, enveloping rhythm before scoring – a lovely gag nicked in the six-yard box, right at the death. If only the national side could do that.

The stuff about your personal experience as a young player and your dad’s disappointment at a discipline issue is cool and surprising but makes sense of the “Lineker myth” – I mean story, not myth as in untrue – of you as disciplined and gentlemanly.

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24 Oct 2013

We No Longer Have the Luxury of Tradition: Russell Brand

When I was asked to edit an issue of the New Statesman I said yes because it was a beautiful woman asking me. I chose the subject of revolution because the New Statesman is a political magazine and imagining the overthrow of the current political system is the only way I can be enthused about politics.

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13 Sep 2013

Russell Brand and the GQ awards: ‘It’s amazing how absurd it seems’

I have had the privilege of scuba diving. I did it once on holiday, and I’m aware that it’s one of those subjects that people can get pretty boring and sincere about, and sincerity, for we British, is no state in which to dwell, so I’ll be brief. The scuba dive itself was nuministic enough, a drenched heaven; coastal shelves and their staggering, sub-aquatic architecture, like spilt cathedrals, gormless, ghostly fish gliding by like Jackson Pollock’s pets. Silent miracles. What got me, though, was when I came up for air, at the end. As my head came above water after even a paltry 15 minutes in Davy Jones’s Locker, there was something absurd about the surface. How we, the creatures of the land, live our lives, obliviously trundling, flat feet slapping against the dust.

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