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Join Russell for a Sleepover at 60 Sweets Way London N20 0NU Tuesday 17th March from 7.30pm
Movie night and camp out, snacks and sweets and fun
NOT LOUD MUSIC AND CHAOS
Nearest station: Totteridge and Whetstone
Sweets Way Resists is a campaign led by residents of the Sweets Way Estate in Barnet and their supporters, to prevent the social cleansing of our North London community by Annington Homes and Barnet Homes. At a time when residents are being told there are no truly affordable homes left in Barnet, Annington should not be allowed to bulldoze our homes to make way for luxury flats!
One of the 100+ empty flats on the estate has been occupied and opened as a social centre available to the community as an organising and social space, and to highlight the quality of homes that will be destroyed, simply because Annington doesn’t think they are profitable enough.’
Some time ago when I was a newly recovering junkie sinking my teeth into succulent transatlantic fame we were contacted by a respected filmmaker who asked if I’d like to make a documentary about happiness and I leapt, ego first into a caper that would take 7 years and as many directors to complete.
Due primarily to my loopy truculence the process quickly got a bit muddled and we parted ways and I stumbled on with the project enlisting a series of different directors and producers, some of whom were dear friends, others were Oscar winners (all were good people) to do the real graft. It was chaos; we ended up in US Marine training camps, Louisiana penitentiaries, Occupy protests and backstage at MTV award shows with the world’s biggest stars.
Over the sprawling time period in which we’d been in production I’d transitioned from an attention-seeking missile, exploding into exhibitionism at every turn, into a man who, whilst still a show-off, was becoming disillusioned and disconnected from fame, celebrity and all it’s sticky ephemera.
When it was suggested that Ondi Timoner, the highly respected filmmaker who directed one of my favorite docs, “Dig!” take over the project I was relieved – as were the film’s, by now understandably anxious backers.
I let go of my mad ambition to direct and star in what had become a shambles and handed the reigns over to Ondi, who wanted creative control and to make a documentary about me and my transition from a relatively conventional celebrity to whatever the hell it is I am now.
Ondi is a very beautiful person and a director of peerless integrity, I suppose what I didn’t consider was that in letting go of the film, I was agreeing to be the subject of a biography. Posthumously this is a great honor but while you’re alive, oddly intrusive and melancholy.
You’d think a narcissist would like nothing more than talking about themselves and their “rags to riches”, “hard luck” story but actually, it felt like, to me, my life was hard enough the first time round and going through it again was painful and sad.
I know Ondi is an artist and I’m told the film is good but for me watching it was very uncomfortable.
I apologise sincerely to the organisers of sxsw for my non-attendance, especially Janet Pierson, Brian Solis and Rynda Laurel from the interactive festival who were responsible for the keynote talk that I was due to do.
The first episode of the new Russell Brand podcast will be live at 10pm Wednesday 25th February.
You can listen to it here on Audioboom
Contact Russell and Matt:
Phone: 020 3515 9127 to leave a voicemail
Record a message or a jingle here
“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it” – Voltaire
Today Charlie Hebdo is making the news once again with the publication of its “Survivor” issue depicting a cartoon of a weeping Prophet Muhammad. After a horrific week for France which has seen the acts of murder, manhunts & a mass “unity rally” being played out in real-time for all of the world to see. #JeSuisCharlie became the most popular hashtag in Twitter history as the argument of “Freedom of Speech” was debated clearly in cold blood.
Being from London, I vividly remember the 2005 bomb attacks. A friend of mine, Chris “Njoya Diawara” Small lost his life in an explosion that went off on the train that he boarded. It’s awful, it’s gut wrenching. Despite any of my self-proclaimed “tolerant values”, I’ve been there before & seen how it manifests: the first emotion is fear, the next emotion is hate. Security inevitably gets amped up, more black & brown faces inevitably get stopped & searched. There are more inevitable calls for tighter immigration & more Muslims are inevitably dragged onto TV to profusely denounce violence & abate our fears.
Staring at the front cover with its depiction of the Prophet Muhammad, it fascinates me. How can such a simply drawn cartoon be at the epicentre of such a tragic storm? I find myself caught between two sentiments: one the one hand, I appreciate that the staff at Charlie Hebdo had to honour the spirit of their fallen colleagues. You can’t have millions of people supporting your right to “Free Speech” & then back down from exercising that right. But on the other hand, you can’t characterise the Prophet Muhammad without offending Muslims and why would that be an admirable intention? It forms an interesting quandary.
As a black man, I ask myself “How would I feel if today’s Charlie Hebdo’s cover had a picture of a golliwog or just had the word ‘nigger’ emblazoned on their front cover?” Would I be able to applaud the daring satire & the bold statement of “Freedom?”. Or would I be unable to get past the fact that a group of white cartoonists were flexing their pen-muscles & exercising their right to ridicule my race? And how would I realistically feel towards people who told me to lighten up & laugh along?
Every joke requires a set-up & a punchline, from satire to slapstick. So if the set-up excludes me, isn’t the joke is likely to exclude me as well? If Charlie Hebdo printed a golliwog edition today, some would see it as: an amusing caricature that’s set-up within a sophisticated use of irony to deliver an acidic punchline. Yet I might only see another remnant of slavery reminding me of a painful link to an ever-evolving chain of oppression. If the set-up excludes me, how can I be realistically asked to partake in the joke?
It could be argued that the violent actions in Paris were born from previous violent actions & not just a bunch of drawings within a small publication. It’s never a single straw alone that breaks the camel’s back, it’s an avalanche of hay. Even with all the pain that the 7/7 London bombings caused 10 years ago, I long realised this. We (as citizens of the West) have no idea what atrocities our governments have committed abroad in the name of “Freedom”. So when these tragic terrorist incidents occur, we’ve got no frame of reference as to what gave birth to them. We only see the cartoons & the jokes, not the drones, the torturing & the bombings. Our media conveniently exclude us from the set-ups so we never fully understand the punchlines.
But it’s always easier to come back from words, ridicule, insults & satire, no matter how cutting or raw. It’s harder to come back from burying your loved ones. Nobody deserves to die over some f**king cartoons & my friend didn’t deserve to die just going to f**king work! As a poet I fundamentally believe in the idea of “Freedom of Speech”, that’s why Voltaire’s quote rings through to my very soul. “Freedom of Speech” allows for dialogue & a healthy exchange of ideas & it must be defended. So let Charlie Hebdo print what they want, let Muslims voice their disapproval & let’s try & understand all sides to this catastrophic tragedy without tearing each other apart.
Sometimes I wonder how the world would react if we knew that a meteor was going to wipe us all out. Would mankind resolve its incessant bickering so we can live out our remaining days & just chill? Or would we still be waging dumb wars on each other, until the final curtain falls & the lights go out?
Away on holiday in a low signal land events in Paris are glimpsed as if through a crack in a door back to a terrible and confusing world.
This violence now though has the eerie familiarity and bilious dread of a recurring nightmare and can be pieced together with weary glances at airport lounge TVs, foreign newspapers and despairing texts from troubled friends.
Devastation in the City of Love, the New Year already feels tainted, blood stained in January by murder and sieges and grieving widows.
I don’t know much about Charlie Hebdo, the satirical magazine where the murders took place. As a believer in God I respect the beliefs of all faiths, as a human being I respect freedom of speech. Where do we go then beyond fear and condemnation, cowed in the valley of the shadow of death two weeks into 2015?
How can any spiritual scripture be used as justification for mass murder? How can the tenet that The Prophet ought never be depicted ever override Islam’s most mundane greeting AsSalaam alaikum – “peace and mercy be upon you”? It can’t and it doesn’t.
The young, bewildered, pitiable men that carry out these atrocities probably at the behest of older, power hungry men do not speak for Islam or Muhammad or Allah.
This language has nothing to do with the God I believe in or the God any of the Muslims I know believe in.
These men of murder are the symptom of a creed that lies as far away from God as is possible to conceive and do not represent Islam anymore than George Bush, Tony Blair and Halliburton represented Christianity, or ordinary, secular Europeans and Americans when they profited from the bombing of innocent Iraqis.
I suppose there will now be calls to curb our freedom. There will be tension and fear in mixed communities like the one I live in, there will be a temptation to generalise and damn in the bleak and monotonous tears of these insistent tragedies.
The awful fact is that violence of this type is almost impossible to stop. If any of us decide to yield to the terror within us and inflict violence, misguidedly or arbitrarily then how can it be prevented? More gates and bars and guards? More spying and borders and hate? More division and suspicion and derision? That is the philosophy that got us here.
The only answer is in the territory of the spirit, in the deep interconnectedness within us all. In the acceptance that all action on this plane is the manifestation of an inner realm and violence of an inner malady. Our only hope is compassion and love. To marshall vigorously the only terror and violence we can absolutely control; that which is within us individually.
I don’t mean this in a wet, liberal “kumbaye ah me lord” type way. I am saying that we must love as passionately as they hate. We must respect as vehemently as they desecrate. It is not easy to be peaceful and loving in the face of dreadful violence but it’s all we have.
The reason I feel frightened by tragedies such as this is because I think there’s nothing I can do, but there is. I can love and tolerate and reach across the fear. In places where secular and religious folk live together we have got to start observing the main message of every scripture; “be nice”.
All the other stuff is speculation; which book is best, which God is the most mighty. None of us know what’s beyond the sensory realm, this tiny sliver of material life strewn within the infinite. But we each have the power to create heaven or hell here on Earth, extremists on all sides are clear in their intentions and actions, we, the vast, powerful majority, Christians, Muslims, atheists and undecideds have to be more committed and more determined. We must love life more than they love death. We must love each other more than they hate, in God’s name, in Allah’s name in Charlie’s name, in all our names.
John Rogers talks to Donnachadh McCarthy from Occupy the Media Billionaires about Occupy Rupert Murdoch taking place in March.
Donnachadh tells us how five billionaires own and operate the media in the UK: Rupert Murdoch, Jonathon Harmsworth, Richard Desmond and the Barclays Twins.
More info on Facebook
The 93 families of the New Era estate have achieved an incredible victory against greedy corporations and lazy politicians and I believe, and the name of the estate suggests, this is the start of something that will change our country forever.
When I first clattered into Lindsey, Lynsay and Danielle in Hoxton market, East London, bantering, smashing out flyers and hassling shoppers into supporting the campaign to keep their homes, I had no idea that I had inadvertently wandered into the heart of a truly accessible and exciting movement to oppose pointless government and tyrannical big business.
As I stood and listened to the hollering trio, their kids wove in and out of their legs like titchy Agueros. The women have one child each; “The Lindsays” are both working single mums. I was captivated by their abundant spirit, the clear validity of their cause (greedy landlords jacking up rents, inefficient authorities doing F.A) but also by an eerily resonant pang, a ghostly memory of something lost to me, or perhaps stolen.
Over the next few months I became further enchanted by my new neighbours and met more of the New Era families. Initially just popping to the estate to glean information germane to the campaign – how much is rent going up? (it’s being quadrupled) Is this social cleansing? (the growing practice of moving working people out of big cities, yes.) Have Westbrook, the American corporation in charge, done this before? (yes, they’ve been banned for dodgy practices in NYC). Then I started to stay at the estate for tea, perhaps with Lindsey G’s parents Chrissie and Tony. Then for food, Lynsay S is a mean cook. Then for no reason at all Danielle’s boyfriend Ian is a laugh and we chat about football. I went there whenever I had free time. It became, to simplify it, basically the plot of “Dances With Wolves”.
I left my lonely (luxury tax haven!!!) house, which would be Kevin Costner’s fort, waved goodbye to Morrissey, my cat, which, in my mind, would be that wolf, I believe he was called “Socks”, and headed to New Era – in this patronising analogy they’re the Native American tribe.
Drawn in initially by the importance and ubiquity of the cause, housing is the issue of our time, I was compelled to stay, as if held by the heart, by a deeper issue, both social and personal. By something I didn’t even know I was grieving; the loss of community, our connection to each other.
On the New Era estate I was welcomed first by the campaign leaders but then by everyone as I continued to hang out there, Harry, father of a teenage son and a boxing coach, Nell, who speaks mostly in swearwords and still thinks I’m Russell Harty and Mary. Mary who sounds like my Nan and with the first words she said to me hit a dormant chord that hadn’t been struck for ten years since she died.
At Dolly, Linsey’s daughter’s confirmation at St Clements, at the buffet I fell backwards through decades wasted and ignored. Old dears that were old lady shaped cooed and brought me paper plates of nearly vegetarian food, and the memory of my ol’ Nan’s mates; the Joyce’s and the Vi’s welled up in me as I mimed eating bacon quiche. Her house on Lillechurch Road, Dagenham where she lived and died and where I’d crash and hide when I nightly crumbled in London and all that stood between me and suicide was a 3am omelet.
The Eastend communities of her generation spilled into Essex as “The Smoke” coughed up its natives to make room, not for immigrants, like they thought but for creeping gentrification. Their kids, my parent, maybe your parents bought their homes in Essex and Kent, but more was swapped than mortgage for rent. I grew up alone in Grays End Close, a lonely boy, the only son of a single working Mum. By the time my growing up was half done the idea of tribe, community was an abstract one. For me “You make yer own luck in this world son” was my creed and individualism my religion.
I got the things I was told would make me right; fame, money, glamour and it’s not all that. It’s better than signing on or being a junkie but is it ever as simple as that?
Now I know, thanks to the New Era families, that what I was looking for, perhaps what we’re all looking for is already here; “the kindom of Heaven is laid upon the earth but man does not see it”, it is found when we put aside selfish things and come together.
I gave up a lot to pursue my dream of fame and fortune and now I’m not sure that dream was ever mine to begin with. Now I know that what I lost, or perhaps what was stolen was a tender thing that’s hard to weigh or render, but it’s there. It was there at my dear old Nan’s, where the door was always open, it lingers in me still after the decade long crusade for personal glory and it’s there in the New Era estate where 93 ordinary families stood up to corporations and lazy government and won. There’s a little of this spirit in all of us and it is beginning to awaken.