Here is a recording from the Booky Wook 2 Tapes that didn’t make it into the final draft of the book – Russell expounding his views on the moral culpability of the Greek Gods (recorded in London 2009).
Have a listen to these recordings made as Russell dictated the first draft Booky Wook 2 – this time it’s personal. Many of them were made on the road during the Scandalous tour. They take you beside Russell as he lays down the text for the first time.
Here’s a taster
Booky Wook 2 – this time it’s personal is now out in paperback
Here is Russell reading from a chapter of Booky Wook 2 – this time it’s personal just after he had written it in a hotel in New York. He describes his final visit to his childhood home in Grays, Essex.
Booky Wook 2 is now available in paperback in the UK and Australia. We recommend buying from your local independent book shop – find one here
I no longer live in London. I’ve been transplanted to Los Angeles by a combination of love and money; such good fortune and opportunity, in both cases, you might think disqualify me from commenting on matters in my homeland. Even the results of Britain’s Got Ice-Factor may lay prettily glistening beyond my remit now that I am self banished.
To be honest when I lived in England I didn’t really care too much for the fabricated theatrics of reality TV. Except when I worked for Big Brother, then it was my job to slosh about in the amplified trivia of the housemates/inmates. Sometimes it was actually quite bloody interesting. Particularly the year that “Nadia” won. She was the Portuguese transsexual. Remember? No? Well, that’s the nature of the medium; as it whizzes past the eyes it seems very relevant but the malady of reality TV stars is that their shelf life, expires, like dog years, by the power of seven. To me it seems like Nadia’s triumph took place during the Silver Jubilee, we had a street party.
Early in that series there was an incident of excitement and high tension. The testosteronal, alpha figures of the house – a Scot called Jason and a Londoner called Victor incited by the teasing conditions and a camp lad called Marcus (wow, it’s all coming back) kicked off in the house, smashed some crockery and a few doors. Police were called, tapes were edited and the carnival rolled on. When I was warned to be discrete on-air about the extent of the violence I quoted a British WW1 general who reflecting on the inability of his returning troops to adapt to civilian life said “You cannot rouse the animal in man then expect it to be put aside at a moments notice.”
“Yeah, that’s exactly the kind of thing we want you to say the opposite of” said the channel’s representative.
This week’s riots are sad and frightening and if I have by virtue of my temporary displacement forgone the right to speak about the behaviour of my countrymen then this is gonna be irksome, I mean even David Cameron came back from his holiday. Eventually. The Tuscan truffles lost their succulence when the breaking glass became too loud to ignore. Then dopey ol’ Boris came cycling back into the London clutter with his spun gold hair and his spun shit logic as it became apparent that the holiday was over.
In fact it isn’t my absence from the territory of London that bothers me it’s my absence from the economic class that are being affected that itches in my gut because as I looked at the online incident maps the boroughs that were suffering all, for me, had some resonance. I’ve lived in Dalston, Hackney, Elephant, Camden and Bethnal Green. I grew up round Dagenham and Romford and whilst I could never claim to be from the demographic most obviously affected I feel guilty that I’m not there now.
I feel proud to be English, proud to be a Londoner (alright an Essex boy) never more so than since being in exile and I naturally began to wonder what would make young people destroy their communities.
I have spoken to mates in London and Manchester and they sound genuinely frightened and hopeless and the details of their stories place this outbreak beyond the realms of any political idealism or rationalisation. But I can’t, from my ivory tower in the Hollywood Hills, compete with the understandable yet futile rhetoric, describing the rioters as mindless. Nor do I want to dwell on the sadness of our beautiful cities being tarnished and people’s shops and livelihoods, sometimes generations old, being immolated. The tragic and inevitable deaths ought be left for eulogies and grieving. Tariq Jahal has spoken so eloquently from his position of painful proximity, with such compassion that nearly all else is redundant.
The only question I can legitimately ask is; why is this happening? Mark Duggan’s death has been badly handled but no one is contesting that is a reason for these conflagrations beyond the initial flash of activity in Tottenham. I’ve heard Theresa May and the Old Etonians whose hols have been curtailed (many would say they’re the real victims) saying the behaviour is “unjustifiable” and “unacceptable”. Wow! Thanks guys! What a wonderful use of the planet’s fast depleting oxygen resources, now that’s been dealt with can we move onto more taxing matters like whether or not Jack The Ripper was a ladies man? And what the hell do bears get up to in those woods?
However “unacceptable” and “unjustifiable” it might be, it has happened so we better accept it and whilst we can’t justify it we should kick around a few neurons and work out why so many people feel utterly disconnected from the cities they live in.
Unless on the news tomorrow it’s revealed that there’s been a freaky “criminal creating” chemical leak in London AND Manchester AND Liverpool AND Birmingham that’s causing young people to spontaneously and simultaneously violate their environments – in which case we can park the ol’ brainboxes, stop worrying and get on with the football season, but, if as I suspect, there hasn’t, we have, as Human Beings, got a few things to consider together.
I should here admit that I have been arrested for criminal damage for my part in anti capitalist protest earlier in this decade. I often attended protests and then, in my early twenties, and on drugs, I enjoyed it when the protests lost direction and became chaotic, hostile even. I was intrigued by the anarchist “Black-Block”, hooded and masked, as in retrospect, was their agenda but was more viscerally affected by the football “casuals” who’d turn up because the veneer of the protest’s idealistic objective gave them the perfect opportunity to wreck stuff and have a row with the Old Bill.
Big Brother isn’t watching you
That was never my cup of tea though. For one thing policeman are generally pretty good fighters and secondly it registered that the accent they shouted at me with was closer to my own than that of some of those singing about the red flag making the wall of plastic shields between us seem thinner.
I found those protests exciting, yes because I was young and a bit of a twerp but also, I suppose, because there was a void in me. A lack of direction, a sense that I was not invested in the dominant culture, that Government existed not to look after the interests of the people it was elected to represent but the big businesses that they were in bed with.
I felt that, and I had a Mum that loved me, a Dad that told me that nothing was beyond my reach, an education, a grant from Essex council (to train as an actor of all things!!!) AND several charities that gave me money for maintenance. I shudder to think how disenfranchised I would have felt if I had been deprived of that long list of privileges.
That state of deprivation though, is of course, the condition that many of those rioting endure as their unbending reality. No education, a weakened family unit, no money and no way of getting any. JD Sports is probably easier to desecrate if you can’t afford what’s in there and the few poorly paid jobs there are taken. Amidst the bleakness of this social landscape, squinting all the while in the glare of a culture that radiates ultra-violet consumerism and infra-red celebrity. That daily, hourly, incessantly enforces the egregious, deceitful message that you are what you wear, what you drive, what you watch and what you watch it on, in livid, neon pixels. The only light in their lives comes from these luminous corporate messages. No wonder they have their fucking hoods up.
I remember David Cameron saying “hug a hoodie” but I haven’t seen him doing it, why would he? Hoodies don’t vote, they’ve realised it’s pointless, that whoever gets elected will just be a different shade of the “we don’t give a toss about you party.”
Politicians don’t represent the interests of people that don’t vote. They barely care about the people who do vote. They look after the corporations who get them elected. Cameron only spoke out against News International when it became evident to us, US, the people, not to him, (like Rose West, “He must’ve known”) that the Newspapers Murdoch controlled were happy to desecrate the dead in the pursuit of another exploitative, distracting story.
Why am I surprised that these young people behave destructively, “mindlessly”, motivated only by self-interest? How should we describe the actions of the city bankers that brought our economy to it’s knees in 2010? Altruistic? mindful? Kind? But then again, they do wear suits, so they deserve to be bailed out, perhaps that’s why not one of them has been imprisoned. And they got away with a lot more than a few fucking pairs of trainers.
These young people have no sense of community because they haven’t been given one. They have no stake in society because Cameron’s mentor Margaret Thatcher told us there’s no such thing.
If we don’t want our young people to tear apart our communities then don’t let people in power tear apart the values that hold our communities together.
As you have by now surely noticed, I don’t know enough about politics to ponder a solution and my hands are sticky with blood money from representing corporate interests through film, television and commercials, venerating, through my endorsements and celebrity, products and a lifestyle that contributes to the alienation of an increasingly dissatisfied underclass. But I know, as we all intuitively know that the solution is all around us and it isn’t political, it is spiritual. Gandhi said “Be the change you want to see in the world.”
In this simple sentiment we can find hope, as we can in the efforts of those cleaning up the debris and ash in bonhomous, broom-wielding posse’s. If we want to live in a society where people feel included, we must include them, where they feel represented, we must represent them and where they feel love and compassion for their communities then we, the members of that community, must find love and compassion for them.
As we sweep away the mistakes made in the selfish, nocturnal darkness we must ensure that amidst the broken glass and sadness we don’t sweep away the youth lost amongst the shards in the shadows cast by the new dawn.
When you love someone who suffers from the disease of addiction you await the phone call. There will be a phone call. The sincere hope is that the call will be from the addict themselves, telling you they’ve had enough, that they’re ready to stop, ready to try something new. Of course though, you fear the other call, the sad nocturnal chime from a friend or relative telling you it’s too late, she’s gone.
Frustratingly it’s not a call you can ever make it must be received. It is impossible to intervene.
I’ve known Amy Winehouse for years. When I first met her around Camden she was just some twit in a pink satin jacket shuffling round bars with mutual friends, most of whom were in cool Indie bands or peripheral Camden figures Withnail-ing their way through life on impotent charisma. Carl Barrat told me that “Winehouse” (which I usually called her and got a kick out of cos it’s kind of funny to call a girl by her surname) was a jazz singer, which struck me as bizarrely anomalous in that crowd. To me with my limited musical knowledge this information placed Amy beyond an invisible boundary of relevance; “Jazz singer? She must be some kind of eccentric” I thought. I chatted to her anyway though, she was after all, a girl, and she was sweet and peculiar but most of all vulnerable.
I was myself at that time barely out of rehab and was thirstily seeking less complicated women so I barely reflected on the now glaringly obvious fact that Winehouse and I shared an affliction, the disease of addiction. All addicts, regardless of the substance or their social status share a consistent and obvious symptom; they’re not quite present when you talk to them. They communicate to you through a barely discernible but un-ignorable veil. Whether a homeless smack head troubling you for 50p for a cup of tea or a coked-up, pinstriped exec foaming off about his “speedboat” there is a toxic aura that prevents connection. They have about them the air of elsewhere, that they’re looking through you to somewhere else they’d rather be. And of course they are. The priority of any addict is to anaesthetise the pain of living to ease the passage of the day with some purchased relief.
From time to time I’d bump into Amy she had good banter so we could chat a bit and have a laugh, she was “a character” but that world was riddled with half cut, doped up chancers, I was one of them, even in early recovery I was kept afloat only by clinging to the bodies of strangers so Winehouse, but for her gentle quirks didn’t especially register.
Then she became massively famous and I was pleased to see her acknowledged but mostly baffled because I’d not experienced her work and this not being the 1950’s I wondered how a “jazz singer” had achieved such cultural prominence. I wasn’t curious enough to do anything so extreme as listen to her music or go to one of her gigs, I was becoming famous myself at the time and that was an all consuming experience. It was only by chance that I attended a Paul Weller gig at the Roundhouse that I ever saw her live.
I arrived late and as I made my way to the audience through the plastic smiles and plastic cups I heard the rolling, wondrous resonance of a female vocal. Entering the space I saw Amy on stage with Weller and his band; and then the awe. The awe that envelops when witnessing a genius. From her oddly dainty presence that voice, a voice that seemed not to come from her but from somewhere beyond even Billie and Ella, from the font of all greatness. A voice that was filled with such power and pain that it was at once entirely human yet laced with the divine. My ears, my mouth, my heart and mind all instantly opened. Winehouse. Winehouse? Winehouse! That twerp, all eyeliner and lager dithering up Chalk Farm Road under a back-combed barnet, the lips that I’d only seen clenching a fishwife fag and dribbling curses now a portal for this holy sound. So now I knew. She wasn’t just some hapless wannabe, yet another pissed up nit who was never gonna make it, nor was she even a ten-a-penny-chanteuse enjoying her fifteen minutes. She was a fucking genius.
Shallow fool that I am I now regarded her in a different light, the light that blazed down from heaven when she sang. That lit her up now and a new phase in our friendship began. She came on a few of my TV and radio shows, I still saw her about but now attended to her with a little more interest. Publicly though, Amy increasingly became defined by her addiction. Our media though is more interested in tragedy than talent, so the ink began to defect from praising her gift to chronicling her downfall. The destructive personal relationships, the blood soaked ballet slippers, the aborted shows, that youtube madness with the baby mice. In the public perception this ephemeral tittle-tattle replaced her timeless talent. This and her manner in our occasional meetings brought home to me the severity of her condition. Addiction is a serious disease; it will end with jail, mental institutions or death. I was 27 years old when through the friendship and help of Chip Somers of the treatment centre, Focus12 I found recovery, through Focus I was introduced to support fellowships for alcoholics and drug addicts which are very easy to find and open to anybody with a desire to stop drinking and without which I would not be alive.
Now Amy Winehouse is dead, like many others whose unnecessary deaths have been retrospectively romanticised, at 27 years old. Whether this tragedy was preventable or not is now irrelevant. It is not preventable today. We have lost a beautiful and talented woman to this disease. Not all addicts have Amy’s incredible talent. Or Kurt’s or Jimi’s or Janis’s, some people just get the affliction. All we can do is adapt the way we view this condition, not as a crime or a romantic affectation but as a disease that will kill. We need to review the way society treats addicts, not as criminals but as sick people in need of care. We need to look at the way our government funds rehabilitation. It is cheaper to rehabilitate an addict than to send them to prison, so criminalisation doesn’t even make economic sense. Not all of us know someone with the incredible talent that Amy had but we all know drunks and junkies and they all need help and the help is out there. All they have to do is pick up the phone and make the call. Or not. Either way, there will be a phone call.
Here’s Russell receiving his award for Outstanding Contribution to British Comedy at the British Comedy Awards on Saturday
Come and cogitate with Russell next week in New York at these two intimate, interactive events
Tuesday, 12th Oct – NY TIMES TALK at 6:30 pm at The New York Times Building – book here
Wednesday 13th Oct – BOOKY WOOK 2 Book Signing at 7:00 pm – Barnes and Noble, Union Square