Russell Brand's replies to contributors: From Russell with love

Behind the scenes at the New Statesman guest edit.

 

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.

I love hearing about the way you supported your sons – that’s really spiritual and sounds like simple good parenting.

I am reminded that I heard you say, when I was a kid, that you never put the ball in the net during the pre-match warm-up because a goal is sacred. That, for me, is where football and poetry intersect, at the point where there is magic beyond what we can understand. I suppose that’s why you lot are superstitious.

I don’t know anything about football. My inability to play the game is one of the great laments of my life – my dad and stepdad were both really good Sunday players and growing up in Essex in the Eighties and not knowing how to trap a ball was like going to school in a bikini. Which I also did.

 

To: Rupert Everett

 

What you have written is the most tender, personal, inclusive, funny, candid piece I’ve ever read on homosexual culture.

A mate of mine’s young relative has recently been diagnosed positive. There is a lot of fear and ignorance around him. I will pass on this gentle chronicle of his history and potentially bright and fun future. Your writing is an antidote to prejudice and fear.

The Wilde motif is f***ing brilliant, the throwaway, self-aware career refs are great fun. Your description of the transition of NYC from utopia to hospice is Dickensian. Emphasis on the first syllable. I like that you wrote it to me, as a letter. I come from a culture that can be surprisingly ignorant around homosexuality. Your candour and spellbinding charm woke me the f*** up.

Obviously like most heterosexual men on meeting you, there was a quick wince of regret that I wasn’t gay. After reading this, I’m seriously considering reverse conversion therapy.

To: Noel Gallagher

Really funny, smart, surprising and not in accordance with my manifesto – which will mean you’re in trouble after the revolution but you’re fine for now.

My prediction: “George Osborne – most slappable man in Britain” will take off and end up on T-shirts.

 

To: Oliver Stone

 

 

As I listened to Jemima reading your piece, I felt the wave of undulating devotion that typically accompanies her voice.

However, I can almost certainly ascribe the sense of fervid, virile, “fight the power”, “f*** the man”, hammer-and-sickle priapism to your writing. It was inspiring and thorough and entertaining and cool. Thank you.

 

To: Alec Baldwin

 

 

Yes, Alec! Yes! An authoritative, rolling, beat, HOWLing hymn of dissent.

I like the bludgeoning body shots of listed transgressions, the optimistic flights into a new, true, concealed narrative. Your naming of the Kennedy assassination as an end of innocence, a commencement of institutionalised deceit, is smart. The revaluation of truth as a prized, perversely neglected commodity is skilful.

I think you’re f***ing great, Alec Baldwin.

 

To: Naomi Klein

 

I received and read with relish (as much relish as one can muster when being politely informed that the planet is undergoing systematic destruction to maintain an imaginary economic idea) your brilliant and provocative piece. This wonderful, precise and accessible article is what the issue needed and validates the decision to go with such a potentially amorphous topic as “revolution”.

What you’ve written is galvanising , original and inspiring. I’ve not written anything yet but I’m so amped up on Klein-engendered fervour, I might instead throw my laptop through Powergen HQ’s windows. I read No Logo when I was in the foothills of my junkie-dom. I was in Cuba, coincidentally, flooded by anti-establishment rage. Had I not been high I could’ve got in trouble – they’re surprisingly strict there!

Reading your article made me feel the charge, the fuel, the kick that we can and must take action. I like that feeling, Naomi (especially now I’m not allowed drugs); it is in fact the feeling I live for. One of two feelings I live for . . . The other one is in fact summoning me now.

 

To: Judd Apatow

 

Thank you, Judd. Obviously your success, aside from the more starkly clown-based Anchorman and Cable Guy-type movies, is to a large degree based on your remarkable ability to infuse comedy with personal truth.

This piece of writing, though, has a rawness and innocence that I find very touching beyond what I’m accustomed to in your milieu. Comedy saved my life, too. Sometimes when I’m on the precipice, when I feel, even now, that I am that unselectable little boy, a joke comes, and humour sweeps me into its gangly arms and saves me.

Comedy is a retort to oppression, corruption and even death. It saved me when I was alone at home, at school, and every lonely, destitute place I’ve ever been in since. And now, when everything is actually OK and I still get down, comedy reminds me how silly I am, how silly it all is.

 

To: Diablo Cody

 

Beautiful writing, gentle, humorous, elegantly structured.

If there were Oscars for journalism, you’d have even more clutter in your downstairs loo.

 

To: John Rogers

 

John. We are friends. Proper, not pretend, to-the end friends.

Therefore I take you for granted. But that piece of writing surprised and excited me, mate. The simple unpretentiousness of walking as a revolutionary act.

What I found most remarkable, John, was the strength of your writing: purposeful, confident, strident and assured. It is my belief that it is this manner of authority and ease that is required for the advancement of our ideals.

 

To: David DeGraw

 

Clear as crystal, as sharp as broken glass, as explosive as a Molotov cocktail. There is some great writing in the issue, mate; but this spells out, in the dominant language of economics and in cold, hard numbers, the necessity for action.

 

To: Shepard Fairey

 

That image is f***ing spectacular. The comedy of the bulb, the literalism of the brain. This is why I call you the most relevant living artist. F*** the bourgeoisie, long live the revolution.

Russell holds the artwork for his guest edit's cover. Image: Kalpesh Lathigra

Russell Brand guest-edited the New Statesman in October 2013. Find him on Twitter: @rustyrockets.

This article first appeared in the 23 October 2013 issue of the New Statesman, Russell Brand Guest Edit

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“We don’t BeLiviu”: how Romania is rising against corruption

Night after night, activists gather in Victory Square to demand the resignation of the government.

For much of the year, the large tarmac square in front of the main government building in Bucharest is little more than a glorified roundabout, busy with traffic and surrounded by towering, communist-era blocks on one side and a wedge-shaped park on the other.

But when Romanians gather to protest, as they have done these past weeks in record numbers, it becomes a place of pent-up frustration; against the ruling class, the direction in which the country is heading and the way many politicians continue to use the public purse as a source of cash for their personal use. This was not how it was supposed to be, ten years after the country joined the European Union.

On 31 January Romania’s new government, in power for less than a month, sneaked in a piece of emergency legislation during a late-night session to weaken the punishment for abuse of power, negligence while in office and conflict of interest. In effect, the move decriminalised some forms of corruption, if the financial damage caused amounted to less than roughly £38,000.

Many Romanians and international observers saw it as a brazen attempt to help politicians facing legal problems, prominent among them Liviu Dragnea, the leader of Romania’s largest political party, the Social Democrats, and the president of the Chamber of Deputies (Romania’s House of Commons). Dragnea is facing trial for supposedly getting colleagues added to the public payroll even though they do not work for the state. He is one of many public officials facing a day in court; in fact, he has already faced the courts, earning a 2015 conviction for electoral fraud that barred him from becoming prime minister despite his party’s strong showing in parliamentary elections last December.

The backlash against the ordinance was swift, as night after night tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands, and, once, half a million took to the streets to protest. On 5 February, between 500,000 and 600,000 people protested across Romania, with 300,000 in the government square alone. Demonstrations have also taken place in 50 towns and cities in the country, as well as in the Romanian diaspora.

The government backed down on its immediate plans and repealed the decree, but trust was by then long gone. Protests are now in their third week and, despite snowfall, show little sign of ending.

“This government needs to go. You can’t be elected in December and have hundreds of thousands on the streets in a month,” said Dorial Ilie, a 33-year-old PR worker, one cold evening in the square.

Romanians are fed up with corruption. The country sits 57th in Transparency International’s corruption perceptions index – up from 69th place in 2014, but corruption remains endemic, and Romania is near the bottom of the list when it comes to EU countries.

Despite the efforts of the country’s much-admired National Anti-corruption Directorate (DNA), set up in 2003 and responsible for the successful prosecution of thousands of politicians, civil servants, judges and business leaders, there is a sense that the rich and powerful still operate as if they were above the law. This was certainly not helped by the attempts to change the anti-corruption legislation.

“They had been planning to do this for years,” said Dan Popescu, a 46-year-old priest protesting in the square, echoing the sentiments of many of those around him.

The demonstrations, the largest in the country since the fall of Nicolae Ceausescu in 1989, have been an impressive display of people power in a country that is increasingly using the streets as a communication platform. Large-scale protests in Romania also brought down the last elected government in November 2015, after corruption was blamed for a fire in a Bucharest nightclub that left 64 dead, and before that, mass protests during the 2014 presidential election, this time over mismanagement of diaspora voting, arguably helped tip the balance in favour of the now-incumbent, Klaus Iohannis.

Protesters are hoping for a similar impact this time around, although, having survived a no-confidence vote in parliament on 8 February, the new government shows little willingness to depart.

At the same time, most of those gathering night after night in Victory Square – as the drab square outside the government building is officially known – are still loudly demanding the resignation of the government, but would probably settle for the resignations of Dragnea and the prime minister, Sorin Grindeanu.

After so many nights standing out in the cold, protesters have become very creative. Elaborate banners filled with puns (“We don’t BeLiviu”) have appeared, as have messages written with lasers and projected on to nearby buildings. Some have shone the Batman symbol on to the roof of a nearby museum, a funny (or perhaps desperate) plea for help. The national anthem is often sung. On Sunday, a sea of protesters held up pieces of paper coloured over their phone lights to create a vast Romanian flag.

Despite these touches of humour and inventiveness, there is a steely determination evident and it has only grown since the first night or two.

On 13 February the national parliament approved a referendum related to the fight against corruption, as proposed by the protest-supporting president. But most of those on the streets these past weeks would argue that they have already given their opinion on the matter.

Many Romanians are increasingly frustrated that they have to head out to protest time and again in order to hold their elected officials to account. Few believe that the present political class can change. “They’ll try again, in another way. Maybe in parliament, where they have a majority,” said Ioana David, an administrative worker for a construction company.

Even so, she – like so many others – is likely to continue to go out into Victory Square in the days and perhaps weeks ahead, in order to make sure her voice gets heard.

This article first appeared in the 16 February 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times