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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Love a good box set? Then you should watch the Snooker World Championships

The game relies on a steady arm, which relies on a steady nerve. The result is a slow creeping tension needs time and space to be properly enjoyed and endured. 

People are lazy and people are impatient. This has always been so – just ask Moses or his rock – but as illustrated by kindly old Yahweh, in those days they could not simply answer those impulses and stroll on.

Nowadays, that is no longer so. Twitter, YouTube and listicles reflect a desire for complex and involved issues, expansive and nuanced sports – what we might term quality – to be condensed into easily digestible morsels for effort-free enjoyment.

There is, though, one notable exception to this trend: the box set. Pursuing a novelistic, literary sensibility, it credits its audience with the power of sentience and tells riveting stories slowly, unfolding things in whichever manner that it is best for them to unfold.

In the first episode of the first series of The Sopranos, we hear Tony demean his wife Carmela's irritation with him via the phrase “always with the drama”; in the seventh episode of the first series we see his mother do likewise to his father; and in the 21st and final episode of the sixth and final series, his son uses it on Carmela. It is precisely this richness and this care that makes The Sopranos not only the finest TV show ever made, but the finest artefact that contemporary society has to offer. It forces us to think, try and feel.

We have two principal methods of consuming art of this ilk - weekly episode, or week-long binge. The former allows for anticipation and contemplation, worthy pursuits both, but of an entirely different order to the immersion and obsession offered by the latter. Who, when watching the Wire, didn’t find themselves agreeing that trudat, it's time to reup the dishwasher salt, but we’ve run out, ain’t no thing. Losing yourself in another world is rare, likewise excitement at where your mind is going next.

In a sporting context, this can only be achieved via World Championship snooker. Because snooker is a simple, repetitive game, it is absorbing very quickly, its run of play faithfully reflected by the score.

But the Worlds are special. The first round is played over ten frames – as many as the final in the next most prestigious competition – and rather than the usual week, it lasts for 17 magical days, from morning until night. This bestows upon us the opportunity to, figuratively at least, put away our lives and concentrate. Of course, work and family still exist, but only in the context of the snooker and without anything like the same intensity. There is no joy on earth like watching the BBC’s shot of the championship compilation to discover that not only did you see most of them live, but that you have successfully predicted the shortlist.

It is true that people competing at anything provides compelling drama, emotion, pathos and bathos - the Olympics proves this every four years. But there is something uniquely nourishing about longform snooker, which is why it has sustained for decades without significant alteration.

The game relies on a steady arm, which relies on a steady nerve. The result is a slow creeping tension needs time and space to be properly enjoyed and endured. Most frequently, snooker is grouped with darts as a non-athletic sport, instead testing fine motor skills and the ability to calculate angles, velocity and forthcoming shots. However, its tempo and depth is more similar to Test cricket – except snooker trusts so much in its magnificence that it refuses to compromise the values which underpin it.

Alfred Hitchcock once explained that if two people are talking and a bomb explodes without warning, it constitutes surprise; but if two people are talking and all the while a ticking bomb is visible under the table, it constitutes suspense. “In these conditions,” he said, “The same innocuous conversation becomes fascinating because the public is participating in the scene. The audience is longing to warn the characters on the screen: ‘You shouldn't be talking about such trivial matters. There is a bomb beneath you and it is about to explode!’”

Such is snooker. In more or less every break, there will at some point be at least one difficult shot, loss of position or bad contact – and there will always be pressure. Add to that the broken flow of things – time spent waiting for the balls to stop, time spent prowling around the table, time spent sizing up the table, time spent cleaning the white, time spent waiting for a turn – and the ability for things to go wrong is constantly in contemplation.

All the more so in Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre. This venue, in its 40th year of hosting the competition, is elemental to its success. Place is crucial to storytelling, and even the word “Crucible” – whether “a ceramic or metal container in which metals or other substances may be melted or subjected to very high temperatures,” “a situation of severe trial”, or Arthur Miller’s searing play – conjures images of destruction, injustice and nakedness. And the actual Crucible is perhaps the most atmospheric arena in sport - intimate, quiet, and home to a legendarily knowledgeable audience, able to calculate when a player has secured a frame simply by listening to commentary through an earpiece and applauding as soon as the information is communicated to them.

To temper the stress, snooker is also something incredibly comforting. This is partly rooted in its scheduling. Working day and late-night sport is illicit and conspiratorial, while its presence in revision season has entire cohorts committing to “just one more quick frame”, and “just one more quick spliff”. But most powerfully of all, world championship snooker triggers memory and nostalgia, a rare example of something that hasn’t changed, as captivating now as it was in childhood.

This wistfulness is complemented by sensory pleasure of the lushest order. The colours of both baize and balls are the brightest, most engaging iterations imaginable, while the click of cue on ball, the clunk of ball on ball and the clack of ball on pocket is deep and musical; omnipresent and predictable, they combine for a soundtrack that one might play to a baby in the womb, instead of whale music or Megadeth.

Repeating rhythms are also set by the commentators, former players of many years standing. As is natural with extended coverage of repetitive-action games, there are numerous phrases that recur:

“We all love these tactical frames, but the players are so good nowadays that one mistake and your opponent’s in, so here he is, looking to win the frame at one visit ... and it’s there, right in the heart of the pocket for frame and match! But where’s the cue ball going! it really is amazing what can happen in the game of snooker, especially when we’re down to this one-table situation.”

But as omniscient narrators, the same men also provide actual insight, alerting us to options and eventualities of which we would otherwise be ignorant. Snooker is a simple game but geometry and physics are complicated, so an expert eye is required to explain them intelligibly; it is done with a winning combination of levity and sincerity.

The only essential way in which snooker is different is the standard of play. The first round of this year’s draw featured eight past winners, only two of whom have made it to the last four, and there were three second-round games that were plausible finals.

And just as literary fiction is as much about character as plot, so too is snooker. Nothing makes you feel you know someone like studying them over years at moments of elation and desolation, pressure and release, punctuated by TV confessions of guilty pleasures, such as foot massages, and bucket list contents, such as naked bungee jumping.

It is probably true that there are not as many “characters” in the game as once there were, but there are just as many characters, all of whom are part of that tradition. And because players play throughout their adult life, able to establish their personalities, in unforgiving close-up, over a number of years, they need not be bombastic to tell compelling stories, growing and undergoing change in the same way as Dorothea Brooke or Paulie Gualtieri.

Of no one is this more evident that Ding Junhui, runner-up last year and current semi-finalist this; though he is only 30, we have been watching him almost half his life. In 2007, he reached the final of the Masters tournament, in which he faced Ronnie O’Sullivan, the most naturally talented player ever to pick up a cue – TMNTPETPUAC for short. The crowd were, to be charitable, being boisterous, and to be honest, being pricks, and at the same time, O’Sullivan was playing monumentally well. So at the mid-session interval, Ding left the arena in tears and O’Sullivan took his arm in consolation; then when Ding beat O’Sullivan in this year’s quarter-final, he rested his head on O’Sullivan’s shoulder and exchanged words of encouragement for words of respect. It was beautiful, it was particular, and it was snooker.

Currently, Ding trails Mark Selby, the “Jester from Leicester” – a lucky escape, considering other rhyming nouns - in their best of 33 encounter. Given a champion poised to move from defending to dominant, the likelihood is that Ding will remain the best player never to win the game’s biggest prize for another year.

Meanwhile, the other semi-final pits Barry Hawkins, a finalist in 2013, against John Higgins, an undisputed great and three-time champion. Higgins looks likely to progress, and though whoever wins through will be an outsider, both are eminently capable of taking the title. Which is to say that, this weekend, Planet Earth has no entertainment more thrilling, challenging and enriching than events at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield.

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