Never have I forgotten the time Russell Brand offered my then seven-year-old brother a cigarette. In ones memory it tends to stick. Drain-pipe jeans, and hair that looked like a porcupine drenched in hairspray. Brand's personality appeared to me an amalgamation of John Cooper Clarke and Quentin Crisp, some parts cabaret, some parts punk rock, all parts charming. Mascara clung to his eyes and his booming voice capriciously swung from one accent to another like the clenched fists of two sweary sailors having an arm wrestle. He was intentionally courteous, and provoked with intent. His new book, "My Booky Wook", was published then, seven years ago, and he was in our Dublin to promote it. Fondly I remember the meeting, and think often how much has changed in his life since then and now. This preceded his adventure in America. Even then, one knew this was a man who had a taste for life.
On most occasions when one chances on seeing Brand on television or in the papers, he inspires laughter, he thoughtfully provokes, or really warms the heart with his passionate defence of working-class people, his enhanced sense of empathy, and his honourable conscientiousness of dangerous levels of inequality between us all. An odd time, he successfully frustrates. I only mentioned one such example of this in conversation recently, to Ireland's own Senator David Norris, one of the finest orators alive, to which he concurred. I here speak of Brand's encouraging young people not to vote. I do believe this to be a mistake. But, after all, wasn't it George Bernard Shaw whom remarked that a life spent making mistakes is not only more honourable, but far more useful than a life spent doing nothing.
I have followed Brand, as they say, and to which begs the question: followed how? It might best be more appropriate to say I paid my attention to what he was doing, and paid it such for an extensive period of time. Brand has always been one of my favourite stand up comedic performers. I remember watching him as a presenter on Big Brother, where always he was predictably unpredictable, quick as an arrow and as sharp as its refined tip, and doted at his wide-eyed hooligan approach that oozed of sincerity. I remember his priceless recollection of his "murderous incestuous infanticidle cannibalistic little slag" pet gerbils. Or his going through newspapers ripping apart the regular idiocy of that hydra-headed all pervading tribe, the press, and it was a fine precursor to his "always interesting vlog "The Trews".
Brand has re-Branded himself. In his book on Revolution, he criticizes firmly vast wealth inequality and horrid media spin, and he defends civil liberties. Brand is now concentrating his invective on Rupert Murdoch's The Sun. That ever-shitty newspaper Wednesday morning alleged he has been paying a substantial sum of rent for a luxury loft apartment in Hoxton, to a company they claim avoided tax by being based in the British Virgin Islands. In an edition of "The Trews" Brand challenged the media mogul, Mr.. Murdoch, whom according to Brand: "managed to run up a tax bill over eleven years, saving £350 million by using totally legal tax loopholes. He did this by using legal tax havens, so the law has got to change. I'm not saying these people are doing anything illegal, but it's a disgrace that those things are legal. If they call me a hypocrite for something my landlords does, what can I call him for something he does himself?"
The tabloid's allegations appeared following Brand's dicey exchange with Irish Channel 4 reporter Paraic O'Brien, whom decided to inquire as to how much money Brand pays for his apartment. Brand responded that he rented the space and that it had no relevance to the protest. Like O'Brien, I myself am a journalist, and inevitably one must oblige those in positions of influence and power with uncomfortable questions. But O'Brien was pretty much being an arsehole about it. Brand then Branded, as it were, O'Brien a "Snide". Brand was there in support of the Hackney New Era protestors outside Downing Street, many of whom he has gotten to know fairly well from campaigning with them. They were demonstrating against the tripling of rent on a Hoxton estate due to a planned development currently threatening ninety-three families with eviction.
Russell Brand also recently guest edited The New Statesman, and penned an essay in which he advocated "the overthrow of the current political system" which "nothing more than a bureaucratic means for furthering the augmentation and advantages of economic elites". A trip to Kenya as part of Comic Relief was something that made him reconsider his lifestyle. Writing in The New Statesman: "The price of privilege is poverty. David Cameron said in his conference speech that profit is "not a dirty word". Profit is the most profane word we have". Brand is exposing the financial emungement of the working classes. Bob Geldof, with whom I spoke last month, praised Brand and his gallant essay, for his "articulacy and expressing the anger of the moment", he also said "Russell is completely right. That model cannot sustain us as we saw, it bankrupted Greece, almost Italy, almost France, and almost Ireland. It just can't work." However, Geldof agreed not with everything Brand said. Replacing the current political system with anarchy, he pressed as an example, is "not viable or plausible".
I also remember with pregnancy, the remarkable occasion Brand debated Peter Hitchens, on Newsnight. Hicthens, who must be indeed bored of the comparison, is brother of the late Christopher Hitchens, whom wrote some of the finest sentences in the margin of his own time. They exchanged words as weapons on the subject of Drugs. It has been eleven years since Brand has drank or used drugs, and for a documentary he even watched himself smoking heroin. Brand wrote of this reflective experience in The Spectator, "When I saw the tape a month or so ago, what was surprising was that my reaction was not one of gratitude for the positive changes I've experienced. Instead I felt envious of this earlier version of myself, unencumbered by the burden of abstinence." In an interview with Oprah Winfrey, who never misses a chance to exploit the publics thirst for celebrity culture and a prurient interest in people at their low points, Brand said that he originally developed "problems with food" and used to eat chocolate "compulsively". Much later Brand then made the admonition that he became "infatuated with pornography", before discovering drugs. Brand even gave a spectacular speech to the United Nations, in pressing request that they bring an end to the arrest and punishment of drug users, telling the UN that a drug ban will only lead to "death, suffering, and crime".
Russell Brand has indeed come a long way since that day we met. Brand was so very courteous and so very kind to many people who approached him. High-fiving Goths and hitting on a vexed elderly woman, whom he cheekily referred to as being a "saucy minx". Hoards of young people who are not engaged with a system which is not properly engaging with them, are listening, watching, and reading Brand. Brand is a leading voice for an alternative from young people feeling disenfranchised because of a carotic political system designed to cultivate the interests of an increasingly small and concentrated few powerful people. This kind of voice is not an isolated one, Brand is part of a growing group of dissenting voices, an axis of innumerable stories. A pillar notion of the American and French revolutions were that the undermining of a nation's principles were not the aim so much as was the overthrowing of those who abuse power. Brand has not all the answers, nor does he claim to, but he has heart, sense, influence, and energy. Brand has re-Branded himself, and now he is re-Branding politics and activism, then selling it to young people so they will understand better that their society and its future is in their hands.