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How I saved a man's life
"It was a Saturday afternoon, and I was alone in the Hot Press offices, heavily doped." So begins a story, possibly involving sex and violence, about reggae legend Dennis Brown. As it would
Declan Lynch, 05 Nov 1997
It was a Saturday afternoon, and I was alone in the Hot Press offices, heavily doped.
At least, that is how I remember it, this profound feeling of languor that came with the writing of news stories. It could get the better of you, this sleepy feeling, like the time that U2 signed to Ian Foulks’ Waster Talent Agency, and it emerged in a news story that they had signed to Jan Floor’s Wasted Trousers Agency. Oh well.
My torpor was lifted by the entrance of Niall, exuding all the brio which meant that he was either going to ask you to do something vaguely illegal, or embark on a spot of reckless driving, with you on board to help identify the remains.
"Dennis Brown," he ejaculated, "do you know anything about Dennis Brown?"
What I knew about Dennis Brown could have been written on the back of a Rizla packet, but I had this creepy feeling that I would soon be required to write something a bit longer about the reggae star, like a double-page spread, complete with discography, and nude pics if we could manage it.
‘Money In Me Pocket’, I mumbled, this being the title of Dennis Brown’s one hit record, and the entire extent of my knowledge of the spliffmeister in question.
"Money in me pocket, but I just can’t get no love," I droned, neatly encapsulating my state of being at that time, minus the "money in me pocket" bit.
Emboldened, Niall went on to explain that the bould Dennis was out in RTE, waiting to be interviewed. He would be recording a song – ‘Money In Me Pocket’, no doubt – for some RTE young persons’ yoke, and he was available for interview, so he was.
Privately, I thought along the following lines: "Fuck you, Dennis, you fucking fuck. And fuck your mutha."
Dennis, in all innocence, was waiting out in RTE, oblivious to the fact that three miles away in a Mount Street attic, he was being dissed, and little knowing how both of our lives were about to take a turn for the worse.
After the statutory ten minutes of moaning and groaning about the vital news stories which would now be abandoned, but which were a figment of the imagination in several respects, Niall’s powers of persuasion were gaining the upper hand. Niall could persuade Paisley to deliver a fulsome oration at the graveside of Cathal Brugha.
I was now equipped with a (functioning?) tape recorder, being taxi-ed out to Montrose for an audience with Mr Dennis Brown, wondering what in the name of fuck I was going to say to the man, whose work had entirely passed me by, except for the fact that he had a few quid but couldn’t get his end away.
"He’s a Rastaman," I mused. "I’ll ask him about Rastamen, and Jack Rastafari, and Haile Selassie, and all that oul’ shite."
Thus equipped with at least one avenue of attack, I was ushered into an RTE dressing-room, where Mr Brown was waiting in a state of beatific restfulness, giving off that aura of deep serenity which only comes to t hose who have money in their pocket, who can get them any amount of love, and who have been cultivating a taste for the sensimilla since puberty. His Rastaman vibrations immediately put me at ease, and I felt that I could ask him about recent fluctuations in the Deutschmark if needs be, without disturbing his inner calm.
Lads together, I asked him about women instead. Had I now read somewhere that under Rastafarian rules and regulations, women must remove themselves from the presence of Rastamen when they are having their period?
This got him going. In a jiffy, the shiny happy Dennis Brown was transformed before my eyes into a dreadlocked thug.
"When woman is seeing her blood, she cannot come among I and I," he thundered in the familiar patois.
He was very down on women in general. Since it was unlikely that we could return to the topic of his latest album in this heated situation, I adopted a Fr Dougal tone in relation to Haile Selassie, who was known to me as a baroque dictator, but to Dennis as God Almighty. "What’s the story on Haile Selassie?" I probed.
He embarked on a homage to Haile, which sounded haile contentious on one ground in particular: Dennis spoke of him as though he were still alive, whereas I proposed to Dennis that Haile had passed away. All I had read about the demise of Emperor Selassie was base propaganda put out by the forces of Babylon.
I was getting no joy on the Selassie front, so I switched to the tricky area of homosexuality. Where would Dennis and the lads stand on same-sex relationships?
He was incandescent. I thought that I knew most of the slang for homosexuals, but Dennis had a new one. He called them "batty guys".
There followed a tirade about "batty guys", the essence of which went: "Batty guys! Dem for dead! I kill dem!"
Still maintaining an earthly calm, I queried whether he had carried through on his belief that all "batty guys" should be done away with.
"No, mon," he replied with pathos. "I never met one."
I was outlining the popular view that one guy in every ten is "batty" and that he must have had ample opportunity to take a few of them out, if only he had known, when a wondrous thing happened.
A well-known RTE homosexual poked his head around the door, to tell us that we had five minutes to wrap up this fruitful dialogue.
How my mind raced! At last, here was an officially registered "batty guy" for Dennis to cull.
What magnificent copy it would make! You crawl out to RTE on a slow afternoon, and you find yourself up to the elbows in gay gore with a Rastaman being led away in chains, money in his pocket but he just can’t get no bail.
But I let it pass. And sometimes, when I see that guy’s name on the credits of certain RTE programmes, I wonder if I did the right thing.
Still, it had been an interesting day’s work. Terms like "batty guys" and "when woman is seeing her blood" have remained with me to this day. I discovered that Haile Selassie is alive and well. And I saved a human life.
Thanks to me, and indirectly to Niall, and to Hot Press in general, there is one more "batty guy" walking the streets than there would otherwise have been.
This would appear to justify the entire enterprise.