- 21 Jun 07
30th Anniversary Retrospective: An eventful encounter with reggae singer Dennis Brown resulted in young Hot Press reporter Declan Lynch having to take decisive action to save the life of a media colleague.
It falls to very few of us to save a human life in the course of an interview, but I had that privilege. And I hope I used it wisely.
There was no-one else to do it, really. I had come into hotpress on Saturday afternoon to write up a few news stories – a Dean Friedman gig at the Stadium perhaps, a Lookalikes tour, a new EP from Free Booze.
I think I was alone in the old offices in Mount Street, when Niall came up the stairs and into the room, deep in thought. He was carrying a big tape recorder. He asked me if I knew anything about Dennis Brown, the reggae singer. I knew Brown’s hit ‘Money In Me Pocket (But I Just Can’t Get No Love)’ and little more.
But, Niall explained, due to circumstances beyond our control, Brown was out in RTÉ, waiting to be interviewed. As he handed me the tape recorder ominously, I realised that this vague familiarity would have to suffice.
Brown’s people were around quickly in a taxi. The man himself was relaxing in his dressing-room before performing on some RTÉ young person’s programme, and soon we were face to face, me and Dennis Brown, total strangers trying to make the best of the situation.
He didn’t know it, but there was also an RTÉ producer somewhere in that building, who had no idea that I was about to save his life. But first, I had to find a way to interview Dennis Brown without letting on that I knew almost nothing about him.
At the start, he seemed a most affable fellow, radiating serenity, a dreadlocked vision. Rastafarianism was the key, I felt, to keeping him talking.
I never knew a Rastaman who could resist a spot of reasoning about the old religion, and Dennis Brown was no exception. I think it was the question about women’s periods that got him going. I had read somewhere that when women are having their periods, they are not pleasing to the Rastaman. But nothing I had read prepared me for the vehemence of Brown’s reaction.
“When woman is seeing her blood, she cannot come among I and I,” Brown thundered, in the patois.
Indeed. He then became extremely agitated during a line of questioning about the Emperor Haile Selassie. He insisted that Selassie was still alive, and though I argued – compellingly, I felt – that the death and burial of the self-styled Lion Of Judah had been widely reported in the western media, Brown wasn’t for turning. In fact he felt that this proved his point, these false and mischievous reports revealing Babylon at its most pernicious.
But it was when I sought his views on homosexualiity, and the Rastafarian approach to that topic, that the interview took its darkest turn. “Batty guys... dem for dead,” he said menacingly. It took me a few moments to fully realise that “batty guys” was his derogatory term for members of the gay community, and that he apparently wanted to kill them all .
“Batty guys... dem for dead... I kill dem,” he reasoned. Sensing a note of bravado, I asked him if he had ever actually killed one of these people, given the statistical certainty that he had knowingly encountered at least a few of of them, professionally or personally.
“No mon,” he insisted with apparent sincerity. “I never met one of dem.” At which point, almost absurdly on cue, a well-known homosexual RTÉ producer put his head around the door, to remind Dennis that the young people were waiting to be entertained. It was the moment of truth. I now had the opportunity to introduce Dennis Brown to his first batty guy, and not just any batty guy, but a celebrated RTÉ batty guy, whose horrible murder I would witness, making this perhaps the most notorious interview in the history of rock journalism. For a moment I hesitated, pondering all our destinies.
And then from somewhere I found the humanitarian impulse to let the moment pass. I let that RTÉ producer live. Rightly or wrongly, I saved his miserable RTÉ life.
Then I went back to the office to finish those news stories.