Radio review: Listening to Pat Kenny talking about LSD is a trip

Kenny describes attending a festival in the 1970s with “a dopehead” who had taken acid

Pat Kenny in his Newstalk studio. Photograph: Frank Miller

Pat Kenny in his Newstalk studio. Photograph: Frank Miller

 

Pat Kenny may be one of Ireland’s top broadcasters, but he’s equally prone to the occasionally bizarre moment that prompts the question whether he’s on something – metaphorically speaking, of course. So, in an odd way, Monday’s edition of his programme (The Pat Kenny Show, Newstalk, weekdays) is no surprise, as listeners get to actually hear Kenny on acid.

Now, lest there be any confusion, Kenny is covering the subject of psychedelic drugs, not ingesting them. He talks to American author Michael Pollan, who has written a book on the subject. But in an era when every experience is described as a “journey”, the spectacle of the normally strait-laced presenter pondering the effects of hallucinogens is, well, a trip.

As it happens, the interview largely steers clear of the stereotypical hedonistic hippy image associated with such substances, concentrating instead on their supposedly therapeutic applications. There has, we hear, been a renaissance in LSD, “or acid, as it is colloquially called”, Kenny adds, presumably for the benefit of any listeners cloistered away since 1966.

This renewal of interest in LSD is a throwback to its original purpose during the 1950s, when it was seen as a psychiatric tool. But the drug then “escaped the lab”, as Pollan says, becoming the stimulant of choice for cavorting flower children, to “disruptive” effect. “LSD caused people to question authority,” according to Pollan.

Of course, it caused more than that. Harking back to his past life as a (vaguely) groovy young broadcaster, Kenny describes attending a rock festival in the US during the 1970s with an acquaintance – “a dopehead” – who had taken acid. “He just went around saying ‘Wow’,” the host recalls, still sounding bemused at the memory. “So what was he going through?”

Pollan, who calls himself “a reluctant pyschonaut”, gamely attempts to describe his own experience of taking the hallucinogenic substance psilocybin under the guidance of a therapist. He recounts witnessing the “dissolution of his ego” as an explosion of Post-it notes, which sounds like a cartoon version of an acid trip. But Pollan says this helped him discover that “we aren’t identical to our egos”, an insight he feels he would otherwise have only attained after years of therapy. For such reasons, he believes LSD can be valuable, temporarily “rewiring the brain” to help people “break out of bad habits”. At this point, Kenny sounds a note of caution. “I feel I have to say, do not try this at home,” he says, resisting the urge to out the Pope as a Catholic.

Kenny listens attentively to the arguments, avoiding any moralising stance

It’s an unexpected item, and not just for the superficial weirdness of Kenny casually reeling off the names of drugs such as mescaline and peyote. Though he proffers a self-evidently sensible warning about the perils of LSD, the presenter sounds genuinely curious. The result is an item that’s neither judgmental nor lurid in tone, a reminder that behind the occasionally stiffly logical persona, Kenny possesses, appropriately enough, an open mind.

This attitude is again on display later in the week during reporter Richard Chambers’s segment on a campaign to decriminalise drugs. Kenny listens attentively to the arguments, avoiding any moralising stance. More notably, the presenter even maintains his approach during his interview with Irish Solidarity-People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett’s proposals to combat homelessness by curbing land hoarding. Apart from Kenny’s slight dig that his guest wants to “take from those who have and give to those who haven’t”, it’s a spirited joust about the practicality of such a measure rather than a gratuitous ideological bunfight.

Maybe some of Newstalk’s more confrontational presenters might take a trip with Kenny.

Wilde talk

There’s clearly something lysergic in the air on Monday. Interviewed on the Ray D’Arcy Show (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays), English actor Rupert Everett recalls that playing Oscar Wilde on stage the day same-sex marriage was legalised in Britain was “like being on acid”.

Instead of bearing a cross and thinking of Christ, I bear my gayness and think of Wilde

The purpose of Everett’s appearance is to promote his movie about Wilde’s last years living in squalor in Paris, but from the moment he talks about the declining Irish writer wearing “frayed clothes smelling of sweat and a little bit of piss” it’s clear this is a far more peppery slice of radio than the usual celebrity puff piece.

Letting forth a string of memorable lines and perceptive observations in his irresistibly plummy basso profundo voice, Everett makes for terrific company. He avoids easy tropes, resisting comparisons to the Irish writer: “You can’t compare anyone to anyone.” Equally, he talks of Wilde as a “Christ figure” whose later life as a persecuted gay man resonated with the young Everett.

“If you were a homosexual man arriving in London in 1975, you were walking in his footsteps,” he says. “Instead of bearing a cross and thinking of Christ, I bear my gayness and think of Wilde.”

For good measure, he describes Christ as “a bit of bore”. For Everett’s sake, the referendum to repeal the Constitution’s blasphemy laws had better come soon.

D’Arcy plays his part too. He forms an easy chemistry with his guest, joking about “crowbarring in personal questions” even as he does so. The resulting interview is far more sparky yet natural than, say, the pleasantly formulaic chat D’Arcy has with retiring rugby star Tommy Bowe earlier in the programme. Everett is, as the presenter remarks, a tonic, a welcome bright spot on a Monday afternoon. Talk about starting the week on a high.

Radio Moment of the Week: McKean’s gripping encounter

On Tuesday’s edition of Moncrieff (Newstalk, weekdays), roving reporter Henry McKean uses Donald Trump’s handshake with Kim Jong-un as an excuse for a vox pop on this traditional form of greeting.

As guest host Tom Dunne listens in, McKean describes the various handshakes he encounters, giving a masterclass in how to translate the physical into audio form. One handshake is “old fashioned, happy slappy”, while another is “firm, yet it slid away”. McKean hugs one interviewee and compliments another on his “amazing eye contact”. But the most gripping moment, so to speak, comes at the hands of a French-Canadian with 40 years seafaring experience. “You kind of took control,” says an awestruck McKean of the handshake. “You owned me.” Too much information, perhaps, but hugely entertaining.

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