How Ice-T was a mensch

One of my happiest moments, in my years as a journalist, was when I got Ice-T (shown in the photo) to stop saying something homophobic and cruel in his live shows.

That happened in LA, late in the 1980s, when I was pop music critic for the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner, a now long-defunct daily newspaper. Ice-T — now best known as an actor, a regular on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit — was the leading rapper in town. So it was natural for me to interview him.

Before the second time I did that, I went to a live show he did, and heard something that appalled me. To get the crowd going, rappers then would shout, “All the ugly people keep quiet!” But Ice-T took that further. He shouted, “Everyone with AIDS keep quiet.”

After we’d finished the interview, I told him I didn’t like what he’d said. I said he was making fun of people who were sick. And that maybe he thought no one in his community had AIDS, but he was wrong.

His first answer was that it wasn’t him who shouted that line, but someone in his posse. Maybe my memory was wrong, and maybe that was true. But it was his show, so he was responsible.

Then he said that the only gay man he knew was the head of his record label. Which was one of the big Warner Bros. labels (as they were called then), and the man he named was certainly gay.

“But not only gay men get AIDS,” I said.

He thought for a moment, and then, like the honest man I’d found him to be, said, “You’re right. I won’t say that again.

A few years later, I heard him tell this story himself, when he spoke on a panel at a big pop music conference. He said he’d learned something. Of course I was gratified. But more than that, I admired him.

I thought of this because tomorrow it’s my turn to be interviewed, about my journalist years, by Todd Burns, for his newsletter and website, Music Journalism Insider. I was thinking back over my work, about how I thought of myself mainly as a critic and a writer of analytical pieces. But then I remembered some special things that happened when I did interviews, the Ice-T moment being the most special of all.

But there’s more! Next — how something I said inspired the Pet Shop Boys to make one of their wittiest records.


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