Dear Everlast from House of Pain,
I’m sorry for calling you a “Leprechaun of Rage.”
This was back in 1996, in a review I wrote for Vibe magazine of the third and last House of Pain album, Truth Crushed To Earth Shall Rise Again.
It was not a very nice thing to say, especially there where I put it, in the opening sentence. “Make way for the Leprechauns of Rage,” I said. It was a reference to the Public Enemy song, “Prophets of Rage,” of course. You guys being an Irish-American rap group, rather than black, like Public Enemy. Seems less clever to me now than it did at the time. But I guess that’s the thing about getting older, huh?
I said lots of other not-so-nice things in the review, too. I did not think the album was very good. By way of comparison, it didn’t “bang like shillelaghs,” as I said the first two House of Pain albums did. (I’m not sure that could have ever sounded clever. But I did mean it; I really like those albums.) I criticized your lyrics, and the beats you used and went so far as to insinuate that the group’s prior success might have been reliant on your former executive producer, Cyprus Hill’s DJ Muggs. I think I threw in a couple more Irish jokes in at the end, too.
This was early in my career. I was a fact-checker at Vibe, and I’d just started writing record reviews. People liked pans, I’d noticed, and snide wit. Also, I’d grown up not-Irish in a heavily Irish town, amongst a heavily Irish circle of friends who liked to crack back-and-forth about matters of ethnicity. So when I was assigned to review an album from a rap group that had always been very vocal about its Irishness, and when I didn’t like that album, I got my knives out. Overzealously.
Was there something even uglier going on? Did the glee I took in attacking your album have something to do with the fact that I was a white guy at a largely black magazine writing about a bunch of other white guys in hip-hop? Was I using the opportunity to take you down a peg as a way to earn some kind of stripes? I’d like to think not. Not consciously. But might there’ve been just a little bit of that slipping in there with those jokes, even as I didn’t notice it? I wonder.
You read the review when it came out. I shouldn’t have found that surprising, but I did-and strangely flattering, the thought of a rap star, someone I’d seen on MTV, sitting there reading what I written. But you didn’t appreciate my criticisms, or, apparently, find my jokes very funny. I know all this because both your publicist at the time, and a friend of mine at the magazine who was friends with some of your friends, told me you had spoken about wanting to beat me up.
Coincidentally, your album, and my review of it, came out around the same time as the movie Swingers, with Vince Vaughn and John Favreau. As I’m sure you’re aware, there’s a scene in that movie where a friend of the protagonists shocks everybody by pulling out a gun during a shouting match with a bunch of white hip-hop heads. “Like fuckin’ House of Pain was gonna do anything?” Vaughn says, admonishing him. (I can understand why you might have been extra cranky those days.)
According to reports from the friends of my friend, you were the type of guy who most certainly would have done something. So I’m grateful that your publicist fended off your requests that he bring you to a Vibe party and point me out. Seems likely I would have ended up picking my teeth out of a platter of vegetable spring rolls.
When the album flopped and House of Pain broke up, sometime in the next year, people around the office joked that it was like the famous review John Landau wrote in Rolling Stone that convinced Eric Clapton to disband Cream in 1968. I knew that was probably not the case in this instance, but the feeling I got from even just the idea pushed past flattering into something that made me uncomfortable. Things got worse soon thereafter, when news broke that you had suffered a coronary attack that almost killed you. You were unconscious in the hospital for three days, I learned, while surgeons replaced a valve in your heart. You were 29.
Thankfully, you are a resilient person. Not only did you recover quickly from the surgery, you switched directions musically, and scored a major hit with a jangly acoustic-rock tune, “What It’s Like.” Your solo album, Whitey Ford Sings The Blues, sold two million copies. A couple years later, you had that song with Santana on that album of his that sold like 25 million-“Put Your Lights On,” you won Grammy for that one. I’m sure you’re paid for forever. I’d imagine you don’t often think about record reviews from 13 years ago.
But still, it was stupid, what I did. Not to criticize the album, but to do it so mean spiritedly. It was the mistake of a young writer feeling himself too much. And maybe not taking his job seriously enough, not understanding what it means to put something in print. So now, seriously, sorry.
Dave Bry is the Awl Associate Editor for Birthday Parties and Cupcakes. And Regrets.