June, 1989: Seaside Heights, New Jersey – My friend and I had just finished smoking a huge joint outside of the beach condo we were staying at when it happened. We were casually strolling along the boardwalk enjoying our buzz and the ocean breeze when we suddenly heard music coming from one of the game stands. What the fuck is that sound? Is that…no…this isn’t….wait….yes, it is…THIS IS A NEW BEASTIE BOYS SONG!!!!
“Shake Your Rump” — particularly its brilliantly fuzzed-out synth bass break — blew our freaking minds that day in a way that mine hasn’t been blown since. You gotta remember, this was 1989, music just didn’t sound like this (at least nothing I was listening to up to that point). We had been excited for a new Beasties record but weren’t really sure what to expect. It had been a few years since their debut License to Ill dropped, blew up, and was written off as a one-hit frat party wonder.
Then Paul’s Boutique dropped the following month and rest is b-boy history.
December, 2018: Washington, DC – Fast forward almost (gulp) thirty years and the Beasties are at it again, only this time, with a book — the simply titled Beastie Boys Book — that is essentially a print version of the Paul’s Boutique album-ending mini-mixtape, “B-Boy Bouillabaisse”. In other words, it never spends too much time on one particular theme and is a potpourri of interesting shit. This can make the book both a refreshing read (for those of you with ADD or those of us sick of cliché music autobiographies) and a little disappointing for those of you who wish they peeled the onion more on certain aspects of their career. As much as I loved reading about Cookie Puss (cause let’s face it, Cookie Puss was the fucking man and probably deserves his own book, TV series, and movie) I would have also enjoyed reading more about DJ Hurricane, who spent a good bit of time as their live DJ and helmed the tables for Check Your Head and Ill Communication, or producer Mario Caldato Jr., or the move to Mix Master Mike before Hello Nasty (who does contribute the most unusual chapter in the book). But outside of a few random notes here and there on Hurricane and Caldato Jr., I don’t think either gets as much space as Amy Poehler does writing (hilariously) on-target reviews of every Beastie Boys video.
Of all the awesomely Beastian elements in this book (a music gear picture/list, a chronological review of the Beasties outfits, a tribute to the aforementioned Cookie Puss, and a freakin’ cookbook to name a few) one of the most fascinating was the vast amount of music discussed not created by the Beastie Boys. Whether it’s Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz listing the songs on his seasonal mixtapes or Michael “Mike D” Diamond reminiscing about the punk shows they attended in NYC in the early 80’s, you can tell that the Beastie Boys aren’t just guys that “play in a band” but true lovers of music and culture. I had to stop numerous times during my read just to look up some obscure Brazilian psychedelic artist from the 60’s I had never heard of (they could write another book called The Music We Listen To and I’d be the first in line to read it). Everyone likes to consider themselves “eclectic” music listeners, but these guys really are the crate divers in the record store for half a day searching for that deep cut no one else has or knows about. And their music reflects it. When Ad-Rock says they wanted Hello Nasty to “sound like a great mix tape”, well, mission accomplished, Adam.
Reading the book and watching the remaining Beasties in recent interviews promoting it I came away somewhat surprised at their lack of self-awareness. Not in the sense that they don’t know who they are individually or that they were in a huge, internationally-known band that matured before our eyes (they do spend a good bit of time ruing about their youthful foolishness, but don’t run away from it), but that they can’t really comprehend their standing in music history or how their fans absorbed them with such devotion. It is always strange to me to watch someone in a band talk about a piece of music that — to me and many others — is legendary, yet, to them is just another “album in our canon.” I don’t think Mike D or Ad-Rock will ever truly fathom how influential and important Paul’s Boutique is. For some, it is our generations Sgt. Peppers, for them, it’s just their underselling second album.
While the boys do an excellent job at breaking down each release (Ad-Rock, especially, seems to enjoy taking a deeper dive into each specific track and the head-spaces they were in while creating them) it will leave you with more questions than answers. The backstories behind some of their music are as compelling as the songs themselves, and though they do offer some thoughtful tidbits (like how they got the sounds for the kick drum on “Pass the Mic” or Yauch’s fuzz-bass on “Sabotage”), like any great artist, they don’t want to reveal every trick in their collective arsenals.
Of course, the book is also missing one very crucial element: Adam “MCA” Yauch (who died from cancer in 2012). Everyone has their favorite Beastie Boy, but I think almost all can agree that everyone liked MCA (even Madonna). And from reading this book you can see why. Ad-Rock and Mike D do their best to include crazy anecdotes and stories about MCA and his varying interests and experimentally fun nature. In many ways, the book is an ode to their fallen-too-soon friend as much as it is to NYC in the early 80s, LA in the 90s, and coming-of-age at the turn of the century as culture-shifting, trend-setting, taste-makers.
On a personal level, I found this to be one of the most engrossing, funny, and true-to-form pieces of art from one of the most influential bands in my life. As engaging as they might be, I am not reading this book to learn about what life was like for Mike D in the second grade or fifty pages on how Ad-Rock’s uncle built furniture or lurid tales of inner-band squabbles and backstage groupies. This is a Beastie Boys book, dammit, if there is one thing these guys are masters of it’s entertainment. From the in-page banter between the authors to the overall let’s-not-take-ourselves-too-seriously tone to the off-beat cultural references (these guys remember Pixx!) this book encompasses all things Beastie Boys in the best possible ways. As a reader and fan, I wouldn’t want it any other way.
- Hello Nasty is Ad-Rock’s favorite Beasties album
- How the early 80’s DC scene co-mingled with the early 80’s NYC scene at a particular Black Flag show in NY that, in hindsight, had some pretty big names in attendance (Henry Rollins, Ian McKaye, Bad Brains, etc.)
- How much of a stoner Ad-Rock is
- How it was actually Run DMC who gave them the line, “here’s a little story I’ve got to tell about 3 bad brothers you know so well…”
- Not that I didn’t know it already, but just how fucking creative these guys overall, even outside of making music. Just the way the book is laid out is original.
- The Beastie Boys, above all, are funny motherfuckers. Ad-Rock, if you ever read this, hit me up, ‘cause we need to hang.