Where the Beastie Things Are

They say  “celebrity deaths” come in 3’s, but over the last few decades, years, and months, we’ve made so many people famous that it’s hard to tell when the last 3 ended and the next 3 started. Fame used to only come to those who earned it through artistry or accomplishment, but now it’s handed it out to anyone pretty or scandalous enough to move the reality TV ratings (which just leads to more “celebrity deaths”). But that’s another essay.

This is about the recent deaths of two true artists, Adam “MCA” Yauch of the Beastie Boys, and Maurice Sendak, writer and illustrator of the legendary children’s book Where the Wild Things Are.

On the surface, it would seem the only thing these two might have in common is dying a few days apart.

When Sendak first published Where The Wild Things Are in 1963, critics and concerned parents thought it was too deep, dark, and angry for children. It received negative reviews and was banned by libraries.

The following year, Adam Yauch was born.

Yauch and Sendak were both born to Jewish parents in Brooklyn, NY. Incidentally, the man finally trusted to make the film version of Wild Things was Spike Jonze, whose Hollywood ascent was built from a music-video reputation highlighted by two seminal B-Boys videos: “Sabotage” and “Sure Shot.”

That might be where the obvious similarities end, but upon closer examination, a case could be made that the Beastie Boys and Where the Wild Things Are unlocked the same thing in all of us.

They both looked a bit scary on the surface, both alarmed some parents and critics, and most importantly both taught us that we could go up to our rooms and disappear into our own imaginations and create a whole new world. They both forced everyone to reconsider what was appropriate entertainment for our youth.

A lot has been written this week about Yauch and the Beastie Boys influence on hip-hop and pop culture in general, and most of it mentions the racial component in passing (or gets all post-racial by never mentioning it). While we might be much “color blind” and accepting in 2012, I put color blind in quotes because the fact is we can all see the Beasties are white. And the fact that these white kids making this crazy rap raucous were also Jewish? Silly as it might seem, that mattered to Jewish kids like me who were gravitating toward hip-hop. The Beastie Boys showed us that if we were good enough, we could make any type of music we wanted.

Wild Things:  Michael Diamond, Adam Yauch, and Adam Horowitz (left to right).

For those of us in bands on college campuses in the 90s, you wouldn’t even take a band photo with a fish-eye lens for fear of looking like you were biting the Beastie Boys. Instead you’d spend all your afternoons jamming every style of music you could fake your way through, dreaming about samples and someday making records like Paul’s Boutique, Check Your Head, and Ill Communication.

Where the Wild Things Are, with its boy and its beasts, taught me that certain scary-looking monsters in the dark woods might not be so bad. They might even be fun. Maybe those teeth looked so big cuz they were smiling.

The Beastie Boys launched a cultural revolution, not just because they were successful white rappers who helped bring the fledgling hip-hop music to the suburbs. They also showed that it was okay to throw any and every type of music and fashion into a blender and just be whoever and whatever you wanted, whether you were a musician or just a fan. You could like punk rock AND hip-hop, and they would juxtapose those and many other styles right next to each other on their albums as not-so-subtle reminders.

The Beastie Boys were the wolf suit that Max would put on to cause trouble. When Max got sent to his room, and his walls turned into a forest, that was our record collection. Wandering in those woods was what we were doing in our rooms when we got lost in music, whether it was old Led Zeppelin albums or the B-Boys albums that sampled them. Where the Wild Things Are let the wild rumpus start, and the Beasties let the beat……. jaROP!

As we tend to do when musicians die, I’ve been rocking some Beastie Boys in my listening rotation lately. And, like the last line of Where the Wild Things Are, it was still hot.

Hey, why was Max’s dinner still hot when he got back to his room? Had he not been gone as long as he’d thought? Or had he never left?

I titled this column in the present tense, Are, and not Were. Because somewhere tonight, tomorrow, and in and out of weeks and almost over a year… some kid is making mischief of one kind and another, and his room is turning into a forest.

Advertisements

R.I.P Adam “MCA” Yauch

For many of us over the age of 35, the Beastie Boys were as big as the Beatles. With today’s passing of Adam Yauch, we have truly lost one of the greatest musical innovators of our time. The significance of the Beastie Boys in the history of music can never be overstated. From “Fight For Your Right” to Hot Sauce Committee Part Two, they never lost touch with who they were, where they came from, and what they were all about.

Instead of memorializing Adam “MCA” Yauch in this blog post, I just wanted to list a few of my greatest memories when it comes to the B-Boys:

  • 8th grade school trip to DC. Bus driver was cool enough to let us rock License to Ill over the radio for the entire trip. On repeat. I don’t think there was a kid in our class who didn’t know the lyrics to “Brass Monkey.”
  • Smoking a huge joint with my friend at the Jersey shore and walking onto the boardwalk to hear a yet-unreleased song from Paul’s Boutique playing over the speakers at a game stand. The song was “Shake Your Rump” and the middle buzzed-out bass line blew our teenage minds. This was not the same band that sang “did her with a whiffle-ball bat” anymore. Mature. Kinda.
  • In college, basically rocking out to Check Your Head at every single party between the years of 1992-1995.
  • Going to the local record store at midnight to purchase Ill Communication the minute it was released. Going home to put it on and being absolutely floored.
  • Seeing them live at Lollapalooza when they put on one of the all-time greatest live shows I have ever witnessed. There was not one person among the 20,000 that didn’t dance, sing, and scream during every song. When the flute loop on “Sure Shot” opened the show I thought an avalanche of people were coming down on my head.
  • Listening to Hot Sauce Committee Part Two for the first time and being so happy that they Boys still had something left in their tank.

So yes, it is a very sad day for Beastie fans and for music itself. A great pioneer is gone. And like those before him he will be best served if we all home and blast “Jimmy James” until your neighbors call the police.

Top 10 Albums (That We Reviewed) From 2011

It’s always so tough to pick only 10 records.

Let’s start our look back on a great year in new music with a list of the Top 10 Albums of 2011 that we actually wrote reviews for here on Bums Logic. This crop of reviews represents some of the core material published as we launched this new site in 2011 and we thank you all for listening and reading along.

Next week we’ll add another dozen or so favorites from this year that we didn’t write about…. and then maybe think of an excuse to add others, or combine them into one master list and rank them in order. Or not.

So here’s our Top 10 Albums (That We Reviewed) From 2011, in no particular order, and all with links to our original reviews:

Tom Waits – Bad As Me

Drive-By Truckers – Go-Go Boots

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit – Here We Rest

Wilco – The Whole Love

Mastodon – The Hunter

Stephen Marley – Revelation Pt.1: Root of Life

Bon Iver – Bon Iver

Beastie Boys – Hot Sauce Committee Pt.2

G. Love – Fixin’ To Die

Sonic Youth – Simon Werner a Disparu

If the Cover Fits: Great Art to Match Some of the Best Albums of 2011

You can’t judge an album by its cover, but there’s something about when certain albums seem to match their covers, often in some odd unexplained way. For me, it’s not something obvious like “yea, it’s a picture of the band playing the music,” but something much subtler. So this isn’t necessarily my 10 Most Favorite Albums of 2011 so far (though many of them might make that list if it existed), these are just 10 Favorite Covers That Happen To Match Their Music Well. Or something like that.


The War on Drugs
Slave Ambient
The kind of album that’s hard to describe: it’s lush and dreamy but it still has an organic sound and chugging pace that seems in conflict with itself. Same for how many tracks sorta hum along on what seems like just one chord and yet you don’t feel bored. It’s an interesting drone, if that’s even possible. Like Bob Dylan meets Velvet Underground. Slave Ambient sounds how that cover looks. It’s this very strange intersection of electronica and Americana, though it doesn’t overtly sound like either.

PJ HarveyLet England Shake
Stark and fluttering, subtly explosive, beautiful yet blunt. PJ Harvey delivered one of the finest albums of the year so far and this black and white cover is just sharp enough for the occasion.

Jay-Z and Kanye WestWatch the Throne
Is that not the perfect cover for Jay Z and Kanye West’s Watch the Throne? Just pure gold. Delicate wrapping, and you could say at times some paper-thin rapping as well. The cover doesn’t tell you the title or the artist (of course, you already know that you are in the presence of royalty), it simply conveys luxury. Insisting that it is the best of the best because, well, it’s the most expensive. But what’s inside? Like the cover, the album is more flash than substance. The only promise that’s really delivered here is that of more luxury. Expensive samples, top notch production, and signature styles (for better and worse) of the two co-star’s verses about, well, luxury. More gold rapping. The only album cover that might have been more appropriate would be a scanned image of their bank statements and tax returns.

Continue reading →

Tame Impala – Innerspeaker Review

Trippy!

There are certain albums–for example, the Beastie Boy’s Hot Sauce Committee Part Two–that you can listen to while doing mindless tasks and still enjoy the music. It’s “party” music. Other albums require you to be in a certain head space to absorb them. Tame Impala’s Innerspeaker is one of those albums (I will never forget when my younger self put on The Wall during a beach trip with my brother, who subsequently turned it off while insisting, “this isn’t beach music!”).

I was (illegally) sent a copy of Innerspeaker–the bands debut album–by a close friend who’s musical tastes often coincide with mine. And when they don’t, he still has a pretty good grasp on knowing what I might find interesting and within my stylistic preferences. Tame Impala is a band he thought would fit that mold…and he was 100% correct. His selling points were: great vocal harmonies, cool production, catchy songs, and oh yea, the singer sounds just like Paul McCartney. He was right about everything except the singer doesn’t sound like Macca…he sounds almost identical to John Lennon (and that is not a bad thing in my book).

Upon my initial listen, I will admit that it took me some time to get over that fact: holy shit, this guy really sounds like Lennon! I played some songs for friends under the guise of, “you gotta hear this singers voice!”  Then after a few more spins I started to find myself singing the chorus’ for days on end and studying the production (Dave Fridmann–mostly of Mercury Rev and Flaming Lips fame–mixed the album). Innerspeaker was really starting to grow on me.

Continue reading →

Beastie Boys – Hot Sauce Committee Part Two Review

These grandpa's been rapping since '83.

If you are at all like me–a long-time devoted fan of the Beastie Boys and their groundbreaking career–then there is a good chance that you have been a little disappointed with the group’s output since the release of Hello Nasty. It’s not that Hello Nasty is a bad album, it’s actually quite eclectic and experimental (which is saying something for these guys), it’s just that it might have moved a little too far away from the Beastie Boys we grew up with and had grown accustomed to with Paul’s Boutique, Check Your Head, and Ill Communication. Their subsequent output, To the 5 Boroughs & The Mix-Up, were hit-or-miss at best. The band definitely seemed to be losing some creative steam as we reluctantly began to wonder, “is the best Beastie Boys music behind us?”

To say that Hot Sauce Committee Part Two is a return-to-form or a comeback album might be overstating its value. But once you hear the first Clavinet notes and beat of “Make Some Noise” you can’t help but nod your head, smile, and think, “yea, this is what it’s all about. This is the Beastie’s Boys I know and love.” HSC2 is definitely the bands best overall album since Ill Communication.

The Beastie’s have always been hipster darlings and musical (and cultural) trend setters. In short, from 1986-1999, there was no cooler band in the world. Funky, 70’s-instrumentals? Check. Creative and unique sounds? Check. Witty, pop culture referencing rhymes? Check. Incredible studio production? Check.  And of course, great songs: Check your head!  HSC2 mashes up the Beastie Boys 90’s output with just enough new school bleeps and blips to keep the album sounding fresh and current while still maintaining that, dare I say, classic Beastie Boys style till the break of dawn. If you don’t nod your head during “Nonstop Disco Powerpack” then just hit the stop button now.

Continue reading →

Why I Still Love Vinyl

Sonny Rollins is bad ass!

I enjoy listening to music.

I assume since you are reading this blog that you also enjoy listening to music.

If you are at all like me then you also prefer listening to your music in vinyl format.

Over the past few years I have had more and more conversations about the merits of listening to music in what I consider it’s purist form: vinyl. I won’t get into all the technical aspects of analog vs. digitally recorded (or altered) music. Most listeners could really care less about how a record was recorded (that’s for musicians, engineers, producers, critics, bloggers, and audiophiles to debate); they simply want to listen to something that sounds “pleasurable to their ear.”

Some of these conversations have started because I have matching 45 record spindle adapter tattoos. Most people think they are those saucer-like pellets that used to shoot out of toy guns or I am a DJ. Neither is true.

Example exchange:

“What are those tattoos?”

“It’s a 45 adaptor. You know, those old, smaller records, the disc you put in the center to place it on the turntable. ”

Blank stare.

In the day of instant-everything, iEverythings, and attention spans of a fish, the vinyl-listening music fan has been relegated to a subculture. The mp3 listening public looks at us as throwbacks, “hipsters” who think we’re too cool for digital music, or out of touch with the realities of new music distribution methods (which change about as often as Neil Young changes genres). I usually respond to these things with one or more of the following statements:

Continue reading →