“Beastie Boys Book” Was An Indelible Portrait Of A NYC Era [part 3]

ad rock's mix tapes
The mix tapes that we all had to thrive on back then from Ad Rock’s collection

[…continued form last post]

So while Beastie Boys managed a Hardcore 7″ to their name, they were exposed to every kind of hip music that spread in NYC clubs. Post-Punk. Technopop. The tail end of New Wave. Goth. Even rap records. Their Danceteria playlist is filled with club classic that are well beloved, and one of the records that they mention was Malcolm McLaren’s “Buffalo Gals.” A crazy-ass fusion of Hip-Hop and what would emerge as World Music a year or two later. They loved everything from New Order, to Shannon, and yes, “Buffalo Gals” as well.

But the winds of change were gusting through Brooklyn as Hip Hop was detonating. An exposure to Afrika Bambaataa and scratching/breakbeat mixing/beat matching blew their young minds and like that, Hardcore had served its purpose. Beastie Boys loved “Buffalo Gals” so much they had to make their own obnoxious goof on that Hip Hop sound and thus was the first record I’d ever heard of by them born. “Cooky Puss.”

RUN-DMC + Beastie Boys
RUN-DMC were like Magnetic North to the compass needle of Beastie Boys …for better or worse

The band were in a weird position where they played Hardcore sets for a few months where they would follow it with a Hip Hop set with DJ. Eventually they went all-in and needed to hook up with a full time DJ. Enter Rick Rubin, a slightly older college student how had a dorm room full of gear that was getting used. The band hung out with Rubin as their new thing and Rubin was cool to the presence of Kate Schellenbach in their numbers and steered the band to edge her out of the picture in one of those music weasel power plays that the tractable band gave in to.

So the shabby way that Ms. Schellanbach was treated was the first heavy regret in the book, but it would not be the last. Not only were Beastie Boys were thrilled meet Rubin, but so was Russell Simmons; the “rap mogul” who managed over a dozen Hip-Hop crews and could not believe that a white guy had produced the “It’s Yours” 12″ from T La Rock + Jazzy Jay. Beastie Boys were amazed to meet RUN-DMC’s manager and a mutual admiration/exploitation society soon happened. Simmons went into the game like an African American Sam Phillips. If he could get Rubin to produce a Hip Hop record with these white punks, it might crack the genre wide open.

Rick Rubin behind the decks with Beastie Boys

So then Beastie Boys decisively made their moves. Making ta few 12″ singles that saw them getting more reputation over time. They were in the “Krush Groove” movie with all of their favorite Russell Simmons Hip Hop acts like their heroes RUN-DMC. They did low-end TV appearances like the can’t-get-more-New-York Joe Franklin Show.

celebrities just starting out flocked to The Joe Franklin Show

Of course, in 1986 “License To Ill” dropped and their penchant for punk irony took a back seat to as the band themselves put it… “becoming the thing you hate.” As Punks they hated obnoxious frat boys, so they morphed into the most obnoxious frat boys on the planet for a good two years. And then they mined gold and platinum while feeling trapped in a world they never made. The joy of this book is not only that it charted the bend’s rise from teenagers in NYC with a band that didn’t gig, to a Hardcore band, only to end up a Hip Hop crew, but that it did it with a clear eyed ability to air their big time regrets for the actions that, indisputably, cemented their initial fame.

Anyone can hate their job. It’s been known to happen, but can you imagine hating your art? Art that you were at least nominally in control of so the buck stopped there. Since Beastie Boys were in the middle of growing up at the time, and learning things, their mea culpa for “License To Ill” and its commensurate effect on their lives at the time rings solidly true. When they all but split up after their huge world tour of beer-spraying excess, that was one of the smartest things they had ever done at that point. They stepped away from the Def-Jam machine which was pressing them to make “License To Ill II: Electric Boogaloo,” and extricated themselves from their Def-Jam contract and Simmons and Rubin.

beastie-boys---heyladiesUS7AAt the time I could have cared less as I did not find Beastie Boys appealing very much at all; save for the intriguing “Hold It Now, Hit It.” No one was more shocked than I was when they emerged in 1989 with”Hey Ladies;” a funky jam that took the embers of “Hold It Now, Hit It” and greased it liberally with Jimmy Castor Bunch, James Brown, and Sweet at their most florid for good measure. They had begun to find their mature voice and it made a big difference. One of the heartbreaking things about the book was reading about them taking such care and expense to make this immense Hip Hop record only to have it fall flat commercially. That the disc is now regarded as a classic in retrospect doesn’t make for any revisionism in the record of their [then] commercial failure. Fortunately, Beastie Boys persevered.

They re-imagined themselves as a band that fused Punk Rock, Hip Hop and Funk and went back to playing their instruments and finally re-won their acclaim a second time while reaping the benefits of their maturity in having the sort of fun that didn’t carry a hidden payload of regrets later on. From 1992 onward they manage to sell missions of albums, build a creative empire and make their marks on the world in their own way.

Beastie Boys doing a costume change on the run [sans permits] while filming their gut-busting “Sabotage” video with Spike Jonze

This book had an lock on my eyeballs for the time it took to read it, which was fast and furious. As I had previously seen the “Beastie Boys Story” film, it can be argued that the outline for that movie was down to seven or eight chapters of this book, so the depth of their tale was given a comparatively luxuriant canvas in print. The variety of voices, joining in with Mike D and Ad Rock were numerous and, vivid, and eclectic. Then the variety of diagrams, photos, recipes, and spurious histories of non-existent people took the book over the top into the sublime. The contributors and design added many facets to the gemstone of their career in these pages.

The band admit that the book would not exist had Adam Yauch not tragically died of cancer in 2012. Horowitz admits that if Yauch were still alive, they most likely would still be making music. The closest that they come to actually discussing that painful event was the story of the band’s final show at Bonnaroo in 2009. Ironically, the groups’ penultimate show was the day before at The Orange Peel in my own city of Asheville. A 1000 capacity club that I didn’t even try to grab tickets for, but in retrospect…I should have at least tried. But the details of MCA’s health and decline were tabled and not for inclusion in these pages.

That the band stopped after MCA died makes all the sense in the world after reading the story of how how this kid a year or two older than Mike D and Ad Rock pulled them along in his wake to develop and grow to meet all of the challenges that lay ahead for them. Mike and Adam paint a vivid picture of how Yauch’s vision and drive was the motivating force on their journey. And after reading it, just having the first three Beastie Boys albums seems inadequate, so the last five are now on the Monastic Want List As Long As Your Arm®.

-30-

About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | remastering vinyl • record collector • satire • non-fiction
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