Monday, July 8, 2019

Book Review: Beastie Boys Book

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Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Okay, so five stars, obviously. I fucking love this book. It is a beautiful tribute to a time, place, decades-spanning career, and a friend gone far too soon.

I love Beastie Boys. My youngest uncle is only 11 years older than me, so I heard a lot of music I probably should not have, fairly early in life (but no worries, not License to Ill. At least not all of it. Okay, just 'Fight For Your Right (To Party'). As such, I play their music for my own daughter (stop the pearl-clutching, I only play the songs with no cussing - impossible to find - or I just shout a different word over the cussing, or I just tell her not to sing it. She is especially fond of 'Intergalactic' - she is actually singing that as I type this review - and 'An Open Letter to NYC').

I have every album, even 'Some Old Bullshit', which is not even full-on Beasties. I had a huge poster from the Hello, Nasty shoot of the three on my ceiling in high school - it was so huge there was no space on the wall big enough.

And yet, I have not been able to write this review until now, despite having started and finishing it in three days last November. I would have finished it even sooner than that, but I put off reading 'The Last Gig', because I could not bear for the book to end. I could not bear for Yauch to really be gone, again. I started crying when I finally picked it up to finish it. I cried reading that whole section. And I cried long after I closed the book and was officially finished reading it. Yauch left this huge fucking hole in the hearts and lives of everyone who knew him and this book is such a beautiful tribute to the group as a whole, those who helped them along the way, and Yauch himself. Though he has been gone now seven years, he is very much alive here and it is clear on every page just how much ADROCK and Mike D love and miss him.

Everything you could ever want to know about the guys and their career is here, recalled in remarkable details. Horovitz and Diamond are truly exceptional writers, something that is not at all surprising, given their catalog of work. We are pulled along for the ride starting in 1981 (two years before I was born) when the group started out as a hardcore punk band. They evolved into rappers and signed with Def Jam, only to split very messily after Licensed to Ill became the first hip hop album to ever make it to #1. They take us to Los Angeles next, and we follow their evolution as the guys grow and mature, from Paul's Boutique up through Hot Sauce. For thirties years, Beastie Boys defied genres, grew as musicians, became social activists, and have left their unique mark on the world of music and pop culture forever.

Have I said before how much I fucking love these guys?

As often happens when I am super into a book, I rarely stop to take any notes of things that I want to mention in my review. As such, this review is pretty much based off how the book made me feel, and even now just thinking about it, I get sad because Yauch was not here to contribute. But on the other hand, part of the magic of this book is how it truly is a tribute to him, both overtly and subtly. Here are a few of the notes I took as I was reading, and quotes that clung to me:

Page 132: It's so beautiful and dirty and perfect. This is the NYC that I wanted to live in, the NYC that created Beastie Boys.

On pages 318-319, in the essay 'Yo Paul, This is Allen', ADROCK recounts the story of Paul's Boutique, a store in Brooklyn, and the ad for the store that he used to put on mixtapes he made. Ultimately, of course, their second album would become 'Paul's Boutique', and the store closed not long after the album came out. Horovits wonders if the two incidents are related, but they couldn't possibly be, right? Anyway, Yauch contacted the phone company and paid to get the phone number for the store after it closed. Because they'd put the ad on the album, they got all kinds of messages from people who called the number. The answering machine tape would fill up, the line would then just be a busy signal, and people kept calling and calling and calling. Eventually someone hacked the four digit code and changed the outgoing message. Yauch would change it, and then it would be changed again next time he listened to it. "He'd (Yauch) unplug the machine for a while. Plus it back in six months later. Only for more weirdness. So he left the machine off for years. Every once in a while it would come out of retirement for a couple weeks. And maybe, just maybe, it still does." I couldn't resist calling the number, just to see if by chance the answering machine was plugged in. Hearing Yauch's voice on the outgoing message would've been something. I let it ring about twenty times before I could bring myself to hang up. It made me really sad to do so. If you want to call the number yourself to give it a try, it's 718-498-1043.

On page 522 are two photos. It shows all three on a stage, looking out on the crowd. Yauch is closest to the foreground, and you can tell who is each Beastie, despite their backs being to the camera. The opposite page is one of the shortest essays, only one page, titled The Last Gig. The guys headlined Bonnaroo, using the daytime to record the video for "Too Many Rappers" with Nas. 

These are the two pages that gave me pause, because this was it. ADROCK recalls how it was another normal day, messing around before the show. As the essay comes to a close, he laments the fact that in life, things never really come full circle, and mentions all the people who were not there for the final show, though they didn't know at the time that's what it was. Only the benefit of hindsight allowed this introspective thought. I started crying when I saw the photos and read the essay title. I bawled the entire way down the page. I closed the book there and cried a while afterward. I would love to quote the entire essay here, but instead I will leave the last few lines:

"Me, Adam+Mike were older and we knew it. Still very much in the game, though, getting ready to start all over again. Headlining a huge festival is very different from a nice turnout at CBGB. But shit, man, we didn't know it was gonna be the last show we'd ever play" (page 523).

Mike D writes on page 549: Over the years the band transformed from a non-stop recording and touring machine into something sustainable, something that we could all come back to when we wanted and needed it. Grown-up things happened to us. We had our own families, kids, separate interests, the whole deal. But we would still come back together to have fun and make stuff. And we would be coming back together today if Yauch was still alive.

This gutted me all over again.

In this glorious love letter to NYC, to music, to Yauch, there is nothing but honesty. If you are of the mindset that the Beasties are still the same beer-swilling frat boys they originally meant to make fun of, but ultimately became in the License to Ill era, I beg you to read this book. Listen to any other album (my personal faves are 'Ill Communication', 'Hello, Nasty', 'To the Five Boroughs' and Hot Sauce) and see how they evolved into one of the greatest musical acts of all time. Here once again, ADROCK and Mike D completely own up to what giant assholes they became very early on with all the douche-tastic misogyny running rampant. They claim it, they don't hold back, and they apologize for it with all sincerity. Consider the line from "Sure Shot", off Ill Communication, where MCA comes out with the apology, "I want to say a little something that's long overdue/The disrespect to women has got to be through/To all the mothers and the sisters and the wives and friends/I wanna offer my love and respect til the end". Original Beastie Kate Schellenbach is given space to share her side of the story, what it looked like from the outside when she was essentially fired from the group. Both in the book and subsequent interviews following its publication, the guys are genuinely bothered by the shitty things they said and did in their earliest work. They are not the same people now that they were in 1986, and we are extremely lucky for that because the music they made from Paul's Boutique and beyond is truly and greatly grand on the largest scale you can imagine. Don't get me wrong, I love License to Ill because of how obnoxious it is and even then, it is still fun. But Beastie Boys grew up quickly, and the catalog we have now is truly something special. All the more special because it is all we will ever have, as the band ceased to exist the moment Yauch passed away.

The book is much more than a book. It feels like one long conversation with Horovitz and Diamond, sitting around telling ridiculous and almost unbelievable stories that even they acknowledge as sounding totally crazy, but are nonetheless true. They take turns telling about what it was like, three teenagers running around, with NYC as their playground and a character all its own in the many anecdotes recounted, as they explored the music scene that they would soon become part of. The liner notes, guest essays, articles, letters, photos, artwork, anything and everything necessary to tell the story of a group that transcended genres while remaining true to hip-hop.

I can not recommend this book enough. Easily one of the best books I have ever read. It is so moving and beautiful and silly and happy and sad. It is everything an autobiography should be.

Miss you, Yauch
Beastie Boys forever


  1. LOL - You know... I think that might *just* be your longest book review yet!

    1. Probably! I think I managed to express how much I loved it, but I honestly feel like the review is wholly inadequate.

  2. I was never a HUGE Beastie Boys fan but sometimes I still randomly go around saying "No sleep til..."

    1. Oh goodness, let's fix that! Start working your way backwards even. Their final album is amazing. I also use the 'No sleep til..' something! I love these guys. I miss them so much, Yauch was a genius, the heart and soul of the group. Chemistry like this is so hard to find, they just had It.

  3. I was the wrong age for this band but I always love biographies (or whatever you call them) about bands and their members among those I have loved. So I get it!

    1. And I love that ADROCK and Mike D wrote this themselves, and did not pass it off to a 'collaborator'. There are guest essays as I mentioned, but everyone contributing to the book is part of their story in some way. I never got to see them in concert and this is the one that will always haunt me.


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