Last night I watched the ‘Beastie Boys Story’. Like their book ‘Beastie Boys Book’ it is an entertaining, funny and emotional retelling of their lives in the band and in particular a love letter to the missing third member of the group – Adam ‘MCA’ Yauch.
There is a famous line at the start of ‘Goodfellas’ from Henry Hill.
“As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster.”
For me it was a Beastie Boy.
I was 13 or 14 when I first became aware of the Beasties. I was already three or four years into a lifelong obsession with hip hop. I’d been writing graffiti for a while by then and had discovered pirate radio and mix-tapes. I was all-in.
“We’re trashing hotels like it’s going out of style”
When they hit the UK in ‘87 it was with a tsunami of gleeful bad press from the tabloids. The Mirror particularly had them in their crosshairs and as that was the paper we had delivered I had daily updates on their shenanigans. I was a teenager – I thought it was brilliant. Here were these white rap kids from New York fucking City being full on rebellious rock and roll stars. I actually preferred Run DMCs music but god I loved the Beasties.
As well as tagging I started pinching VW signs on my morning paper round (not many – there weren’t that many VWs in the neighbourhood as it turned out) and Licensed to Ill was the soundtrack on my Walkman.
“More Adidas sneakers than a plumber’s got pliers”
I just didn’t ‘get’ ‘Paul’s Boutique’ when it came out. I was in the sixth form still listening to all sorts of rap – De La Soul to Master Ace to Ice-T. I kind of felt like the last hip hop kid standing at school though – everyone else had moved on. Even my love of graffiti was increasingly seen as eccentric. Anyway it would be years before I realised the brilliance of the album – one of those lessons that I learned at university when I was failing to learn the lessons I was there for.
“If you can feel what I’m feeling then it’s a musical masterpiece”
In 1993 I went to uni. I was a little older than most of the kids in my group and everyone else was pretty much an ‘indie kid’ of some shape or E’d up listening to House. I was a man out of time. But it turned out the Beasties were the great leveller because of the two albums that dropped while I was away ‘Check Your Head’ and ‘Ill Communication’. Everyone found something they loved in those albums – of course ‘Sabotage’ became the huge hit but for me it was ‘Sure Shot’ that I played to death.
“Well, you say I’m twenty-something, And I should be slacking, But I’m working harder than ever, And you could call it macking”
Beastie Boys was the only band I agreed about with the girl of my dreams. They were the band I shared with my best friend at that time. They were the universal translator between cliques and for someone like me who behind boozy bluster is seriously shy they were a godsend.
I remember being so excited to find two copies of Grand Royal magazine in some random record store just after graduating but being sad I couldn’t share the find with my friends (in an age before webmail and social media it was pretty easy to lose touch…fast.) I sold them years later – something I’ll always regret.
“Too sweet to be sour, too nice to be mean, well, on the tough-guy style I’m not too keen”
By 1998 I had graduated by the skin of my teeth but had spent a couple of years being pretty lost and looking back now I was probably depressed but things were starting to turn around. When ‘Hello Nasty’ landed though I realised I no longer had any friends who were even remotely interested in the Beasties and so I had nobody to talk to about how fucking crazy this album was. I genuinely had no idea what to make of it. When I like it I LOVED it but half the time I was totally befuddled. To some extent that remains true!
“If you (if you), Want to know (want to know), The real deal about the three, Well, let me tell you, we’re triple trouble ya’ll, We’re gonna bring you up to speed, check it out”
‘To the 5 Boroughs’ came out in 2004. I was 31. It was an album dedicated to a post 9/11 New York and to old school hip hop and I was ready for it. New York was/is my mothership. Movies, music, art,comics, literature…whatever. It was the first place I ever got on a plane to visit. I mean everybody was effected by 9/11 but it really did get to me. I was ready for the nostalgia trip and I listened to the hell out of it. It was also…I think…the last CD I ever bought.
“Pass me the scalpel, I’ll make an incision/ I’ll cut off the part of your brain that does the bitching/ Put it in formaldehyde and put it on the shelf/ And you can show it to your friends and say that’s my old self”
On May 4th 2012 Adam ‘MCA’ Yauch died. He was 47. The same age I am today. When I read the news it is the one and only time I have cried over the death of a celebrity. It had been almost a decade by then since I’d really considered myself a big fan but their influence was written all over me. I still have more Adidas sneakers than a plumbers got pliers. My music tastes were shaped by theirs. My fashion. Even my politics.
In 2019 I flew to New York just to attend the ‘Beyond the Streets’ art show and the main reason I did that? They had a Beastie Boys exhibition.
They were always that slightly older gang of cool kids you desperately wanted to hang out with and as they grew up they never got less cool they just evolved and you could tell that no matter what they always had each others backs.
Watching the film last night I shed a few more tears – not so much for MCA but for Michael ‘Mike D’ Diamond and Adam ‘Ad-Rock’ Horovitz who so clearly still miss their best friend so much.
So here I am – age 47 – and I STILL want to be a Beastie Boy.