Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Beastie Boys

Since the Beastie Boys’ new album – The Hot Sauce Committee Part 2 – arrives today I thought I’d write a little something about the three loud Jews who were at one time my favorite band in the world.
Don’t take that to mean I stopped loving them. They’re still in my top five at any given time, it’s just that like every other band in my life they were at the top of their game years ago and some of the fondness has been worn away by the intervening years of mediocrity or lack of material. Or in the case of the Beasties; both. But don't think this is going to be bagging on the Beastie Boys. I've got a long history with them that you can read about now if you've got some time.

              Actually, I have to divert for a moment to point out something kind of interesting (well, interesting to me – your mileage may very). Anthrax is another band that I loved very much in my youth. They actually alternated with the Beasties as to who I would claim as my favorite. While the Beasties maintained the same core lineup but produced albums of lessening quality after a certain point (Ill Communication), Anthrax changed lineups and produced albums that didn’t even sound like Anthrax. Then last year, Anthrax got Joey Belladonna back and toured with Slayer and Megadeth and gave me the best live musical performance I saw all year; with the promise of a new album with Belladonna this year. Also last year, the Beasties released a new single called “Too Many Rappers” with Nas and it was fucking awesome. This, too carried the promise of a new album that just happened to get delayed until 2011 due to MCA’s health issues (we’ll get into that later).
So here it is 2011 and two of my favorites are back in full effect. So to speak.
But today we’re here to talk about the Beastie Boys and how they’ve been a part of my life for twenty-five years.
Like most folks, the first time I ever saw the Beastie Boys was the “Fight For Your Right” video. I guess I was around ten at the time and I’m sure I didn’t really know what to make of it, but I knew I liked it. It helped that they were pals with RUN DMC, who were already favorites of mine.
The first money I ever spent on music was in 1986 when I went with my family to what I think was one of the first retail membership places – Makro. They had cassettes of the Beastie Boys’ Licensed to Ill and RUN DMC’s Raising Hell. The latter was available with a pink and aqua cover or a purple and green cover. Even at that young age I knew which color combination my destiny entailed. I don’t know how I got away with buying something called Raising Hell, but I did and those two cassettes dominated my silver Walkman for probably the next year.
My favorite songs on Licensed To Ill were “Paul Revere” and “Time To Get Ill”. I mean, every song on that tape was awesome and I listened to it from beginning to end every time; but I knew every single word of those two.
And the next year was when I got to see my very first live concert.
In 1987 my family got relocated to Houston, Texas for the summer. My dad’s company sent him there to learn about something or other from another company and the rest of us had to go, too. Being 11, I really did not want to go. I was wise to feel that way. Houston is an utter craphole with the worst weather I have ever experienced. The humidity is so bad that the second you step outside you are covered with a thin, never-drying layer of slime. It’s revolting.
My parents knew I wasn’t happy about it and I think my mom wasn’t exactly thrilled either. As a result I think I was slightly more spoiled than normal for that miserable three months. Which Is how I got to see the Beastie Boys and RUN DMC live at the Houston Astrodome despite my parents hating rap music and pretty much anything else on MTV.
I went with my mom to what I suppose was the TicketMaster outlet to buy the tickets and I was disappointed that they were just these pieces of paper. I don’t know what I expected. Maybe I thought MCA (my favorite Beastie at the time and now) was going to be there selling them himself or something. I dunno.
Time passed and I remember my parents showing me articles about the Together Forever tour (that’s what it was called, which is kind of funny when you consider that “Forever” lasted about two years) in other cities and all the problems that had been happening. There had been fights in one city, stabbings in another and just general sorts of naughtiness everywhere RUN DMC and the Beastie Boys went. Clearly, the two rap groups were carrying the apocalypse around with them. My parents were concerned. With every new news story they would ask, “Are you sure you want to go?” and I would answer in the affirmative.
I had no idea what the night was going to be like, but every passing day made it seem more and more awesome. There was even a report on the local news the morning of the show about how Houston was beefing up their police presence at the Astrodome for the night and that there would be searches and metal detectors at the doors.
I don’t remember the drive to the Astrodome – I don’t even remember what kind of car we had at the time. But I remember waiting in line for that show more clearly than almost anything else that summer.
I had never seen so many black people in my whole life. Not even at White Water.
I was raised with no preconceptions about other races. My parents didn’t emphasize not being racist – they just weren’t. It wasn’t that I was taught everybody was equal, it’s that I was raised to believe you judge somebody based on what you know about them and nothing else.
But there were a lot of black folks there. I wasn’t really nervous, I was just amazed. I mean, the guy in front of us had a hat on with “Fuck You” printed right on it. I didn’t even know exactly what that meant, I just knew it was bad. People were just cursing right out in public and there were women walking around practically naked. I was no prude at 11. I had seen most things you might see in movies at that point, but it was a whole heck of a lot different seeing real, live people acting that way. Especially with your dad standing right next to you. I felt like we were waiting to get into New York from Escape From New York.
I barely remember the show itself. I don’t know what songs anybody played or how long the sets were. We were sitting next to this black kid about my age with his mother and I think he was just as disoriented as I was.
I do very specifically remember the Beastie Boys’ stage setup, though. DJ Hurricane was up on a riser with the turntables and there was a cage on either side of the stage. When the Beasties started the set those cages were empty, but as the show went on they pulled girls out of the audience to put in the cages. Once the fellows had the girls safely in the cages, they handed them copies of the Bible and we all had fellowship and sang about Jesus.
Or maybe they took off all of their clothes and danced in ways that I wouldn’t see again for ten more years on my first trip to the Pink Pony. Like I said, I can’t quite remember. I do recall that by the end of the set there were at least four girls in each of the cages.
While the cages containing mostly nude college girls were pretty much the focus of my attention, I remember my dad being thoroughly amused by the shots on the monitors of Hurricane scratching. He also made a point of telling me that I wasn’t ever allowed to do that on our turntable at home (I did anyway – 80’s hip-hop must have been responsible for millions of dollars in ruined record players). You also had King AdRock squatting down in front of the video monitor and flipping it off about every six seconds. This was somewhat uncomfortable to watch with Dad sitting right there. He just isn’t a, “Ha ha! Look at that crazy kid and his middle finger! What a hoot!” kind of guy.
I barely remember anything about RUN DMC’s set other than I was disappointed that Aerosmith didn’t come out for “Walk This Way”.
Dad wouldn’t buy me a shirt but he did get me a poster (which I think was $14 – pricey today and inconceivable for 1987) that hung on my wall for many years and was lost in the flood in 2009. I just remembered that I had a ton of Beastie Boys stuff on my walls for a long time. I even cut pictures out of some music magazine and put them up on a bulletin board I had. MCA and Mike D looked the same as they always did back then, but AdRock had a Pogues shirt on (which led to me checking out the Pogues and not liking them – give me a break, I wasn’t even in high school yet). I can’t even explain to you how cool these guys were. I can’t think of any other band I’ve idolized quite so much as the Beasties.
So ‘86/’87 were big Beastie Boys years in my life.
Another thing I just remembered was that my middle school had a lip synch concert a couple of years in a row. The first year I had done “Fat” by Weird Al Yankovic and in my humble opinion was way better than the stupid jocko kid that did “Fat” by Weird Al Yankovic. The next year I wanted to be a little more serious with my art, so I campaigned to perform the Beastie Boys’ “Paul Revere”; clearly a tune with more gravitas than any Weird Al creation. The school people in charge of the concert reviewed the controversial lyrics and denied my request. I was crushed because I had seen this as my only opportunity to prove my ability to pretend to flow and maybe talk my mom into getting me a cool leather jacket like MCA’s. But I accepted the ruling and went on to do “Like A Surgeon”; also by Mr. Yankovic.
If you want a clue as to how popular I was in school, consider this – I was in Georgia. The friends that performed these songs with me were my Gay Friend and my Black Friend. In Georgia.
But we pretended to play the heck out of those tunes. I wish I had video.
The next time the Beastie Boys were a factor in my life (more than they normally were, anyway) was probably late 1990. I missed the release of Paul’s Boutique somehow. I don’t know what happened, but it just passed me by entirely. I know I watched the premiere of “Hey Ladies” on MTV, but I didn’t get the album until later. I just walked into the local record store (it was called MusiCDrome when it went out of business, but I can’t remember the original name) one day and asked if the Beastie Boys had ever done another album. The guy behind the counter (Dave) looked at me like I was crazy and pulled a copy of Paul’s Boutique out of the used bin. I was astonished.
I was not crazy about the Beastie’s sophomore effort the first time I heard it. There were a couple of tracks I liked, but a lot of it seemed a little too weird. I definitely wasn’t sure about all that nonsense at the end. I actually took it back to the store, if you can believe that.
It wasn’t until the video for “So What’cha Want?” that I got really excited about the Beastie Boys again. That was another one that I was sitting there waiting for it to premiere on MTV and it did not disappoint. It wasn’t the most exciting thing in the world that they were just sort of stumbling around in the woods, but the song was amazing. I was at MusiCDrome on release day to get my copy.
By that time CDs were all the rage and I find it odd now to think that CDs are almost as archaic as tape cassettes today. I went to Best Buy the other day to see if they had any of the Beastie Boys remasters that have come out over the past couple of years. Not only did they not have any of them in stock (Paul’s Boutique, Check Your Head, Ill Communication and Hello Nast all got remastered releases that include a bunch of b-sides and remixes), the store barely had anything in stock. The CD section has been scaled down to the point where the Rap/Hip-Hop section doesn’t even take up one side of an aisle. It’s amazing.
Note: I waited this long to purchase the remasters because I already had the Japanese releases of Boutique and CYH and they have almost all of the tracks that the new ones do and I’m not a big enough fan of Hello Nasty to spend any more money on it than I already have. Ill Communication was the only one I really wanted and I had no intention of spending twenty bucks on it. I thought I would be able to find used copies of all of them at some point. No such luck. But Amazon did drop the price on CYH at a time when I needed something to bring my total up to the ever-valuable Free Shipping level, so I ordered it. The sound really is better than the original and there are a couple more tracks than what is on my Japanese version. It made me want the rest of them.
Check Your Head was absolutely mind-blowing. It was immediately my favorite album. It was equal parts hip-hop, rock and funk and all of it was good. There’s no doubt that it led to a previously unseen expansion in my musical tastes. I went to MusiCDrome and asked for albums that sounded like the instrumentals on Check Your Head. I wore lots of beanies, plaid shirts and Dickies (which didn’t work out so well in the summer). This is still my favorite album of all time. I’ve even grown to love the hippie bullshit songs on it; though I still call “Something’s Got to Give” “Rectify”. Mainly because AdRock clearly says, “This one is called Rectify”.
Eventually I had memorized pretty much every beat, rhyme and sample on Check Your Head and needed more. I’d bought all the singles and had the remixes and few b-sides from the album. I decided it was time to try Paul’s Boutique again.
This time it took. I’m still not a huge fan of “Johnny Ryall” and “High Plains Drifter” and I think those two being right at the beginning of the album are part of what put me off in the first place. But “Shadrach” is one of my favorite Beastie Boys tracks. Everything else on that album is just great. I got this denim leisure suit at a thrift store some time after I finally learned to appreciate the album and wanted to get the cover screen printed on the back of the jacket something terrible. I always thought about trying to paint it (I used to be a semi-capable painter before I gave up on creative pursuits), but doubted my ability to do so.
So I still prefer Check Your Head, but Paul’s Boutique finally got some love.
It was also around this time that the Beasties started publishing Grand Royal Magazine, named after their Capitol Records imprint. I used to have the first three issues (thanks, flood) and I seem to remember they took about as many years to come out. The magazine was a fun and goofy pop culture thing – about what you’d expect – that pretended to take itself seriously. It is also the first documented use of the term “mullet” as it is known today – describing and mocking the 80’s hairstyle over a decade before anybody else would think to do it.
I managed to get a copy of Ill Communication almost two weeks before it came out. There was (and may still be) this record store near my high school that got promotional copies of albums in and turned around and sold them as used CDs. Somebody once told me that the store had somehow registered as a radio station and that’s how they got all the albums early. I don’t know. I just know that I happened in there at the right time and as a result was the coolest person I knew for about a week.
Much like check Your Head, Ill Communication was an instant favorite. I wrote as much about it as I need to here, but to this day I am still amazed by how good this album is. And I’ll state again how disappointed I was that Q-Tip didn’t come out and perform “Get It Together” with the Beasties at Lollapalooza.
By this time we were all pretty much aware of the Beastie Boys’ past as a punk band in New York. I think I came by the knowledge from getting into Luscious Jackson and reading interviews with the all-girl hip-hop/whatever the hell kind of music they are act. I read an interview with their drummer Kate Schellenbach that referenced her as being the Beastie Boys’ drummer in the past and also mentioned their early punk rock efforts. From there I found out about a couple of EPs that had been released during this time – Pollywog Stew and Cooky Puss. Being a proper Beastie Boys fanatic, I spent a lot of time trying to find copies of those. I never did find Pollywog Stew, but I happened across a Cooky Puss at some kind of garage sale or something. I don’t remember exactly. If you don’t know, Cooky Puss kind of sucks. It’s sort of funny, but is in no way worth spending time and money to find.
Luckily for you, every track on Cooky Puss is included – along with Pollywog Stew in its entirety – on the Beastie Boys’ next release; Some Old Bullshit. There has never been a more apt title for a recorded release. The punk tunes that comprise Pollywog Stew are standard New York hardcore. “Egg Raid on Mojo” and “Holy Snappers” are the only ones that really stand out. If you have a friend with a copy of this one you should just borrow it from them. I’m also pretty sure that I found that Cooky Puss 7” like a week or two before Some Old Bullshit came out and completely took me by surprise. I wasn’t even on the internet at that point and it wasn’t what it is today, anyway.
Aglio E Olio hit next and was slightly but not much better than the Pollywog Stew tracks. Again, it’s not bad; it’s just sort of there. “Nervous Assistant” is the only track I can think of off the top of my head.
The Root Down EP came out next and was more satisfying than it should have been. The remixes of the title track are very good and the live tracks – while no substitute for a still-absent concert album – do whet the appetite for a recording of the Beastie Boys’ excellent live show.
Note: I’ve seen the Beastie Boys three times including that first experience in Houston. Each time has been better than the last. I’ve got a couple of bootlegs of live shows from Madrid and San Diego (I think) that have kind of poor quality but are still a lot of fun to listen to. I really want an official live album. I guess I should pick up the live DVD in the meantime. Speaking of live shows; I don’t understand why every band in the world isn’t doing what Primus did a few years ago. They recorded all of their live shows for a couple of years and them put them on sale on their website (Holy crap. I just went there to put up a link and it's gone. That sucks). The sound is fantastic and you can pretty much get your ideal setlist from the fairly large selection of shows they have available. It causes me physical pain that Faith No More did not do this for their recent reunion tour.
Next came the video for “Intergalactic” and if you don’t agree that it is one of the best music videos of all time then you obviously haven’t seen it. Here:
The song is just as amazing as the video and got me so pumped up for Hello Nasty it was ridiculous. With all of the emphasis the Beastie Boys had put on punk rock since Ill Communication I was kind of tired of their band stuff (a blanket term meant to include the tracks where they play instruments). I was really hoping for a return to samples and rhymes; a straight hip-hop album.
So it really doesn’t make any sense at all that I just couldn’t get on board with Hello Nasty. I listened to that CD for three weeks straight and just couldn’t make myself love it like I did the previous ones. “Body Movin” and “Intergalactic” were the only tracks on the album that I loved. This bummed me out severely.
Hello Nasty did provide some great videos, though:
Over time I have come to appreciate Hello Nasty and now I like it almost as much as Paul’s Boutique. I honestly can’t tell you what my problem was when it first came out.
Another bit of Hello Nasty regret: back when the album first came out, Bathing Ape released a set of 1/6th scale Beastie Boys action figures. There might have been two sets, one in regular clothes and one in their “Intergalactic” jumpsuits. I had the opportunity to purchase one of the sets for $150 bucks and passed. This is probably the biggest toy regret of my life. I doubt we’ll ever see another set of Beastie Boys figures like that and those sets sell for $700- $900 on eBay when they show up, which is rare. Dammit.
The very next year the Beastie Boys released what is probably one of the best greatest hits albums I’ve ever owned. The Sounds of Science featured a perfect mix of original hits, remixes, b-sides and previously unreleased tracks. I guess it isn’t so much a greatest hits collection as a career retrospective, but whatever. If you don’t own a Beastie Boys album (which I find utterly unthinkable) this is the one you should own. I have to listen to both discs in their entirety every time I even think about it.
And sitting here thinking about it, I’ve just remembered that “She’s On It” from the Krush Groove soundtrack is included on The Sounds of Science. While it’s a fun song and a nice discovery from early in the Beasties career, it’s not nearly as interesting as the other thing I just remembered: the movie Tougher Than Leather that starred both RUN DMC and the Beastie Boys. Holy fucking shit.
I would do a whole post on this movie if I could find a copy of it.
The Beastie Boys Video Anthology was released by Criterion the year after the audio version. It’s very well done and a technical masterpiece, but lacks any Licensed To Ill-era material. I used to have a VHS with all of the Licensed To Ill videos, as well as She’s On It and some tour footage, but that got – say it with me – destroyed in the flood (no, I will apparently never run out of articles that bring up things that got lost in that fucking event). The Criterion release came out at a time when the Beasties were being all sensitive and ashamed of their origins (as opposed to now when they’re exploiting them, much to my and everybody else’s delight) and didn’t want to acknowledge the dark past of the Don’t Be A Faggot years. If you don’t know, that was the working title of Licensed To Ill until their old drummer – Kate Schellenbach – told them that might be just a wee bit offensive to certain people that might happen to be homosexual like, oh, say herself.
I will say that having seen some of the behavior on that VHS and in person I’m not totally surprised by their shame. As outrageous as Licensed To Ill is, the life the guys were leading at that time is waaay more ridiculous. I’m not sure I’d want to revisit that, either. But it does seem silly to not include the videos at least.
The Beasties took nearly four years to release their next album, the politically-infused To The 5 Boroughs. Much like Hello Nasty, I didn’t like it at first. Unlike Hello Nasty, I still kind of don’t. While I appreciate the stances taken on previous albums concerning Tibet and firearms and violence against women; I don’t want a whole lot of political outrage from the guys who penned “Brass Monkey”. And To The 5 Boroughs was just too much for me. Not so much that I don’t like the album, but enough that it never really clicked with me. I do love “Ch-Check It Out”, “Crawlspace” and “Triple Trouble” as much as any other Beasties tunes and I appreciate the fact that the album is a love letter to their native New York in the wake of 9/11. It’s not that the album isn’t good, just that so little of it is any fun. I’m no fan of Dubya, but the Bush bashing was already old when To The 5 Boroughs dropped; now it just makes the album dated and stale. It does make laugh a little though – I’m fairly certain Licensed To Ill would be one of that guy’s favorite albums.
So the past few years have not been as full of Beastie love as many others in my life. I still listen to the albums frequently – even 5 Boroughs – and they’re still one of my favorite music acts, but there just hasn’t been anything to get excited about.
A couple of instrumental albums have been released – The In Sound From Way Out and The Mix-Up. I’ve never bothered with the former because it’s just a collection of tracks from other albums. The Mix-Up, however, is another story. I really dig this one a lot. As a pet project, I’ve made a couple of different playlists using 5 Boroughs, The Mix-Up and Aglio E Olio to try and make a more Check Your Head/Ill Communication-ish album out of the three. I’ve got a couple I like.
In 2009, the Beastie Boys had a message for hip-hop, and you knew they were serious because they brought Nas with them:
That’s right, fucking Nas. Too Many Rappers was an outstanding surprise. The beats were that weird mix of fresh and old school; similar to what Jay-Z managed with “99 Problems”. Nas was of course on point, but the Beasties threw down as well. All of the trademark silliness was intact, as well as some outstanding disses towards current hip-hop.
It was announced at the time that a new album would be dropping in 2010 and I couldn’t have been more excited. But then in July MCA announced that he had cancer and that the album would be delayed as a result. This crushed me. Not because of the album delay, but because Adam Yauch is one of my heroes.
Adam Yauch, aka MCA, aka Captain Crunch, aka Nathanial Hornblower was the coolest Beastie Boy from the start. He was the guy with the stubble and the leather jacket. Then he was the guy that got spiritual. And the guy that started supporting noon-violent causes. And the guy that directed a bunch of videos and eventually a fantastic documentary about basketball (Gunnin’ for That #1 Spot). In short, MCA was the guy that grew and pursued things and wasn’t ever afraid to be different. And I love that kind of guy. So it upset me a lot when I first heard about the cancer.
But the man stayed positive and kept the fans informed and he got treatment and became a vegan and seems pretty okay now.
And then this happened:
And gave the whole internet a giant, raging boner for the Beastie Boys.
While it is an awesome clip, followed by an awesome video:
Not only all that, there is more to come. This is only the first part of a thirty minute short film called “Fight For Your Right Revisited” and I cannot wait to see the rest (I have now and it is outstanding - came with the download). Anybody else notice that thing on top of the DeLorean is a breakdance mat?
I think it is important to look beyond all the celebrities and realize that the song itself is fucking amazing. It has been stuck between the back and front of my brain ever since I heard it, permeating my thoughts on some level at all times. I don’t know that even “Intergalactic” was as catchy and instantly wonderful as “Make Some Noise”.
I will have Hot Sauce Committee Part 2 by the time this posts and will hopefully have a review for Friday (I’ve got something special planned for Cinco De Mustache).

Until next time, stay creepy,

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