Beastie Boys Story
Directors: Spike Jonze
Fresh Bread / Pulse Films / PolyGram Entertainment / Apple TV+
In a filmed companion piece to the fabulous Beastie Boys Book surviving Beasties Adam (“Ad-Rock”) Horowitz and Michael (“Mike D”) Diamond continue to pay tribute to their fallen comrade, Adam (“MCA”) Yauch; friend and collaborator Spike Jonze is at the helm of this filmed document.
It’s basically a staged-reading of the book, dress-rehearsal for a pared-back presentation of the audiobook – without the cast of dozens that helped to really make that reading pop. And I’m glad I knew that – having experienced both the printed volume and the audio document – before diving in on this. This isn’t a documentary. It isn’t a live gig. It’s a hybrid of sorts that could feel lazy and easy and another version of what’s already on the table.
But maybe some people are arriving at this – having skipped the book first (and can now go back to it). Anyway, I’m glad I knew what I was getting myself in for, my expectations were sufficiently low enough that I absolutely loved this.
I get great joy in hearing the Beasties reminisce – they were like my bratty older brothers, leading me through adolescence in a do-as-we-now-say/not-as-we-once-did way. I was singing along to the misogynistic anthems on the first album before I could spot the crudeness in a line-up; was way more interested in hearing purloined Led Zeppelin drum beats and Kerry King add-on guitar riffs anyway.
I learned about the art of sampling by devouring their ground-breaking and oddly-tanking second album, Paul’s Boutique and from there I never didn’t love the Beastie Boys. I knew of MCA’s illness and the fact that he was not going to make it – but almost cried like a baby the day I heard he died. That was the end of the group – and I’ve always respected the way the two remaining members have sat back and slowly, carefully, beautifully put together the tribute-documents of this book and film rather than doing lazy, silly reunions or making music under another name that ended up being an inferior copy.
Of course it helps that they were privileged white kids playing street. They came from academics and art collectors; they grew up rich and dressed-up as bragging brats. They evolved into actual musicians and activists and they fessed to their dumb-ass beer-can crushing shenanigans. They grew up in public. Moved on, and out and around and reintroduced the world to Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, championed Buddhism and Free-Tibet ideals in a way that felt vaguely-authentic (at the least) and had fun with silly, wonderful video ideas and put on concerts that never ignored the highlights from their early “rap” career, but continued to intermingle them with jazz-funk instrumentals and the remnants of their hardcore aspirations as snotty-punk teens.
Their version of white privilege aligns with mine – in so many ways. Which doesn’t mean I had to find them as heroes, it just means there is no hypocrisy or double-standard or inauthenticity around me connecting with their music and motivations. As a white kid in the suburbs with parents that loved one another and were sure to put a meal on the table for the family it can come as no surprise that this is how I was introduced to hip-hop and rap music. It might, to some, be a million miles – philosophically, if not artistically, from what hip-hop really is, but as an introduction it has served me well. And they transcended any notion of gimmick.
And so when I watched Beastie Boys Story – as is the case when revisiting any of their albums or any of the paraphernalia connected with the band across the quarter-century and a bit of falling under their spell – everything comes flooding back. The places I was both geographically and, ahem, spiritually in my life when each album arrived – and then again when it arrived in my collection. The various formats and new anniversary expanded editions, the documentaries and biographies and the time I saw them in concert – and now my son forming his own connection with the band and its music.
This was not a good piece of filmmaking at all. But it was a lovely – loving – tribute to the man that the survivor members are sure was the key member of the group. It’s a hell of a story too. Goofy kids made good – from going on tour with Madonna and finding the frat-boy idiots they were maybe sending up in the audience chanting along. Then they were the frat-boy idiots themselves so they got serious about record-collecting and reflecting that in the sampling and selections for new album cuts; then to their instruments to really find their voice.
Ad-Rock and Mike D are just fun to listen to too – they prowl around the stage as if they’re about to drop verses – and they are. Just prose rather than poetry. This is the story of their lives together, rather than rhymes about made-up crimes and the poetic license shaping their earlier times, this is shot-through with the realisation that the trio will now only be a duo; that everything they created together as a gang of three can now only be reflected in any two-hander they offer. A part of them is missing. And they’re doing their best to honour that.
And top up the retirement fund on the side, absolutely.
Some people might not have dug this at all because they expected a documentary rather than a Powerpoint or TEDTalk of a thing. But it is what it is and if you know that when you approach it and/or you love the Beastie Boys there’s enough here to mist up your eye at the end and to have you reliving the magic that has carried you – and them – across the years to arrive right here.
You can support Off The Tracks via PressPatron