Beastie Boys Book
Michael Diamond/Adam Horovitz
Spiegel & Grau
It finally arrived – after so much talk and plenty of hype, the memoir of The Beastie Boys written by its two surviving members. When Adam Yauch (MCA) died from cancer in 2012 that was the end of the group. Respectfully and realistically Michael Diamond (Mike D) and Adam Horovitz (AdRock) closed the door on the band. They were a trio, a three-piece, they schemed and dreamed together; made music and a huge friendship. There would not be a Beastie Boys without MCA. And so the years since have been a time of grieving and coping and the major project has been this book.
His memory and their friendship – as well as the career of the band – is so well served here. Beastie Boys Book is as mad-funny, daunting, brilliant, dazzling, goofy, outrageous, thorough, contrived, concocted and schemed as the band’s best musical work. It is, like their videos, their interviews, their albums, a part of the puzzle. And it is glorious as a patchwork, a scrapbook.
We are around 200 pages into the 600-page tome before we get to the band’s mid-80s debut record. We’re whisked back in time to the New York they grew up in, a love-letter to the 70s and early 80s, to hip-hop’s dawn and the hardcore, punk and reggae they bonded through; it’s invigorating and, yes, the absence of MCA is felt along the way without ever dominating, or dominating in any wrong way. Their friend, their fellow soldier, the spiritual leader of this gang, is remembered fondly, but it’s never cloying.
Similarly, the guys are occasionally hard on themselves, as sentimental as this gets they also mock themselves, pick on poor choices, laugh at failures and cop to being immature, bratty and, far worse than that, misogynistic. The Beasties grew up in public. And I won’t be alone in this thought, as I read the book I thought about how I grew up with them; role-models of a sort, musical elder-brother figures. They showed you can grow and change. They enjoyed dick-jokes and silly rhymes to the end but learned to combine with more profound thoughts, knew to explain faux pas without getting bogged down in rhetoric. There’s something especially interesting about their apology to the past, including smart commentary from Amy Poehler (one of many guests and friends that join his book party) where the B-Boys attitude of the late 80s is examined, never wholly justified as such, but seen as a part of the growing up stage. Poehler puts it best that when MCA apologised in verse and there was a reference to not just “all the b-boys” but the B-girls too, she could see the importance being the group’s understanding. She says she always knew she was part of the gang, a fan. It was nice to see the band had worked that out too.
Elsewhere there’s a full cookbook of recipes inspired by the band’s lyrics and references, there are playlists, whole albums are discussed; party-tricks and pranks remembered and as a broad survey of three privileged kids that bonded through music it’s as good as it could ever be. And then just a little bit better. Original Beastie drummer, Kate Schellenbach (Luscious Jackson) is frank about her unceremonious dumping from the band – invited in to write a full chapter by the way, not just quoted by one of the boys.
These are vignettes, and that’s fitting too – for Beastie Boys never really wrote whole songs, as such. There are killer riffs, great rhymes, clever samples, snappy wordplay, but theirs is a career of musical vignettes. Highlights for the most part. And so it is with this book – a whole chapter devoted to their friendship and the cameos from Biz Markie. Nods to Public Enemy and other kindred spirits. But there’s meat in this sandwich too. Through all the silliness and fun there’s substance. Again, you’ll be reminded – so often – of the music. This journey through a quarter-century or so brims with magical moments.
They were clever, eventually. To start with it was all just a series of big goof-offs.
It’s also visually stimulating, a gorgeous book, its design matching and meeting form and function. This is a book you’ll want to revisit, if you’ve got this far into this review chances are you already have the book or have it on your Christmas list.
Beastie Boys was the musical constant for me through school. And university. Big years. Sure, I was hooked on Stevie Wonder and The Beatles for all of that time. Neil Young and Bob Dylan, Coltrane and Miles for most of it too. And many others. But what mattered most was that the Beasties was the band I discovered for myself. It wasn’t passed down from my brother or parents. I found this music. It spoke to me. It still does.
And this book, tinged with so much sadness, not just their personal loss and the then-abrupt end to the band but also a nostalgia for the way records were made, the industry in general but more especially the ‘scene’ (or scenes), spoke to me in a way that recaptured the best of their music and my discovery of it. It also arrived, as with their music, at a crucial time in my life. I read this book right around the time that I received news of the suicide of a good friend from school. He was part of our crew. We’d greet each other at weekend parties quoting lines from Beastie Boys songs, calling each other nicknames derived from the band (Cookie O’Puss, Nathanial Hornblower, Johnny Ryall…)
So I walked around town with old memories, Beastie Boys songs and these fresh words in my head. And it felt like the right time, which you only ever know after the fact. You never quite know it in the moment.
The book has a way of ending, much like the band’s discography, where it abruptly cuts out, gets cut short (after a wild and wonderful journey). You get the feeling there would absolutely have been more. That was the idea. Somehow these lovable rogues managed to grow old gracefully, never softing out either, never selling short the legacy or trading it for anything easier. And this book feels that way too. In as much as a single volume can.
I was profoundly moved by this – recognising all over that the Beastie Boys represent one of the towering influences in my life, through them I learned so much about other music and film, about hip-hop culture and hardcore too. It was also the soundtrack to so many good time, and still is, still can be – one of very few bands that bonded almost any large group; you could always chuck a B-Boys track, or whole album on and get the party started or keep it going. They showed, too, that you don’t have to be the greatest musician to make the greatest music. Their influence is still felt, though also sadly missed. Beastie Boys Book takes you back through so much of the magic and can’t help but feel, by the end, a little tragic. Which is fitting. And real.
A note on the audiobook:
As good as this book is the audiobook is must-hear. They work as companion volumes. I listened right through before ‘reading’ a word. And at the end of the 20+ hour listening journey I felt exhausted, elated and ultimately very sad. Like only a small handful of audio-documentary moments in my life I couldn’t wait to revisit it. It felt, in a way, like reconnecting with friends, catching up with parts of my past. It triggered so many memories (mostly great). It was both its own thing entirely and a clever companion-piece. I’d thoroughly recommend it as part of your Beastie Boys Book journey. It’s also noteworthy for its production values – its cast, its treatment, it feels like its own movie, or party, and is therefor of course completely faithful to the spirit of the band.