I’ve been listening to the Beastie Boys for most of my life. My friend Aaron Thompson introduced me to them – he had a tape of their first album which I think belonged to his older brother. (His older brother was best mates with racing car driver Greg Murphy – and sometimes we’d get a ride with him to the video store. Murph was just a high school student – but he was a kickarse driver even then). We’d get horror movies and kung-fu flicks and comedies from the video store and we’d bounce on the trampoline, chase each other on quad bikes around the orchard and that first Beastie Boys album was a big part of the soundtrack.
From that first album I bought Paul’s Boutique – just after it was first released. And that was the one. That was my whole world. It’s crazy to think that it’s over 30 years old. These anniversary editions come and go and it’s soon going to be 30 years since Kurt Cobain died, and already more than 10 since Amy Winehouse, and every time you hear about these memories you go ‘wow’ and make some comment about time flying.
But time is caught in weird loops within the Beastie Boys albums – especially Paul’s Boutique. First up, I think of all the music I learned because of that album. Samples of Curtis Mayfield and Idris Muhammad and the musicians that would go on to be my favourites – and samples of things I already knew, horror movie soundtracks and The Beatles and then there were the funny lines and inventive rhymes and slapdash/madcap scenarios. But it’s weirder now, because my son is a huge fan of the Beastie Boys. And I think it (mostly) happened quite outside of my interest in the band. Okay, I know I have passed a love of music onto him. It might be the best thing I’ve done for him. But also, he had a friend at school that liked them.
The first two Beastie Boys albums are funny and crazy and filthy and silly and I was listening to them when I was too young to fully understand every joke or reference – and there was a lot of misogynistic bullshit in there too. Somehow I could just gloss over that, ignore it. Enjoy the music. And then one of the members of the group (their heart, their soul – R.I.P. MCA) addressed the sexism on the opening track of their fourth album.
He said he wanted to say a little something he felt was long overdue. He said that disrespect to women had to be through. And to all the mothers, sisters, wives and friends he wanted to offer his love and respect to the end. That was it. A sure shot at redemption. With that, the Beastie Boys were off the hook and on the road to being hip, elder statesmen.
It matched my journey in a sense. From being a teenager and a fucking idiot through my early 20s to trying to grow up, acknowledging some blowouts and hoping to move on.
It’s lucky they dropped that verse in 1994. It wouldn’t have counted for much in 2019. Even less in 2022. They’d have been cancelled. Probably. A couple of years ago, a friend of mine cancelled himself – took his life. Lost the fight. Found a freedom. Ended one part of his journey. When I got the news I was reading the Beastie Boys book – an amazing history-grab that the two remaining members of the band put together over nearly a decade, with love and thought and care.
I was walking around town listening to the audiobook and I was at home thumbing the pages and trying to make any sense at all about the old bud that killed himself. We weren’t close in the last few years – but when we were good buds we would speak to each other in words from the Beastie world.
We would call each other Beastie nicknames, reference songs and lyrics – chant
verses, discuss the samples, the source material. It was a bonding agent.
My son comes home from school and tells me about his new favourite Beastie Boys song – which is my old favourite Beastie Boys song, and more importantly is also the new favourite Beastie Boys song of his best friend from school. And I’m caught between the back seat thrill-ride of Greg Murphy’s car down the backstreets out of farmland Hawke’s Bay and the phone call from a couple of years ago about my school friend that chose his early end – or wasn’t able to see to choose anything else…
The soundtrack to it all is the same album. (“It’s a trip it’s got a funky beat and I can bug out to it”).
I have every Beastie Boys album. They were my Beatles. As much as The Beatles. And their most important album is Paul’s Boutique.
All the best to Aaron Thompson, wherever you are, whatever you’re doing. I’m sorry we lost touch. It happens. No malice. But I do think about it. And it was my mistake. Such a simple and silly mistake. One night, in Auckland, ahead of The Big Day Out, you texted me. I had a borrowed phone, went to save the number deleted it – and you – forever. That’s a careless slip of the finger. This was pre social media, it must have felt like I just didn’t want to be contacted. Not the case, not the truth. I hope you’re still out there, still listening to Beastie Boys, perhaps with your own wee crew too.