The Beastie Boys
In the days of analog videotape, gas lamps and horse-drawn carriages, before even dial-up internet had hit my household, musical recommendations came by way of schoolyard traded mix CD-Rs, older sibling hand-me-downs, and music video television.
The first CD I ever bought was a collection of James Bond theme songs, a faux pas swiftly rectified by my older brother with the handing over of a burned copy of The Slim Shady LP. Schoolyard recommendations of Slipknot, Limp Bizkit and Korn followed, from a friend who, despite this, remains one.
One good thing that can be said for those early days of musical discovery is the lack of stylistic prejudice, something that is lost almost instantly when the teen turf wars begin and genre allegiance must be pledged. It takes years of falling through staunch subculture affiliations one by one to get that freedom back, but with puberty and the development of actual, realized identities and self-esteem issues that it brings still on the distant horizon, every style was viable.
Us kids had yet to even encounter the term ‘genre’ and everything was just ‘music’. You could bang your head to ‘heavy’ bands like Linkin Park, rap along with Shady, dig Blink 182 and also secretly like that Celine Dion song from that chick’s movie you also secretly liked.
Unfortunately, the art of quality discernment was equally ill-developed, and everything we listened to, in all its stylistic variety, was almost uniformly crap. When you start seriously getting into music, you listen to whatever your friends listen to, which pretty much equates to what’s in at the time, and so the twenty-first century was a dark time for getting into music. Blink 182 were heading for their first breakup, The Offspring were already well into their decline, and nu-metal was nu-metal.
It would seem that video had killed the radio star, as every new discovery I made was via television and if the music video blew then the song didn’t even get consideration. My brother was a religious devotee of the music station’s Saturday morning programming, hours on end of 2000s radio-rap wasteland that did nothing for me until I happened to catch the already-a-throwback video for the Beastie Boys‘ ‘Sabotage’.
Thrashing guitars in a rap song that was more punk than any of the pop-punk posers I worshipped, with rapping that was unlike anything by Bad Boy Productions and their ilk or the nu-metal machismo that evoked images of domestic violence more than anything. It was harsh, pissed off music and yet it was accompanied by an absolutely hilarious – and cool – video that at no point featured a band weighed down with eyebrow piercings lip syncing in front of a green screen or doe eyed lovers finding their way back to each other in slow motion. At first I couldn’t even tell whether the Spike Jonze-directed fake seventies cop show video was actually fake or not. For all I knew the Beastie Boys were a seventies band; ‘Sabotage’ certainly didn’t sound like anything else on TV at the time.
I needed more, but that chance sighting was a mirage-like flash in the pan after which it was right back to shitty millennial mainstream rap and r&b. I was lucky to have even gotten the band and track name, and I wasted weeks of Saturday mornings hoping to catch another glimpse before I found out that all the best shit was actually shown overnight, in those forbidden moonlit hours of non-primetime programming. Underground bands, past hits, and tits filled the wasteland stretch of neglected networking between midnight and seven a.m.
Of course I wasn’t allowed up that late at that age, even on a Friday night, so every week I had to leave a videotape recording overnight, to trawl through the next day in search of music video magic.
Naturally vision dictated audio appeal, and without realising it I gravitated towards a bunch of other Spike Jonze videos, across a scattering of styles. The dancing/flying Christopher Walken ‘Weapon Of Choice’ video drew me to Fatboy Slim’s techno, as did the Happy Days video to Weezer’s pop-rock ‘Buddy Holly’. Just like with the ‘Sabotage’ video confusion I was lost for the longest time as to whether it was ‘Buddy Holly’ by Weezer or ‘Weezer’ by Buddy Holly. I was sure Weezer weren’t old enough to have been on Happy Days and the singer in the video did look just like Buddy Holly.
Glimpses of fast-forwarded skateboarding always caught my eye and had me reaching for the PLAY button and opened my eyes to bands like NOFX and Pennywise (who had the word ‘fuck’ in a song title) and the world of non-Simple Charlotte punk rock. The video for ‘100%’ turned me on to both Sonic Youth and Jason Lee and I can’t decide which was more world changing.
I finally found that ‘Sabotage’ video again, along with other dispatches from that caffeinated land of hyper punk/rap/whatever – ‘Fight For Your Right’ and ‘No Sleep ‘Til Brooklyn’ – that further cemented the Beasties’ place in the pecking order of my prepubescent obsessions, now safely stored on videotape with the time markings noted on the label for easy location. I watched and re-watched those videos until the tape wore down and distorted the picture and sound beyond recognition, forcing me to muster up the pocket money and actually buy the CD.
When the choice came I went for Licensed To Ill on the basis that it had two songs I liked on it, even though I liked ‘Sabotage’ more than either of them. Ironically, that album was exactly what I wanted, smart-ass joke rap for ADD kids with big rock riffs and guitar hero solos, which made the left turn of Ill Communication even more of a blind side and tough pill to swallow. Expecting more of the same I felt betrayed by an album that was at least half instrumental, with less jokes and no big rock riffs and solos. The hits ‘Sure Shot’ and ‘Sabotage’ were great but the rest of the album was just plain weird and it took me years to finally appreciate it for the masterpiece it is. At the time all the woozy drug jams just made me feel carsick and the jazzy interludes sounded like music old people would listen to, not smart-ass party-hardy skate youth.
Where were the jokes? Where was the rock? Where were the party anthems? The one hardcore song ‘Tough Guy’ was actually hardcore, not the catchy rap hybrid I was used to, and was also coming at me years too early. And what was with the titles? ‘Sabrosa’? ‘Shambala’? ‘Bodhisattva Vow’?
No matter what year you got into them, the Beastie Boys were ahead of their time, and it took me all of high school to finally catch up to them. By that time I worked my way back to Paul’s Boutique and the rug was pulled out all over again.
Mike D, MCA and Ad-Rock were the not-always-appreciated heroes to every skinny, nerdy white guy skating in suburbia. They proved that white guys could rap without sounding like Vanilla Ice or Fred Durst, and that you could make pissed off music that rocked without being a wife-beater-wearing meathead. They proved that you could make original, amazing music out of nothing but samples and then they turned around and proved that rappers and samplers could play instruments too. They jumped from genre to genre with no fear or trepidation, introducing a generation of impatient ADD-afflicted punkers and hip-hop heads to funk, soul, jazz and dub and proving that the most punk rock thing you could do was disregard punk rock and play whatever the fuck you wanted. They introduced Buddhism and spirituality to a style of music that at the time didn’t seem to care about anything except money, booze and bitches, and they did it all while reminding you to shake your rump and fight for your right to party.
Adam Yauch (August 5, 1964 – May 4, 2012)
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