My first brush with the Beastie Boys was the video for “So What’cha Want” from the Check Your Head album. I remember thinking “who the hell are these guys?” and being blown away by the rawness of the lyrics, and not quite ‘getting it’. It sounded like punk, but they were rapping? From that moment I was in, in deeeeep. Music transforms a person, especially when you’re 14 and in that awkward ‘I’m not a kid, but I’m too scared to pretend to be an adult’ stage. I think if everybody thought about their favourite bands, it will have come to you when you were a teen. Red Hot Chilli Peppers and Pulp also made a home in my psyche during this time.
Remember in the 90’s, when music and fandom was a slow process? Nowadays, if you hear a song on an ad, you can shazam it, then download an entire discography, all before letting your tea get cold. Back then, an obsession was a slow, glacial evolution. Internet was around, but not as widely used. Especially not for me, a punk kid living in the northern suburbs of Brisbane. I liked them because they were ‘cool’. I liked them because they were white, and sort of geeky, but didn’t care what they looked like; they were having a damn good time. I liked their lyrics, which were fun, but based in their life, and much more relatable than the gangster rap of that time.
Back then, if you liked a song, you had to watch Rage or Video Hits, and then maybe buy the odd Rolling Stone magazine (if Mum was feeling generous). This drip feed approach, of waiting for the next video, song, album or awards show appearance meant you could reread, rewatch, reabsorb everything, so you brought your own geeky love of it into your heart. It allowed the hooks of obsession to twist and take hold, and made you an accidental expert.
I remember buying Ill Communication for $30, and swapping it for a week with my friend Nathan who had License to Ill, and burning it on to tape. Oh man, I listened to the shit out of that CD. I remember being bewildered by how good the lyrics in "Root Down" were. In fact, I still am. I remember being a smartass at a Christmas dinner by saying “If I knew it was gonna be that kind of party I would stick my dick in the mashed potatoes”. And subsequently getting grounded, which was totally worth it. I bought Adidas shelltoes because they always wore them, and looked into Buddhism and went through a ridiculous “Free Tibet!” stage.
The video for "Sabotage" was made by some newcomer called Spike Jonze, and is still crazy good. They gave Public Enemy their first tour 25 years ago. Hello Nasty was a killer record, and "Intergalactic" is still a crowd pleaser. Last year's Hot Sauce Committee Part Two made many top album lists, and rightly so. The Beastie Boys grew up, but didn't, and it was still cool. I already miss them.
Yauch actually passed away on Vesak Day (Buddha’s birthday), which gives a circularity to things. The only consolation I can think of is he is no longer in pain, and his study of Buddhism has in some way prepared him for this, as well as his family. I’m grateful he was able to see the Beastie Boys inducted into the Hall of Fame last year, and there has been an outpouring of love and respect from fellow artists, which is very nice. I don’t believe in regrets, but it sucks that I never saw them live, and now, never will. But I’ve still got that old Ill Communication CD kicking around, and so will be able to go back in time and listen to the mellifluous lyrics, gravelly voice and tweak scratches of 3 MC’s who changed my life.
"Sabba papassa akaranam
To abstain from all evil
To cultivate the good
and to purify one's mind
This is the teaching of the Buddhas
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