A Personal History of the Beastie Boys

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I was a self-censored kid.  Permanently unpopular through most of high school I dabbled in a mix of naive romanticism and some sort of Puritanism which American schools give rise to to keep kids from going insane from being permanently unpopular.  So it's with little surprise that around my 12th birthday when my parents handed me two cassette tapes, Gloria Estefan's Greatest Hits and Pearl Jam Ten, that I popped in the former and had to literally wear it out before I took up the other tape and my life was changed forever.

A Vanilla Ice, Color Me Badd, Boyz 2 Men, and MC Hammer devotee, I'm sure that prior to my Pearl Jam conversion I had heard hip-hop before, or at least knew of its influence.  But this was probably tempered with that adolescent Puritanism which made me dismiss it as -- "that music which makes people do that" on the dance floor at dances.  Dancing, tho I didn't grow up a Southern Baptist, was unbridled sexuality (or at least as close as we got) and as someone who had a rather backward idea of sexuality, it's pretty impossible that I would have liked anyone feel that way.  

So, it wasn't until one of my dad's students (my dad taught at a college) mentioned a lyric from a group called The Beastie Boys that I got intrigued.  On a trip to a Circuit City some weeks later--one of those dreadful things with your parents where they're pricing blenders and you have to sit around and so find other stuff to look at--I found and purchased a copy of Paul's Boutique.  The express decision to purchase this album was so that I could play it in the car on the way back and since they sample bluegrass on "5-Piece Chicken Dinner," it was enough to get my Dad to play it in the car, though it was quickly banished by the time it got to track 10, "Lookin Down the Barrel of a Gun."

In the grand scheme of things perhaps the Beastie Boys weren't necessarily revolutionary.  Part of their charm was this kind of rye smile that they held to the world--something along the lines of, we know we shouldn't be in the pantheon, but here we are.  Musically, Paul's Boutique, the group's magnum opus, was like a history of music through the eyes of Ad Rock, Mike D, and MCA (RIP)--moving seamlessly from NWA to Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash and the Beatles.  It was the kind of goofy music that could get white kids into rap.  Not in a solely appreciative way, but the kind that made us feel like we could make it.

So, I did.  Landing in college, a couple friends and I turned to this group called The Electric Sex Experience with our outlandish noms de guerre:  MC Mid Coitus, DJ Pull-out Method, and Porkmuscle J. Humfat.  The latter, who I was/am, was culled from a phonebook somewhere.  As the ESE we'd break into parties with costumes, manage to mash up Britney Spears, Weezer and Nancy Sinatra before dashing out, changing, and arriving back at the party pretending that it was never us.  The anthem and underpinning for this charade was Check Your Head and in a golden Volvo station wagon with "Professor Booty" blaring, we'd hit any bar where they didn't card.  ESE self-produced, self-distributed a lo-fi squelch of a record, Haterplayers, which was recorded over two days on a tape recorder in a garage, and boy does it show.

Some years later, when having fake bands and dressing up in bear suits had lost its charm, when boys have to get serious about something, I went to Bonnaroo with Nick from BackseatSandbar to see the Beastie Boys play.  They were headlining night one and completely out of sorts.  Particularly MCA, who we would find out weeks later had cancer.  The announcement came through one of the more iconic videos that I can remember where in the middle of stating that he had cancer MCA, Mike D, and Ad Rock begin laughing as if they can't believe it either.  "Sabotage" (an ESE staple) had to be restarted and restarted and restarted at that Bonnaroo as MCA kept fucking up the bass line.  Though we didn't know it then, there was the unsettling feeling of something going wrong.

No longer fronting a fictional band, when I wrote about the Beastie Boys last record, Hot Sauce Committee Pt. 2, the group had done just about everything that they wanted to:  merged punk and hip-hop, put out two instrumental records, gotten to the top of the charts, gone away and come back.  What was (and remains) outstanding about that record and the band is the verve and playfulness they instilled into every song.  I know that there's been much hand-wringing about where do we put this trio in the scope of music, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Membership not withstanding.  There has to be a place for fun.  That's where the Beastie Boys always lived for me.  And, in so doing, the group has always challenged me to be as smart as I can with a sense of humor; to never take anything for granted; to fight for your right, as they say...  It's the most fitting tribute you can give to say that a band has changed your life.  So, this is mine to you MCA.  I've been rocking out in my Check Your Head t-shirt all weekend.  As usual.

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