When I was a senior in high school, many moons ago, I was lucky enough to go and see the Beastie Boys Licensed to Ill tour at the Worcester Centrum, complete with Murphy’s Law, Public Enemy, and a 6 foot hydraulic penis. To say I was obsessed with this record and this band was a bit of an understatement. They were young, and fun, and ridiculous. Their jokes were random and hilarious. I loved them.
A few years after that, I was a DJ at my college station, and we got a copy of Paul’s Boutique. I was looking for that same fun feeling that I found on Licensed to Ill, and was a little disappointed that it wasn’t there. “Hey Ladies” aside, this was a new direction for the boys from New York, and I wasn’t quite sure I was on board.
Fast forward to my first apartment and my first adult roommate, who was a Beastie Boys fanatic, and who got me to listen to Paul’s Boutique, and everything they had released since, with a new set of ears.
This music had somehow gone from being funny and ridiculous to brilliant and genre-bending. And I was 100% on board for anything and everything they might do next.
We all know the sad ending to their story, and that Beastie Boys didn’t get a chance to do everything they ever wanted. The death of Adam Yauch hit me hard, and was the first celebrity death that really made me contemplate my own mortality. But Beastie Boys didn’t want me to sit around and worry about the future. They wanted me to get out and live and have a great time doing it.
And that is what this book is about. Living life.
I can definitely say, without a doubt, that this is the single greatest audiobook I have ever had the pleasure of listening to. I can’t recommend it highly enough. Does it help if you are a fan of the band? Of course. But I think there’s a lot here for those who aren’t particularly crazy about the band. Does it make a difference if you aren’t the same age as me? Probably not…a lot of my adoration for this book had a lot to do with their amazing ability to perfectly paint a picture of a specific time and place (mostly, New York City in the 1980s), but Adam Horowitz and Michael Diamond are so authentic and compelling, I don’t think it matters.
Told in essay format, with the bulk of the writing by Adam Horovitz and Michael Diamond (but also with input from Amy Poehler, Spike Jonze, and Colson Whitehead, among others), the 98 chapters cover the entire history of the band, and starts and ends by talking about the unthinkable loss of Adam Yauch. And yes, I teared up a bit listening to them talk about the pain that his loss still causes.
Horovitz and Diamond do a lot of the book’s narration, but also get help from lots of their famous friends. Steve Buscemi. Maya Rudolph. Tim Meadows. John C Reilly. Will Ferrell. Snoop. Bette Midler. This book is filled with amazing voices telling delightful stories, and most of them do a wonderful job. Why isn’t Bette Midler narrating everything?
Note: I cannot stress how ridiculous some of this narration is. I laughed out loud at the chapter interviewing Cookie Puss’ dermatologist girlfriend from Scarsdale. Did any of it makes sense? No. But it was delightful. Similarly, the Will Ferrell reading of a review of one of their records that veers into a story about soup absolutely killed me.
Most importantly, the book includes a chapter written by (and read by) Kate Schellenbach, who was so unceremoniously kicked out of the band just before they hit it big. Rick Rubin didn’t think she was a good fit for their new sound, and just had the boys push her away until she was so far out, she couldn’t get back in. Horovitz and Diamond apologize profusely to her many times in the book, but I’m glad she got a chance to tell her own side of the story.
We also get to hear stories about the magical Black Flag show at the Peppermint Lounge in 1981, the mysterious Swiss filmmaker Nathaniel Hornblower, Biz Markie and his love of candy, their unabashed love of wigs and mustaches, and being ignored by their record company in favor of Donny Osmond.
Speaking of wigs and mustaches, Amy Poehler makes an interesting point when talking about the “Sabotage” video. She says that without it, there wouldn’t have been any Anchorman movies, Adult Swim programming, or Wes Anderson.
This book is wonderful, nostalgic, hilarious, and heartbreaking. I absolutely need to buy the actual hard cover version, so I can see the pictures and not just hear about them.
Thanks, Beastie Boys, for reminding me that listening to music should be fun. And thanks to my 1990s roommate, Kendra, for reminding me that Beastie Boys rule.
I’ll leave you with one of my favorite Beastie memories, their live 2004 performance on Letterman. Enjoy. I know I will.
Yes, I know. Sort of a weird book for Thanksgiving. But I just finished it and couldn’t wait. A million stars.