Saturday, May 19, 2012

Beastie-ary

I've been wondering what to say about the Beastie Boys and in particular Adam Yauch in the wake of his passing. This is the story of my evolution from dislike to love of the band.

Some of my older friends might be surprised to find out that I came around and eventually grew to not only like the Beasties but to appreciate their contributions to music. The guys in the band are all around the same age as me, a couple of years older. "Fight for Your Right" came out while I was in high school and I was snob enough to hate it and pretty much all rap/hip-hop at the time. Well, hate's too strong a word. It was more a dislike of anything that wasn't essentially prog-rock. Or what would later become known at 'classic rock', the first wave of it anyway.

But I digress.

I didn't much care for License to Ill and when Paul's Boutique came out, I didn't really bother to give it a listen. I was vaguely aware of "Hey Ladies" because it was part of MTV's heavy rotation at the time, but I was very much into heavy metal at that point and this was the 80s so it was mostly hair metal. I do remember the first time I gave them a serious listen was at a baseball game and I heard "What'cha Want".

That groove got into to me. I paid attention when their videos popped up on MTV, listened when I heard them out in other places but didn't buy a copy of Check Your Head until much later. I didn't know what I was missing.

It was the video for "Sabotage" that made me think maybe these guys were more than just some punky-sounding white rappers. My first purchase of any of their albums was still a couple of years off, though. I read about them in Rolling Stone and friends made fun of me for being so provincial. Sue me, I was making music of my own by then and taking it seriously though I was coming to the end of that career sooner than later.

Regardless, when I got a job working at a record store our resident hip-hop guy - Craig - played Ill Communication for me at closing. I listened. Craig told me a lot about the Beasties and how they played their own instruments and all the care they took in putting their songs together. I realized they were musicians worthy of respect. I saw an MTV awards show of some kind that had Chuck D. talking about how great the Beasties were and how influential they had been in hip-hop. I respected Chuck for all the things Public Enemy stood for and I even liked a lot their songs, too, so when he came out and gave the Boys props, I had to take them seriously. I mean really seriously.

I asked Craig which album I should listen to next. Paul's Boutique was the one. I started picking out all the samples as it played and that brought me even further into their world. The song that made a capital-f Fan of the Beastie Boys was "Looking Down the Barrel of a Gun". It was rock. It was rap. It was cooool. It took me knowing more about the band in order to appreciate what they did on that song, and being a musician myself to get what they were going for. I had to find my own way in to enjoying their music and that was the song that did it.

I bought copies of Paul's Boutique, Ill Communication and Check Your Head. I still couldn't bring myself to buy License to Ill, though. I heard it, it just didn't click with me and never really has. Craig tried to convince me: he played Some Old Bullshit and that didn't really do it for me, either. I cadged onto a copy of The In Sound From Way Out and played that at home for people who wouldn't appreciate the rap elements of the Beasties. Hello Nasty came out and I was there soon after because the video for "Intergalactic" was hilarious and what I'd come to expect from the Boys. I sold my copy (along with quite few other CDs) a couple of years later when I needed a bit of cash, but replaced it as soon as I could.

To the 5 Boroughs was the last Beasties record I've purchased. I bought it the week it came out.

I was excited to see that the guys were going to be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Despite my misgivings about the Hall, I thought they were doing a good thing with this honor. I hadn't heard that Yauch was sick, though.

So twenty-five years after high school, I was saddened by Yauch's death. I didn't stay on top of what they were doing every day - I don't do that with any band or writer or creative person/celebrity-type, I just don't - but I was a Fan. Not hardcore, but a Fan. Though the group wasn't as prolific as I would have wanted them to be, we have a great body of work to revisit as often as we want.

The Beasties are one of my favorite acts ever. They're up with the Beatles, Pink Floyd, King's X, Metallica and all the others that are too numerous to list here. I never got to see them live except on TV. I wish that I'd taken advantage of the one opportunity that presented itself. The Beastie Boys made it okay for me to listen to other rap/hip-hop groups and to appreciate them. Chuck D., too.

I've got the records. I've got the music to listen to. I'll miss that the Boys won't be producing new work in the future.

Rest in peace, Adam Yauch. You put yourself out there and took chances and you inspired a lot of people. I'm glad I have your music.

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