Santa was really good to me…but then again she always is. A sackful of music and books greeted my awakening on 25 December, and everything on the wish list was able to be ticked off.
I then spent the best part of a full week engrossed with the near 600 pages of The Beastie Boys Book.
I’ve always considered myself more an admirer than fan of the band, owning some but not albums, grateful that they had gone on to prove there was so much more to them than the cartoon antics and childish japes that were associated with their breakthrough album and tour back in the mid-late 80s. The reason I was keen to get my hands on the book was the near universal positive reviews, from critics and fans alike, with many saying it was as good a rock/pop/music bio as any.
First up, let me say that the early reviews are bang on as it is a superb book – entertaining, engaging and incredibly informative. It is, in the words of the promotional material issued by the publishers:-
“…their story, told for the first time in the words of the band. Adam “AD-ROCK” Horovitz and Michael “Mike D” Diamond offer revealing and very funny accounts of their transition from teenage punks to budding rappers; their early collaboration with Russell Simmons and Rick Rubin; the almost impossible-to-fathom overnight success of their debut studio album Licensed to Ill; that album’s messy fallout; their break with Def Jam, move to Los Angeles, and rebirth as musicians and social activists, with the genre-defying masterpiece Paul’s Boutique. For more than twenty years, this band has had a wide-ranging and lasting influence on popular culture.
With a style as distinctive and eclectic as a Beastie Boys album, Beastie Boys Book upends the typical music memoir. Alongside the band narrative you will find rare photos, original illustrations, a cookbook by chef Roy Choi, a graphic novel, a map of Beastie Boys’ New York, mixtape playlists, pieces by guest contributors, and many more surprises.”
It’s also something of a love-letter to the late Adam ‘MCA’ Yauch, the member of the band who passed away from cancer in May 2012, without whom you get the distinct impression very little of what happened and how it happened would have ensued.
The Beastie Boys Book was an expensive gift, with a cover price of £32 (albeit you can get it discounted from many places) but the reason is immediately with a high-quality design, layout and lavish production to be enjoyed. It is, indeed, like no other rock biography I’ve ever come across (and I’ve about 200 of the things lining shelves and taking up space in Villain Towers) with dozens of chapters/short stories/montages covering every aspect of their career, some of which, as indicated above, come from guest contributors.
The early part of the book, before they became famous, was a particularly superb read. It is a recollection of teenage life and events in NYC in the late 70s and early 80s in which I imagined blog friends Echorich and Jonny the Friendly Lawyer were privy to have been part of. Indeed, I half-expected both of them to have their names appear in the appendix at the back. The amount of info and detail constantly led me to put the book down and pick up the i-phone to find out more, whether it be a venue, a person who was central to the particular part of the story or the neighbourhood in which it was set. Indeed, this continued to be the case throughout the book, which is why it ended up taking six days to read.
I went into the book knowing the basics about the band. I ended it with a huge admiration for them, genuinely believing that they were bona-fide geniuses (and Yauch in particular) with an uncanny ability to look beyond what was happening in the now and to be at the forefront of what was about to happen. The book sheds light on all this, and it pays credit to those who brought certain things to their attention, such as the nerdy fan who helped them be among the first musicians to grasp the significance of the internet.
There is also a great deal of self-deprecating humour, including what must be the best and funniest review of an album ever committed to paper (pages 384-386 on Ill Communication), and the opportunity is also taken to say sorry for a few wrongs that have been committed throughout the course of the career.
It is a very entertaining book, packed with words and photos that will make you smile and laugh out loud. It is also very moving in places, none more so than the words which deal with the death of their great friend and colleague:-
“Getting into details of what was going on personally after the record (Hot Sauce Committee Part Two, 2012) came out is a heavy thing to write about. It was unintentionally our last record. The band didn’t break up. We didn’t go our separate ways. No solo project fucked things up to cause animosity. This was our last record because Adam got cancer and died. If that hadn’t happened, we would probably be making a new record as you readd this. Sadly, it didn’t turn out that way. Sadly. Sadly. Too fucking sad to write about.”
And that is the only reference to what happened….nothing about how unjust it was, how angry it made them feel or how bitter they are are having a career abruptly come to a halt.
I cannot recommend The Beastie Boys book highly enough. I’m sure, as is the case with all biographies, there will be some who were part of or close to the scene who will find things to nitpick about or point out inaccuracies in the stories being told, but I’m more than happy to take this is as the definitive version.
Oh, and it is also has given me hints and pointers for a few new posts at this little corner of t’internet as well as making me determined to make sure that I get all of their albums into the collection at some point over the coming years:-