This was a very interesting way to present a history of a band. Beastie Boys Story, directed by their longtime video collaborator Spike Jonze, features the two surviving members of the band, Mike Diamond and Adam Horovitz (third member Adam Yauch passed away in 2012) telling their story to an audience in a large New York theater, their talk augmented by pictures and videos.
Diamond and Horovitz are excellent storytellers and move things forward. The takeaways I got about the Beasties begin with the fact that they started as a hardcore band in downtown New York City, when they were young, like fifteen. The trio (four at that time with drummer Kate Schellenbach) were always into all kinds of music, until they went through a strict ‘all we do is listen to rap’ phase.
The Beastie Boys became the Beasties through two key contacts: producer Rick Rubin and manager Russell Simmons, whose brother was in Run D.M.C. They were guided by these two who thought they needed a white b-boy band on their roster. Indeed, after a few singles on Rubin and Simmons’ Def Jam records, the Beasties were touring, opening for Madonna. There is a great story about how this came about that I won’t spoil.
Finally, the band gets to make their first LP, Licensed To Ill, with a last minute addition, a little song called ‘Fight For Your Right (to Party).’ Combined with the cheaply made, ubiquitous MTV video, the Beastie Boys really blew up, touring constantly, in the US, UK, and Japan. Horowitz notes that the incessant touring, the drinking, the girl in the go-go cage, the Budweiser box for the turntables, and the inflatable penis on stage started to turn the band into the very thing they hated: they were becoming the party bros and frat guys they used to make fun of. Management wanted to keep them on the road, but not liking what they saw, basically they quit. They got off the touring carousel that can destroy most bands. They took time off.
Moving to Los Angeles, signing with Capitol Records, and working with the Dust Brothers, they spent a year (and all their money) making the sample-heavy masterpiece Paul’s Boutique. The band was thrilled with the record, but the record completely stiffed in the marketplace. The Beasties had to scale down, learn to play instruments, and made Check Your Head and Ill Communication. This last LP brought the mega-hit ‘Sabotage’ and it’s bizarre 70’s style cop video. They started touring again, to much smaller crowds, but as they remark, the crowds were “weirdos like us.”
It didn’t take long before the Beasties were back on major festival stages. The rest of the movie is basically a tribute to Adam Yauch, a true iconoclast, interested in everything, trekking to Tibet and starting a free Tibet foundation and a huge Tibet benefit concert in 1994.
I do not own a Beastie Boys record. They will always have a place in my heart for playing ‘Radio Radio’ with Elvis Costello on Saturday Night Live. I love their videos. But I’ve personally always considered the Beasties kind of a joke, too close to the thing they claimed to parody. To see the clips and hear the stories of the band is a bit of a revelation. They are full of love for music and each other and they obviously miss Adam Yauch. This is an entertaining and interesting pseudo-doc. Fans will dig it and it brought me to a new appreciation of the band. You surely fit in one camp or the other.
If you have Apple+ TV I would definitely check it out.