Rock and Roll Book Club: 'Beastie Boys Book'

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'Beastie Boys Book.'
'Beastie Boys Book.' (Jay Gabler/MPR)

First white b-boys, we don't regret
There's nothing wrong with your TV set

Those lyrics were written by Russell Simmons for the Beastie Boys' early track "Rock Hard," and while they may make Ad-Rock wince today, they encapsulate the group's unique place in hip-hop history. So early to the genre that they bought literally every rap record they could find, the Beastie Boys thought of their career in punk terms.

Why didn't they have many guest appearances on their albums? "It's not like Stiv Bators would guest on a Blondie track," Horovitz writes in the Beastie Boys Book. "Or Josey Wales would do a verse on a Bob Marley song."

In fact, the Beastie Boys began as a punk band — and there were four of them. And one of them wasn't a boy. Maybe the most interesting chapter (among many) in the new book was written by Kate Schellenbach, the group's drummer until they went hip-hop and "that meathead Rick Rubin" told the guys it was her or him. Shortly thereafter, Licensed to Ill hit.

When I first pushed PLAY, I didn't know what to expect, and I was prepared to hate it. We listened to it over and over and thought it was hysterical. However offensive it was lyrically, sonically it was brilliant and we blasted it while driving around Florida. I was proud of my boys, but deep down, I was sad not to be with them. Part of me was jealous of their success without me, but I had to accept the fact that I would never have fit into this version of the band. I mean, what would I be doing when they were rapping about f---ing a girl with a Wiffle ball bat? I think it still holds up as one of the funniest comedy records of all time. But I was in on the joke — sadly much of the world wasn't, and eventually even the Beasties forgot it was a joke.

The fact that Adam Horovitz and Mike Diamond include such a critical reflection in their own band memoir speaks to the amends they've been doing for decades with respect to their flagrant early misogyny. Why haven't they faced similar criticism for appropriating a black genre? African-American musicians have largely accorded them respect, and they started so early that the genre was still being defined.

Today, the Beasties' influence is all over the musical landscape. While some of their continuing critical and popular acclaim is doubtless due to the fact that white people love white people, the artistry and wit behind their best work is undeniable. That same artistry and wit have now been translated into book form; specifically, a massive 571-page volume chock full of photos, stories, lists, and legends.

Ad-Rock and Mike D, in signed entries, wrote most of the book, but it also includes contributions from the likes of Schellenbach, Luc Sante (who writes eloquently about the musical and cultural landscape of New York City circa the early '80s), Spike Jonze (who contributes 15 captioned photos), and Roy Choi (who wrote an entire mini-cookbook inspired by the album Paul's Boutique). There's a fold-out illustration of the band's instruments modeled in white, there'a a comic about the band's encounter with an eccentric promoter, there are lists of songs various band members were listening to at various points in their lives.

If juicy behind-the-scenes stories are what you love about music memoirs, you're in luck with Beastie Boys Book. There's a great story about how Mike D met Bob Dylan at Dolly Parton's birthday party, there's an account of recording with Biz Markie (whose offhand freestyles inspired both the name of the band's label Grand Royal and its motto, "guaranteed every time"), and there are explanations of some of the band's elaborate studio experiments. In a section on Check Your Head, Diamond writes:

We'd been fans of John Bonham's booming drum sound long before we became associated with that sound on Licensed to Ill. Now that we'd resolved to play our own instruments, we wanted to create that sound ourselves. [...] Yauch grabbed a bunch of empty cardboard boxes still lying around from when we moved in. We broke them down and then refashioned them into a long cardboard tube, about ten feet long and the same diameter as the kick drum. We put one opening of the tube flush against the kick drum and duct-taped it there. Then Yauch had [an engineer] place a couple mics inside the tube itself and one at the open end of it. [...] That big drum sound, made from the magic of cardboard, is what you hear on "Pass the Mic."

The book is also a giant, tender tribute to the late Adam "MCA" Yauch, who died of cancer in 2012 at age 47. It concludes with an illustration of Yauch on snowshoes atop a snowy mountain, upright bass strapped to his back. "It captures the spirit that marked a lot of the adventures Yauch led us on," writes Diamond. Did MCA actually carry a bass up a mountain? Yes, at least metaphorically...and for the reader, that's all that really matters.

The Current's Beastie Boys Book Giveaway

Use this form to enter The Current's Beastie Boys Book giveaway between 7:45 a.m. CDT on Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2018 and 11:59 p.m. CDT on Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2018.

One (1) winner will receive one (1) hardcover copy of Beastie Boys Book. Three (3) backup names will be drawn.

Prize retail value: $50.00

We will contact the winners on Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2018. Winner must accept by 10 a.m. CT on Thursday, Nov. 29, 2018.

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