In keeping with the theme of the last post, here’s some more Licensed to Ill-era goodness from the Beastie Boys.
A non-album track, “She’s On It” was originally released on the soundtrack for the 1985 flick Krush Groove. (And here’s a party icebreaker for ya: Krush Groove was written by Ralph Farquhar, father of quick-lipped L.A. rapper Busdriver, born Regan Farquhar.)
I own this track on a 7-inch, the flip side to a “Fight for Your Right” single, which makes sense because the songs are close siblings, infused with the crunchy Rick Rubin-inspired guitar riffs that probably helped ease the Beasties’ transition from punk band to hip-hop heads. (And I think that’s a VERY young Rubin making a cameo in this video.)
It’s seriously difficult to not sing the “Fight for Your Right” lyrics to this song. I think they’re interchangeable, which might be part of Rubin’s genius. But hey, at least there’s some hot ’80s beach bods to distract you.
I was overwhelmed Monday by very kind and unbelievably flattering feedback on my post about MCA, which probably speaks more to the legacy and impact of the Beastie Boys than anything. I heard from so many people from various corners of my life who were all recalling their best Beasties stories or mourning MCA’s death in their own ways. Maybe it’s not Buddy Holly and the day the music died, but it feels like a defining moment for a certain generation of music fans.
So it didn’t seem right to let it end on just one post. This isn’t news that should be shoved aside so quickly. Besides, there’s a wealth of content out there, so much of which I’m seeing/hearing for the first time.
Take this clip from 1987, when the Beastie Boys stormed Joan Rivers’ talk show to play two songs (“Fight for Your Right” and “Time to Get Ill”) and chat with Rivers during the promotion run for Licensed to Ill (“That’s a stupid name for an album,” she says, laughing, when introducing the band). This was a time of the Beasties at their brashest – bratty personas that, with the luxury of hindsight, almost feel like a put-on.
After news broke of Adam Yauch’s death on Friday, I spent a good portion of my weekend doing what just about everyone else whoever loved the Beastie Boys did: I listened to Check Your Head. I listened to Licensed to Ill. I listened to Ill Communication. I listened to Paul’s Boutique. You get the idea. In the context of my life as a music fan â€“ but, more important, as an adult just 13 years younger than Yauch was when he died â€“ the passing of MCA is difficult to grasp.
Honestly, I hadn’t dusted off those albums in awhile, and I was surprised at how easily I remembered all the lyrics â€“ my mental muscle memory proving just what is important in life. I couldn’t tell you what I ate for dinner last night, but I can recite “Pass the Mic” in a pinch if you need (not likely a skill that will save me in the event of, say, a bear attack).
My memories of the Beastie Boys reach back to my first days of actually owning music. I remember Run-DMC’s Tougher Than Leather and LL Cool J’s Bigger and Deffer as my first cassettes. But Licensed to Ill started an obsession. I wanted to learn every word. Do you know how cool it felt to rap along to “Paul Revere” as a 12-year-old? I’ll tell you: Pretty fucking cool. (Turns out I can still do it at 34.)
Though I know Paul’s Boutique is hailed as the Beasties’ artistic masterpiece â€“ and it is incredible, as is the 33 1/3 book on it by Dan LeRoy â€“ it was Check Your Head that really crystallized my fandom. The first thing I could think of after learning of MCA’s death were the countless high school days my best friend and I spent listening to that album (in between games of Tecmo Super Bowl). Where Licensed to Ill tends to sound cartoonish and dated in spots (“Girls,” especially), Check Your Head still feels funky and fresh.
And that’s just the thing: The Beastie Boys were still viable into the 2000s, up to last year’s release of Hot Sauce Committee Part Two. They looked older, yeah, but they never came across as a group surviving on nostalgia. My friends and I have often argued about who the top three American bands are. If you’re talking artistic integrity, talent, mass appeal and influence, you’d be a fool to exclude the Beastie Boys. Looking back on my high school days, it’s hard to think of a group that was loved more by so many disparate cliques. Stoners and jocks could at least agree that the Beastie Boys were the shit. (Beavis and Butt-head second that emotion.)
I’m rarely moved or shaken by celebrity death. It’s too distant to really comprehend. How do you grieve for someone you don’t know? But this one somehow feels different. I was a junior in high school when Kurt Cobain killed himself. I’d like to think I understood the impact of that, but in reality I was still too young, and the concept of his death was too foreign; as a 16-year-old, I couldn’t have possibly grasped why someone would shoot himself. But now I’m 34 â€“ paranoid about every little ache and pain, of which there seem to be more each day â€“ and Adam Yauch died of cancer at 47 years old. Forty-seven fucking years old. My family and friends have been affected by cancer, in all its hideous forms. This feels real. When someone in a band that you followed from your pre-teen years well into adulthood dies, it says something about where you are in life, too. Jason Woodbury said it perfectly at the Phoenix New Times: “Beastie Boys aren’t supposed to die.” A group that embodied and soundtracked the recklessness of youth â€“ of my youth â€“ has been quieted. I feel sad for MCA and the family and friends he left behind and I feel sad about the music we’ll never hear, but mostly I suddenly feel vulnerable.