|The Beastie Boys in Hollywood|
|by Robert Lloyd / from the Washington Post February 22 1987|
Stretched out on the sofa, Adam Yauch, 22, known to his fans as MCA, asks, "Who was that on the telephone?"
Ad-Rock and MCA, along with Mike (Mike D) Diamond, 21, constitute the Beastie Boys, the phenomenally successful all-white rap-cum-metal-cum-punk trio out of New York City whose recently released Licensed to Ill is the fastest selling debut album in the history of Columbia Records -- over two million sold and more moving at the rate of 200,000 every week. It may currently be found resting comfortably at No. 2, with a bullet, on the Billboard charts.
"Rrrrrrrgggggh," says Ad-Rock,
It's almost noon, but the surrounding disarray -- the unmade bed, scattered newspapers, balls of laundry plopped like errant tumbleweeds of T-shirts and sweat shirts and jeans -- the gray light of a cloud-slung sky filtering in from the balcony and the strange, unshakable sensation that a massive hangover lurks close by conspire to make the hour seem earlier. A sluggish calm suffuses the hotel room. This might be the Sargasso Sea, if it weren't West Hollywood.
MCA sits up slowly. "You were drinking champagne with Molly?" There's an empty bottle on the coffee table.
"Yeah," says Ad-Rock. "It was the worst champagne I ever had in my life."
"It's really expensive."
Ad-Rock punches a button on his blaster. The Beatles' "Norwegian Wood" pours suddenly out, loud and gruesomely distorted.
"Could you turn that up a little?" asks MCA.
The doorbell rings and in walks Mike D, the b-boy fashion plate. Hung from a hefty chain around his neck is an insignia off the hood of a Volkswagen. The duck-billed cap on his head is lettered "GUCCI." His sneakers have no laces.
"I think I figured it out," he says. "The girl in the next room wants to fuck me, so she took my L.A. Times this morning so I couldn't get my own review, and now I've got to go knock on her door to get it back."
"Mike, nobody wants to fuck you except me and Ad-Rock. The Elephant Man wouldn't fuck you."
"Elephant," murmurs Mike D. "Elephant, elephant."
Two nights earlier, before an audience composed of willingly collusive teens white, black, Latino and otherwise, in an atmosphere several trillion times more hectic than that of Ad-Rock's hotel room, the Beastie Boys played their first show as headliners in Los Angeles. They've been here twice before, as a notoriously ill-received curtain raiser for Madonna and as part of an all-rap extravaganza starring their good friends Run-DMC, which collapsed in unfortunate violence. Any reprise of that, they promised the crowd, "and none of us are ever coming back here again."
Not to worry. With no sacrifice of pandemonium, the show at the Hollywood Palladium ran like a dream, albeit a fever dream. It was a party any kid not completely out of touch with his or her baser instincts would have been proud to throw or thrilled to attend.
"We get a good mix," MCA will say later, " a lot of people from different cultures. A lot of black kids will come up to me and say, 'It's really cool that you play music for black kids.' That's the way they see it. And the white kids go, 'It's good that there's finally a white rap band,' and they sort of identify with you. The interesting thing is that they all think they're the ones the music is for."
Some features of a Beastie Boys performance: Elise, a former Times Square "exotic" dancer, gyrating in a giant bird cage. Hurricane, the Beastie Boys' DJ, mixing and scratching at a brace of turntables set atop a two-story six of Budweiser. Copious supplies of genuine brew, no can of which is opened before being thoroughly shaken, and as much of which ends up on the audience or on the band as in anyone's mouth. And a seemingly inexhaustible reserve of rude, crude, house rocking post adolescent energy -- "We drink and rob and rhyme and pillage!" is their chanted credo -- all of it freely spent.
The cherry on this sundae two nights ago was the surprise guest appearance of Run-DMC, with whom the Beastie Boys share management, a record label (Def. Jam, distributed by Columbia), a producer (Rick Rubin -- often, and to the group's continued annoyance, called its Svengali) and a penchant for mixing rap with hard rock. That's the formula that's made both bands the forces they are today. Run-DMC best-selling hip-hop remake of Aerosmith's heavy '70s classic "Walk This Way" drove rap's first wedge into white radio. When they performed it at the Palladium, the ground trembled for blocks around. All that could follow it, and follow it did, was the headliners' own near archetypal brat anthem "Fight for Your Right (To Party"), a megaton cruncher that pulled fists into the air, girlfriends onto boyfriends' shoulders and the irresistible chorus out of the mouth of every patron not yet too blitzed to form words.
Only days before, the city of San Diego had canceled a holdout Beastie Boys concert, perhaps in overreaction to reports of on-stage exhortations to riot, flying beer cans and the much-discussed (by journalists, if by no one else) sociopathic cant of the group's Howitzer raps. But, Mike D points out, "We played L.A. and it was completely peaceful."
It is true that the Beastie Boy's songs have much to do with wholesale sex, drink, fast food (White Castle is several times praised), trash culture (snatches of the Mr. Ed and Green Acres themes have been scratched into the album's closing moments) and a cartoony sort of pistol-packing mayhem, equal parts Sergio Leone and Wile E. Coyote ("Because mutiny on the Bounty's what we're all about!"), with precious little thought paid to the consequences. And it is true that the three have been banned for life from a certain English hotel chain for enlisting bits of furniture in the service of an impromptu indoor cookout, and from the offices of CBS, parent of their record company, for that business of the missing camera, and then there was the sad affair of the executive whose wig or toupee or whatever it was fell off, or was pulled off.
But these are things, they feel, that could have
happened to anybody! Really, they are not wholly
irresponsible. For it is also true that a rider in the
Beastie Boys' contract calls for their dressing room to
be stocked not just with pretzels, beer, tequila, Jack
Daniels and chocolate milk, but with a "rainbow
assortment of condoms" as well. You could call that
responsible, or at any rate careful.
The Beastie Boys don't own a car, though they plan to acquire motorcycles as soon as they're home long enough to acquire anything. For a long while their necessarily preferred mode of urban transit was this: Mike D would ride his bicycle and pull Ad-Rock and MCA, on skateboards, along behind him. "Mike was on this exercise trip," says MCA, "and we said, 'Yo, Mike, if you're going to bother to go to the gym and ride the bogus bicycle, why don't you just ride around and pull us?' It worked out better for everybody."
Those were the days they shared an apartment in New York's Chinatown, beneath a sweatshop and over a whorehouse. It was a hovel, but the tenants could play music all night long as loud as they wanted -- and they wanted it loud. The Beastie Boys began, in fact, as a hardcore punk band (and those are very loud), originally called The Young and the Useless. They plan eventually to reintroduce musical instruments into their performances. Meanwhile, they are quick to mention that with only a couple of exceptions, they play everything on the album.
"We're still a hardcore band," Mike D maintains.
"We started doing rap in our shows," says MCA. "We'd put down the instruments and rap for half the show. Then we just decided it would be kind of exciting to be an all-rap band. And we met Russell Simmons [of Def Jam Records and now the Beastie Boys' manager], and he was like, 'Oh, this is really cool. A white rap group's really cool.' So he wanted to get down with it. And when we found out that he was Run-DMC's manager, we thought, 'Wow!'"
"Russell was the first person to take us to black clubs," says Mike D, "where virtually no one had seen a white person rap before, and we were going in front of the worst b-boy crowds. This was really hardcore b-boy, up in the Bronx and the worst part of Queens. It was intimidating at first, but once our singles started to come out, and they began to know us, it was like we were just another rap group. It was almost like, 'Oh, those are those ill white kids.'"
Not only ill, but in the argot, chill, fresh and definitely def. The elements of hip-hop are by now familiar to anyone who's spent more than two hours in front of a TV set -- it seems to have become the music of choice for ad jingles -- but not until the ascendance of the Def Jam boys has rap been so primed to explode into the general culture. It's the most potent youth music now going, and even given the eternally transient nature of pop, this party is far from over.
The Beastie Boys, for all the torpor of this morning after, are just getting warmed up. They'll make their second screen appearance in the forthcoming Run-DMC film Tougher Than Leather (their first was in 1985's Krush Groove, the source of their first important single, "She's On It"), and by the end of February will have finished writing their own first feature, Scared Stupid. They hope to begin production by the end of June, upon returning from Europe and Japan -- and a Washington stop this spring. "We're talking to John Cleese about directing it," says Mike D, "except that he says he wants to take a seven-year hiatus from the film industry."
And there's more:
"That," says MCA, standing, "is another story unto itself."¶
Copyright Robert Lloyd © 1987 and 2000