Oh, Beastie Boys, how do I love thee? I remember a friend had an uncle who was a DJ in Los Angeles in the 80‘s and this was how we acquired a copy of Licensed To Ill. Soon the C90s were being passed around and we were all utterly transfixed with the record. Next, of course, the ‘outrage‘ began and we were astounded to see our new favourite band on the cover of every red top newspaper, calling for our boys to be sent home. Great times.
As I got older Paul‘s Boutique became my goto, in fact it ranks as one of my fave albums ever now, yet at the time…(as the movie states…) Crickets. I don‘t ever remember hearing it. I can recall me and my friends all buying Check Your Head on day one, but the middle masterpiece? Nope, nothing.
By the time they hit Ill Communication/Hello Nasty, I had pretty much zoned out, the mixture of comedy videos and Free Tibet politicising leaving me cold. After the fact this seems quite funny, as the debut album which i LOVED is now very much seen as a ‘comedy‘ record too, especially by the band right here, so you would have thought I would have loved the giant robots and bad cops. Don‘t worry, I do now. Although I did not come back in real time until the excellent For The Five Boroughs, which seemed to return to the sound/ideals of P.B.
Now in the cold blue light of 2020, I can appreciate it all and so I was very excited when Apple TV announced Beastie Boys Story, directed by long time collaborator Spike Jonze.Beastie Boys Story is not how I imagined it to be. I was expecting the usual ‘talking heads‘ documentary with perhaps some comments on old videos, live footage etc by the two remaining members, but the film is much more intimate than that.
It is actually a recording of a live show presented by Mike D and Ad Rock, both completely charming and mesmerising, where they comment no-holds-barred (a relevant phrase as they reveal the promotion of the debut was influenced by Rick Rubin‘s love of wrestling!) on the high points and low points down the years, not glossing over anything or giving less time to the less successful periods.It is excellent to see the old MTV footage and live footage from vintage Madonna tours and Yo MTV Raps when they were just a glint in Rubin‘s musical eye.
Watching them watch themselves and grow wide eyed watching the giant penises and beer mountains of those heady days of the debut is very entertaining, especially as they catch themselves and seem to play the ‘we were young‘ card on many occasions when they are obviously having the time of their lives in the footage.
It soon hits the ‘be careful what you wish for‘ stage, where the drugs and alcohol became much more important than the music and the Paul‘s Boutique part of the show should be essential viewing for anyone starting a band. Here they are, on top of the world, living in a giant rented house with a swimming pool with a bridge over it and Ad Rock living in a section that backs onto said pool, so his fellow Boys can knock on the window FROM THE BOTTOM OF THE POOL to invite him to breakfast. It is pure Guns N Roses.
And then they were broke.
The fanfare around the sophomore album was second to none, interviews, radio shows, record company events, the whole hog and nothing. The album sank without a trace and they recall getting a call that their finances were not where they used to be. Luckily there was a light at the end of the (swimming pool) tunnel and their contract with Capitol meant they were given a new dose of cash to make another record and this time instead of a giant mansion, they downgraded and spent the money making a studio which allowed them to create at their own pace without bleeding out money. The resulting masterpiece Check Your Head became a heady mix of rap, rock and hardcore and as the songs play out on the screen, it still sounds fresh today and you can see the Boys‘ pride in it.
Both Mike D and Ad Rock continue to spin the tunes and spin the surprising tales and two hours soon flies by, doing what all the best music documentaries do, sending you back to your collection to listen again, enjoy the memories and consider the new insights that Jonze‘s excellent documentary revealed. Beastie Boys Story is an essential tale of essential tunes, excessive behavior and utterly bewildering imagination and reinvention. Dedicated to Adam Yauch, the tale of 3 young punkers and their journey to the stars is made better by the band members embracing at the end, no classic falling out stories, this band always played by their own rules & still do today.
Take a look back, you won‘t regret it.
(Beastie Boys Story is streaming on Apple TV+ – 7 Day Free Trial available…)