Quick way to date yourself: name the first Beastie Boys album you bought (or heard). If you somehow got your hands on an original pressing of their first single “Cooky Puss”—released in 1981 when the then-foursome was a New York hardcore band—congratulations, you’re a legend. If you first bought 1986’s Licensed to Ill—their major label debut and coming-out as a crude rap-rock parody threesome (minus fired drummer Kate Schellenbach), precision-engineered to freak your parents out—congrats, you’re old.
In whatever era you discovered them—Paul’s Boutique, Check Your Head, Ill Communication… maybe even their last album, 2011’s Hot Sauce Committee Part Two—you discovered a different Beasties than the previous generation did. Over the course of their 30-year career, the trio evolved and matured, grew up and got down with new grooves to suit new audiences. That’s always been a very good thing.
As Mike D, Ad-Rock, and MCA—three personalities as distinctive as the three Stooges—got better at what they did, they transcended the misogynist, meatheaded mid-eighties incarnation they came to look back on with embarrassment and apology. “We got so caught up with making fun of that rock-star persona,” writes Adam Horowitz (Ad-Rock) in the huge new Beasties memoir, “that we became that persona. Became what we hated.”
Rob Harvilla calls these very genuine moments of self-reflection the best parts of the book. But with so many stories over so many years, so much brilliant writing, and so many guest appearances from celebrity Beastie Boy fans, that’s a tough call. “Part memoir, part photo-heavy zine, part fan-appreciation testimonial… and part sincere apology,” the book seems both fresh and made to order and a veritable buffet table of nostalgia. Or, as Amy Poehler puts it in her intro to a section on their videos: “These days, their music makes me feel young and old at the same time.”
Behind the silliness and sincerity there is mourning for third Beastie Adam Yauch (MCA), who died of cancer in 2012 and whose voice is conspicuously absent from the book. Yet the two remaining members choose not to dwell. “You brace for the heartbreaking account of Yauch’s diagnosis and death,” Harvilla writes, “but those details go undiscussed. ‘Too fucking sad to writing about’ is all Horovitz has to say.’” The prevailing atmosphere is celebratory, like any good Beastie Boys album—this one a party full of adult peers looking back, laughing, and wincing at their younger selves.
The voices on the page are so vivid you can squint and almost hear them (at one point Horovitz describes unwinding a cassette tape as “pulling 60 minutes of wet fettuccine out of a dog’s mouth”). But we don’t have to imagine what they sound like. Along with the 571-page hardbound cinderblock of a book, the band has released what Rolling Stone hails as the “audiobook of the year,” a “brilliant 13-hour radio play” in which Mike D and Ad-Rock are joined by a majorly star-studded cast of guest readers including Snoop Dogg, Kim Gordon, Steve Buscemi, Chloë Sevigny, Wanda Sykes, Jon Stewart, Ben Stiller, and Bette Midler (that’s just the very short list).
New York hip hop legends LL Cool J, Chuck D, and Rev Run (of Run DMC) show up, as does Brooklyn acting legend Rosie Perez and non-New Yorkers Exene Cervenka and Elvis Costello. (See the full cast list at Audible.) It’s not a memoir, it’s a mixtape. Hear excerpts from the audio book in the SoundCloud clips above and buy it online, or download it for free through Audible.com’s 30-day free trial program. Guaranteed, no matter what age you are, to make you feel young and old at the same time.
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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness.
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