Ad-Rock and Mike D on four wild decades, their friend Adam Yauch – aka MCA – and why they decided to write a book about it all
“Mike,” says Adam Horovitz, aka Ad-Rock, aka one-third of the Beastie Boys. “Are you drinking something through a straw? Umm … I might have been,” says Michael Diamond, aka Horowitz’s longtime bandmate Mike D.
“You want to remove that thing from in front of the [phone], please?” says Horowitz. I thought the steel ones were meant to be silent,” says Diamond. We’re trying to have a conversation,’ says Horovitz. You know that straws are banned here?” says Diamond, and then his phone reception breaks up. All right, well, they’re banning straws,” says Horowitz. “Can you ask your question again? I apologise for Mike, he’s the worst.”
I’m on a conference call with the two surviving members of the Beastie Boys who, throughout the conversation, engage in the sort of deadpan mutual merciless mockery that is only possible between people who have been very good friends for a very long time. It’s 38 years since Diamond met a boy called Adam Yauch at a Bad Brains gig and started what would eventually become the Beastie Boys; Adam Horovitz joined the band in 1983.
Yauch, aka MCA, died of cancer in 2012, but now Horovitz and Diamond have documented their experiences in Beastie Boys Book, a lavishly illustrated and enormously entertaining volume that traces the trio’s evolution from hardcore teens in New York to breakthrough rap stars to socially conscious hip-hop legends. Adam Yauch was a big fan of the 1979 Who documentary The Kids Are Alright, and had talked of making a Beasties film in a similar vein. After his death, his bandmates were, Diamond says, just “too sad” to consider taking on the project. “But eventually we felt: okay, it’s now or never.”
They decided to write a book. “We basically met up and started making a list of things that would be interesting to write about and things that people might want to read about,” says Horovitz. “And then just divvied them up – Mike, you take this; Adam, you take that.” The book’s narrative bounces between their voices – although they each add footnotes to the other’s chapters. “It wasn’t that different to writing lyrics for songs,” says Horowitz. “[In the band] we would just write our own thing and then bounce it off the other … and that’s what we did with the book, too.”
New York’s influence
The book is not a straightforward memoir. One section is a graphic novel. Another is a series of recipes. There are chapters written by other people, including Amy Poehler, the band’s frequent collaborator Spike Jonze, and Kate Schellenbach, the Beasties’ original drummer, who was ousted in 1984 after the boys teamed up with Rick Rubin and Russell Simmons of Def Jam. “When we were thinking about what we thought the book could be like, we thought it would be cool in some way to have it be like our records,” said Horovitz. “We sampled a lot of musicians and so for this book we had guest writers.”
All three Beastie Boys grew up in New York, and the book offers an incredibly vivid picture of what it was like to be a teenager in a scuzzy, brilliantly creative city. They began as a hardcore band (the first time they were all in the same room was a Black Flag gig in 1981), but when downtown Manhattan clubs began to embrace rap, everything changed. “We could only have been [what we became] in New York,” says Diamond. “We could have grown up in the suburbs but the output would have been vastly different.”
Their 1984 single Rock Hard was one of the very first releases from Def Jam Recordings, and in 1985 they supported Madonna on tour. “It felt like being little kids in hotels when we were on those tours, “ says Horovitz. “Like playing grown-ups.”