Book Reviews Celebrities Music

What I’ve Been Reading: Beastie Boys Book by Michael Diamond and Adam Horovitz

My only real complaint about this book is that it’s incredibly unwieldy. You’re risking serious bodily harm if you read it while lying down. If you drift off into a nap for even a second, it’s unlikely your arms will support this behemoth. But if you know the Beastie Boys, or read this book to learn more about them, they have never been in the business of practicality. Their music-making process is largely based on thumbing their nose at organization and convention. They obviously approached this project with the same attitude. And, of course, they produced a book with their own brand of charm and style. Not only can you learn the history of the boys and the band, you can also get an educational background about early hip-hop from guys who were right in the thick of it. The Beastie Boys have this paradoxical way of being cocky and unrelenting in the art they produce, while maintaining an impressive humility in the way they carry themselves.

If you aren’t familiar with them, the Beastie Boys are a hip-hop trio from New York City. They were very involved in the punk scene in NYC, both going to shows and eventually forming a hardcore band called The Young Aborigines. They eventually became infatuated with the burgeoning rap and hip-hop world. They started performing more and more hip-hop, and eventually gained respect and fans. They met Rick Rubin and Russel Simmons, who eventually formed the massively important label Def Jam. The Beastie Boys recorded their multi-platinum album Licensed to Ill with them, and they were off and running.

The bulk of the writing in this book is carried by Adam Horovitz and Mike Diamond, a.k.a. Ad-Rock and Mike D of the Beastie Boys. The third member of the band, Adam “MCA” Yauch, tragically passed away in 2012 after battling cancer. He was only 47 years old. Several sections of the book are written by friends, DJs, musicians, and others close to the group. Some examples include DJ Anita Sarko, who they spent a lot of time with in one of their favorite early clubs named “Rock Lounge.” Spike Jonze (Jackass, Being John Malkovich, Her, many music and skate videos, etc.) recounts his friendship with the band members and also provided some of the coolest photographs from the band’s heyday. Amy Poehler even provides several comical reviews of their music videos. These are great because they complement whatever the Beastie Boys wrote about. You get another point of view about the clubs, studios, offices, apartments, record stores, and music gear shops they inhabited. You also get personal recollections about the behavior of the Beastie Boys themselves. That is invaluable information when trying to create a thorough history. By not limiting it to just two guys’ memories, you really get a fuller vision of what was going on.

This book treats the readers to in-depth looks at the samples or instruments used to create their songs. They’re absolutely obsessive about the details, and it’s astounding that they can still remember all of the intricate pieces that were involved in the creation of their music. Tied into all of those things is an intense love for music of all different kinds and varieties. If I had to choose just one compliment to give Adam and Mike about the book, I would tell them that the book had me constantly seeking out more information about stuff they talked about. While reading, I was constantly looking up musicians I’d never heard of, studying about how drum machines work, and listening to songs that they sampled over the years. The book transferred the same kind of wonderfully obsessive nature of the Beastie Boys’ personalities when it comes to music.

The book also has a slew of incredible photographs and visual aids from various points in their career. It is truly awesome to see the evolution of their clothing styles, the music moguls that they rubbed shoulders with, and handwritten notes and drawings from creative sessions.

Throughout the book, there are little notes jammed within the regular text, often in a different color font. They use an interesting technique where one guy would comment on the already written text from the other guy. Interestingly, it kind of mimics the way they seamlessly rap back and forth, just stringing together their thoughts to create one cohesive piece. And, like their playful rap patterns and phrasing, these comments add clever little bits of humor, wisdom, and jabs.

The most touching aspect of the book is that Adam and Mike clearly had the intention of making it their own kind of memorial to the deceased Adam Yauch. Stories of Yauch’s incredible creativity, concern for social issues, and Zen-like approach to life abound in the book. Sincere reverence for their friend and fellow band member is shown often, and it adds a really sweet aspect to the book.

I highly recommend this book if you have even remote interest in the Beastie Boys, hip-hop history, NYC, or even just music in general. Some serious passion went into this book –enough to justify the physical bulk and weight. Just don’t pull a muscle trying to hold it up while reading.

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