Growing Up Beastie
A bratty teenager follows his white-boy heroes into adulthood
By Mark Bazer
JULY 13, 1998: It's 10:03 on a Saturday morning, and I've been up since dawn, hanging out in a 90-degree supermarket parking lot discussing the upcoming Beastie Boys album with kids who weren't even born when I learned that one must fight for one's right to party. I'm next in line for tickets, confident of getting decent seats to a Beasties show, when the inexplicable happens.
The guy in front of me steps up to the ticket window and says, "I'd like two tickets to Bauhaus."
Bauhaus? This sends the woman working the Ticketmaster machine into a tizzy. She can't figure out how to change the settings on the computer, and by the time the manager deals with a woman returning a bad cantaloupe and then fixes the machine, all the good Beasties tickets have been sold at other Ticketmaster outlets. As I barge out of the supermarket, I bump into a guy who says, "Oh -- hey, man, how'd you make out?"
Without looking up, I scowl: "Terrible. This complete jerkoff in front of me bought tickets to Bauhaus, if you can imagine."
"That was me," he says.
It's not the first time I've let my obsession with the Beasties get the better of me. Where the Beastie Boys are concerned, I'm the guy who takes it too far. I'm the one who stays up till 4 a.m. waiting for their video to come on; who has realized on more than one Friday afternoon that he's shown up to work every day that week wearing a different Beasties T-shirt. My Beastiemania has often been a blessing -- I can't count the number of times "Hey Ladies" has helped me psych myself up to call a girl, or that I've successfully robbed a bank after hearing "Rhymin' and Stealin'." But I can also remember, distinctly, each time the Beasties have turned me into an ass.
The first time was in 1986, the morning after my parents had spent two hours outside the Providence Civic Center, getting drenched by rain while my friends and I were inside getting drenched by the beer MCA poured on our heads. That next morning my mom read a concert review in the paper, which for some reason felt compelled to inform parents about the giant inflatable penis and the woman in the cage. She, to say the least, was not pleased. I didn't care. I shoved my face into hers and belted out, "Aww, Ma, you're just jealous, it's the Beastie Boys!"
Now, 12 years later, it took all the restraint I had not to yell the same to the Bauhaus guy. Could it be that I'm still the same Beastie brat I was when I was 13? Well, sort of, but I'd like to think that the Beasties and I have grown together. Okay, I probably haven't had much influence on their lives -- but I can trace my life, my development, my Converse All-Stars to moments in Beastie history. My dad remembers where he was when Kennedy was shot; I was in my friend Andrew's basement when the "Pass the Mic" video premiered. The Beasties have helped shape me: they've taught me what was cool and funny, guided me through the culture, and reminded me that even when "I had a peg leg at the end of my stump," I must persevere and "shake my rump."
When Licensed to Ill came out in 1986, and all my junior-high pals were chanting "Paul Revere," I was leading the pimpled chorus. I certainly didn't live or even understand 90 percent of the things the Beasties were rapping about (Who is Abe Vigoda, anyway?), but I still felt that beneath their Adidas warmup suits, gold chains, and lives of wine and women, and beneath my Members Only jacket, Swatch, and life of cocoa and ping-pong sleepovers with my pal Jeremy, we shared the same approach to the world, the same wit and spirit. At our core, the four of us were all intelligent, sarcastic Jewish guys, irreverent and more than a little goofy.
I stuck with the Beasties when they became old news. Their second album, Paul's Boutique, didn't immediately show up on my radar, or on Zoo 94.5's; they became a forgotten novelty act and Licensed to Ill a guilty pleasure, something I listened to behind my bedroom door. Then, during my senior year, my friends and I discovered Paul's Boutique, and it became the soundtrack to our lives. Everything about the Beasties was cool. They filtered black street culture in a way I could relate to from inside my mom's minivan. (And, unlike Vanilla Ice, they didn't make white boys look like doofuses doing it.) They were always ahead of the curve: they dug the '70s long before it became a cliché; they were listening to Parliament when you could still only get their shit on wax. I might have been following the Beasties, but I was ahead of everyone else.
I pretended I was a Beastie. And so did my friends. I was MCA, Dave was Mike D., and Andrew was Adrock. On one spring-break road trip we played Paul's Boutique over and over again, each of us lost in our assigned part. We weren't just repeating lyrics -- well, we were just repeating lyrics, but we were also communicating. Like the Beasties, we were pals till the end, in a (Beastie) boys' club that gave us an outlet to brag, trash talk, and express our friendship in a way we couldn't in real life. Being a fan is more than the tangible evidence, the import CDs and oversize posters; it's a harmless release from reality, and when you can share that escape with others, it can be magical. Especially if you have a good bong.
When the Beasties made a comeback in 1991 with Check Your Head, it was both my moment of glory and my reality check. With the Beasties back on top, I was in Beastie bliss -- I had been with them since back in the day, and now that they got respect, I got respect. I mastered the way each of the B-Boys danced, and I did impressions at parties. The peak came when I was at a college formal, drunk out of my mind, and "So Watcha Want" came on. Everyone gathered around me. I threw up my arms victoriously and led the procession to the dance floor.
But my love affair with the Beasties was beginning to scare me a little. People associated me with them too much. Plus, what was with MCA's interest in Buddhism? Could it be that I wasn't really him? Then who was I? Dave was already Mike D., and Andrew was Adrock. But Andrew's kind of into Buddhism, I thought, so maybe he'd want to trade. Or maybe I wasn't really a Beastie at all. MCA was getting into Tibet, Mike D. into business, and Adrock into Ione Skye. I wasn't into any of those things. I was into my own shit -- beekeeping, origami, monster trucks.
I remember the night their fourth album, Ill Communication, came out. My girlfriend drove my friends and me to Tower Records at midnight. We all bought our discs, and Dave and Matt went back to the dorm to listen. I was stuck with my girlfriend, imagining Dave and Matt high-fiving each other and rocking the sure shot. It was one of those adult-defining moments where I felt, "I'm experiencing one of those adult-defining moments."
Now, three years later, as much as I still feel a spiritual bond with the Beasties, I know that underneath all my Beasties T-shirts (what am I gonna do, throw them out?), I have become a grownup. That's right, I am now a Beastie Man. And when the new album hits stores July 14, you can bet I'll be at Tower Records at midnight, pushing 15-year-olds out of my place in line.
Mark Bazer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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