Friday, May 4, 2012

Going Out First Class

I'm gonna die gonna die one day
Cause I'm goin and goin and goin this way
Not like a roach or a piece of toast
I'm going out first class not going out coach
-- Beastie Boys, "The Sounds of Science"

The first time I heard the Beastie Boys, I hated them and thought they were a stupid joke.  Maybe it's because they made me feel old -- and this was half my lifetime ago.  I was reminded of this today when the band's Adam Yauch died at the tender age of 47.

A friend's girlfriend was so obsessed with them that when I was at her downtown apartment she insisted on playing me all of Licensed to Ill -- on a boombox.  On cassette. (I think it was the Pleistocene era.) [To learn what became of said cassette see comments.]

My reaction made me sound like my father when he talked about any rock music: to me, it sounded like a bunch of frat guys yelling. Many of the catchy melodies were literally stolen from famous records. 

Even though I worked at Rolling Stone at the time -- or perhaps because of it -- I dismissed them as a novelty act cobbled together by rap impresario Rick Rubin to cynically cross black music over to white kids in the age-old tradition of Elvis, Johnny Rivers, et al. 

The Boys: Adam Yauch, Mike Diamond, Adam Horovitz
Then the album sold millions, largely thanks to the single "Fight for Your Right to Party" which hewed to another age-old tradition, pandering to kids' anti-authoritarian impulses -- much more safely than the Clash - - and a crude funny video that actually featured pie-throwing [right] sealed the deal. 

And then -- because the gods have a sense of humor -- I was immediately assigned to go on the road with them and their prop: a jack-in-the-box inflatable penis. 

I could have predicted this. Though I had gotten my Rolling Stone job thanks in part to writing a cover story on Talking Heads, once I was hired, I realized it was a fluke, that I was the rookie who would never get assigned plum pieces on iconic legends in mid-career. Also, I tended to write funny, and the magazine tended to be reverential about those folks. So I got the newbies, the novelties, the comedians. 

Even though I hadn't been reporting very long, however, I already knew that if you approached a story with preconceived notions, you were doing it wrong. So I remained open -- and the boys won me over.
And I do mean boys. When I met up with them in Louisville, Ad-Rock (Adam Horovitz, son of the off-Broadway playwright Israel Horovitz) was 20, Mike D (Michael Diamond) was 21, and MCA (Yauch) was the elder statesman at 22. (Mike told me they came up with their nicknames because "it's hard to find things that rhyme with Yauch, Horovitz and Diamond.")

I discovered that

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