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Twilight of the Brats

Adam”King Ad-Rock” Horovitz, Adam “MCA” Yauch, and Michael “Mike D” Diamondare on the back of a Lincoln Navigator, and we’re all driving toward aloft in Manhattan’s Lower East Side where the Beastie Boys used to playmusic while battling blood-hungry rats and unscrupulous landlords.We’ll arrive at the loft in ten minutes. But right now, there’s aterrier crossing the street, led by an old man wearing a cowboy hat.”This is a great story,” Yauch says, looking at Horovitz. “Tell thestory about the dog.”

“This fucking little piece of shit dog bit me twice,” saysHorovitz. The others don’t laugh, but not because the statement isn’tfunny–they don’t laugh because these guys always seem tocommunicate through one-liners. In Beastie World, this is conventional dialogue. Diamondsardonically voices fear that such a statement will make the BeastieBoys seem like animal haters, but Horovitz is unmoved. “I don’t hateanimals,” he says. “I hate thatdog. And that dude with the cowboy hat? That’s my neighbor. I went overto his house when I first moved in, and I rang his doorbell tointroduce myself. But there’s no answer. I wait and I buzz again. Thistime I hear the dog inside barking and barking. The guy finally comesto the door, and he’s 80 years old, and he’s completely naked, exceptfor his underwear. He opens the door six inches, and I say, ‘Hi, myname is Adam,’ and he says, ‘Don’t let the dog out.’ So I bend over andblock the door with my hand, and the dog bites my finger and will notlet go. I finally push the dog away, but now blood is everywhere. It’sall over my shirt. And the guy says, ‘I can’t talk now, I’m in myshorts.’ He closes the door on me. He never said a single word aboutthe dog!”

This is only the first half of the story, the second halfdetails another incident a year later involving the same terrier divinginto Horovitz’s calves with extreme prejudice. Diamond questions theaccuracy of the story, pointing to Horovitz’s inability to describe theold man’s underwear. Yauch suspects that Horovitz just visited theneighbor so that he could later ask to use the man’s swimming pool. Theconversation feels like something from what MTV would have classifiedas a “rockumentary” in 1989. It’s clever, rapid, and a bit vapid.

We’re driving around New York because more than anything,the city defines who the Beastie Boys are. We’re touring the placesthey loved before anyone loved them, and the trio is at the apex oftheir comfort: operating as an insular group, obscurely referencing oneanother’s obscure references, bantering about the quality ofpedestrians’ mustaches, and making a living off their sharp, city-bredwits. When all three Beasties are in the same place at the same time,it’s impossible to get a straight answer about anything.

And it’s not much easier when they’re alone.

For nearly 20 years, the Beastie Boys have representedall things to all people; they just haven’t done so at any one time. On1986’s Licensed to Ill, they were downtown wiseass punkspretending to be suburban imbeciles; they toured with Madonna, datedMolly Ringwald, and embraced black culture so aggressively that theyalmost seemed to ridicule it. By 1989’s Paul’s Boutique, theyhad evolved into musically protean West Coast stoners with an affinityfor billy goats and Japanese baseball legends (Sadaharu Oh). Check Your Head proved they could play their own instruments and became 1992’s college-rock prototype for knit-hat slackers. Ill Communicationshowed how rap rock should be done with “Sabotage” and became thesoundtrack for ’94 Lollapalooza ticket holders who wanted to reminisceabout episodes of Starsky & Hutch they’d never actually seen. Hello Nastywas for Buddhist-loving electro ironists interested in Boggle andinsane reggae legends (Lee Perry). And through it all, the Beastieshave always been a step ahead of the cultural curve.

Few groups have changed their ideological existence as muchas the Beastie Boys. For more than 40 years, the Rolling Stones haveexpressed the same general sentiments that they did in 1964; AC/DC hasbeen around for 31 years, and they’re still expressing the exactsame sentiments that they did in the summer of ’74. Ideologically, theBeastie Boys have almost nothing in common with who they used to be. Ifthe ’86 B-Boys and the ’04 B-Boys met each other now, somebody wouldend up in the emergency room–or at least covered in egg yolks. Yet onething has remained unchanged over the years, and it’s the unifyingprinciple that has allowed Horovitz, Yauch, and Diamond to remainrelevant longer than anyone could have anticipated: The Beastie Boys understand what it means to be cool.It’s almost as if being cool is their full-time job. They can make anyretro reference seem contemporary; they innately sense the line betweensavvy cultural recognition and esoteric self-indulgence. They basically discovered Spike Jonze, made shouting outneglected soul-jazz musicians trendy (Dick Hyman, Eddie Harris, Richard”Groove” Holmes), and taught people born in 1978 to care about theAmerican Basketball Association. The Beastie Boys are hip-hop’s versionof the “mavens” that Malcolm Gladwell wrote about in The Tipping Point: They are cool hunters for the rest of us.

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