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SPIN’s Chris Weingarten: How Mishearing Beastie Boys’ MCA Changed My Life

Adam Yauch / Photo by Lynn Goldsmith/Corbis

Today marks the release of the first batch of Singles Notes, an affordable new Kindle essay series from the legendary reissue label Rhino. The first five essays in the series feature writing from esteemed journalists including SPIN contributor Michaelangelo Matos and veteran rock wordsmith Gene Sculatti. But we’re most excited about one by SPIN senior editor and irascible internet crank Christopher R. Weingarten: Every Day I Take A Wee: The Beastie Boys and the Untimely Death of Suburban Folklore. In his first piece of autobiographical writing ever, Weingarten explores how mishearing the lyrics to the Beasties’ Licensed to Ill shaped his life, ultimately exploring music’s relationship with suburban folklore and urban legends. Misinterpreted Beasties lyrics conjure up shocking fantasies, album art minutiae sparks high school screaming matches, and White Castle eating contests are strongly discouraged. Here is an exclusive excerpt… because we know the guy. And buy your copy here.

At age eight, I didn’t understand most of the lyrics on Licensed To Ill. Mainly because words like “def” and “homepiece” and “most illingest b-boys” and “skeezing with a whore” were a foreign language in a suburbia still choking on the Aqua Net haze of Bon Jovi’s populist cheesecake rock and John Cougar Mellencamp’s burbsploitative paeans to boring towns and boring music. Plus I wasn’t even 24 hours into being eight. What is a “wooler”? Or “dust”? Or “Abe Vigoda,” for that matter? I didn’t have an older brother of my own to guide me, I didn’t have MTV and I certainly wasn’t going to ask my parents (even if my dad did teach me the timeless poem “The Midnight Ride of Diarrhea,” winner of multiple playground Pulitzers). I didn’t speak Beastie, so I could only gather contextual evidence from the crude ‘tude coloring each yelp. I had to invent my own narrative.

Chuck Eddy, a music writer who the Beastie Boys once soaked with a wastebasket full of water, once said, “There’s no such thing as factual errors when quoting lyrics; the ‘correct’ lyrics are whatever you hear, not what’s on the lyric sheet.” Licensed To Ill came with no lyric sheet, and to this day my emotional connections to that record were formed on the misunderstandings, distortions and selective hearing of an eight-year-old.

MCA’s voice was the swarthiest, most gravelly, the dude you would least want to tangle with. In 1987, I was way too young to understand how the high alcohol content and affordable price of Olde English 800 malt liquor was a note-perfect symbol of his unshaven scumbaggery. To me, the line, “Every day, I drink O.E.” was misinterpreted as “Every day I take a wee.” And like oh wow radical, dude is bragging about taking a leak!

I was only a few years removed from the giggling pre-schooler who’d lawn-sprinklered grandma’s bathroom to see if my stream could reach the medicine cabinet. Now I didn’t even pee in the pool. I couldn’t even fathom what fantastic things MCA was pissing all over. Adding to the MCA mythos, I misheard his line “father to many, married to none” as “married to a nun.” Dude was not only a crazed piss maniac, but he was also defiling the Catholic Church! Sure, the heavy metal mythos of “satanic panic” was likely tearing through my neighborhood at the time, parents concerned about the possessed, glassy-eyed, black-clad teens spray-painting pentagrams under the Peace River Bridge. Little did they know, the Beastie Boys were dismantling the church from the inside, flipping nuns from their cloistered lives of servitude, luring them from the convent with the promise of a new life of limos, cold beers and turntables on the drum riser. The fact that the beat on “Paul Revere” plays backwards makes it one evil step closer to what I would later learn was “backmasking.” Preston’s dad had a copy of Queen’s “Another One Bites The Dust,” which we were soon spinning backwards to hear it say — sort-of, almost, not-exactly, OK-not-even-fucking-close — “It’s fun to smoke marijuana.”

When I was young, my father utilized many inventive tricks to keep me in line and keep me from pissing all over grandma’s bathroom mirror. The worst of his threats would be his promise to send me away to “The Bad School.” The Bad School was a grim combination of military camp, boarding school and blood-splattered dungeon that essentially defiled the United Nations Convention Against Torture every single day. At the Bad School, you were served bread and water. You stared at drab, grey brick walls. Daily beatings were meted out until you emerged reformed, no longer compelled to sass your teachers or parents. Gifted with words, my father would point out the Murdock Administration Building — in actuality, the hub of our local government — every time we drove past, dryly describing it as a place where they, in fact, administer punishment. Getting sent to the Bad School was a daily anxiety.

The Beastie Boys were the unapologetic voice of the malformed, misbehaved, loudmouths — “I’m cool, calm, collected; from class I was ejected.” Certainly they understood the unyielding atrocities that lurked within the walls of the Bad School. To relate to these miscreants better, I misunderstood the Beasties lyric “Slow and low, that is the tempo” as “Slow and low, that Institute Poe.” The Beasties were, of course, three notorious residents of the Institute Poe, which was surely the Brooklyn arm of the Bad School. In my head, “Slow And Low” was the Beastie version of Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out.”

Eventually, I would learn that “(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party)” was basically hip-hop Alice Cooper, grown adults sing about hating school, blurring the lines between homage and parody. But in my eight-year-old brain, “Slow And Low” was them screaming in the face of the guards that run that dreadful Institute Poe, burrowing their way out of lockdown, setting the building on fire and MCA running back to piss on the ashes. At about one-minute mark, you can actually hear a rumbling wind-up and a monstrous explosion. That’s where Beastie Boys blow up the building.

Not too long after, frustrated at an outburst, my teacher threatened to write me an office referral. She received a frantic, teary-eyed, fucking desperate plea from me to maybe keep this whole situation under wraps. Hey, if I got one more write-up, my fed-up father was finally going to ship me off to the Bad School once and for all. She patiently told me the whole Bad School concept was a total crock of shit. She seemed unfazed and unconvinced by the fact that I’d driven past the Murdock Administration Building multiple times with my father. All this after dad taught me never to lie? This was exactly like the hypocrite father that Ad Rock was whining about in “Fight For Your Right.” And I didn’t even look up the word “hypocrite” yet.