Michael “Mike D” Diamond and Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz, the two surviving members of the Beastie Boys, are co-authoring a memoir of their time in one of the most important hip-hop acts of the past three decades. According to the New York Times, the book will be less of a conventional tell-all and more of an “oral history,” complete with a “strong visual component.” It’s not clear exactly what that will entail, but there are some standout moments from the Beastie Boys’ career that fans will no doubt be expecting to hear about in Diamond and Horovitz’s account. Here’s a selection of hot topics the Beasties need to address in their memoir, tentatively due out in late 2015.
The Beastie Boys’ origins as a hardcore band
Before they made headlines in Rolling Stone as the “three idiots” who made the “masterpiece” that is License to Ill, Diamond and now-deceased bandmate Adam Yauch founded the first incarnation of the Beastie Boys as an early-’80s punk act. Before John Berry and Kate Schellenbach left the band and Horovitz joined, the group played downtown Manhattan venues like CBGB and Max’s Kansas City, alongside bands like the Dead Kennedys. Eventually, the Boys made their rap debut with “Cooky Puss,” leaving plenty of unanswered questions about their time in the hardcore scene: why make the switch? Any chance encounters with senior statesmen like Richard Hell? Most importantly, will the book’s “visual component” include pictures of the teenage Beastie Boys in leather jackets and lots of ripped denim?
Working with a young Rick Rubin
Though they parted ways in less than half a decade, the Beastie Boys and a collegiate Rick Rubin were key players in launching each others’ careers. After hiring Rubin to DJ their live shows, the Beastie Boys were early adopters of Rubin’s fledgling Def Jam label, where they would release their iconic album License to Ill. The band and the producer split in 1987 over a royalties dispute, leaving plenty to dish about in the upcoming memoir. Some anecdotes about the prodigiously bearded Rubin’s early forays into hip-hop production, including his role in effecting the band’s shift towards rap and the details of their split, would be especially welcome. After all, half the fun of a memoir is getting to air your (and others’) dirty laundry.
The notorious Royal Court Theatre show
Despite their early party-friendly image, the Beastie Boys haven’t generally been known to actually disturb the peace, but their 1987 show at Liverpool’s Royal Court Theatre proved a notable exception. Capping off a chaotic tour that included an inflatable phallic set piece, the show devolved into a riot, complete with hurled beer cans and an abrupt cancellation. Horovitz was then arrested on assault charges for allegedly hitting a female audience member with a beer can deflected from the stage via baseball bat. It’d obviously be interesting to hear whether Horovitz thinks he’s responsible, or even thinks much about the incident at all, and the experience of having your own fans erupt into a crazy, destructive mob is the stuff of rock-’n’-roll memoir gold.
Making the “Sabotage” video
In a faux-movie trailer directed by Spike Jonze and featuring each of the Boys in cheesy, ’70s-esque wigs and aviators, the band members run around Los Angeles, fleeing cops, driving cars, and raising hell. The video, which made its debut in 1994, went the early-’90s equivalent of viral, helped launch the young Jonze’s career, and captured the Beastie Boys’ comically anti-establishment image perfectly. So whose idea was the car chase-heavy concept in the first place, and what exactly went down on set? Since Julie Grau of publishing imprint Spiegel & Grau has said that there will be outside authors involved in the memoir, a guest chapter from now-renowned director Jonze would be a welcome addition to the story of the Beastie Boys’ rise to mainstream success.
Coining the term “mullet”
The mid-’90s saw the Beastie Boys diversify beyond just music, following the lead of successful rappers throughout the ages and starting their own record label, Grand Royal, in 1992. But despite Grand Royal’s success (it lasted until the group sold it in 2001), they may have made a far more significant contribution to pop culture with Grand Royal magazine. One fateful day in 1995, Grand Royal published a piece on the mullet inspired by the Beastie Boys’ 1994 track “Mullet Head,” which gave the world’s most revolting haircut a name. Being Grammy-winning Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees is one thing; inventing a term that’s come to stand for the most awful hairstyle of the late 20th century is quite another. If we don’t hear details in this memoir, we’ll be sorely disappointed.
Getting political at the VMAs
The Beastie Boys made their reputation as a trio of fun-loving brats just trying to have fun, but in the late ’90s the rappers started to get serious, using their public stature to speak out on a variety of political issues. Their public activism came to a head with speeches at the 1998 and 1999 MTV Video Music Awards, when Yauch spoke out against anti-Muslim prejudice years before 9/11 and later called attention to widespread sexual assault at the Woodstock 99 music festival. The speeches came just a few years after the group hosted a Tibet benefit concert in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. What prompted a group that perfected the art of party rocking before there was a name for it to get into some seriously tricky issues? Although they’ve talked about the attitude shift in the past, a memoir seems as good a public platform to elaborate on their shift towards politics as any.
Fighting for their right to sample
Although they’ve made hip-hop history with their discography alone, the Beastie Boys also proved to be trailblazers in their genre in an unexpected place: the courtroom. In 2003, a federal judge ruled that the group’s use of a six-second flute sample from James Newton’s “Choir” in their song “Pass the Mic” did not constitute copyright infringement, clearing the way for hip-hop’s widespread use of samples. Newton v. Diamond ruled that the brief clip did not constitute a significant enough appropriation of Newton’s song to count as theft, thereby making it a landmark decision in the complicated legal history of music and intellectual property law. It would be great to see the book use this important case to go deeper into the Beastie Boys’ stance on copyright.
Adam Yauch’s struggle with cancer
As exciting as the news of Diamond and Horovitz’s memoir is, the announcement comes with tragic undertones: the Beastie Boys’ third member, Adam “MCA” Yauch, passed away in May 2012 after a years-long battle with salivary gland cancer. Just 47 at the time of his death, Yauch’s passing inspired an outpouring of support from musicians and public figures. Reflections on Yauch’s illness and untimely death will doubtless make appearances in the memoir, but we’re anticipating Diamond and Horovitz’s personal tributes to their departed band member, who was part of the group since its beginning.