Cool As A Cucumber In A Bowl Of Hot Sauce

Adam Yauch, aka MCA of The Beastie Boys, passed away at the age of 47 yesterday, and while celebrity deaths don’t often get under my skin (I mean, I don’t know these people), this one hit harder than most, probably because I associate the Beasties with effortless cool, fun and, above all, my youth. In my private universe, no one will ever again be as cool as The Beastie Boys were in 1994. As a guy on Metafilter put it, “Check Your Head came out and was like a wrecking ball to us. It could not have been more perfect for who we were or wanted to be, at that point in our lives. It might as well have been created by some platonic, idealized version of us.” And as platonic, idealized versions of us, these guys weren’t supposed to get old. It’s a story as old as rock and roll fandom itself. Namaste, Mr. Yauch.

But enough moping. In memory and in honour of MCA, here’s my personal shortlist of The Beastie Boys’ finest moments:

  • The video for “Hey Ladies,” which I didn’t like when it was released. It was weird (mariachi bands? A girl painted up like a clock? A guy in bed with a fish?), and what was up with all that ’70s stuff? In 1989 North American society was in the middle of a collective pact to pretend the ’70s had never happened, and THESE GUYS WERE RUINING IT!

Now, of course, it’s a masterpiece of the form. Years later my friend Adam and I were watching it and at 1:06, when Mike D. struts out of the mansion wearing that ridiculous yellow pimp costume and walks past all the misfits standing by the pool he snorted, almost in disbelief, “Nobody’s that cool.” By which he meant, “Those guys were.” I mean, how you have the balls to even come up with that sequence, much less pull it off, is beyond me. Like Spinal Tap said, it’s a fine line between stupid and clever, and this video is a masterclass in straddling that line.

Also, one of the things I would like to do before I die is enter a bar or a party the way Ad-Rock does at 2:17.

  • At 2:30 in the “Looking Down The Barrel Of A Gun” video there’s a throwaway bit where MCA and Mike D. are doing bong hits in the back of a car being driven by Ad Rock. At 2:38 Mike D.’s goofy hat falls off, which never fails to crack me up:

Look how much fun they’re having! Pop stardom is all about your image, and the Beasties did a great job of maintaining a collective public persona as three guys who were a) the best of friends, b) not trying too hard and c) having a good time all the time, with enough bohemian eccentricity (and social activism) thrown in to keep them from becoming, say, the Red Hot Chili Peppers (who, it is safe to say, would not have devoted vast swathes of one of their videos to camcorder footage of someone chasing a cat around their living room.)

  • “Something’s Got To Give.” By far their best “serious” song, and the video is stoner catnip:
  • The video for “Sabotage.” Everything about it. Especially the bit at 1:52 where they toss the dummy off the overpass.

Not only is this video, I would humbly submit, A Perfect Thing (in addition to being a great song and a lot of fun, it’s impeccably shot and edited by Spike Jonze) unto itself, but in my social circle it didn’t just capture the zeitgeist, it was the zeitgeist. I’m sure there were lots of people who didn’t like “Sabotage” in 1994, but I don’t remember meeting any of them.

  • “Intergalactic”: Hello Nasty was the last gasp, really, before the shtick started to get a bit long in the tooth, but it’s still a great album, a big, eclectic slab of left turns like Check Your Head and Ill Communication. And the video is a stellar example of the showbiz maxim “Give the audience the same thing, but different”:

In the summer of ’98 I was living (and “working”) in Toronto for the first time, sharing a downtown apartment with a friendly trustafarian dude, a hot girl who wasn’t averse to walking around the house in her underwear and another guy I can only remember sitting on the front porch and drinking beer. In hindsight I was living a sitcom. It was the most “twenties” my life ever got. And it was pretty awesome. Hello Nasty was the soundtrack to that glorious summer, and “Intergalactic” was the single you heard playing everywhere; on the radio, in clubs, on MuchMusic and at the gym I belonged to, where I chugged along on the treadmills and tried (in vain) to think of an in with the cute girl who liked to work out in a Pixies t-shirt.

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