When Horovitz was thirteen, he played Elvis Presley's "Heartbreak Hotel" and Elvis Costello's "You Belong to Me" at a talent show in Queens. He'd been playing guitar for a year, a black Fender copy that his mom and her friends had given him for his twelfth birthday. Laurie Anderson's sister gave him his first guitar lessons.
Horovitz's father, playwright Israel Horovitz, and his mother, Doris, divorced when he was three. He grew up with his mom, a painter who also ran a thrift store, in the West Village, in a three-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment. "She was the coolest person ever," he says, and says it often. When he was busted in the fourth grade for smoking pot, his mom understood. It was her pot.
There was extra room in their apartment, and for a while the couple who ran Ratcage Records stayed with them. Ratcage was a store where the Beasties used to buy punk singles. The store started a record label in 1982. The first release was the Beasties' Polly Wog Stew EP. Ratcage also released the Beasties' "Cooky Puss" twelve-inch, a prank phone call set to vaguely hip-hop beats that got some club play and helped convince the Beasties that they had a future as something other than a hardcore band.
Ratcage, by the way, was on East Ninth Street, on the other side of Second Avenue from the Starbucks where we are now. Across the street to the north, there used to be a place with video games, and Horovitz, his best friend, Dave Skilken, and Mike D would cut school, play video games there and hang out at Ratcage almost every day. Now where Ratcage was, there's a store that sells Indian-print skirts, and in the video-game spot there's a Japanese fast-food restaurant called Teriyaki Boy.
Horovitz stopped coming to this side of town in the mid-Eighties. There are too many ghosts here: "This fuckin' neighborhood, the Lower East Side, I can't deal with it. Because so many friends of mine just got all fucked up. Drugs are a very weird thing." Among the ghosts is that of Dave Skilken, who died of an overdose in 1991. "He was really the coolest kid," Horovitz says. "Just awesome. Total little bald nut kid. Everybody loved Dave Skilken. Everybody had, like, really special, deep friendships with him."
On the final track of Hello Nasty, "Instant Death," Horovitz sings about the loss of Skilken and the loss of his mother, who died shortly before the release of Licensed to Ill. "Everybody loved my mom," he says. "Everybody looked to my mom for everything. All her friends – like, anybody needed something, anybody had a problem, if they were down, they saw my mom and instantly got cheered up. Same with Skilken."
"Instant Death" is one of three Hello Nasty tracks on which Horovitz steps forward and sings solo; one of the others, "Song for the Man," is an anti-sexist statement he wishes his mom were around to hear.
"It would have been nice for her to be alive and to see some of the stuff that I've learned," he says. "She always knew there was more going on with me than just being a fuck-up. And it would have been nice for her to see that she wasn't just dreaming that up. But, you know, what can you do? That's life. That's why life sucks."
You've had to cope with a lot of loss.
Enough that I got a right to be pissed off [laughs]. You know what I'm saying?
Is that how you feel about it: pissed off?
A little bit, yeah. Especially with the two people – my mom and Dave Skilken – who represented so much to so many people. I don't know, maybe I should have a positive outlook. But, you know, living in a fucked-up world will make you pissed off.
How do you get beyond it?
Talk to my friends, my family – just get an understanding that I'm not wrong. I'm not making it up. Other people are angry, too.
But it seems as though you have a certain peace of mind.
I have a lot of pieces of mind [laughs]. And I'm just trying to get them together into one solid piece. A small piece. Doesn't have to be a big piece. Just my piece.
Is the music important?
That's what I'm living for right now. Not the only thing, but, like, the "Skull Snaps" loop is in my head. And it's not going away any time soon.
The "Skull Snaps" Loop is a commonly sampled drumbeat. There are nights when Horovitz can't sleep because it's running through his mind. ("Although that's just one of the reasons I can't sleep.") Horovitz is the musically obsessed Beastie Boy. Thirteen years ago he was sitting in Rick Rubin's dorm room going through a pile of demo tapes when he heard one from a rapper whose style reminded him of Kool Moe Dee's. He told Rick to sign the guy, who rapped under the name L.L. Cool J. Between Beasties records, Horovitz can be heard on albums from side projects like DFL, a hardcore band, and BS 2000, an experimental beat-collage album that Horovitz put together using his beloved SP-1200 sampler. ("I've got three of them now. The first one I bought is an ex-Ice-T sampler. He was selling it used.") Mike D and Adam Yauch want to release a remix EP of the hip-hop songs from Hello Nasty, which Horovitz put together using his new drum machine, the Rave-O-Lution 309, although Horovitz doesn't think it sounds that good. ("Actually, a couple of the songs sound pretty good.") He mentions that he's been buying Broadway and off-Broadway show scores from the early Seventies in his quest for new sounds and says that "Electrify," on Hello Nasty, contains samples of Isaac Hayes alongside Stephen Sondheim.
At the start of "Instant Death," there's a sample of children playing that comes from a sound-effects record. Horovitz originally recorded the sounds at the park that his apartment overlooks, but the field recording didn't quite work. He used to play in the same park when he was a kid. "I'm trapped in the past," he says, joking. It's a joke he makes often. "I love the early days," he says, faintly smiling, which is the expression he wears almost all of the time. "I guess everybody would like to be able to go back to the early days with all the knowledge you have now. And, of course, if I was in the early days, I'd be saying, 'I can't wait for the later days.' But you get nostalgic for that shit. There was nothing to do but hang out. It was good times. I was a lucky kid. I still definitely get to hang out, but it's not the same kind of hanging out. And, you know, I just get nostalgic. The changing times and shit. I get nostalgic for Atari. You know what I'm saying? For a cheeseburger. You know? But they're all still within reach. It's not that big of a deal. I'll manage. Be all right."
Adam Yauch is getting married soon. Any advice for him?
Adam Horovitz: [Pause] Nah. Have a good time.
Mike D: In terms of the day-to-day living, they might endeavor, if possible, to find a bathroom with two sinks. Not separate bathrooms, because I think it's good, it's important, to share that space. But it can get kinda hectic in there. Tamra and I will sometimes have a conflict over that – when we need the sink at the same time.
On May 31st, Adam Yauch was married to Dechen Wangdu. In a traditional Tibetan wedding ceremony, representatives of the groom travel to the bride's family's house with a symbol of the groom's protection, an arrow called a da dar. After a ceremony at the bride's family's house, they escort her back to the groom's parents' house for a service welcoming her to the new family. In Tibet, such trips from village to village can take up to three weeks on horseback – there are mountains to cross – and are followed by parties that can last three days.
In Yauch and Wangdu's case, two childhood friends of Yauch's, Matthew and Arabella, went by car with the da dar from his parents' house in Brooklyn Heights to her parents' house on the Upper East Side. After making offerings to her parents, they drove back to Brooklyn, where Yauch's father made a speech welcoming her to the family. They crossed no mountains, but they did cross the Brooklyn Bridge. Rancid – whose tattooed frontmen, Tim Armstrong and Lars Frederiksen, both got married this year – played the reception. ("What the Clash were to me," Yauch says, "Rancid are to Dechen. When I called and asked them to play, Lars said, 'Well, will you play my wedding?' But we were recording.") Yauch's uncle and an old friend of the family both gave toasts that mentioned the Licensed to Ill hit "Fight for Your Right." The family friend's toast came from his letter of recommendation to the co-op board where Yauch and Wangdu are buying an apartment. It began, "Adam Yauch is not your typical rapper."
Indeed, he is not. Yauch's odyssey has been a storied one. As a kid in the third, fourth and fifth grades, he hoarded fireworks until he had enough gunpowder to build a small bomb or two, which he would then blow up in the back of whatever summer place his parents had rented. "I developed a technique for an electronically detonated fuse. I was always tearing stuff apart to see how it worked," Yauch says. "My mom still tells the story, 'When Adam was five, he fixed the phone.'"
When Adam was fourteen, he switched himself from the Quaker Friends school in Brooklyn to Edward R. Murrow, a public high school: "I felt I was leading too much of a sheltered life." It was around then that he started getting into punk rock, after a friend's father who worked for CBS Records brought home the first Clash album. His friend Arabella, who was a year behind him and moved to Murrow with him, introduced him to fellow punker John Berry, who introduced Yauch to his friend Mike Diamond. Adam remembers cutting school with Berry to "drink beer and go up on the roof and do whatever one does when they cut out of school." Leaving Murrow one day to get lunch, he heard the Sugar Hill Gang's "Rapper's Delight" on the radio at a pizza place. "I was like, 'What is this?'"
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