The face of the Beastie Boys is pressed into a Formica-topped table, smack in the middle of the dining car on a train hurtling from Brussels toward Paris. In just about an hour, this train will break down, leaving everyone on board to grab luggage and begin shambling down the tracks like extras from the Grapes of Wrath but that's another story altogether. Presently, Horovitz possessor of the band's greatest celebrity status, son of playwright Israel Horovitz, husband of actress lone Skye and star of two movies, Lost Angels and Roadside Prophets is balancing his body weight against his forehead and talking about life as the poster boy for all that Beastie-ality represents.
"I love being in the Beastie Boys," Horovitz says. "I don't want to be the leader. I wonder what it would have been like if I could actually sing. It would be interesting. I don't want to be the cleanup hitter for the group. At a time I really wanted to. That's when I got into movies and wanted to be the man. Right now I'm not into that."
From the beginning, the Beastie Boys have always been greater than the sum of their parts. For all his savoir-faire, Horovitz as a solo act would be like Curly doing slapstick without the rest of his Stooges. Horovitz is simply one of the boys – three smart, economically privileged friends from the New York punk-club scene that gripped the city when they were teenagers. The fact that the group, after releasing a 1982 punk EP, Pollywog Stew, while still in high school, went on to discover hip-hop, hook up with a suburbanite heavy-metal head named Rick Rubin (who was then running Def Jam Records out of his NYU dorm room) and collaborate on Licensed to Ill seems like the freakest of accidents. They were into punk rock, getting loaded and spray-painting the town red. Or green or blue for that matter.
Horovitz's independence began early, and his emotional strength was tested often. When he was 3 years old, his parents divorced. Despite the fact that for most of his life his elder brother and sister lived with their father, Horovitz lived with his mother. She ran a thrift store in New York City's bohemian West Village called Gee the Kids Need Clothes, and Horovitz would ride his skateboard from school at lunch time to visit her. In fourth grade he got busted by a friend's mother for smoking pot. The pot belonged to Horovitz's mom.
"She was the coolest person ever," says Horovitz. "Ask Mike and Adam. She was so cool. One time we went and saw Fear at the Mudd Club, and we were waiting in line, and she and her best friend show up, stumbling down the street and singing and laughing. I was like 'Mom, what are you doing?' She just said, 'Well, I want to see them.'"
A short time later, however, Horovitz's life was altered forever when his mother died as a result of her alcoholism. "One day she just kind of got real sick," he says. "She drank a lot. And she was sick for two days and didn't even move or leave her room. But she did that a bunch of times. Next thing I knew, she was in the hospital. It was crazy. It was so awful. I guess I got really lucky at that time because the band stuff really picked up, and we did a lot of recording, went on tour. If I had just been sitting around all day, I would have probably . . . who knows."
The manifestations of Horovitz's loss were many. Instantly, he says, he and his brother and sister became extremely close. "We knew right then and there," says Horovitz, "that we had a for-real family." He also developed ulcers, a condition from which he no longer suffers. "I don't know what caused the ulcers," he says. "Stuff used to get me really crazy, touring stuff. I used to hide. I hid from everybody. Back in '87 when things were so hectic, I'd run away. There was so much pressure. I just like being home. I just like to hang out."
More than his band mates, in fact, Horovitz has perfected the art of dalliance. He is paid handsomely for it, and to his credit the job suits him well. If you need someone to kick back and crack a joke, Ad-Rock is, indeed, the king.
"He really is such a great person," says Adam's father, Israel. "His mom was a great artist, a wonderful painter and also an exceptionally nice person. So that he got from her. I'm not such a nice person. And because of that, I've had to learn to work really hard. That he got from me."
What Adam works most feverishly at is playing things cool. He lists his dog as one of his three role models (along with Bob Marley and Fugazi's Ian MacKaye), because, he says admiringly, "He is just the cool-out king." Horovitz's typical day begins with his and Skye's taking their dogs down to her mother's house, which is nearby in the secluded Hollywood Hills, having a cup of cappuccino, smoking a joint and whiling away the hours until dinner or the studio beckon.
After dealing with his mother's death and the drug overdose three years ago of Dave Skilken, his best friend since high school, Horovitz is well acquainted with pain. He is also on a first-name basis with legal trauma. While in England during the Licensed to Ill tour, he was the focal point of a media circus when he was brought up on charges (which were eventually dropped) for allegedly throwing a beer can at a female fan. Recently, he was sentenced to 200 hours of community service when a cameraman for Hard Copy accused him of assault after Horovitz and a friend tried to stop him from filming a private memorial service for River Phoenix, which was being held in Horovitz's back yard.
"What I work hardest at is just trying to not let things get me crazy," says Horovitz. "Life can be hell on earth. Just being away from home gets me kind of hectic. I'm insecure that maybe I'll never be able to go back."
Whatever insecurities exist are very clearly internalized. On the outside, Horovitz bounds around like a cartoon mouse. He is all smiles, hugs, 1970s pop-culture trivia and innate magnetism. It might be one dimensional, but it's certainly enough for him.
"I just see myself as a little kid, listening to KABC radio playing all those songs from the '70s," says Horovitz. "I was smoking joints when I was a little kid in the schoolyard, playing basketball. Nothing's changed. I've got this picture of myself climbing on the fence at PS 41. I'm wearing corduroys, a burgundy T-shirt, a green winter knit cap, and I've got Puma Clyde's on. I'm that same kind of kid I was back then. I'm happy. I don't need to change that."
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