The Boys Are Back In Town

Page 2 of 5

The three of you are in a car. Who drives?
Mike D:
Well, both Adam and Adam don't let me drive, because they don't think I'm a good driver. They lack respect for my skills, although I think I am a perfectly fine driver – there's no shame in my game. But the answer is Adam Yauch. Like on this album, when we did the road trip to Gloucester [Massachusetts] to write lyrics, Yauch definitely did almost all the driving.

Adam Horovitz: We share the driving. I should rephrase that. I should take that back. Definitely not Mike. Mike is nuts. Don't let Mike drive. He just drives crazy. He's on the phone, and then he's, like, looking over here, and he's like, 'Oh, look, they have a sale' – you know what I mean? He's all over the place in his focus. And definitely not me – I need to get more confidence behind the wheel. I always picture myself as somebody that just can't fuck with automotives. I should actually take that back. I've been in a couple of little accidents, but nothing too bad. Yauch gets a little nervous behind the wheel, because his childhood race-car-driver-autopilot things come out, and he's, like, got this Steve Austin shit with all the other drivers. It's funny.

Adam Yauch: I usually drive, actually. But I think that just goes back to me having a license before anyone else. Because I'm a little older. And also since I went away to college, I got my license there. Whereas in New York, they didn't need to drive. I don't think they really did that much driving till we went off to L.A.

Michael Diamond has something he would like to sell you. No, not a Sean Lennon album on Grand Royal, the label the Beasties own and over which Mike presides. And no, not an eighteen-dollar T-shirt from X-Large, the L.A. street-wear clothing company Mike co-owns with Adam Silverman and Eli Bonerz (the son of Peter Bonerz, who played Jerry the dentist on The Bob Newhart Show.). Michael Diamond has something else he would like to sell you: furniture.

Mike first announced his interest in the furniture business during an E!-channel segment on L.A. fashion that included X-Large. Standing in the XL store in lower Manhattan (there are also branches in Los Angeles, Tokyo and Cologne), he told the camera that the store would soon be selling couches, "because eventually the kids have to get off their skateboards and come inside." He was kidding. A little.

"There's a certain domestic calling that exists that we could fill," he says. "So maybe at some point, if the opportunity presented itself. I don't know if it's just me getting older or if it's a reflection of times changing, but it just seems to me like among most of my friends and peers, there's a lot more time being spent at home than out."

These days, when Mike spends time at home, it's in a modest one-bedroom in lower Manhattan. Just a few blocks away is the NYU building where the Beastie Boys cut their first Def Jam single, "Rock Hard," in Def Jam co-founder Rick Rubin's dorm room fourteen years ago. Mike bought this apartment in the spring of 1996 as work on Hello Nasty settled into its irregular groove. "I started with a pied-à-terre, and it became a pied-à-regular," he says. The decor is Fifties modern. There's a Saarinen womb chair and a Calder mobile, the sort of things you might see in the British lifestyle-and-design magazine Wallpaper, one of the only magazines Mike has subscribed to in the last few years. On a ledge beneath the living-room window, to the left of a large TV (various remote controls sit in a ceramic dish on the coffee table), is an altar with several statues of Indian gods and the remnants of some incense – Mike goes to yoga class almost every morning and is serious enough about his studies to have read Patanjali's Yoga Sutra in two different translations. A slightly oversize plastic Japanese female action figure watches over the Hindu gathering. "That was Tamra's addition," Mike says.

Right now, Mike is in the kitchen, in the process of whipping up some soy-milk lattes and talking about his furniture habit. "I've been looking for a fiberglass Eames chair," he says. "It's a desk chair, and it's pretty rare. It was only in production for six months. I've got a guy who looks for this stuff for me – my furniture pimp, Jim." Mike's design obsession comes from his mom, an interior decorator. "She actually kids me about it, because the Fifties American modern classicism that I'm into, like Eames and Nelson, is stuff that she had at the time. The Saarinen womb chair that I have, with the ottoman? One of the reasons I have it and actually I'll always be attached to it is because we totally had that growing up. Although we had the one with the chrome legs. Mine is actually a little more rare, because it's from the Forties – a very early edition with iron legs."

Mike grew up on the Upper West Side with two older brothers. His father, an art dealer, died when Mike was sixteen, just around the time the Beastie Boys were playing their first gigs as a hardcore punk band. "My parents were very, very good about not separating us as kids from their adult friends," Mike says. "So on any given night, we'd have, like, this kind of freak show – artists and art dealers coming over. And these are the people I feel like I learned from."

By thirteen, Mike was collecting Clash and Elvis Costello seven-inch singles and borrowing his older brother's passport to sneak into punk-rock shows. "It had his baby picture on it, and I used that as my ID, and they just kind of laughed at it." It was the heyday of New York clubbing, when hip-hop was working its way downtown from the Bronx into SoHo art galleries, and punk had yet to run out of gas. At punk shows by the Stimulators and Bad Brains, he met Adam Yauch, Gabby Glaser and Kate Schellenbach, who'd all begun similarly precocious club crawling. Adam Horovitz remembers noticing Mike and Adam Yauch at a Black Flag show at New York's Peppermint Lounge in the early Eighties. Adam Yauch told his friend John Berry after that show that they ought to form a hardcore band. The first Beasties gig was Yauch's seventeenth-birthday party – Yauch, Mike D, Berry and Schellenbach played. When Berry dropped out, Horovitz replaced him. It was a time of kicks, goofs, drugs and whatever. It was late, it was dark, they were teenagers. You do the math.

In those early Beastie days, Mike was finishing up high school at St. Ann's in Brooklyn and commuting thirty-five minutes to class on the A train: "The West Side IND line to the High Street station, first stop on the Brooklyn side. Long haul." Needless to say, he didn't always make it, but the commute, and the city, were enough. "Having to wake up at seven and go take the subway every morning, having to get over there with all these commuters and see every possible face of humanity and realizing that you're just the same as these other people is actually an amazingly positive thing. If I'd just gone to school on the Upper West Side . . ." Mike – who did one semester at Vassar but spent most of that time in Manhattan – talks about growing up in New York as instilling a kind of "urban intelligence," like a radio-station preset: "It's not just that you do more younger, like with us being in the band early and going to shows. It's more like the overwhelming input that defines your existence from the day your parents bring you outside the apartment in a stroller. I might very well be deluding myself, but it almost gives you something an eighteen-year-old from Pensacola, Florida, is not going to have. But that eighteen-year-old could have been a yogi in another lifetime and really be ahead of you on that level. Who knows? Who knows?"

When Mike talks about this, or anything else, his eyes seem able to focus and wander at the exact same moment. He radiates alternating waves of contentment and restlessness. "Most of my dreams involve either running or chasing," he says, "but I'm never the one doing the chasing. I'm always running somewhere, or someone's chasing me, or there's someplace I have to get. And maybe sometimes I'll pass Adam Horovitz and I'll have to find Yauch, and I'll ask, 'Where's Yauch – have you seen him?' So it's mostly running, although in the best ones I get to fly, like Hanuman, the white monkey. He's a figure in an Indian myth. He helps Prince Rama find his wife, Sita – she's kidnapped, and Hanuman knows where they've taken her, and he flies Rama to Sri Lanka on his back to find her. It's one of India's most beloved stories. So in my best dreams, I get to fly like Hanuman."

A brief Conversation about Dress Codes and Coffee:

The Scene: The street in front of Mike D's apartment. The players: Mike D, dressed in dark blue Wranglers, brown Manhunt Wallabees, and a T-shirt with a picture of an ape on it and the words Ape Shall Not Kill Ape; Adam Horovitz, dressed in oversize green Dickies, baby blue old-school Nike running shoes and a black crew-neck sweater. Horovitz has one leg up on the wall and a slice of pizza in his hand.

Horovitz: Mike, could you go up and change? We're wearing the same shirt. [Pulls up sweater to reveal T-shirt with a picture of an ape on it and the words Ape shall not kill Ape.]

Mike D: Yeah, I'll go change.

Horovitz: I'm not serious.

Mike D: No, no – I know how it is.

Horovitz: You know what I'm thinking?

Mike D: Starbucks?

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