Adam Horovitz is a man who likes his coffee: "Just straight-up coffee, with cream or milk or whatever and sugar. I have no problems with espresso. I just need coffee fast. I don't want to wait around." The first words on Hello Nasty are Horovitz's: "Well, it's fifty cups of coffee and you know it's on!" For the Beasties' upcoming tour, Horovitz asked his brother to go online and get him a printout of all the Starbucks nationwide. "But you know, they're not online," Horovitz says. "You'd expect if anyone was ... but they're not."
"It's not every day you hear them playing Elvis at Starbucks," he says as he takes a caffeine break on Second Avenue and Ninth Street, in the East Village. It is the second time we've visited a Starbecks together. The third will come two hours from now. Elvis Costello's "New Amsterdam" is on the sound system. "This is one of my favorite Elvis songs," he says. "Fourth-album Elvis, too." He then reveals a hitherto-unknown detail of Beasties lore: All the Beastie Boys are Elvis Costello fans. There's a sample of Costello's "Pump It Up" on Paul's Boutique. "Yauch's not that into it. He likes Elvis, but it's never been his thing. Me and Mike have a very special Elvis thing – my brother and sister, and his two brothers, we all like Elvis. Just the early Elvis, though."
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.
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