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The Many Lives of Adam Yauch

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An officially released backstage video from that tour captures the kind of behavior that Yauch would spend years putting behind him: He hurls full cans of beer against a dressing-room wall, and gets grabby with one fan after signing her torso. It wasn't his finest moment. But by 1987, the Beastie Boys were so lost in their new personas that they immortalized the incident – along with the sight of other girls being drenched in honey, whipped cream and beer. "Everybody goes through those phases when they're in college and they act like a drunken fool," Yauch said in 1997. "But ours happen to be on sale at the video store."

Rubin received much of the blame and credit for that Beasties phase – Schellenbach once called him "a meathead sexist asshole." The producer acknowledges pushing the bandmates to adopt pro-wrestling-style outrageousness, but says they took the whole thing further than he could have imagined. "It was almost like their interpretation of what they thought I liked," says Rubin, noting that he found the giant hydraulic penis the band used in their stage show to be in bad taste. Plus, he adds, "I've never had a beer in my life."

The latter-day Beasties said that their bad behavior was role-playing that got out of hand. "We actually became just what it was that we'd set out to make fun of," Yauch said in 1999. "It wasn't some art project," retorts Cushman, who was onboard for some of that tour. "It was like, 'How many girls can we fit in this room?'"

Yauch enjoyed himself at first – possibly even hooking up with Madonna during the Beasties' ridiculously mismatched opening slot on her arena tour. "Five years from now, I might be selling used cars on the lot," he told an interviewer. "I really don't give a fuck, 'cause I'm having so much fun now." But not for long.

Back home in New York, Yauch had a teenage girlfriend, Aura Walker. (They met at the Palladium when she was 17 and he was 22. At high school, a few days later, she was called to the nurse's office, where an important message awaited her from a Dr. Yauch. She called him back on the school phone, and he asked her if she wanted to go get some falafel.) She ended up trying to sustain a relationship with Yauch during the band's first burst of fame. "He was just so beyond exhausted by the end of the tour," she says.

Says Cushman, "I'd talk to Michael and he'd be like, 'Yeah, this is going great! It's amazing!' And then I'd talk to Adam and he's like, 'This sucks! I fucking hate it. I just want to come home!'"

"What Western society teaches us," Yauch told Rolling Stone in 1998, "is that if you get enough money, power and beautiful people to have sex with, that's going to bring you happiness. That's what every commercial, every magazine, music, movie teaches us. That's a fallacy. Maybe there was some realization of that during that Licensed to Ill period."

As the two years of touring grinded on, they kept getting more famous, and everything kept going more wrong: A tour of England turned into a scandal-ridden disaster; Yauch came to see many of their fans as the kind of meatheads who bullied him in high school; they watched a proposed movie project fall apart, which helped lead to a catastrophic falling-out with Def Jam and extensive litigation. Yauch was drinking too much; he got hold of a gun on one tour stop and starting playing around with it.

Friends say that by the time the band finished touring behind Licensed to Ill in late 1987, Yauch was convinced that the Beastie Boys were breaking up. Says Cushman, "Adam said to me, 'I'm never going back to Beastie Boys – I'm done with that. I'm never gonna do that again.'"

Yauch went home and made a serious go at a rock band he called Brooklyn, with Cushman and members of Bad Brains and New York hardcore act Murphy's Law. Horovitz was off making a movie and hanging out in L.A. with his girlfriend, Molly Ringwald.

"The knee-jerk reaction was to get as far away as possible from this thing that was driving us crazy," says Mike D. "But then, somehow, we were able to get together." A few months later, the Beastie Boys reconvened in L.A., with a new record deal – and slowly began work on what would turn out to be their masterpiece.

Shortly after he relocated to Los Angeles, Yauch obtained a large quantity of liquid acid. He quickly set to consuming it, often while skiing, along with what Walker remembers as "huge amounts of chronic weed." For a while, Yauch's intergalactic journeys were working in his favor. First of all, his mind expansion left him wide open to the psychedelic possibilities of hyperlayered samples – which defined the sound of their astonishing second album, Paul's Boutique. Says Mike D, "The acid experience gave him the ability to see, like, 'Wow, this is great, press 'play' on everything at the same time.' It shifted his mind enough for him to see that – and that was an important influence on that album, for sure."

He also starting reading the Bible, and began to look seriously at spirituality. Yauch may have kicked off Paul's Boutique by saluting "the Upper East Side nubiles" – but the track "A Year and a Day" hinted at a new state of mind, which he explicitly links to his drug experience: "I am going to the limits of my ultimate destiny/Feeling as though Somebody, somewhere, were testing me/He who sees the end from the beginning of time," he raps, under the cover of heavy distortion.

Reader's Poll: The Best Beastie Boys Songs of All Time

Though it's an undisputed classic, Paul's Boutique was a commercial flop, shocking both the Beasties and their new label, Capitol, who had just given them a $750,000 advance.

Yauch met a new girlfriend, an actress named Lisa Ann Cabasa, and started to get into snowboarding, spending time in Utah's Snowbird Resort – where, circa 1992, he rented an apartment with a pro snowboarder named Mike Basich. To his relief, Yauch found that few people out there cared about his music career. "We'd go snowboarding during the day – he was pretty good, not very acrobatic," says Basich, who remembers Yauch as quiet and "good-hearted." "We'd do graffiti together at night – one time the cops caught us, which is a big deal in Utah."

The Beasties used what was left of their Capitol money to build their own L.A. studio, and as they noodled around on potential material for a third album, they found themselves reluctant to rap – partly because they felt out of place in a changing hip-hop scene. Instead, they returned to their instruments, recording endless jams for a year and a half. It was Yauch who pushed them to get on with it, quietly recording the rap song "Jimmy James" on his own with producer Mario Caldato Jr. "He was leading by example," says Caldato. "After that we went crazy, and tracks just started coming in."

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