When the Beastie Boys go on tour, as they will this August for the first time in three years, this is how they register at their hotels:
Mike D – whose entrepreneurial bent has left him with a reputation as the group’s unofficial CEO – registers under the name of whoever is leading the PGA Tour at the time.
Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz – who manages to be at once the most Beastie and most serene of the boys – uses his own name.
And Adam “MCA” Yauch – the spiritual seeker – what of him? He registers under the name I. Clouseau, as in Inspector Clouseau, for he is a huge Peter Sellers fan. His favorite Sellers movie is The Party. “He plays an Indian actor,” Yauch says, “and the movie was banned in India because he is playing this bumbling idiot in the middle of all these white people, and some Indian people were insulted by it. But the irony is that he’s really the only intelligent person there – all the other people are morons. So it has a cool theme.”
Cool, yes, and you are free to interpret it as you wish: as an anti-racist parable related by a white rapper; as a parable about the Beasties themselves, who started out acting the idiot and worked hard to convince the world that they are, in fact, intelligent people; or, more simply, as the plot of a fairly funny movie from the Sixties.
We join the beastie boys as they prepare to retake the center stage of American popular culture with the release of their new album, Hello Nasty. They have been here before: first in 1986, as the loudmouthed brats who played brats with even louder mouths on Licensed to Ill, which arrived shortly after the pop breakthrough of Run-DMC (with whom the Beasties then shared management) and which became the first rap album to hit Number One. And then again, starting with 1992’s Check Your Head, which arrived shortly after the pop breakthrough of Nirvana (with whom the Beasties then shared management) and which put the Beastie Boys at the center of a bohemian diaspora that gradually overtook mainstream culture, making the world a safer place for punk rock, skateboard sneakers, Spike Jonze Nissan commercials and Beck.
Specifically, we join the Beastie Boys in a white van approaching the Queens Midtown Tunnel. We are headed to a soundstage in Long Island City, Queens, where filming on the video for “Intergalactic,” Hello Nasty’s first single, is being finished. Mike D rides shotgun. Adam Horovitz sits behind. Adam Yauch, who has both a wedding and a Tibetan Freedom Concert to prepare for, is nowhere in sight. We are discussing old video games – specifically Pong and Breakout, as played on the old Atari, “the one with the console that had the knobs that you twisted” – and whether Horovitz ever played them at the duplex apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side where Mike grew up. It is decided that he did. There is a pause.
A Jay-Z song comes on the radio. Horovitz blows a raspberry, somewhere between a Bronx cheer and a fart noise, several times. Then he begins to quietly human-beatbox along to the drumbeat. “Hey, Mike, you know what we should do?” he asks. “We should call some people tomorrow morning and get a game together.” The Beasties rent a Manhattan high school gymnasium for twice-weekly basketball games with their friends, but Horovitz has something different in mind. “Do you know that court on Canal and Sixth Avenue? They just redid it. I walked by there this morning – it is so beautiful. And tomorrow – Friday – in the morning, there won’t be anyone there.”
“That’s the idea,” Mike says.
The van pulls into the parking lot. “Did you bring the catalog?” Horovitz asks.
“I have brought the Good Shit catalog with me,” Mike replies. He pulls the Merrygarden Custom Activewear catalog, which sells high school athletic uniforms, from his bag. Once inside, Mike D and Adam Horovitz huddle briefly with video director Nathaniel Hornblower, who also directed the Beasties’ videos for “Shadrach,” “So What’cha Want” and “Pass the Mic,” among others, and whom the June 13th Billboard describes as a “Swiss independent filmmaker.” Adam Yauch is still nowhere in sight. (It should be noted, though, that if you take away Hornblower’s lederhosen and white beard, he bears a striking physical resemblance to Yauch. Questioned later about the similarities, Yauch looks straight ahead and declares convincingly, “He’s my uncle.”) The conference with Hornblower finished, Mike D disappears into a back room to talk on his cell phone, and Horovitz settles into a director’s chair, where he studies the Merrygarden Custom Activewear catalog with deadly intensity.
“Can I ask you a question?” he says to a woman standing next to him.
“What do you think of this?” He indicates an athletic jersey and matching shorts of indistinguishable merit. “Is the brown and yellow OK? Would you wear it? It doesn’t have to be the short shorts.” Horovitz wants to have Beastie Boys soccer outfits (“you know, with the high socks”) made for the band’s upcoming tour. Throughout the rest of the afternoon, he will scrutinize the Merrygarden catalog and solicit opinions on various shirt and shorts combinations and color schemes.
For Hello Nasty, the Beastie Boys wrote their rhymes together – the first time they had done so since Paul’s Boutique, the 1989 follow-up to Licensed to Ill that they made after moving to Los Angeles. Their manager at the time advised them not to tour until Paul’s Boutique went platinum. They never did tour for the record.
Instead, they sweated out their twenties and began growing up. Mike D started a business and married director Tamra Davis; Adam Horovitz acted in two movies and married actress Ione Skye (whether or not they are still together, he won’t say); Adam Yauch went snowboarding and began his spiritual journeys. Together they built their own studio-office-basketball court, G-Son, and recorded Check Your Head, on which they picked up their instruments and returned to their punk-rock roots while mapping out their funked-up future. Two years later, in 1994, came Ill Communication, a better version of Check Your Head.
It has been four years since the last Beastie Boys record. Not an extraordinarily long time, but long enough. Hello Nasty was recorded in fits and starts, beginning in October 1995 at G-Son. But soon after, Adam Yauch decided to move back to New York, and the others followed. Hello Nasty is a New York album – the first sound on it is a subway train – and an old-school album. “On Check Your Head and Ill Communication,” explains Mike D, “most of the lyrics are much more ‘OK, you take that and I’ll say that’ – they’re split up. But on this record, we went back to the three of us just getting together and sharing ideas, then piecing something together and spreading it out. So it’s much more of a collective where we’re all saying each other’s lyrics, like on Paul’s Boutique.”
Which brings us here, to the video for “Intergalactic,” which is old school in a different way. “All these people, we’ve known each other since high school,” Horovitz says, looking around at the crew. “Arthur, the cameraman, I’ve know him since kindergarten. He got a bass, like, two weeks after I got a guitar. I started my first band” – a hardcore group called the Young and the Useless – “with him. He shoots a sitcom in Los Angeles now. And the other cameraman, Vanya, his wife, Abby, was in the Young and the Useless. She quit before we ever played shows or anything. I don’t think she has any regrets. Hillary, the art director, he used to live at my house. It’s funny, us all being here on this big soundstage.” A faraway look is in his eyes, as though he can see all of the past – the good and the bad – laid out clearly before him. Then he turns to the person next to him.
“Can I ask you a question? Would you wear this shirt with these shorts?”
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?
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.
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?'”
When Adam was twenty-four, he was cutting Paul’s Boutique in Los Angeles. He lived with Adam Horovitz and Mike D at a house they called the G Spot. He has said that these were the truly wild Beastie days, which, considering how wild things had been up to that point, is really saying something. It is somewhere around this point that Yauch was exploring the frontiers of perception with the aid of LSD. And it is somewhere around this point that Yauch began his spiritual investigations, first reading the Bible, then branching out into books on Native American spirituality. “Just as we were finishing Paul’s Boutique,” Yauch says, “we got our own places, and I was going out to clubs a lot less. I got a bit more introverted and spent a lot more time on my own reading. I would just go down to the esoteric bookstore and wander around.”
His reading, and a snowboard trek through Nepal, led him to Tibetan Buddhism. And it is here that Yauch’s life truly changed, that he found a set of principles – love, compassion, altruism, nonviolence – that made sense of his past and his future. He became politically involved, as well, co-founding the Milarepa Fund in 1994 to raise awareness of China’s brutal oppression of the Tibetan people.
Three years ago, the Dalai Lama made a speech at Harvard, and Yauch went along to present Milarepa’s first donation, which was for the Harvard chapter of Students for a Free Tibet. Wangdu, whose parents are both from Tibet, was the representative for Students for a Free Tibet. “We were going to get a giant check, but at the last minute they didn’t,” Yauch says. “You know, if they did, there would have been a picture of our first meeting, with a giant check.” Shortly after, the two met again, in Chicago at a Students for a Free Tibet conference at which they were both speaking. “We were both giving each other advice, because we were both nervous.” Yauch remembers liking her and hoping he’d run into her back in New York.
Yauch, though, was not quite looking for a relationship at that moment. “I was debating between the idea of being celibate and becoming a monk or actually having a family,” he says. “And I spent some time just being chaste – for about a year, maybe less, ten months. And I learned a lot from that period. Just trying to be celibate was interesting, because you think you’re in control when you feel attracted to someone, that it’s a conscious thing. But then deciding to be on my own, I saw that those responses are not really conscious ones. It’s something that’s always taught in Buddhism: that a lot of our responses or ways of thinking are habits and that it takes time to turn those habits around.
“So, during that time, I was deciding whether I wanted to try being in a serious relationship or just stay on my own. And at the point Dechen and I started spending some time together and hanging out, it just felt like it would really be great to have a family. That would be the right thing to do.” The couple will honeymoon on tour this summer.
On the day we meet to talk over celibacy and marriage and other things, Adam Yauch arrives wearing a brown glen-plaid raincoat. And when he leaves, I am reminded of a photo of him from when he was sixteen or seventeen that you can see in the CD booklet for the collection of early Beasties tracks, Some Old Bullshit. Yauch is leaning against a wall wearing combat boots, jeans and a raincoat decorated with punk-rock buttons. His hair is buzzed. He is dressed almost exactly as he is this afternoon, the main difference being how much gray is in his hair today.
This has always been one of the Beastie Boys’ most powerful attractions: that for more than fifteen years they have stuck close to their original interests and passions and no matter how far into adulthood they venture, they bring with them the glee and anarchic energy of their youth.
“You listen to the lyrics,” says Adam Horovitz, “and it’s funny – it’s all about this nostalgic shit. It’s like all of our shit, it’s always been about this time. And that’s the weird thing – it’s like you never broke out of that. All the records go back to this thing – playing video games and smoking joints and, like … I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing. I guess it’s just a certain age, a certain feeling that we all shared of that particular time. And you want to say, like, ‘Oh, your teenage years, those are the best times you’re ever going to have.’ That’s not true for a lot of people. For a lot of people, teenage years is the worst time. I don’t think it wasn’t the best time for me, but we had some real fun and real experiences in those days. Writing graffiti and all that shit was just fun.”
“That’s the strange thing about making a record,” says Adam Yauch. “You can be in one mood for an hour, put it on a record, and you’re remembered that way. Like people getting up at my wedding reception and mentioning ‘Fight for Your Right.’ That’s a perfect example of a joke that just went too far. People are bringing it up twelve years later. I still have kids come up to me in the street and say, ‘Oh, I used to listen to your albums and smoke so much dust. You dudes are so cool.’ I never smoked dust in my life. It was just a joke. Sorry, buddy – just kidding.”
“I think one of the most powerful things a person can do is show that he’s changed,” says Mike D. “We’ll get people coming up to us and saying, ‘I just have to thank you, because I had Licensed to Ill when I was fourteen, and I got into Paul’s Boutique in college’ – or maybe it might be Check Your Head. We’re fortunate that the audience has – well, it would be presumptuous of me to say ‘grown with us.’ But it being the nature of beings to progress, a lot of people have gone through, and continue to go through, what we have.”