Before even opening a physical copy of Beastie Boys Book, you already know that Michael Diamond and Adam Horovitz are great storytellers – it’s one of the qualities that makes their music great. So it’s no surprise that these nearly 600 pages are jam-packed with hilarious anecdotes about everything from a long-con prank involving a cursed piece of jewelry that Adam Yauch pulled on Horovitz to the guys walking Lee “Scratch” Perry through Greenwich Village’s famed Halloween parade. Beastie Boys Book also offers fascinating first-person accounts of post-punk New York City in the Eighties, the birth of mainstream hip-hop and the ways the trio matured while keeping their friendship strong (and also wearing lots of silly, throwback costumes).
You can only imagine how much more fun it is to hear the Beasties — and a star-studded cast of their friends — recount those stories as an audiobook. For nearly 13 hours, Diamond, Horovitz and a cast that includes Snoop Dogg, Kim Gordon, Steve Buscemi, Chloë Sevigny, Wanda Sykes, Jon Stewart, Ben Stiller and Bette Midler, among many others, go through every page. You can hear Horovitz snicker at his own jokes here and there, and he and Diamond interject with counterarguments to one another’s chapters (as they do in the book). It’s fun, engaging and interesting. This is how an audiobook should be done.
What’s even more exciting than the Beasties telling their own story are all the ways their friends interpret their words. Rosie Perez exudes sheer Brooklyn joy as she recounts Diamond’s first time hearing Afrika Bambaataa perform, and Sykes’ voice can make anything sound incredible, especially her interpretation of a comic book that appears in the physical copy. Buscemi doesn’t even pause when saying the phrase “dick in a box,” with reference to the Beasties’ inflatable phallus from their first tour (and, similarly, you can hear Maya Rudolph say “Butthole Surfers saved my life”). Ben Stiller does his best Biz Markie, Midler does a Zoolander impression, Rachel Maddow recites Adam Yauch’s verse from “Professor Booty” and Will Farrell recites a negative and overly pretentious review of Ill Communication. (The only low points are the many lists of songs, instruments and what-not that the guys made for the book, which work better in print than in spoken word; also, a quasi-cookbook chapter probably didn’t need to be dramatized.)
The audiobook is full of moments that are so unique to whoever is reading it. Snoop Dogg’s voice is so recognizable that he’s the only reader who doesn’t introduce himself. And Jon Stewart truly savors the pause in his chapter where Horovitz wrote, “before Donald Trump was … I can’t say it.”
There are some poignant entries. Kate Schellenbach, a founding Beastie Boy, tells her story of being ousted from the group, her contempt for Rick Rubin and how they all reconnected after she joined Luscious Jackson. Ada Calhoun reads her own scientific interpretation of the Beastie Boys’ sexism. The Boredoms’ YoshimiO recounts a time when the three Beasties helped her when someone randomly punched her – in Japanese, with translation by Kim Gordon. And there are stories galore about what a zany, unique, creative person Yauch was, all with the shadow of his 2012 death hanging over them.
Perhaps the most interesting chapter comes early in the recording, when most of the contributors participate in an absurd oral history of “Cooky Puss,” the ice-cream creation that inspired their first rap single. You can pick out a few voices here and there — Bobby Cannavale, Sykes, Perez and Elvis Costello, among others — but you have to listen to it several times after you’ve heard the whole thing to pick them all out.
It’s bookended by Reverend Run reading credits in an intro and copyright information in an outro over funky hip-hop beats. You haven’t truly listened to an audiobook until you’ve heard a rap legend holler, “All rights reseeeerrved.”