Published on April 27th, 2020 | by Craig Silliphant0
The Beastie Boys Story
Apple TV+ released The Beastie Boys Story, directed by Spike Jonze. Is it a fresh new look or a retread of last year’s amazing book?
The first time I heard The Beastie Boys was around the same time everyone else did. I was in grade six, so I was a little young to really get the message of ‘fighting for your right to party,’ or the idea that they were spoofing fratboy culture anyway. It was just a goofy song on Z99 that was showcasing this new ‘rap’ sound that was coming to the prairie from what might as well had been another planet.
But The B-Boys really kicked down the door of my brain with their second album, ‘Paul’s Boutique.’ I still listen to that album on the regular. And every time I do, it reminds me of so many good times, with so many like-minded, musical friends and the drunken shenanigans that abounded. I was never a fratboy, but I was definitely of an age to fight for my right to party by the late 80s/early 90s.
Since one of the core B-Boys trio, Adam Yauch (MCA) passed away in 2012, the band stopped making their music. But they’re at an age of introspection, as evidence by all the speaking tours and events they’ve been doing, as well as putting out one of the best musical autobiographies of all time, The Beastie Boys Book.
In accordance with that, Apple TV+ just dropped The Beastie Boys Story, directed by long-time Beastie collaborator, Spike Jonze. It was supposed to premiere theatrically at SXSW, but that plan was scrapped due to CoronaVirus.
The film is actually being called a “live documentary experience,” because it’s framed around the book release shows that Michael Diamond (Mike D) and Adam Horovitz (Ad-Rock) did to support the book. The shows were basically them telling many of the stories from the book, halfway between stand up special and historical Ted Talk. For better or worse, it’s a companion piece to The Beastie Boys Book.
What I mean by that is that I know all these stories, having just read the book last year. It’s by no means a deal breaker and fans will dig it. I’m sure it will bring new fans to their music. But it did feel a bit like hearing the same stories all over again. That said, I have friends that I’ve known for 30 years and many of their stories don’t get old no matter how many times I hear them. Part of the appeal of The Beastie Boys to me is that I grew up with them; MCA, Mike D, and Ad-Rock feel like old friends too.
I’m still not sure about the live setting though. It’s different from the usual phoned-in, talking heads music bio, which is good. It lets you spend some time with Mike D and Ad-Rock as they tell you these stories. And you feel the energy of the audience too. They can utilize the background screen to good effect sometimes, including involving some clips of MCA (though they could have done more of this, actually. It made it feel like he was there with them). They also break the 4th wall a bit when Spike messes up on the teleprompter — including these bits feels a bit self-consciously forced, but it also makes it feel loose, in proper B-Boys fashion.
I’m guessing Jonze and the lads were going for some sort of intimacy and I wondered if a Jarmusch-style, Coffee and Cigarettes approach might have been better? Show them walking around in the old neighbourhood, or hanging out in a bar or coffee shop telling these stories to us directly. In fact, it occurs to me as I says this that this was the format of the recent Wu-Tang documentary, Of Mics and Men. Wouldn’t this format give us more intimacy?
At any rate, again, it’s not a deal breaker. I’m happy to see these guys do pretty much anything. They layer in really fun footage, like a hilarious old TV clip where one of the boys, pre-fame, asks Afrika Bambaataa about ‘Cookie Puss.’ And it’s not all fun and games; AdRock gets visibly emotional when discussing MCA and other friends and family lost to time through their saga. What really does shine through in The Beastie Boys Story is their easy friendship.
Like many people, I grew up with this band. The Beastie Boys were blasting behind many of my stupid drunken antics in my 20s and they’ve become a more sophisticated soundtrack to both human and artistic growth in my 40s.
They explored music, their instruments, pop culture, and the bounds of their friendships, growing as people and as artists, which is what any of us creatively aspire to. They were once crazy trickster rock gods, but they turned inward to do something more than stay on the treadmill of recreating their first hit. They wanted to do more. They wanted to be more.
A reporter once asked Ad-Rock if he was a hypocrite because of some newer, positive lyrics that contradicted some older, questionable lyrics. His reply was, “I’d rather be a hypocrite than the same person forever.”
For whatever faults it has, The Beastie Boys Story captures that spirit of change for the better.