Friday, June 3, 2011

HOW ALL MY BEASTIE BOYS RECORDS WENT MISSING


On the eve of the release of hotsaucecommitteeparttwo, I've been giving the Beastie Boys plenty of thought as of late. Considering that their records had pretty much punctuated my growth in music between the ages of thirteen and eighteen, and have greatly informed the music I've listened to since. So, I figured, using their body of work as a reference point, I'd let you all in on a series of musical mishaps I've encountered during those formative years. There will be no clever references to specific lyrics. Just pure, unadulterated, absolutely true accounts of teenage record collector frustration. Except for the ones that aren't.

Ill Communication

A long, long time ago, Dad brought this large, old, silver portable cassette player from my Grandma's House. Grandma had told him that the buttons had suddenly gained the habit of getting stuck, so it was handed to him with the prospect of fixing it. Soon enough, it became a permanent fixture of our living room. That's when I decided to call it my own. Paired with discarded headphones that needed just enough wigglework to be serviceable, these two pieces would become pivotal possessions in the start of my personal life with music. I remember spending hours listening to that thing in private, away from the tin-eared influence of family and friends.

"Oh, so they managed to get instruments playing on different speakers!" God, I was a dork.

A few years go by. I was now in my teens, putting full use to this thing. By then, the tape function became an increasingly risky affair. Sometimes, the buttons would refuse to work, and I'd have to press them over and over again until they did. It was bad enough to test Grandma's patience, but a thirteen year old’s resilience is not to be reckoned with. Those buttons will be pressed in every possible combination, and those batteries will be switched endlessly before I ever considered calling it quits. In these moments, I thought of what Grandma would ever make of this.

So I'm sitting on the floor, playing another tape with my eyes closed, and I'm noticing that Bodhavista Vow was seeming more slower and more zen than I ever recalled. Suddenly it becomes clear that the tape player is giving in. In a panic, I pressed STOP and attempted to play the tape again, hoping it'll play ball this time. Nothing. All the old tricks are coming up nil. Not even a fresh supply of batteries was doing anything. The buttons had now stiffened out, preventing the tape from being ejected. It was stuck.

I put it in the closet, next to a broken Atari. It was my personal graveyard of lost things I'd ever hoped to recover. Old things, broken things. My mother had been increasingly bugging me about it. My hope was that perhaps by the weekend I'd manage to get the jaws of life to save it, or at the very least, a hammer. But it was gone the very next day. The closet was clean. Mom threw it all away, and there was no room in that closet for debate.

To The Five Boroughs

Consider this a warning to those who buy records used on a release day:

A man walks into a record store. He's hoping to find the Beasties' latest, their first in about five years. The man did not have to walk very far. A display table features a fresh set of new records. But his eye caught something unusual. One had a red USED sticker, with a discounted price. Never the kind to pass up on saving a few pennies (as was the case), he leapt across to the checkout desk. The record store owner was sporting a devilish gleam. "That'll be 13.32." The man swipes his credit card, unaffected. A brief pause. Then, as the transaction clears, the receipt spits out, and the owner reaches for a plastic bag. "No, Thanks!" The man quips as he takes his receipt. He walks towards the exit, blinded by his very own thriftiness. In a fit of closure, one hand reaches for the door, while the other tosses the receipt in the trash. He smiles as the door closes slowly behind him. The man pulls the USED sticker, and the words CLEAN LYRICS/NOTHING SILLY are revealed.

"Fuck!"

Check Your Head

My older brother warned me about this. It was the tenth grade, and I had a head on collision with the sophomore slump. It had deprived this honor student of his grades and his social life. Where did they all go?

Yet, in the midst of it all, halfway through the school year, during another lonely lunch break, Antonio appeared before me. He had disappeared more than three years ago, in the seventh grade, when we all used to wear school uniforms. Now, he was dressed in black, fatter than ever, sporting a moustache. "Where did YOU go?" I tell him. "My friend and I were seized by the government after we were caught hacking one of their computer mainframes." Suddenly, I remembered. Antonio was a bipolar, manic depressive, compulsive liar. Special Ed. Back then, my friends and I would include him in our deepest, most profound seventh grade lunch conversations, enjoying his skewed perspective on things. The fun was that we'd always give him the benefit of the doubt. Once he managed to steal a hardcover copy of Hemingway’s Old Man and The Sea from the school library, and with a ballpoint pen, changed all the verbs into sexual euphemisms. It was comedy gold. But I guess you had to be there.

Antonio shows me his crisp new I.D. Despite being a year older than me, he was just admitted in as a freshman. "I wish everyone was dead", he tells me. Things haven't changed much, and it didn't take long to realize that we didn't have much in common. Our exploits of long ago now seemed unlikely, if only by a degree of maturity. I no longer had an interest in the vandalism of literature. But what we did manage to share was Pink Floyd. It was probably the only thing we were relatively on the same page on, or at least as much as humanly possible between us. For the next few months, I'd endured every afternoon lunch break discussing every note from The Piper at The Gates of Dawn all the way to The Division Bell. It was enough to fill my quota of human interaction, fully knowing that it would run dry at some point. Besides, Pink Floyd represented my dad's record collection. My obsessions lied within the records of the A Tribe Called Quest, Beastie Boys, Beck, and Talking Heads. I tried to bridge our conversations into that territory. Antonio on the other hand, was only interested in the endless combinations of violent phrases that comprised the canon of Metal. But I decided to give it a shot. Later on, I brought my CD player, along with Check Your Head, a transcendent record if there ever was any. This was my offering towards Antonio’s inclination. "You should give this a try," I tell him. "It's probably the Beastie’s best record. It's like a funk blender." Suddenly his eyes widened. "OH SHIT! FIGHT FOR YOUR RIGHT!” His surprise had reached both ends of the campus. “You won't find anything like that here. That's from an earlier record." I felt my warning fall to deaf ears, but I was touched by his enthusiasm. "You gotta let me borrow it." So I handed him the CD.

Weeks went by. I'd press on him for some early impressions, but he'd make up a new reason each time, usually incorporating the word “busy”. Summer was drawing near, the semester was about to draw to a close, and our conversations became increasingly sparse. I was fed up with my attempts of relating with him, so I asked him for my CD. It takes him yet another week to return it. "What did you think of it?" I pressed, for one last time. He gives it a moment of thought. "I heard some of it, but then I got busy." My eyes gazed upon the case: cracked, scratched, and torn. I knew exactly what he meant.

Paul's Boutique

Things weren't looking good for neighbor Dan or his "girlfriend". Throughout this Saturday afternoon, she's been tossing a lot more than just dirty looks. Vinyl records, compact discs, and even his Playstation, all nearly missed his head. Not that he was sober enough to notice. He was too busy stumbling in the driveway building his magnum opus: a six foot long potato launcher. Dan was a tall, slender, and bitter Gen-X'er. A Civil Engineer in a neighboring county. Recently, his breakfast consisted of a Colt 45 and a Red Bull. As far as their relationship goes, you know things are going bad when your lover's nickname suddenly becomes "babe".

Ronnie was my neighborhood friend, about five years younger than me. He had a far more developed eye for imminent danger than my nineteen year old self. We used to spend afternoons such as these with Dan, talking about music, movies, anything. But Ronnie wouldn't have it today. It might have had something to do with the mixture of yelling going on indoors and the sound of moving furniture. I was more interested in Dan's makeshift potato cannon. He'd been working on this thing for weeks, and he was just about done. Dan cracked open another beer. Suddenly he starts yelling out the words to High Plains Drifter. "I have that album", I told him. He quickly turned at me. "YOU DOOOO?!? BRING IT OVER!"

So I walk across the street towards home. Ronnie looks concerned. "Look, let's go play video games or something." I was surprised. "Oh c'mon, dude. It's Paul's Boutique. Besides, I don't think you've heard it yet." Indeed he hasn't. Soon we were all back in the driveway, and Dan struggles to pop the CD into his BMW, his eternal work in progress.

I'm watching Dan, and Ronnie reluctantly watches from a distance as he puts the finishing touches on the cannon. The drumroll from "Shake Your Rump" comes on, and suddenly the indoor yelling stops. "YOU'RE PLAYING MUSIC?" Dan doesn't return the call. She starts yelling again. He's reciting every single rhyme and sample, even the ones the liner notes have that didn't make the final cut. His devotion to this record belittles my own. Ronnie's not impressed.

It takes him a few more minutes to finish. He readies the potatoes. He readies the hairspray (it's the fuel). He reaches his pocket for a lighter. Not there. "Car Thief" comes on, and Dan starts crawling on the floor, clinging on every rhyme better than the he is at the cement. Ronnie's had enough. "C'mon, let's go." I look at Dan. "He's about to launch it!" I say. "Forget it, c'mon. We need to go." He grabs me by the arm, and drags me out as Dan reaches for the lighter on the floor. As I walked across the street, disappointed, I ask Ronnie if he had any better ideas. Suddenly we turn our heads towards the driveway. "HOMEBOY THROW IN THE TOWEL, YOUR GIRL GOT DICKED BY RICKY POWELL!" The sound of shattered glass echoes everywhere.


Hello Nasty

Ever gone on a record Scavenger Hunt? It's a game unique to all album collectors with a sense of poor organization and low tolerance for finding things. First, you open the tray in your record player. Considering that there’s a record already in there, and you're too lazy to find its proper case, you should opt for swapping it with the record you're going to play. The logic being that you'll find it eventually, right? Repeat this process as long as necessary. Soon, a substantial portion of your active listening collection is now scattered about. Now begins the fun part of putting it all back together!

So I have an open case of Mingus Ah Um. Turns out it was inside Doolittle, which I found within Pet Sounds, which I found upside down in Exile, which I found within Safe as Milk, which I found within Odelay, which I found within Dusty In Memphis, which I found within Berlin, which I found within Bargainville, in which I found where the second disc of The Wall should be, which was inside American Water, in which was within Pure Disco, which turns out to be inside Hello Nasty.

...now where the hell is Hello Nasty?

Licensed To Ill

To just about every nerdy obnoxious smartass friend I knew just past the age of puberty, Licensed To Ill was their national anthem, their prayer, and their downfall. For people my age, it was that hilariously badass thing from the 1980's that we were all too young to witness. It's a loud, uncomprimising silly putty of an album. It was also a fucking stupid record. For better and for worse, three snotty and snobby kiddie punk rock wannabes from NYC decided to stop directing their irony towards hip-hop (maybe I should scratch?) and inverted it outward to a world that hadn't quite grasped the rap thing yet. I got sick of it pretty quickly, and I stashed it in my closet, and my love for the Beasties grew ever exponentially forward.

But my inner teenage snob needs to make due. I was the guy who needed a pie smashed in his face, my TV hit with a sledgehammer. This record is the DNA of the Beastie Boys. It's still probably the most quintessentially 'Beastie' for your money, as much as it hurts for me to admit that. So if you value your teen spirit in your music, (and I know a lot of you do) this record will always have it's appeal. Y'know, for the kids. I gave my copy away years ago to my friend Ronnie: a smartass, obnoxious, mixtape making womanizer, and good friend. I was a freshman in college, and he a sophmore in High School. It will always be his record more than mine, but I can make room for it again.

So I owe those friends of mine for turning me to all things Beastie from this record, even if their love for them didn't evolve past it's last drum machine loop. There will always be a time to get ill. Here's to all of them.

Check The Cool Wax:

Check Your Head / Ill Communication
Hello Nasty
Paul's Boutique
To The Five Boroughs
Licensed To Ill

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