MEMOS FROM A MUSIC FIEND
BY ALEJANDRO MAGAÑA
Beastie Boys: License To Ill
Def Jam / Columbia, 1986
I am exhausted right now for so many reasons, and this album was bound to come up sooner or later, so having fought my whole life for my “right to party,” I need to be easy on myself tonight. After all, I started writing these little things because it’s fun for me; writing is something I do well, and I discover things about myself and my relationship to the world around me when I write and what better way to understand this relationship than music? Few things invigorate me and bring me joy like music.
This is a record that always reminds me to not take anything too seriously. It came out when I was just a kid and it was probably the first record where I’d memorized entire songs. My friends and I would just be hanging on the playground and have a giant group-rap-along of, say, “Paul Revere,” like the way football hooligans in Europe do those massive chants in stadiums, just ten or so little boys shouting, “JUST ME AND MY HORSEY AND A QUART OF BEER…”
Hell, I don’t even think any of us knew where Brooklyn was but our little gang was united in full-throated conviction, “NO SLEEP ‘TIL!…BROOKLYN!!!”
This was OUR music, this “Rap” stuff. Not our older brothers’ or sisters’. Between the Beastie Boys and Run DMC, this music was becoming legit, these groups had Star Power and their songs were everywhere. MTV was after-school viewing and these guys ruled MTV. Our parents wondered ‘what is this shit? It’s not like your older brother’s Satanic music, but this, this isn’t even music!’
These guys were like the fuckin’ Three Stooges in ballcaps. Or the Marx Brothers. And we were the Little Rascals, Our Gang. You could breakdance, or rather try to breakdance, to it. Some of the songs, like “Fight For Your Right To Party” and “Slow and Low” had some heavy guitar so you could kinda bang your head, or maybe wrestle your friends, (before we knew about mosh pits) or lets be real, sometimes the music made you just wanna fuck shit up, maybe fight that bully at school or that oppressive older sibling at home.
I loved watching The Beastie Boys grow as I grew up. Maybe for people my age that’s the closest we’ll have to how all those boomers describe growing with The Beatles throughout the ‘60s. This album is still an excellent party record but it would be more of a novelty, (remember 2 Live Crew anyone?) if they hadn’t grown with their audience. I’m also one of those fans that when they denounced the sexism of their first couple records I was happy, even relieved.
I was profoundly sad when MCA, aka Adam Yauch, passed away. He had the coolest flow out of the three of them with that distinct deep rasp. He’d become a Buddhist, started the Free Tibet concert, and according to the recent documentary, he was really the creative heart of their work. He fucked with tape-loops early on, like some of the more seriously regarded ‘artistes’ of that era in New York and I believe it was he that took the lead, before making Check Your Head, of practicing their old musical instruments from their founding punk rock days. He came up with that opening bass riff from Sabotage. I miss MCA.
Before I let this take too serious a tone, I’ll just say thanks MCA and thank you Beastie Boys.Then I’ll turn this shit up for my son, the absolute greatest joy of my life. He’s been noddin’ to the beat and bangin’ his head since before he could walk. “Slow and Low let yourself go!” That is the tempo.