Superficially, you might dismiss this mighty tome (it weighs in at close to 600 pages) as a sort of superior coffeetable book. It’s nicely packaged (as you’d expect from a Faber title) and it’s full of photographs of the band at various points throughout their career (and when I say full, I mean full in the way that a style mag is full of pics: you’ll turn the page and see a two page pic, you’ll turn the page and see a two page pic, you’ll turn the page and see a two page pic then you’ll turn the page and see what might be a two page or a four page article that is also illustrated with lots of pics – this is a well-illustrated book is what we are saying). If you had only a passing interest in the music of the Beastie Boys, a quick flick might tell you that this is one for the aficionados. BUT YOU WOULD BE WRONG!
To get the first glimmer of just how special this book is, we need to perform a little switch from book to audiobook. The audio version of Beastie Boys Book is an absolute joy. Everything an audiobook should be. The absolute bar for what’s possible. Much like George Saunders’ Lincoln in the Bardo (a previous entrant for BEST AUDIOBOOK EVER, at least in my head), there is quite the cast of readers. Of course, you hear from Adam Horovitz and Mike Diamond. They wrote the book, for Pete’s sake. But you also hear from Chuck D, Kim Gordon, Elvis Costello, Amy Poehler, Will Ferrell*, Wanda Sykes, Ben Stiller, Kate Schellenbach**, Jarvis Cocker***, Rosie Perez, John C Reilly, Chloe Sevigny – the list goes on. Hold that cast list in your mind a second. We need to switch back to the book a moment. We need to talk about voice.
In lots of ways, the story of the Beastie Boys is the story of three guys who look for and find their voice/s. They start out playing in a hardcore band when they are in their teens and they play a few shows. Then their heads are turned by hip hop. They buy every 12” they can get their hands on. They hook up with Rick Rubin and Def Jam and record Licensed to Ill. Which goes on to sell a gazillion copies. They embark on a frenzied world tour which draws down the ire of the likes of the Daily Mail. They get sick of their ugly personas. They change it up. They become the Beastie Boys that we know and love, experimenting with different beats and samples and flavas. The point they get to – and it’s an important one when you’re deciding whether you want to read this book – is that they create a band with a unique style. No one sounds like the Beastie Boys.****
And those same voices (or two of those same voices) leap right out of the page at you. Ad-Rock and Mike D. They each contribute elements of the story. They try to fill in for Adam Yauch, whose untimely demise casts a long shadow over these pages. They argue and call each other out (parts of Beastie Boys Book read like Mark Danielewski’s House of Leaves, in that there are side notes and explanations and clarifications galore). The warmth of their friendship makes this book a massively infectious read. You want to fill your brain with their stories. You want to laugh along. You want to be an honorary Beastie yourself. Even if the closest you get is merely to stop reading every time Mike D tells you to stop reading so that you can go and listen to whatever song he’s telling you you have to listen to (‘I Like Food’ by The Descendants, ‘Pass the Peas’ by the JBs, ‘Panis et Circenses’ by Os Mutantes, ‘El Raton’ by Cheo Feliciano, the list goes on and on – you should stop reading this review at this point and go and listen to all of those songs).
Now, we switched between the audiobook and the actual book up above there didn’t we? And the fact is: if you just do one of those things (ie just read the book, just listen to the audiobook), you’re going to miss out on something. For instance, if you’re just listening to the audiobook, you’ll miss out on the pics – and Spike Jonze’s ‘Sticking to Themes’ photography section may be lost on you (although Jonze did record a winning alternative in the audiobook that you’ll miss out on if you don’t listen to the audiobook). Similarly, Mix Master Mike’s section (written as if he’s alien) is much improved by the beats you hear in the audio. At the same time, Wanda Sykes’ telling of ‘MC Shy D and a dozen eggs’ doesn’t mention the fact it’s a comic in the book*****. And Roy Choi’s cookbook doesn’t work in the audio but in the actual book you get a selection of recipes and photographs******. This happens so often that (best advice you’re going to get): YOU NEED TO READ THE BOOK AND THE AUDIOBOOK IN TANDEM TO EXPERIENCE THE FULL EFFECT. There. We said it.
All told, then, Beastie Boys Book is everything that you would want it to be. We may not be getting any more Beastie Boys records, but we have new Beastie Boys’ product and for that we are thankful. Final words go to the B-Boys themselves:
“Flame on, I’m gone
I’m so sweet like a nice bon bon
Came out rapping when I was born
Mom said rock it ’til the break of dawn…”
Any Cop?: It’s like all your Beastie Boy-shaped Christmases came at once. It’s a cornucopia, a smorgasbord, a feast for the eyes and the ears. Treat yo’self.