I tend to go on about Phoenix '96 as a musical coming of age. It was a lot of things, a milestone in the rites of passage for Ed Bear. First festival. First pedestal girl. First experiments. First time I ever played Twister using coloured pieces of garbage. First time I ever bought sunglasses with yellow lenses. But what I always harp on about was this one afternoon when Matthew Crosby and I accidentally saw The Prodigy, and my mind was opened to a world outside of rock. So powerful was this epiphany, this transition from 'Man, Rock is AWESOME and dance music is BALLS' to 'What are my feet doing, and my hands? The beat has me. I'm in outer space.' that years later I won £20 from my friend James because I knew, of course I knew, exactly what The Prodigy delivered on that fateful evening. It was a musical rebirth. The Wonder Years voice-over says 'And we were never the same again.'
Except that's bullshit. Or at least it's only half true. It's a better story than the one I'm about to relate. Truth is by the time I'd got to Phoenix '96 I'd already had my mind opened and blown, years before. So much groundwork had already been done.
And it starts in an MVC on Orpington High Street.
It's my birthday and someone, it might be Matthew Crosby again, or it might be my friend Alaric, has taken me to MVC to pick out what I want as a present. Given how unceremonious this is, I think it's Alaric doing the buying. I think Matthew might have gone in for wrapping paper and some semblance of surprise, over just standing in a shop until I hand him something, and seconds later giving it back, in a plastic bag. MVC, I should probably point out, stands for Music and Video Club, and was like a Sam Goody's but if you had a store-card records were, like, £2 cheaper. Here in 2012 I feel like I need to footnote these things. We're going to get onto VHS in a second. Brace yourself.
We've gone there after school. And I walk round for a long time with a copy of 'Bug' by Dinosaur Jr. in my hands. I had heard Freak Scene on some sort of compilation and thought (and still do) that this is one of the best. songs. ever and I must get the record that goes with it. But I'm stalling. Something tells me I'll buy it and listen to it and like it, but it just won't feel very birthday. Me just handing something I would have bought with my own money, to someone else to buy with theirs. See, I like it when birthdays take me places I wouldn't normally have gone. A tiny bit of the unexpected would be good.
But nothing quite grabs me. I think about a Mudhoney record, but we're in the same ball-park there - it's Grunge. It's safe. Maybe I should just be grateful I'm getting a record for free and just get on with WAIT. WAIT. I don't have Dinosaur Jr. in my hands. I have a VHS. Three fake-seventies cops on the front, strutting down the street, aviators and ties. Big bold yellowy-orange letters above their heads.
I'm telling y'all it's Sabotage.
I'm not sure I've even seen the video. I've never seen it on MTV. I've heard of it, sure; kids at school talking, screengrabs in NME. As far as I'm concerned The Beastie Boys aren't far off a novelty act. 'Fight for Your Right' is just a silly goof-off record. My uncle tells me the Beastie Boys made people vandalise cars. I can't really tell if these guys are jerks or not.
And yet I've got this video in my hands. There's something cinematic about it. Stylish. I worry I'm making a mistake and consult with Matthew. 'Is it cool if I get this? Is this a cool thing? I can't tell.' Matthew wants me to go for it, of course he does, it's not his birthday present. It's Alaric's money. Makes no difference to him. But what if it sucks? I'll have to wait another year before I get something cool ever again. Fret. Fret. Fret. Fuck it.
It's bought now. No turning back.
No turning back, indeed.
It's an hour of perfection. Words are going to fail me now. I've written the next bit a few times and deleted again and again. Where do I start? I can't sum it up. But there I am seeing style and talent and fun and swagger and attitude and my eyes are wide like a baby with car keys. Look how fucking fun their world is. This is not Alice in Chains, down in a hole on their angry chair. This is three guys from NYC having the fucking best time. The BEST time.
My flatmate looks back on photos of me from back then and goes on about me dressing like an old man. Well all that Charity Shop slacks and chinos and vintage menswear was me trying to get it on like the Beasties. Those guys make jumping about in golf pants look like the best thing ever. Who wouldn't want to dress like that?
|I used to have a big check Donkey Jacket that I hated, until I saw Sure Shot. In fact, right now I want to go find it.|
I could go on. It was profound (yes, I know, dear reader. Everything is profound to the Ed Bear.) But I'll limit myself. Show restraint.
HOLY SHIT HOW AWESOME IS THE BASS INTRO TO GRATITUDE?
I had to get Check Your Head. This was back when I still considered myself a bassist. On the VHS, maybe second track in, we go to the studio and see MCA, shot in B&W, working this delicious riff on an upright bass, before we segue-way into a vicious live version of Gratitude. I needed this song on my stereo, in my pocket so I could take it wherever I went. Sadly, Check Your Head's version of Gratitude doesn't have all that noodling about before - it just goes straight to fuzzy bass. But that is the only sad thing about Check Your Head, my favourite of all the Beastie LPs.
What a gift. 20 tracks. 53 minutes and 42 seconds to educate and entertain you with. I used to do my paper-round to it, and to this day, 'Live at PJ's' makes me think of that final stretch before I could turn my bike downhill and get to school. I used to play it on the tape-deck in Design and I remember the spliffy kids appreciating how funky the opening to 'Stand Together' was. Yes dudes. I also know cool. Didn't see that coming, did you?
From there we got Licence to Ill and the experience was complete. Blistering hip hop, a bit of punk, and sweet funk - I mean, these cats are geniuseses. Listen, man. Listen at what they can do.
Man, it felt like an age until 'Hello Nasty' came out. Check Your Head, Licence to Ill and, Paul's Boutique got many, many plays and then I went off and discovered Public Enemy, and DJ Shadow happened, and we had this sweet, sweet mix-tape called 'Shoot tha Pump' going around. And I'd been to Phoenix '96.
I'll be honest - I felt a little let down by Nasty International. There was less of the 70's groove of Head/Ill. It was a bit more pop than I was expecting, and some tracks - Song for the Man - were instant skips. I'm a fickle teenager still, remember. But now the Beasties were on tour, and I got to go see them at a Reading, and also at Brixton Academy. From the Reading, I remember a bit of a beef with The Prodigy, funnily enough. The Prodge were saying how the Beasties had asked them not to play 'Smack my Bitch Up' and they said fuck it. They do what they want. The crowd cheer. Then the B-Boys came on and said where they come from smacking a bitch up just isn't cool. The crowd cheer. Townies don't have principles, you fools. They just want to hear 'Intergalactic' and do robot arms. Let's go already.
At Brixton it was an event. The Invisibl Skratch Piklz, the X-Men (or X-Ecutioners, if you must) and Money Mark in support. The Beasties - pure energy. Tireless showmen. Good people. I think all of Bromley came with me to that one. Since I picked up that video, Alaric had transformed from pudgy outsider to retro heartthrob. Alaric was into vinyl. The Beastie Boys had changed the world. We all danced. I was dressed like an old man. I felt so very fucking young.
Yeah. There wasn't much of a narrative to this post. I could go on and do the next few albums. I saved 'The Mix-Up' for my first trip to New York and that was worth it. Of everything post-Licence, Mix-Up is probably my favourite - just because I feel like that groovy instrumental stuff is as much a part of the Beastie sound as the rhyme-routines. I could go on about my love of Grand Royal magazine and my misery over Paul Canova losing my issue 2. I could say other little fiddly things. I guess I was just thinking I owed The Beastie Boys a big thanks and I went off somewhere cosy and nostalgic as a result.
Yesterday was sad news. Really, really sad news.
Adam Yauch aka MCA. 1964-2012