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May 04, 2012

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Sean

A great man.

Matt

Nicely done as usual. In light of the SLJ/AO Scott fluff today, also worth noting that Yauch knew the proper way to take critcism:

http://www.nytimes.com/2004/06/20/arts/20MAIL.html

other mike

great piece Glenn.

Bettencourt

Am I the only one who remembers a New York magazine profile on the Beastie Boys many years ago which included this phrase from the writer, as if it were a charming aside? [I'm quoting it from memory but I'm pretty sure it's an accurate quote]: "Notorious homophobes (they wanted to call their first album 'Don't Be a Faggot')..."

I've never been able read about the trio without remembering that quote, and wondering what reaction that favorable article might have had with a similar quote beginning "Notorious racists" or "Notorious anti-Semites."

Just a thought. I'll get off my soap box now.

Glenn Kenny

@ Bettencourt: I don't recall the precise quotation, but I do remember a lot of stuff that went on with respect to the Beastie Boys and homophobia. Yes, apparently "Don't Be A Faggot" WAS considered as an album title, and rejected, OR, that could just as well have been a rumor that was floated to enhance their young, loud, and snotty obnoxiousness rep/schtick. Horowitz, if I recall correctly, made the water more hot for himself by justifying certain homophobic remarks/attitudes by recollecting old pervs hitting on him as a boy when he was growing up in the West Village. Doug Simmons got pretty agitated over that in the pages of the Village Voice, as I recall. There was also some controversy over a couplet on "License To Ill," said by MCA himself, the one about "Money and juice/twin sisters in my bed." Some knuckleheads heard the next line as "their father had AIDS so I shot him in the head." The actual line was "their father had envy so I shot him in the head." On the other hand, there's at least one "authentically" homophobic line on the record, "you drippy nosed-knucklehead, you're wet behind the ears/you like men/and we like beers." It's a schoolyard taunt from guys whose personas at the time were of Jerry Lewis-inflected faux hooligans whose "idea" of being badass was "we went to White Castle and we got thrown out," but if you want to take umbrage feel free. In any event, by the time of "Paul's Boutique" all that stuff was pretty much a thing of the past, although arguably "I was making records while you were sucking on your mother's dick" is, you know, questionable.

Their works subsequent to that and their actual dealings with actual people tell a rather different story than, you know, an offhand characterization from a journalist, but, again, what you will.

That Fuzzy Bastard

Yeah, one thing I always found impressive about the Beasties is that while they did say some dumbass things about women and gays when they were rich young mooks, they seemed to actually learn from their mistakes and tried really hard to do and think better in the future. Heck, look at how hard they pushed Luscious Jackson, mostly because they felt bad about forcing "the girl" out of their band way back when. Few rock stars---few people---would have been so long-term gracious.
Also: Adam Hornblower was a damned fine director. And said to be a regular at excellent Carroll Gardens restaurant Zaytoon's. He'll be much missed.

That Fuzzy Bastard

(crap---Nathanial, not Adam---sorry)

Bettencourt

I don't know enough about the Boys as musicians or as people to know if that NY article bit was in any way representative of their real behavior or attitudes -- certainly Yauch and Oscilloscope have allowed some first-rate films to be seen, and I give him kudos for that.

Mostly I was amazed that the article would be written in a way that suggested homophobia was just another delightful quirk of those adorable rapscallions, which is what the journalist's tone suggested.

But I happily defer to those who know their work and their lives much better than I do.

Adam K

I was second in the wait line for the world premiere of Wim Wenders's "Don't Come Knocking" at Sundance in 2006, and a guy with extra tickets sold one of them to me. Going into the lobby, I look around for a spot to sit and spy a familiar-looking dude sitting and leaning against a wall, sipping a forty. I had seen "Awesome; I Fuckin' Shot That!", the crowd-sourced Beasties concert flick the night before, so I wouldn't fail to recognize its director and co-star, MCA.

He was gracious about the fact that no one had been bothering him until my recognition, which caused a few more people to take notice. I still had the promotional pin with his concert film's title stuck on me, so I got a quick picture with him displaying the pin prominently and then let him alone. It was my first sense of him as a cinephile but certainly not my last, and I'll deeply miss his art and his advocacy.

Steve

The band apologized for their sexist attitudes in the LICENSED TO ILL era in the liner notes to the greatest hits album. When a review in TIME OUT NY pointed out that they said nothing about homophobia, one of the band members (I can't remember who) wrote to the magazine and said that they were sorry about that as well. I wish Eminem had undergone a similar evolution with age.

Not David Bordwell

"Low and Slow" was on teh iTunez when I read this post, and the lyric that constitutes the final line flowed by not one second later.

You know someone's had a serious cultural impact when you walk into one of those urban liquor stores with pictures of Ashurbanipal on the wall, and the guys behind the counter shake their heads in sorrow when you go "And the forty's for MCA."

Petey

Gunnin’ for That No. 1 Spot is a pretty tasty movie if you like hoops.

And while I was never a fan of the first album, everything that came after was pretty tasty too.

I don't mean to brag I don't mean to boast. But I'm intercontinental when I eat french toast.

wtf

@glenn kenny--So the Boys got their start enthusiastically peddling violent homophobia to teenaged boys, but they moved on to other things, got married, had kids, offered an off-hand sorta apology about it 20 years later in a letter to the editor of a local downtown magazine, so it's all good. No harm, no foul.

Petey

"So the Boys got their start enthusiastically peddling violent homophobia to teenaged boys, but they moved on to other things ... so it's all good. No harm, no foul."

You had no serious character flaws at the age of 20?

They were pretty repellent frat-boy types at the time of their first album, but they rapidly grew out of it.

Glenn Kenny

The thing is, they really were not repellent frat-boy types, and their whole schtick had to do with how WEAK they were at that persona. E.g., "because being bad news is what I'm all about/we went to White Castle and we got thrown out." You know, BFD. "My name's Mike D. and I can do that Jerry Lewis." Really? And so on. The whole joke was their being these St. Ann-educated guys posing as louts posing as hip-hop gangsters. Was it their fault that a lot of ACTUAL louts and frat boys latched on to what they were doing? I guess as much as it was Nirvana's fault that the jocks that Kurt Cobain so hated started turning up at their shows. Make the music a little less catchier, the joke a little more obvious, and maybe you don't have this audience, and then you don't get so big. And then the joke isn't as good or, dare I say it, as "culturally significant" as it could have been. And this also points out one of the problems of post-modernism: it can really befuddle the hell out of dim people on any side of the political "debate"(that one's for WTF, not Petey).

As for their actual behavior at the time and/or what not, well, yeah. As a friend asked me the other day, "What did YOU say 'no' to when you were 24?"

YND

"enthusiastically peddling violent homophobia" seems like a pretty blatant mischaracterization on at least a couple levels. Perhaps an obit isn't the place for trolling. "wtf" indeed.

wtf

Glenn, I'm dim. I have no idea what irony and post-modernism are. Thanks.

The Boys had homophobic lyrics and planned to call their album "Don't Be a Faggot." (And whether the album name story is true or was pure PR, in some ways it doesn't matter because the story got out there: it's funny and bold to call people faggots.) Whether the BB were so clever, privileged boys being purely ironic or they truly had some homophobic beliefs--and it's pretty clear at least Adam Horowitz did--they exuberantly modeled a homophobic stance to a receptive audience. To your point, should they have made their "joke" more obvious and in so doing, made it less fun to the insiders? Open to debate. But, apparently even they, or at least one of them, had misgivings years later and wrote that note to TONY. (Interestingly enough their homophobia was not weighing on their minds when they apologized for their misogyny in the greatest hits liner notes.) So, very late they realized they'd hurt people, but didn't do much to apologize. Why not a full apology now when there was no risk of spoiling the "joke"?

Sorry I felt the need to point these things out today, but yours is a post about the man's life and impact and while I'm sure he did some great things and brought pleasure to many listeners, it's better for everyone that the impact of public figures not be white-washed.

Oh, and homophobia is a real concern in hip hop and pop music in general. It's not "dim" to realize not every listener understands the 7 levels of irony you on your lofty intellectual plane are able to comprehend. Way to encourage discourse.

Glenn Kenny

@ wtf: Yeah, come on my blog with your cherry-picking and your snide "no harm no foul" and then when I object, say "way to encourage discourse." Whiner. I'm not banning you, or moderating comments, or anything like that. I'm disagreeing with you, forcefully, and now you're gonna start in with "help, help, I'm being oppressed." WTF, indeed.

Steve

Perhaps the reason the Beastie Boys' homophobia didn't weigh as much on their minds as their misogyny is that they didn't express much of it in their music. On LICENSED TO ILL, it's confined to a few lines, which are rather mild compared to the spew of Eminem or Tyler, the Creator. There's an entire song devoted to sexist sentiments, "Girls," and plenty of casual misogyny expressed elsewhere, hence far more to apologize for. Whatever their plans were, they never did call their album DON'T BE A FAGGOT. And they did explictly and unequivocally apologize for their homophobia in the TONY letter, whose existence you're practically writing off.

Petey

"The thing is, they really were not repellent frat-boy types, and their whole schtick had to do with how WEAK they were at that persona"

I definitely do follow your argument. But folks can be repellent frat-boys while still being witty and self-deprecating.

Or put another way, I just could never get into them until Paul's Boutique.

J. Priest

Homophobia is a problem in hip-hop, but Adam Yauch is one of the last guys I'd use to highlight that, and it's a grossly inaccurate hatchet job to dismiss his feelings on that issue as an off-handed apology that surfaced 20 years late.

Claire K.

To say that they "exuberantly modeled a homophobic stance to a receptive audience" suggests a complete lack of knowledge of both their work and their fan base. How is one meant to address an argument that consists of nothing more than "I think I heard they might be really super homophobic"?

Inasmuch as apologizing years after the fact for Licensed to Ill lyrics gives credence to the idea that they have anything for which to apologize, maybe no apologies should have been issued to begin with. In this 2004 interview: http://www.ew.com/ew/article/0,,648969,00.html Mike D. implies that the thing for which they should apologize is their youthful unawareness that people might take certain lyrics seriously--not that these things were actually MEANT seriously.

bill

I can hardly count myself as a follower of their music, but wasn't one of the funny things about "You've Gotta Fight For Your Right to Party" the fact that anybody thought any of those wimpy complaints was any kind of serious call for justice?

jbryant

bill: I admit when I first heard "Fight for Your Right to Party" the joke went right past me. I remember thinking "Um, I'm pretty sure we HAVE the right to party, as long as we're not hurting anyone," etc. "This is what passes for protest music these days?" It was my first exposure to them, and it didn't take long after that to get what they were up to.

Frank McDevitt

This reminded me of that clip of Oprah around the time License to Ill came out, where she tut-tutted the Beasties for their lyrics. Tipper Gore was on the panel as well as, I shit you not, Jello Biafra. It reminded me of the clip because just before her tut-tutting, she calls them "the Beast Boys".

other mike

were the beastie boys even that homophobic or sexist? they were before my time but compared to the hip hop stuff that came after them, they seem like minor offenders. not condoning it, but just trying to bring some perspective. and as glenn said, it all comes down to age. i condoned a lot of horribly sexist and misogynistic lyrics when i was younger, something i wouldn't do today, so i guess fans of the music can also mature out of it. but since the music is mostly aimed at teenage to mid 20's kids, i guess it gets a pass in those circles. those odd future guys are are by far the worst i've ever heard and since its all done for shock value anyway, it just makes it even more pathetic.


lastly from what i knew of the beasties them they all seemed like class acts.

That Fuzzy Bastard

I hadn't planned to bring this up in a memorial thread, but since it's out there...

I always thought there was a link between License To Ill era Beastie Boys with Andrew Dice Clay---guys who were not at all mook assholes, but did very well playing mook assholes on TV, and found themselves shocked that anyone took it seriously. Eric Bogosian was another, but because he contextualized it as performance art, and because he was so dedicated to disrupting the audience's pleasure rather than increasing it, he didn't become a pop-culture face for mook assholery in the same way. Very much unlike Kurt Cobain, the Beasties (and Clay) weren't just expressing themselves and then finding out that people they hated were enjoying the show, they were playing assholes, and giving those assholes fun things to say, which made it much less of a surprise that their work would make assholes feel welcomed and encouraged.

It always seemed like a very NYC-of-the-late-80s thing to me, both the persona and the assumption that no one could possibly take it seriously. From my perspective (I was still living small-town life back then) it seemed like a side effect of Manhattan complacency---"No one could possibly take the dumb stuff I say seriously!" is the kind of foolishness that NY'ers who've lived in the city for a long time often believe, and they're shocked when it turns out that irony rarely makes it through a cathode-ray tube, and that lots of people think the stupid things you're saying sarcastically are quite true. Even today, a lot of the edgy irony of Comedy Central's "post-racial" humor depends on the assumption that everyone in the audience knows how stupid the stuff that's being said is, and becomes much trickier when your audience expands to the point that you can't make that assumption.

The Beasties were always a lot quicker on their feet than Clay, and seemed to figure out how to adapt to a bigger platform and the demands for sincerity that it makes. I think it's sort of silly that so much talk focuses on a few lines on their first album, instead of the many other, better records they went on to make. But I am fascinated by how they seemed like an NYC in-joke suddenly going national, and how they dealt with it much better than some others did.

But like I say, I wasn't in NYC at the time, and I've often suspected there was a whole scene that I (like most of the country) wasn't aware of. Those of you who were there---any thoughts? Was the mook really as common a character as it seemed? Was the joke funnier in a Manhattan basement space? Was there some aspect of the NY tribal lines that just wasn't obvious to the rest of us?

michaelgsmith

"It's not even enough to say we're not homophobic. You have to go the next step and say we're actually anti-homophobic and pro-gay.... It makes me cringe if I think there's some guy with a Beastie Boys hat driving down the street saying, 'Hey, fuck you, faggots!' That's not how we live our lives."

- Mike D in a 1994 interview with the Alternative Press

Glenn Kenny

@TFB: To answer your question would require a much longer blog post, or even an entire book, and I shall get to work on at least the former ("A Brief History Of The Mook In The Lively Arts," say), but in the meantime, see also "Mean Streets" and "The Dictators Go Girl Crazy." And for what it's worth, a fair number of New York Beasties fans back in the day did not extend their love to "Dice" Clay or Howard Stern, which latter two were seen as more directly connected to each other than to the Beasties. There were many reasons for this—the Beasties' more explicit location within a certain tradition of absurdism for one. Another was that the Beasties were, you know, rappers, hip-hoppers; this was not a form of music for which Clay or his fan base had a whole lot of love, for reasons which I trust I don't much need to get into.

That Fuzzy Bastard

Hunh--- that's actually really interesting to me. I hadn't quite realized that in NYC at the time, the Beasties would be in the box for "rappers" (i.e. people who participate in African-American culture) rather than "faux mooks". I figured they would have been seen as a hardcore group doing a joke on rap music, and hence comfortably joined with the Clay/Stern axis. That was how they were seen in my very distant neck of the woods, but like I said, it seems that perceptions inside The City were very different.

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