Fight for Your Right with The Beastie Boys | Penthouse Legacy

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A Spire of Lifestyle Aspiration
Beastie Boys

Penthouse Retrospective

by Timothy White

September, 1987

The Beastie Boys

Just how bad, in truth, can three pimply juveniles be?

Boys Just Wanna Have Fun!

Beastie BoysThe suspicion nags; There is a latent message in the Beastie Boys’ dense rap-rock. But how to discover it?

Well, hold the front of the Beastie Boys’ Licensed to Ill album jacket up to a mirror, and the refracted image reveals a hidden affront – the tail-section serial number of the crashed plane on the cover reads: EAT ME.

Is this the covert communication in question? Nah, just a smidgen of frathouse smut.

To get to the bottom of this lingering minor mystery, one must plumb the psychic, acoustic, and personal bramble of the Beastie Boys’ roots, the thicket of ambition that lifted this white, solidly middle-class burlesque of the ghetto’s pariah rap and hip-hop culture to the top of the nation’s record charts.

But first a word to the blissfully uninitiated. Late in 1986, the brattishly nick- named trio known as the Beastie Boys (Adam “MCA” Yauch, Michael “Mike D” Diamond, Adam “King Ad-Rock” Horovitz) issued Licensed to Ill, an unprecedented album-length amalgam of hardrock Tilt, tree-house poetry, and the appropriated defiances of underclass street rappers. It appeared on Def Jam, the aggressively peculiar new rap-speed metal-soul-and-vinegar subsidiary of Columbia Records, fabled stable of Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel, and Barbra Streisand. Reactions ranged widely and wildly. For some, Licensed to Ill greeted the oracles like the braying din of indefatigably lousy neighbors. Others complained that the record rang out like a Little Rascals’ Disco Night debate at the He-Man Woman-Haters Club. But a solid three million purchasers were impressed with what they heard as an inspired mixing-board bouillabaisse of hip-hop’s torrid beatbox ticktock and the tumultuous adrenalizations of early heavy metal. Moreover, the whole shrill lockstep was paced by back talk from baby-faced suburban nihilists weaned on Star Wars, the Iran-contra scam, and Gary Hart’s stained underwear.

Licensed to ill’s first sublimely loutish single, “(You’ve Gotta) Fight for Your Right (to Party),” went Top 10 in a big hurry, and the LP itself not only swiftly notched the No. 1 slot in the U.S.A’s sales surveys, but became the fastest-moving product in its record label’s illustrious history. Two more hits, “Brass Monkey” and “She’s Crafty,” ensued.

Now the growing fear among detractors is that the Beasties’ expanding following is as puerile, brash, and mutinous as its heroes’ music.

A new generation of rock and funk fans, faced with parents who often buy the same Prince albums they do, may well have rushed to embrace the Beastie Boys as something only they can love. The Beasties’ comically cacophonous cant is a splenetic homage to beer shooters, suckerpunching, all-night fornication, angel-dust hors d’oeuvres, and horseplay with firearms. Interspersed with all the obnoxious raillery are lifted snippets of vintage Led Zeppelin, Steve Miller, and Aerosmith guitar riffs; muddy excerpts from the theme of the bygone “Mr. Ed” television sitcom; guttural antigay rhetoric-plus other sonic snapshots of the scrap heap of civilization. Depending on the attitude of its devotees, Licensed to Ill is either a turntable parody of eighties teen rebellion, or a tape-deck checklist for a curbside Gomorrah.

In the larger world, the less def, i.e. , hip, homemakers and town fathers of America shrug heavily and turn a deaf, i.e., disinterested, ear to the clamor – until they catch their kids repeating snatches of the doggerel soliloquies (of, in this case, “The New Style”) that pass for lyrics “Father to the many/ Married to a nun/ And in case you’re unaware, I carry a gun… I got money in the bank / I can still get high / That’s why your girlfriend thinks that I’m so fly’ … I got money and Juice/ Twin sisters in my bed / Their father had AIDS so I shot him in the head’”

Dismay has escalated as the Terrible Trio has begun to make stage appearances across the heartland, spraying Budweiser on spectators, scratching their crotches distractedly as a dumpy go-go dancer wriggles in an elevated cage beside them, and mumbling between-numbers repartee that gets quoted in “The Cribdeath, Iowa, Gazette” “How many songs have we done? . Only two?. Sorry, I smoked all this opium before. If anybody wants to buy some, talk to the girl up there behind bars.”

Once again, as PTA groups howl and the music press winks, rock ’n’ roll has a lot of explaining to do. But how bad, in truth, can three pimply Juveniles be if they could appear on ’American Bandstand” and Joan Rivers’s “Tonight Show” rip-off without shattering either program’s scripted decorum? Hell, even Vanna White recently went backstage to meet them and lived to speak about it.

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Bantam bursts of vulnerability and vague embarrassment are in simmering conflict with the Beasties’ impudent public pose, an image they lack the experience and stamina to sustain

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