The Beastie Boys: Re-tale

By Binky Philips

We flipped for the Beasties at “my” record store, St. Mark’s Sounds in the East Village, back in the ’80s. They had all been semi-regular customers for a while and we thought they were a riot. Drummer Kate Schellenbach was an inveterate browser and seemed to have taken up residence in our rock section. (She would later show up in Luscious Jackson, purveyors of the timelessly fab “Naked Eyes.”)

This gang, who I correctly assumed were NYU students, were always jolly and/or intent on finding something specific as quickly as possible. Unlike some of the troublemakers we got in the store, this posse happily hummed with a Very Alive vibe.

One day in the summer of 1982, two of them walked in with boxes of 7-inch 45s under their arms. “We just made a record. Can we leave some on consignment?”

The store policy was to never refuse. We’d take five of anything anyone ever brought in like that; we wanted to support local acts with as little fuss as possible. These two were pitching me to take a whole box. Since I knew them, at least by sight, I took 10 copies of the Polly Wog Stew EP from Adam Yauch and Mike Diamond.

They left and I put it on the store’s stereo – within a minute, we were all howling with laughter. They had turned punk into a Bugs Bunny cartoon. “Egg Raid on Mojo” was about another one of our regular customers. Mojo was a large, gregarious, handsome, dark-skinned, ska-styling doorman at several hip downtown boites. He was a genuinely okay guy, but his gig led to him having a bit of a lame “I’m hot and I know it” attitude. The Beasties would have none of that, and the song describes actual events.

While “Egg Raid” is an absurdist punk classic, of the Beastie Boys’ early work, “Cooky Puss” (first released on a 1983 single) is, for me, nonpareil, the most wonderfully ridiculous crank call of all time with a hilariously wretched noise-rhythm track.

Anyway, a week later, Adam came into the store with more 45s. Having sold the first 10 within two days, I bought a whole box. His reaction to me offering to buy a box outright, the hell with consignment, was memorable. Every cell in his body silently screamed “OF COURSE YOU ARE!” while he remained unflappably deadpan. I actually felt this.

This became a weekly ritual: Adam would come in on a Thursday or Friday afternoon, looking dour, in a hurry, handing me another box and me handing him cash. We probably sold more than 300 of ’em.

I found Adam’s demeanor intriguing, totally at odds with his band’s vibe: deadly serious, with that classic off-in-the-distance gaze. Thinking back, other than the first pitch, MCA was the only one of the Beasties to bring the records by, clearly the one focused on turning what started out a total joke (How bad can we be?) into something that has rightfully had lasting international impact. (The Beastie Boys may be the greatest example of the maxim that you make it big by never having the intention to do so!)

When Licensed to Ill was released, we’d play it in the store for hours, just flipping back and forth between Side One and Side Two. It was extreme fun to annoy sensible customers with a stadium-volume spin of “Girls” several times a day. My co-workers and I treated the album with absurd reverence. “Is it time?” we’d solemnly ask before dropping the needle for the 120th time. A great mind-fuck of a rekkid!

I grew up in an idyllic neighborhood called Brooklyn Heights, right at the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge. Adam Yauch grew up there, too. My oldest and dearest Heights pal, Ben, lived two doors down from the Yauchs. Being 12 years older than Adam, Ben often babysat. I was at Ben’s house all the time. I might’ve met a Beastie Boy when he was a baby and don’t recall it. Ben tells me that Adam Yauch was wonderful right from the jump, a devoted son to both his folks.

Ben’s parents used to have to “endure” the earliest rehearsals of the nascent Beasties as they made ungodly guitar and drum noise in the Yauchs’ living room two doors down. One can imagine.

I want to leave you with this, because I suspect it is truly an accurate depiction of Adam Yauch: A while back, Brooklyn babysitter Ben’s dad was in rehab following two knee replacements, which means his mom was living alone for quite some time. One day, as Ben was walking down his old block on his way to pay Mom a visit, he saw her coming towards him with a tallish guy carrying a couple of her grocery bags. The tallish guy was international rap superstar Adam “MCA” Yauch.

Yauch, 47, died of cancer on May 4, 2012. The following year, a playground in Brooklyn Heights was renamed Adam Yauch Park.

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