Nearly thirty years ago I was a teenage punk in New York City. On weekends, my sister, my friend Joshua and I would frequent the Village to hang out at what was the epicenter of US punk at the time. Most often we would go to Saturday and Sunday matinee concerts at CBGB’s, which was hollowed ground having been the place that launched the careers of the Ramones, Blondie, Talking Heads, Television, and others. It was also next door to the Chelsea hotel, where Sid Vicious was found next to a bloody Nancy Spungen.
We saw some of the best punk of the time including the Ramones, the Dead Kennedys, MDC, Bad Brains, Circle Jerks, Murphy’s Law, Channel 3, GBH, the Exploited, Cause for Alarm, and Agnostic Front, to name a few. We also saw a slew of terrible bands that I have luckily erased from memory. One of those awful bands was a group of kids just a year older than me named The Beastie Boys. The Beasties consisted of three boys and a girl that even by punk standards of the time, couldn’t play a lick. Also, they stood out from the rest of the crowd dressing in the style of rappers of the time. The crowd hated them, not only were they downright terrible, but they also tried to do rap. Imagine, white kids rapping!
A few weeks after we saw them at CBGB’s, we saw them again at a free concert in Thompson Square Park. The park was a well known heroine addict hangout, but that day it had been transformed into a punk hangout with lots of leather, mohawks, piercings, tattoos, braces, and boots. The hosts of the concert, a local Hare Krishna group, passed vegetarian food mixed with their religious pitch, while local bands played. I remember when the Beastie Boys were announced, there was a lot of grumbling in the mosh pit (we called it something else then). They soon broke into a live rendition of Cooky Puss. There wasn’t much slam dancing happening, instead we just laughed.
Carvel Cookie Puss commercials were very familiar to all of us New Yorkers, and this “song” was a great NYC joke. We started thinking that maybe they were not as terrible as we thought. By the time the Beasties started their reggae anthem, of the time, “Beastie Revolution” many of us joined them in pogoing and asked “why not a Beastie revolution?”
Weeks later my sister and I shared a subway ride with the three remaining Beastie Boys, Kate their drummer had left the band by then. All that I truly remember from that ride was that they were pretty silly. They did talk to us, I’m not sure what we talked about. That was the last time I saw them in person. Both of my sisters ran into them a few years later. By that time they were a big deal, and my sisters were just giggling fans, or at least one of them was.
I’ve been reading a lot in the past few days about MCA aka Adam Yauch and people’s reaction to his passing on Friday. Most of my Facebook and Google+ stream on Friday were filled with Beastie Boy videos and remembrances from my family and friends.
Adam was only one year older than me, a New Yorker and a Buddhist. In many ways I see myself reflected in his experiences, but we are/were of totally different worlds. I will miss the positive force that he became.
Like everyone else of my age, I’ve followed the Beasties’ career, and bought all their music. I’d like to say I was an early fan and that I knew them when. The reality is that I thought they were pretty awful then, and I did have a small interaction with them, but I didn’t really know them. I still have my Cookie Puss 12″ record, and I will continue to ask “why not a Beastie revolution?”