Adam "MCA" Yauch died over a week ago. With Yauch's passing, a significant chunk of my generation's post-pubescent-to-college-aged memories have come bubbling up to the surface. These were our Wonder Years. Most popular accounts of Yauch's unfortunate and untimely death after a three-year battle with cancer seem to use his career as a prism through which to view the arc of the writer's own life. So, in that vein, here's my childhood, as told by the Beastie Boys' discography.

Licensed to Ill
I don't think I owned a legitimate copy of Licensed to Ill until it came out on CD. I know I owned a few copies of the disc over the years. In 1986, my cassette copy was dubbed off my friend Jen's original. Jen (actually, "Jenny" at the time) and her big sister Michelle had all the good music. Jen(ny) and I were in the same grade, and our families were closest friends, but she was obviously much cooler than I was. On Friday nights in middle school, I'd be at her house babysitting her little sisters and dubbing tapes non-stop while Jen was out at a party and our parents were out to dinner. "Was it 'high-speed' dubbing?" you ask. You bet it was!

I blame the poor quality of those dubs for the fact that I never really knew about 2/3 of the words on Licensed to Ill. I sort of knew the sounds and shapes of the words. My lack of cultural knowledge probably didn't help, either. I was re-listening to the album this week for probably the first time in a decade, and I could not believe the subject matter it covers. I can't comprehend the immense cultural and social vocabulary these three kids possessed in their early 20's. Where could a kid go to get an education like the one the Beastie Boys had?

As an almost-40-year-old suburban father of two (not-yet-beastie) boys, I take solace in how little of this album I understood when I was young, and how even-littler was its effect on my middle school mind and behavior.

My 8th grade year, the Beastie Boys played a concert in the DC area, at what was then called the Capital Centre*. I went to that concert with three classmates and our art teacher. I think we had a sense then, but I really appreciate now, just how cool this woman had to be to load us into her station wagon on a Sunday night and drive us into what must have seemed like Satan's Pool Room. Wikipedia provides some perspective:
...the Licensed to Ill tour[...]was a tour clouded in controversy featuring female members of the crowd dancing in cages and a giant motorized inflatable penis similar to one used by The Rolling Stones in the 1970s. The tour was troubled by lawsuits and arrests, with the band accused of provoking the crowd. This culminated in their notorious gig at the Royal Court Theatre, Liverpool, England on May 30, 1987 that erupted into a riot approximately 10 minutes after the Beasties hit the stage and the arrest of Adam Horovitz by Merseyside Police on assault charges.
We went later in the tour, and the erstwhile controversial hydraulic apparatus had been converted to a benign microphone. Nevertheless, could a teacher even consider doing something like this today without risking her job?

The concert was sort of predictable, since we'd already heard all about what happened in previous cities, but there were a couple things no 8th grader could be prepared for:

Paul's Boutique
I can't say anything about the album itself that hasn't already been said. Miles Davis never tired of listening to it; Chuck D declared that the "dirty secret" in his community at the time was that Paul's Boutique had the best beats.

It is a masterpiece. It will probably always be my favorite.

I played it loud in my basement bedroom, when no one else was home. When the opening drum fill of "Shake Your Rump" cuts into the last lingering lines of "To All the Girls," I still get chills. When Drew calls my phone, "Hey Ladies" plays. I sometimes let it go to voicemail, just to hear the song out. He always understands.

Years after its release, long after it had become my favorite, Drew and I played it twice through on the drive down to my wedding. The first time through, I don't think either of us spoke. The second time, I read the liner notes and lyrics to each song, pausing to highlight, then rewinding to play again, the most outstanding couplets.
  • There's more to me than you'll ever know / And I've got more hits than Sadaharu Oh.
  • Break up with your girl, it ended in tears / Vincent Van Gogh, go and mail that ear.
  • You're all mixed up like pasta primavera / Yo, why'd you throw that chair at Geraldo Rivera...
  • I've got more stories than JD's got Salinger / I hold the title, and you are the challenger
I repeat: I can't believe the breadth and diversity of their cultural references.

Check Your Head
By now, I'm a sophomore in college. It was a small school, and beyond the fraternities there wasn't much of a party scene I guess. At least, I wasn't aware of any. (But, then, would I be? Probably not.)

Just before Christmas Break, we cleared the furniture out of our 6-man suite and threw a massive party. As luck would have it, a major snow storm came through the day or so before, and everyone was stuck on campus for the weekend. Hundreds of people found our dorm room by following the noise through the snow. "So What'cha Want" was among the most memorable songs from the soundtrack of the evening. I still have the tapes. (Other notables: "Punk Rock Girl**" by Dead Milkmen, and - towards the end of the night - REM's "Nightswimming***." Good times.)

Ill Communication
I don't know why, but I've probably listened to this album least of all. The video for "Sabotage" was, of course, earth-shattering.

I remember walking back to my dorm room senior year, and Scott would be blaring "Sure Shot" or the first couple seconds of "Flute Loop"out the window. Chief had constructed a furniture-size subwoofer (roughly 3 feet to a side, if my memory is correct) that sat in the corner of that room and shook the entire first floor when it got going. And Ill Communication got it going.

Hello Nasty
I bought the disc the day it was released, and listened to it for the first time with Kurt and Mike in my '87 Chevy Cavalier. The stereo I installed in that car was probably worth half as much as the rest of the vehicle, so we were able to enjoy the album as it was intended: very loud, in an empty suburban parking lot.

I think I was a temp receptionist at a medical device manufacturer when Hello Nasty came out...I'm not totally sure. But I can say with confidence that it was the best thing going in my life at the time.

The video for "Three MCs and One DJ" remains one of the best ever.

Closing Thoughts
There have been three more studio albums since Hello Nasty, but none of them are connected to my "youth." Their next record, To the 5 Boroughs, came out after 9/11, and no one was in their youth by then.

If anything, the last three albums are mile markers for just how old I've gotten since 8th grade.

There's a nice bit of symmetry here, though. I stole their first album by dubbing a copy, and I still haven't bought Hot Sauce Committee Part Two because the Beastie Boys have been streaming for free since before its release. Well, I eventually bought Licensed to Ill on CD. Maybe it's time I bought Hot Sauce Committee Part Two, just to say "Thank You" to three guys who have given me so many good times over the years.


*Wikipedia reveals that they went with the classier "re" spelling of "Center." I had forgotten, or never knew.

&**Holy crap, I'd forgotten John Cusack is in that video!

***"I'm pining fooor the mooon..."