Beastie Boys: 10 Biggest Takeaways From Their SXSW Keynote
The last time the Beastie Boys attended South By Southwest, it was in 2006, when the group was promoting their fan-sourced concert film Awesome; I Fuckin’ Shot That! A lot has changed in the last 13 years.
When the Beastie Boys stopped by to deliver a keynote address at the Austin Convention Center Friday morning — a full week into the 2019 edition of SXSW — the group consisted of two surviving members: Michael Diamond and Adam Horovitz. Adam Yauch, their third partner in crime, died of cancer in 2012, and Horowitz and Diamond wrote 2018’s Beastie Boys Book in celebration of both his memory and what the group achieved during their years together.
Beastie Boys Book is why Horovitz and Diamond were invited to give a SXSW keynote moderated by Nathan Brackett, the head of Amazon Music. The former Rolling Stone editor has a long history with the group, living in the same neighborhood as Yauch did when they were children. This close connection allowed Brackett and the Beasties to engage in a lively, free-flowing talk, filled with dumb jokes and profound insights — a blend that was not only the Beasties’ signature on record, but helps distinguish their memoir, which is revealing in ways rock autobiographies often aren’t. Even if Beastie Boys Book offered revelations of the group’s inner workings, there was plenty of material left to explore, which is precisely what Diamond and Horovitz did with Brackett this Friday morning. Here are the biggest takeaways from their often uproarious discussion.
1. There Will Be Live Shows (They’re Just Not Concerts)
Diamond and Horovitz dropped the big news at the end of the keynote: The pair are giving a handful of speaking events in Philadelphia and New York City in April. These dates are inspired by their book tour, at the conclusion of which the duo wondered why they didn’t just film their appearances. That’s exactly what will happen next month: Spike Jonze will film the shows that will be released at a later date.
2. “A Different Relationship With Reality”
Brackett opened up the keynote by admitting that, in a conventional sense, the Beasties are difficult interviews. What that means is that they aren’t couched the way so many artists are, intent on delivering talking points with aplomb. Horovitz questions that whole approach, asking “what do you really want to know? Why not just be funny?” Diamond concurs, stressing that “journalists did not realize the quality stuff they had on the tape” and the keynote proves their point. The Beasties don’t avoid deeper topics but they’re quick to digress and crack jokes about Mike D’s socks (for the record, they sported the rapper Cam’ron) — the kind of thing that kills in front of a live audience. But the skewed relationship with reality extends to the Beastie Boys Book itself, where the band passes off what’s almost certainly a faked negative review of Ill Communication. Brackett cornered the band and Horovitz countered “Syncopation magazine? You’re not buying that?”
3. Writing the Book Was a Real Struggle
“Look at me, I’m a man who’s seen real struggle.” That’s how Diamond addresses a question about writing Beastie Boys Book, a process that was not easy. Collaborating long distance — Horovitz lives in New York, Diamond resides in Los Angeles — carries its pitfalls, including Mike D waking up early to discover Ad-Rock was on a “caffeine-fueled rampage,” firing off email after email. Despite these hiccups, the two found the process gratifying. As Horovitz put it, “We’re not playing shows” so the book “kept me in the band that I love to be in, in a different way.”
4. Funny to Us
Appropriately enough for a book that was written in part as a tribute to how the Beasties made each other laugh, the group had wound up with enough material for a second book, all consisting of in-jokes. Horovitz claims this is called “Funny to Us” and it recounts nothing but the weird moments on the road that would never make sense to anybody who wasn’t part of the group. Diamond asserts “there’s literally 150 pages” for this potential sequel.
5. Chris Rock and Queen Latifah Said No to the Beasties
The audiobook for Beastie Boys Book boasts an impressive cast of friends, collaborators and fellow stars. Horovitz admits the pair “made a list of who’s the funniest people” for the project and were surprised so many people agreed to participate but they received two hard passes. Diamond says “Chris Rock was the first direct no,” claiming “I did my own audiobook and it sucked.” Horovitz chimed in that “most people don’t get back to you but Queen Latifah was ‘no.’”
6. Adam Yauch Still Awes His Friends
A key theme to Beastie Boys Book is how Horovitz and Diamond remain mystified by the depths of Adam Yauch’s knowledge and resourcefulness. Ad-Rock maintains “he just instinctively knew all of these details of life. We were together everyday, I didn’t know it, how did he?” Much of Yauch’s vision is familiar to Beasties fans — he’s the one who knew how to shoot the cover to Paul’s Boutique or how to flip an 808 beat backwards, so the group could rhyme to that — but even if their friend came up with the loop for “Rhymin’ and Stealin’” by running a Led Zeppelin reel to reel tape through his kitchen, the duo is quick to credit the influence of Rick Rubin on Licensed to Ill. As Diamond says, “he was suburban, he was into metal…if we had mixed the record, it would’ve sounded like a rap group on Rough Trade records.”
7. The Beasties Wrote Lyrics Together
Expanding on a point made in Beastie Boys Book, Horovitz and Diamond emphasized that the Beasties always wrote lyrics together, scribbling away as the music played on a loop. Usually, this resulted in a barrage of jokes — as Diamond cracked, “we are not that elevated in our thinking” — but Yauch pushed the group forward in terms of spirituality and consciousness. Horovitz said, “this dude is into heavy shit,” but “we are into moving forward as people,” a point underscored by Diamond’s contention that the group was “a place where you put what you learn to use.”
8. Albums Are Moments in Time
Brackett pressed Horovitz to admit in public that Hello Nasty is Adam’s favorite Beastie record, a claim supported by Ad-Rock’s contention that “by the time we were working on Hello Nasty we were in the zone.” There, the band had figured out how to execute their ideas individually and collectively, capturing a point when they reached maturity. Diamond doesn’t have a favorite: “It’s not like we listen to our own records, they’re moments in time.” One of those moments in time was “Make Some Noise,” a song Horovitz calls one of his favorites since it has “all the things I love” about his band, yet they never played it live because it arrived at the end of the group’s tenure, when Yauch was too sick to tour.
9. Fake Samples on Hot Sauce Committee
“Not everyone is going to read all of it.” Diamond directed this observation toward Brackett, who pointed out one of the big revelations of Beastie Boys Book: that the group created fake samples for the source material on their last album Hot Sauce Committee, Vol 2. The group were taken with this idea but nobody noticed or cared upon the album’s release. The pair argued that even Yauch was a bit nonplussed by the idea, stopping by the studio on a break from his Oscilloscope film duties to discover Horovitz and Diamond gleefully headed down this rabbit hole, then letting them run wild while he turned his attention back to movies.
10. Fried Chicken Trumps Texas BBQ
In perhaps their most controversial statement, Diamond reveals that the last time the Beasties were in town, the two Adams headed outside of Austin to sample some local BBQ and that they decided it wasn’t worth the drive. While the exact location wasn’t specified — if it was a drive, it could’ve been Salt Lick or the clutch of BBQ places in Lockhart — it was clear that the Beasties were disappointed in Hill Country cuisine. The same can’t be said of their dinner at local staple Lucy’s Fried Chicken, which the pair enthused about at the start of their keynote.