Last Friday night, a new “live documentary” dropped on Apple TV, called, the Beastie Boys Story, and I’m going to make the case that you need to watch it.
But let’s back up for a minute.
For a certain type of person from a certain generation (evidently, someone from my generation, who happens to be a little bit or a lot like me), if you were in an unprecedented situation where we were all told not to leave our homes for weeks on end, but that during this time of quarantine you would be delivered two new documentaries and you got to pick the subjects of those documentaries … two of my very top choices would be:
- Beastie Boys
- Michael Jordan
So this is all quite surreal, since a 10-episode documentary on Jordan and the Bulls dropped two weeks ago, and then this Beastie Boys doc dropped on Friday. It is the best of times, it is the worst of times.
Now here’s the thing: you should check out the Jordan documentary — it’s really good. But ultimately, I don’t really care whether or not you watch it.
But as I said at the top, I do care about whether or not you watch the Beastie Boys Story, and here’s why.
1) When one of your (read: “my”) favorite groups of all time comes out with a documentary, and you’re like, Holy Cow, this was one of my favorite groups ever — the soundtrack to my life type of stuff — but it was all even better and bigger and richer and more interesting than I ever remembered — or ever knew in the first place … well, that is astonishing. And that was very much my response to this doc.
2) Even if you hated every single song that the Beastie Boys ever put out, you should still watch this doc. Because ultimately, the music isn’t the main thing here.
3) That said, if there was an alternate universe where the Beastie Boys never existed, but then they started dropping their albums right now, for the first time here in 2020, and you just rolled out the entirety of their career exactly as it actually unfolded over the past 30 years, they would be the most interesting thing going on in rock / hip hop / punk music today.
4) If none of their music videos had ever come out and you dropped any of them for the first time, right now, they would feel like the freshest, most original, most creative things out there. For just one example, the video for Intergalactic still feels like something from the future:
5) Adam Yauch, aka, MCA was the best. Watch this doc, and I believe that you will conclude that the fact that he died way too young in 2012 will make you feel certain that the world has been worse off since he left it.
6) By watching this doc, you will learn that when they were young, the Beasties all dreamed about having a “meat drawer” in their house someday, and that would be the sign that they’d really made it.
7) Set aside all the music and the money and the fame for a minute, forget all of that. At its heart, this is a story about friendship. A story about three friends — and a number of their other friends — and how they grew close, and grew apart, and came back together.
For any young person coming up, consider this to be a window into your future and what’s to come w/r/t your friendships. There are important cautionary tales to be learned here, things you should definitely do, and things you should definitely not do.
And to those of us with a whole lot of our lives behind us, this will almost certainly make you want to reconnect with some of “your people,” make you think hard about who your real friends are, and then you’ll probably want to go pick up the phone, reconnect, and arrange to see them.
So again, even if you don’t give a damn about the Beastie Boys, watch this doc so that you better understand friendship and you don’t mess up your whole life.
8) You’ll learn that friends should regularly go to breakfast together.
Now back to the music…
9) The vibe, the aesthetic, everything this band was doing was just way out in front. And a lot of that “being out front” feel came from the Beasties recognizing how amazing the old stuff was and is. And that excitement of discovery — old swaggy clothes, old sounds, etc — and the act of holding it up again, celebrating it, remixing it, presenting it again to the world, that was the brilliance of the Beastie Boys. They were the most futuristic thing out there, and they got there by remixing the past. (For the record, Bob Dylan did this, too.)
And so, there might be a broader moral here: study the past. Don’t act like nothing came before you. Go back, discover old gems, and bring them back into the present.
10) I’ve spent thousands of hours listening to the Beastie Boys, and one thing that all those hours of listening should have taught me — though I think I failed to see it till their career was compressed into this 2-hour documentary — is that their music and pretty much everything they did was there to extend permission to people. Permission. A mandate. To be unafraid. To dive down rabbit holes, to be into This and also into That … even if This and That seem to have nothing to do with each other, and even if nobody else cared about either of those things or thought they were uncool. Don’t worry about that. Be into what you’re into. Full force and full stop. Do not be afraid to follow your vision and to go try to win by having faith in that vision. Go confidently in the direction of your dreams.
I’m not sure that I learned that lesson in real time. Back in the day, I was just a kid listening to the coolest band on the planet. But watching this doc, it was all clearly there the whole time. So the thing about the Beasties is that, it really isn’t about any of the specific tracks or albums. That permission, that confidence, that mandate … that is the real legacy of this band.
And my major hope is that, for you young people who came up long after the Beasties were out there being the Beasties, you will watch this doc and be electrified and energized by their example. Don’t apologize for who you are or what you’re into. Just explore and learn and create, and screw the rest. Except your friends. Your true friends. Keep them close.
Go watch the doc, see what you think.