The Beastie Boys Gave Me My Start: Memories Of Adam Yauch
Early in my career, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to write for Grand Royal, also known as the Beastie Boys' magazine — and also the name of their record label. When I heard Adam Yauch had died on Friday, it felt natural to reach out to some of my old friends from the Grand Royal days — and their friends and their friends. So many of us got our start thanks to them. Here are a few of our memories of Adam:
Sunny Bak is a photographer who shot the centerfold photo for Licensed to Ill. A show of her work coincidentally opened this week at the Ivy Brown Gallery in New York City. She photographed the band in their earliest days and remembers them fondly:
"We were all just hanging around. We weren't trying to create iconic pictures, we were just shooting photos and capturing a moment in time but we really didn't know it at the time. It was an important time in our lives, but we didn't know it. I have pictures of Adam sitting on a skateboard eating a Subway sandwich. I had to buy the sandwiches because they didn't have any money! They hung out at my place all the time because I was shooting a lot of fashion in those days so there were a lot of models. And so there were a lot of Beastie Boys! I'd see them and Rick [Rubin] and Russell [Simmons] at the Palladium and Milk Bar and wherever and we'd hang out day and night. We all sort of grew up together and they blew up a lot faster and bigger than any of us would have ever guessed. And that was the whole joke of it. It was terrific and I'm just so sad ... but I'm also happy that he's not suffering anymore.
"I'm just amazed at the contribution that [Adam] made and the lives that he's touched in the world — how many generations of Beastie Boys fans there are going to be... I just can't believe it's the end of the Beastie Boys era. I think about Adam and what was so great about him ... all that fame and all that success, well, everyone went through their periods of stuff, but Adam had that touch with humanity and with worlds of peace.
Ric Menello co-directed the videos for "Fight for Your Right to Party" and "No Sleep Till Brooklyn." He had never directed a video before and was asked to do so by Rick Rubin and the Beastie Boys. Though he was working as a desk clerk at NYU from midnight to eight in the morning, he was also a cinema studies student, so the Boys thought they'd try something new with this young talent. Menello initially turned them down, afraid he'd fail, but they said, "Even if it sucks, it'll suck in a new way." He recalls the "No Sleep Till Brooklyn" shoot:
"We had to open a safe in 'No Sleep' and Adam suggested why doesn't he slam his head on top of the safe and pop it open. It wasn't really dangerous but I had asked, 'How would your generation open this safe if you were to rob it?' He said, 'My generation would smash their head on it!'
"Adam was both a friend and a collaborator and my memories of him are of someone who was smart, funny, possessed of a dry sense of humor and very creative, just like the others. Perhaps, though, he was more of the ringleader, or spokesman for the group. He was ready for anything. It didn't surprise me later when he became a director himself — or when he and the other Beasties became involved in social issues like the Free Tibet movement. Though this was all so long ago, when I think of those days, I smile. It sometimes surprises me people are still watching those videos. Adam Yauch is a big reason why."
Music journalist Eric Gladstone, the former editor of Grand Royal magazine:
"In a very real sense, he was the heart and conscience of the group. And I think, if anything, he deserves more credit as one of the best lyricists in hip hop history. He's got this gruff, authoritative voice and really smart lyrics and he was one of the first rappers to talk about more important things than his private parts."
For 15 years, Dave Chimo was the business director at XLarge, a Los Angeles-based clothing company established in 1991 and co-founded by Mike D. Throughout the '90s, the XLarge, XGirl and Grand Royal clothing labels were a part of the aesthetic sphere created by the Beastie Boys:
"The thing I remember the most about Yauch ... it was that damned Nathanial Hornblower shirt. That was an alias that he used but I didn't think anyone knew how far he'd take it. He wanted to make a t-shirt. He wasn't directing videos under that name yet, nor had he written to The New York Times.
"He had this specific photo — and I'm sure we didn't get clearance for it — I don't know where it came from. It was like an old, framed oil painting of this man with a long grey beard and a pipe in his mouth, like an old ship captain. Under the photo in the tiniest little letters it said, 'Nathanial Hornblower.' We were laughing about it and I said, 'No one is going to understand what this is. No one knows who Nathanial Hornblower is. And why would anybody want to buy this? It's just a t-shirt with a photo of an old man on it that no one knows.' And Yauch said, 'Well, yeah, that's the point.' It was supposed to be a mystery. That was the whole point of the alias."
Erin Potts is a human rights activist who co-founded the Milarepa Fund, which promotes awareness for the Tibetan independence movement, with Yauch:
"It is an understatement to say that Adam Yauch changed all of our lives because he changed us so completely — through his music, his activism, and his friendship. Because his presence in our lives was so large, so shall be his absence. And also his legacy.
"Yauch changed what it meant to be an artist-activist. I admit that when I met him, I was skeptical of him and his interest in my work (I was a human rights activist studying & living with Tibetans in Nepal; he was the guy that sang 'Fight For Your Right to Party'). But I quickly realized that he was an artist and an activist in the deepest sense of the words.
"In the years that followed, he didn't just produce and perform at our concerts for Tibet. He also went to conferences and organized workshops. He was deeply strategic–most of the time–always passionate, and always welcoming. He believed in our team of inexperienced but determined 20-somethings, and our ability to do the impossible. And with that belief in us and in nonviolence, together we DID do the impossible. Never before has more fun been had while changing the world!!"
Dante Ross worked for Russell Simmons's management company and did A&R for Tommy Boy and Elektra Records. He also signed Busta Rhymes and Ol' Dirty Bastard:
"Adam was simply a great man. I spent countless hours hanging out with him at Rat Cage Records as a kid, skating around and eventually taking the train home to BK. I will never forget his first car, an MG that was so small and low to the ground that we couldn't fit more than two of us in it at a time. He was a warm spirit, as a youth, the "illest" of all the Beasties and a total wild man.
"The best thing of all time: we were once driving a red Ferrari he rented in L.A., circa Licensed to Ill. We thought we were so cool, we would pull up to girls and try to kick it like we were ballers. We rolled on these two L.A. hotties who were slightly older than us. We thought we had it sewn up only to have one ask us what time we had to return our father's car before they peeled off. Talk about being dissed. We both laughed at how stupid we must have looked in that car. Of course, that didn't prevent us from driving around Mulholland all the way to Malibu and back to our Hollywood hotel way above the speed limit.
"Yauch was a great person. He was also the guy who sat with me at my studio one night with his bass and laid a bunch of stuff down for me just to do it. He was that kind of guy. Warm, interested, compassionate and selfless. I was honored with the shout out he gave me on "Flute Loop." The lyric was inspired by our friend Rob Pearlman's and my mutual love of record collecting. Rob was [the] infinitely more in-depth collector but I would actually take the stuff I found and make beats out of it. This lyric was a reference to Rob knowing the breaks but me actually making the music with the breaks, if that makes sense. I was and will always be honored by him mentioning me in a song.
Casey Storm is a costume designer whose first project was doing the costumes the video for the Beastie Boys song, "Sabotage," which was directed by Spike Jonze. Jonze and Storm have collaborated on many projects since, including, "Where the Wild Things Are," "Adaptation" and "Being John Malkovich." Following the news of Yauch's death, Storm says he and Jonze thought back to that first music video:
"Spike and I were talking and remembering the first fittings on 'Sabotage.' We did those fittings at Yauch's apartment in Los Feliz — I was a Beastie Boys copycat and loved them so much. And then when I hung out with Yauch, it felt like I was part of the gang and was jumped into such a special group of people. As Spike and I talked, I was thinking that whether the Beastie Boys had existed or not, the person that I worked with just a year ago would have been exactly the same person. Yauch's energy and love and his being grounded defined him more than any success or accomplishment or anything else. Also, that last project that we worked on together was the long-awaited follow-up to 'Fight for Your Right to Party,' and for a kid growing up to that record, to be involved with them a few years later... it all came full circle and was an opportunity to pause, look back and reflect.
"Yauch was such a special person with such a kindness and humbleness. It's a really sad time and terrible loss and he fought like hell to postpone this or make it go away. He fought so hard that, at times, we all felt he could win."
Evan Bernard is a music video and commercial director who directed the video for the Beastie Boys song "Root Down." He remembers where where he started:
"I became friends with them around '93-'94. I became the "Juice Pimp" on Lollapalooza. My big responsibility was to take care of commercial-grade juicer. It had its own road case. On that tour, there was no sound check so they'd end up jamming in their dressing room with the likes of Funkadelic dropping in. There was a great feeling of camaraderie.
"At the time, I shot some Super 8 film of the Beasties on tour and put together a spec video and showed it to Adam. Based on that he asked me to do a video for "Root Down." It was my first break. I owe Adam and the Beasties everything — they kickstarted my career. Though they were all involved in the process of making their videos, Adam really took charge; he spearheaded them. Looking back, he was a very important person in my maturation both professionally and socially. Learned a lot about music video production and life working with him.
"He had a great sense of humor. I remember once, on the Lollapalooza tour, we went to see a band, I think Mother Tongue, at a small venue in the town where the tour stopped. They were handing out these stickers and Adam went around the club putting them on people's backs, legs, hats. He was soft spoken and had great dry comedic timing — he was hilarious. I just remember laughing a lot around him."