Who knows where some seeds get planted, but in the past six months or so I attended a Buddhist temple for the first time in my life. A friend invited me to an open house at his Tibetan temple, and in trying to learn more about Buddhism I took him up on the offer. I really don’t know what separates all the different styles, but after my experience I associate Tibetan Buddhism with a more ornamental presentation. For the previous 23 years of my life, however, had we been playing word association I would have likely told you that I associated Tibetan-anything with the Beastie Boys.
In 1997 the Tibetan Freedom Concert compilation was released, led by a live version of the group’s “Root Down,” which acted as something of a single. About a decade ago I went deep on a friend’s blog about why that song was so important in terms of developing my taste for hip hop, but when I take another step backward I can probably place the onus of eminent influence for a lot of how my broader musical tastes have developed on the Beasties. There was a brief period of time where that live version of “Root Down” might have been my most-played song, but a big part of its appeal for me had to do with its “Apache”-sampling breakdown and the ode to hip hop’s yesteryear in the video, contrasting the altruistic mission of the concert with on-stage breaking. What’s more hip hop than that? As much as I liked what I heard, I think I liked what I felt they represented even more. Sometimes that’s more important. (Sidenote: The Tibetan Freedom Concert series ran several years’ worth of shows in the mid-to-late ’90s, producing more quality YouTube footage than I’ll ever know what to do with. Take for example this complete Radiohead set from ’98… we are so incredibly spoiled with the “content” we have access to these days, aren’t we?)
Then came 1998’s Hello Nasty and the 1999 Anthology release, which—looking back—had to have been my most played album for several years running (especially so considering it was housed on two discs). Thanks to a great selection of used CDs available at a local pawn shop called Cash Converters, I probably had copies of Check Your Head and Ill Communication by then, but Anthology was what secured me as a lifelong fan.
Once I was in college I became invested in their anti-Bush manifesto “In a World Gone Mad” (which is actually kinda wack, even though I still like it… it’s not just any group I’ll give a pass for rhyming “America” with “hysterica”). “Intergalactic” (released on both Hello Nasty and the Anthology) was probably my favorite song for at least a half-decade, and with that it had something of a hand in me first getting interested in mashups. A vocal track was available and that led to it being used in some pretty interesting (or terrible, depending on who you ask) ways. Two Beasties’ mashups ended up being included on my first list of favorite mashups that I ever blogged about (in 2005): DJ iTrain’s “Frontin’ on the Root Down,” which blended “Root Down” with the Who’s “Eminence Front,” and DJ Payroll’s “Intergalactic Enemy,” which mashed my then-favorite song with Rage Against the Machine’s “Know Your Enemy.” I put that little list up on my blog, called Culture Bully, and submitted it to the still-incredibly-popular web/culture site BoingBoing, which then posted a link to it. Overnight I went from getting a couple dozen pageviews a day to 25,000. That blog post almost single-handedly led me to “getting serious” about blogging (or as serious as anyone can get about something called “blogging”), which led to me eventually pursuing it full time for a couple years. I can’t put all of that on the Beastie Boys, of course, but it’s no less interesting to see how one thing led to the next there.
It’s strange which songs stick out to you the most over long periods of time. While my interest in 2004’s To the 5 Boroughs never really held up, 2007’s poorly received instrumental album The Mix-Up produced a pair of songs (“Off the Grid” and “The Rat Cage”) which remain two of my most-listened to to this day. No joke: Spotify’s annual year end reviews rank “Off the Grid” as one of my most played songs in 2016, 2018, and 2019. I just love it so much.
I have a vague recollection of a show that the group might have played with Tenacious D in the late 2000s while I was still living up in the Twin Cities, but I didn’t attend because I was just too detached from life at that time. I really regret not seeing them live now, because not long after releasing 2011’s Hot Sauce Committee Part 2, I lost the chance to ever do so again when cancer killed Adam “MCA” Yauch. I wrote my own version of a eulogy for him at the time, but in looking back now, especially after putting all of this to the screen, it’s hard to understate how important they’ve all been to me. There’s a lot from their early days that I can’t get behind (musically and otherwise), and I can’t stand one of the songs that they’ve become most known for (“(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (to Party!)”), but over the last couple of weeks I’ve been revisiting their albums and it’s impossible for me to not find myself absorbed in all the memories and being grateful for the ride.