Three jerks make a masterpiece

Alan Light’s The Skills to Pay the Bills: The Story of the Beastie Boys has been out for months now, but I finally got around to reading it this weekend. Truth be told, I wasn’t exactly looking forward to it, given the fact that it’s billed as an “oral history”—which basically means the book is just a bunch of quotes from years and years of interviews that Light did with the Beastie Boys and their associates. The concept struck me as more than a little boring. 

Surprisingly, it works. The project tracks the rise of the Boys from the New York punk scene (when they had a female in the band), to the Def Jam era, their License to Ill asshole frat-boy antics on the world stage, their Hollywood pool party era, and their latest incarnation as hipster social protest artists. It winds up being a pretty entertaining read, containing dozens of hilarious stories. Here’s some random highlights:

On why the Beasties originally kicked it with Rick Rubin
CEY ADAMS (friend/graphic designer for Hello Nasty): “Rick would take us out. He was the only one we knew at the time who had money that could feed everybody. Rick picking up the tab played a big part in us hanging out with him.”

On License to Ill
VILLAGE VOICE HEADLINE FOR ALBUM REVIEW: “Three Jerks Make a Masterpiece” [1]

On Adam Yauch’s crush on Madonna
THE CAPTAIN (former road manager/former A&R Atlantic/”porntrepreneur”): “Yauch always had a thing for Madonna. I remember when we were on [the 1985 Virgin] tour, Yauch got really—he’d never admit to it, but he got really excited. He got all serious about how we had to go and see what’s up. You could tell he had the hots.”

MADONNA: “I think I made out with Adam Yauch once in their dressing room.”

On Adam Horovitz’s relationship with Molly Ringwald
THE CAPTAIN: “Nobody liked her. She was controlling and she changed Adam so much. She wanted him to grow up or whatever. So whenever she was around he was, like super uptight and tried to be an adult, when he wasn’t. When he was done with her, me and him sat down and he was like, ‘What did people think when I was going out with her?’ And I told him, ‘We all thought she had your dick in her purse.’”

On their beef with Run-DMC
RUSSELL SIMMONS: “The Beastie Boys-Run-DMC fight? I made that up totally. I told Adam [Yauch] to go punch Jay in the face. That was my idea. We got on the cover of every paper everywhere, all over the world. The Beasties’ would do it because it was fun. I would do it because it made us money. It was a little different. That was something I’m proud of.”

On their insane press coverage in the UK in the late eighties:
ADAM YAUCH: “Some woman in England asked us for an autograph in a pretty rude way. We were getting into the van to go somewhere and she was like, ‘Gimme and autograph, gimme an autograph.’ We were late and we said, ‘I’m sorry we have to go.’ And she said, ‘If you don’t give me an autograph right now, I’m going to stitch you up in the press.’ I remember her saying that. And I reacted with something like, ‘Fuck you,’ and we drive away. The next day there was a headline in the newspaper that said, ‘Beastie Boys Mock Dying Children.’”

On the Beasties’ Buddhism:
THE CAPTAIN: “Yauch went on a trek to Tibet and when he came back, he definitely changed. The whole Buddhist thing is detaching yourself from pleasures and material goods and stuff like that—I think at this point, he’s given up snowboarding. He’s sworn off drinking for life. But he’s still got a big-screen TV in his apartment, and fancy furniture and shit. It’s like, Go live in a tent in Central Park.”

CHUCK EDDY (journalist that the Beasties’ played a series of pranks on for a 1987 cover story): “Now they’re all Buddhists, they’re antiviolent. I should, like, break in somewhere they are and pour water on them. That would be the ultimate revenge, since they’re not allowed to fight back.”

On the rift with former manager Lyor Cohen
LYOR COHEN: “When I see them now, it’s oddly cold. Rick, we made up, we love each other. We call each other all the time. I’ve learned so much from Rick, important things I draw on every day. Russell, I never stopped being in love with, and we talk all the time. But with them, it’s just cold.”


[1] Rick Rubin proposed the title Don’t Be a Faggot, which the Beasties liked. But the record label kyboshed it, so they went with License to Ill instead. 

Recommended for You

Around the Web

Best of XXL

  • nocal


  • G Off

    Nice stories

  • The DJ Formerly Known as N-CREDIBLE

    Fuck the Beastie Boys…never liked em never will

  • daesonesb

    The music got interesting during the buddhist phase though.

  • khal

    “get it together” is that crack. to this day, if someone says “the phone is ringin’”, i HAVE to respond with “oh my God…”

  • thoreauly77

    i’ll have to read that when i am done killing myself reading “alls well that ends well”. in fact, that sounds like a book that should be reserved for toilet reading.

  • Belize

    lol @ russell tryin to igg the beasties to punch jay (RIP)..shyt was hilarious

    Good post..i like the beasties even more

  • I Fux

    I went to a beastie boys concert in like 88′ I was 7 and I think Public Enemy was with them… I got this shirt that had the spaceship and on the back it said “get off my dick”, I wore it to school the next day and got suspended, my Moms didnt even really know what the hell I was wearing, as I told her my cousin bought it for me at the concert……….. yes good times those were, for an 80′s baby….

  • Bang

    lol at them even thinking of punchin Jay… wtf is wrong with russel? jay woulda hurt that kid

  • tHe tRaNsIeNt

    cant front..beasties made tons of classic tracks

    i neva knew adrock used 2 bang molly ringworm..damn, homie

  • Poisonous Dart

    Good one, Tara. I may be the only person that REMEMBERS that Village Voice review and the title (hence, I knew your blog was about the Beasties). I remembered when they had a girl drummer (who later joined Luscious Jackson and recorded on their label, Grand Royal). I remember “Cookie Puss” and I had a promo copy of “She’s On It” as a kid. I abandoned the Beasties when they bolted for Def Jam for Capitol in favor of 3rd Bass (“Sons Of 3rd Bass” did them dirty). I wasn’t felling “Hey Ladies” at all and I kinda liked “Shadrach”. They didn’t grab my attention until a friend of mine let me hear an advance copy of “Check Your Head”…about a week later I actually went back and listened to “Paul’s Boutique”. Any heads that missed “Check Your Head”, “Ill Communication”, “Hello Nasty” and any of the EP’s/collections inbetween missed the boat. Those kids were ill. One.


    /me looks for somone who cares

  • e

    Beasties old stuff was classic. Now they’re just hippies.

  • e

    Tara you would have been better served to analyze the Beasties place in Hip Hop. They are respected by old hip hop heads but most us 80′s babies don’t like them. Please do a post on “Harlem World” the ultimate rap party album.

  • DJ Lucky Luke

    My favorite track “Whatcha Want (Remix)” feat. B-Real–Heavy beat, Beastie Boys rhyming about whatever, and then B-Real shuts it down with a stoner verse. Classic.



  • Vindi
  • Spark

    Beastie Boys owns

  • Mr.Me

    Them Street Team/Dream/whatever niggas pulled a bitch move an robbed Bassie an he only had his wifey wit him no security. Fabs shootin was a unrelated robbery but karmas funny like that.

    Tara nobody cares about these played out whiteguys. 4th quarters here so step ya game up its crunch time ma.

  • Martha

    Beasties rule. So does Tara.

  • Alphalad

    No sleep in Brooklyn is still the jam. Every time I hear it, I want to break something.