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. 

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