photo & text by nacrowe
my introduction to the BEASTIE BOYS was at the main baseball field at FULLERTON COLLEGE in the mid-1990s where i remember walking with my parents to meet my new pitching coach when "BRASS MONKEY" began blaring out on the P.A. while the varsity players did laps. its a pretty well-lodged memory at this point. just seemed upbeat and off-kilter and left my teenage mind questioning, "what the hell was that?!?"
LICENSED TO ILL (DEF JAM, 1986), the debut BEASTIE BOYS record is a widely-celebrated landmark release with a complicated legacy. and i dont even believe that is a controversial statement, since id contend that the surviving members (rest in peace MCA) would likely agree with that assessment. to my ears when i listen to LICENSED TO ILL i am confronted with the whole arc of their evolution as musicians and men. this was the starting point and famously a lot of the more prurient, juvenile material was an in-joke with producer RICK RUBIN. in their minds they were making fun of the frat mentality and when they went on tour learned that they in fact started living up to their parody. when i think of this record it brings to mind the interplay between a MESSAGE and its AUDIENCE and how as an artist you need to be careful what you throw out in the ether.
there is a lot to love about this record, from classic songs like "NO SLEEP TILL BROOKLYN," "PAUL REVERE," "HOLD IT NOW, HIT IT," "(YOU GOTTA) FIGHT FOR YOUR RIGHT (TO PARTY!)," "RHYMIN & STEALIN," "SLOW AND LOW," and the aforementioned "BRASS MONKEY." unfortunately there is a bit of a strain of MISOGYNY throughout with lines about vague sexual acts with wiffle ball bats ("PAUL REVERE") and basically that whole song "GIRLS," which is pretty sexist and cringe-inducing. i really think this is the kind of record you have to go into mindful of the fact that the group that made it learned from their actions and spent the rest of their career being an active participant in the message they sent to the world: becoming a model for being an engaged artistic force that tirelessly promoted POLITICAL, SOCIAL and ENVIRONMENTAL activist progressive causes. you also have to realize they were really young when they made LICENSED TO ILL. it is an artifact of its time from which they moved on and became a major cultural force in both EAST COAST HIP HOP and the ALTERNATIVE ROCK explosion of the 1990s and beyond.
i should also mention that the film director, and lifelong BROOKLYNITE, DARREN ARONOFSKY once spoke about how he discovered the HUBERT SELBY JR novel LAST EXIT TO BROOKLYN (GROVE PRESS, 1964) in college, saying basically that when you are from BROOKLYN anything about the borough immediately catches your attention. that definitely came into play with my father and the BEASTIE BOYS, especially with "NO SLEEP TILL BROOKLYN" (with guitars supplied by non-BROOKLYNITE KERRY KING of SLAYER). so im just letting my family's bias be known. if this record was a bit childish and immature, at least those were our idiots on the stage.
but just as GEORGE CARLIN's character states at the conclusion of BILL & TED'S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE (ORION, 1989), "they do get better."
photo manipulation by nacrowe
RICK RUBIN is a renowned record producer with an enviable discography that transcends genre and era. he is celebrated for his ability to tap into an artists creative mindset and challenge them to produce new material that often exceeds audience expectation. notable records he's produced include the likes of SLAYER's REIGN IN BLOOD (DEF JAM, 1986), RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS's BLOOD SUGAR SEX MAGIK (WARNER BROS, 1991), TOM PETTY's WILDFLOWERS (WARNER BROS, 1994), BEASTIE BOYS' LICENSED TO ILL (COLUMBIA, 1986), SYSTEM OF A DOWN's SYSTEM OF A DOWN (AMERICAN, 1998), RUN-DMC's RAISING HELL (PROFILE, 1986), JOHNNY CASH's AMERICAN RECORDINGS series (AMERICAN, 1994-2010), SLIPKNOT's VOL.3: THE SUBLIMINAL VERSES (ROADRUNNER, 2004) and METALLICA's DEATH MAGNETIC (WARNER BROS, 2008) among many others. he has also involved been involved in the formation of two successful record labels, DEF JAM and AMERICAN, with each known for their diverse roster lineups.
all that being said, it comes as no surprise to anyone that RUBIN decided to start an interview podcast where he does what he does best: talk. his deft ear and inquisitive, probing questions mark him as an active listener of idiot savant levels.
check out these interview he's done over the past few years. definitely worth your time if you are a fan of modern music and the process behind their creation.
photo manipulation by nacrowe
released at time in her career when she was in between projects and hadn't toured or been seen in public for years as she privately sough a diagnosis for what she later learned to be late stage LYME DISEASE, THE PUNK SINGER (LONG SHOT FACTORY, 2013) is a documentary about the career and cultural impact of BIKINI KILL / LE TIGRE / THE JULIE RUIN frontwoman and RIOT GRRRL founder KATHLEEN HANNA.
in essence her greatest contribution to popular culture is the empowerment of a whole generation of girls and young women in the 1990s. her confrontational lyrics and fierce outspoken political manifestos place her in the vanguard of what PUNK ROCK is all about. in fact, i'd argue BIKINI KILL exceeded the label, pushing their listeners to organize themselves and start RIOT GRRRL support structures in their own communities and empower each other. totally DIY. absolutely grassroots.
that aspect of her influence is their in spades in the film as it goddamn well should be. in my mind she is a revolutionary figure. what made this documentary interesting beyond that is how she transcended her cult status and pursued her private life without being boxed in by her own supporters. its not unlike the premise from MONTY PYTHON'S LIFE OF BRIAN (HANDMADE FILMS, 1979), where leaders have to fight an image and new cultural paradigm that they created. well, partly created. the media has a bottom line it has to uphold and only looks for the sensationalist aspects of narrative that it wants to promote. uplifting consciousness of both women and men is not a selling point for the corporate ogre. her frustrations with her presentation on a national stage that are beyond her control are well founded by expected. the media is a circus mirror side act on the best of days.
i dont want to make too much of this but i think that just as courageous as her creative work is her ability to pursue a relationship with ADAM HOROVITZ of the BEASTIE BOYS (whose LICENSED TO ILL album is famously juvenile and retrograde in terms of gender politics) because it speaks to how we dont choose who we fall in love with. in his defense, the BEASTIE BOYS quickly dumped that shtick and sought inclusiveness and championed issues of global awareness throughout the rest of their career. if anything they were a conscientious band that had a definite evolution and you can see in this film how HANNA's influence guided them along a route they had already chosen.
i thin also just coming out and being an advocate for those suffering with LYME DISEASE is incredibly powerful and empowering. i know people that find her preachy and maybe even a bit naive, but i wish we had more artists like her right now. i'm glad she is out there doing her thing, or teaching classes at NYU or working on art and solo projects, or continuing the fight against patriarchy. god bless her.
i should also mention that a whole cadre of female musicians, artists and writers were interviewed for this film including JOAN JETT, KIM GORDON (SONIC YOUTH, BODY/HEAD), ALLISON WOLFE (BRATMOBILE), LYNN BREEDLOVE (TRIBE 8), CORIN TUCKER (HEAVENS TO BETSY, SLEATER-KINNEY), CARRIE BROWNSTEIN (SLEATER-KINNEY) and BECCA ALBEE (EXCUSE 17) as well as BIKINI KILL bandmates TOBI VAIL and KATHI WILCOX, LE TIGRE bandmates JOHANNA FATEMAN and JD SAMSON, photographer TAMMY RAE CARLAND, director TAMRA DAVIS and writers SARA MARCUS, JENNIFER BAUMGARDENER and TAVI GEVINSON.
if you are a fan of PUNK ROCK or revolutionary movements in general, this is definitely required viewing. HANNA is a national treasure.