Friday, May 6, 2011

"Make Some Noise If You're Livin'"

What if you've already done your best work? If you came out of the gate at a sprinter's pace and changed the game 20 years ago? What if, as a band, your first three albums were almost a holy trinity to a generation who measures your, and other albums against them? Would you just stop making music?

You can carry this same argument through writing, visual arts, sports, business, whatever... In the case of the Beastie Boys, I'm glad they are still putting music out.

I didn't want to dig "Licensed to Ill" when it came out. I was a punk-soul-hardcore-skater. No room for rap, much less rap the entire school was into. But they sampled Zeppelin and it was playing everywhere and hard not to get into. It became a soundtrack.

When "Paul's Boutique" came out, a friend and I bought it the day it was released on cassette tape and it became probably the most played album during high school and I would venture a guess that it may be among the most played albums I own today. It was truly a game changer. I catch new samples and allusions when I listen to it now. And when you have a name like Michael Valliant vs. Michael Diamond, your name gets inserted into "Shake Your Rump," almost instantly.

Funny how with an album I dig as much as "Paul's Boutique," that "Check Your Head," their third album may actually be my favorite. The return to their own instruments, the insertion of the funk, the 70s vibe; it is a desert island album for sure. I was listening to the college radio station at N.C. State when I heard "Pass the Mic," not knowing they had an album out. A trip to Schoolkids Records fixed that, then a group of us went to the Raleigh Civic Center that spring and saw The Henry Rollins Band open for the Beasties. Simply stellar.

Therein, the problem. "Paul's Boutique" and "Check Your Head" were unlike almost anything that came before them. And unlike anything the band had put out. Revolutionary is a term thrown around like sprinkles on ice cream, but damn near apt in the case of each album, when given the context of what came before it.

Likely not a day goes by that (friends or) I don't quote one of the first three albums or that I don't hear a line, a hook, a beat in my head from them. That's pretty pervasive. So how do you live up to that, creatively? You can't tear everything down completely every time you create and start brand new.

So you don't. They are not churning new work out at a Grisham-like pace. There is blank space, breathing room between efforts. My sense is that Mike, Adam and Adam go into the studio, when moved, and have a blast and riff and groove with what moves them. And then send it out into the world. Seems to me that that's what artists do. Or should do.

There are albums that have followed "Check Your Head" that I don't listen to much (Hello Nasty, To the Five Boroughs). But I'm glad they are out there. I'm glad the Beasties are still creating. And so I downloaded "Hot Sauce Committee Part Two." And played it for the commute to D.C., and the drive home. I'll put it on the iPod for a run. And I'm digging it.

It does my soul good to know that a band that helped shape my sense of music, my sense of culture, my sense of fun; a band that has given voice and lyrics and a shared soundtrack to a group of us growing up and still carving our niche, creatively, in business, family, life--is still dropping science like Galileo dropped an orange.

For me, it's a head nod to what they've kicked into the mix. To borrow a line, which I frequently do, "it's called gratitude...and that's right."

And at the very least, "it's a trip. It's got a funky beat, and I can BUG OUT to it."


The Velveteen said...

Tom introduced me to Paul's Boutique and some of my fondest memories are of driving around in that old Maroon car of his acting out those songs, and I MOST CERTAINLY say "Valliant" instead of "DIamond" in Shake. Your. RUMP-AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA to this day. (naw, my name's Clarence).

Hands down, one of my all-time faves and can quote it front-to-back any day of the week.

The Velveteen said...

seriously, this took me back. Tom and I would act out the ping pong noises, play piano on the dashboard, and the glass-smudge noise???? he would always lick his thumb and go at the rear-view mirror on that bit. SHEW, good memories. Thanks for this.

Michael Valliant said...

Good stuff Bis/Velveteen! I remember Tom's dashboard playing abilities well! I think that album brings back more fun memories for me than any other.