Beastie Boys Story, a Spike Jonze-directed quasi-concert-movie premiering on Apple TV+ this week, is the third installment in an unofficial trilogy. First came Beastie Boys Book, a thick, multidimensional memoir from Michael “Mike D” Diamond and Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz. Published in 2018, six years after the death of Adam “MCA” Yauch, and the end of the band, it was a lovely, heady trip back into the Beastie Boys universe. Then came Beastie Boys Show, a limited-run live act in which Diamond and Horovitz brought the book to the stage in New York, Philly, LA, San Francisco, and London.
Story documents those live shows and their patchwork of archival footage, meta-commentary, multimedia tricks, heartfelt commemorations, and inside jokes. It’s a loving tribute both to Beastie Boys’ fantastically, specifically odd trajectory, and to their friend Yauch. It’s definitely a nostalgia play, and it’s definitely fan service, but it’s done in their happy, handmade, hyper-referential way. It made me cry.
Last week, I spoke with Horovitz and Diamond, via Zoom, from their respective homes in Southern California. Diamond was in his airy kitchen, in a colorful T-shirt; Horovitz was in his garage with a bunch of junk packed in behind him, in a beat-up Mets cap. Here and there he’d tuck his head off-screen, then come back into frame trailing wisps of smoke. The conversation meandered pretty much wherever they wanted it to.
GQ: So, what’s an average day like?
Horovitz: Lately, this is it!
Diamond: Me and my teenagers, we’re up early. A little meditation and then coffee. Usually there’s a family roll-out stretch-out session. We get the foam rollers out. The various stretching mats.
AH: I’ve been, uh, randomly yelling at kids [to go inside]. Like little kids. [They listen] for a second and then they’re like, ‘You’re not my dad.’”
Do you live close enough to go say hi?
AH: We live together. I just, I have to be in the garage
MD: Yeah. We just don’t want to look at each other, in the house.
When you fantasize about a post-pandemic world, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? What do you miss the most?
MD: For me, I just miss getting together with friends over food and wine and such. But also, and Adam’s probably sick of hearing this, but I keep going like, “What’s [the future] gonna be like? Are we gonna hop on a plane to go somewhere? The way we used to?” I don’t know.
AH: I just miss not being freaked out about dying. Or friends dying. Or family. Or half the world. That sort of thing. It was nice not thinking about that.
How are you dressing?
AH: It’s the same. It’s whatever clothes are closest to pick up.
MD: Can I interject for a second, Adam, on your behalf?
AH: [Tentative] Yeaaah.
MD: Adam—when we would meet in person, you would not put a lot of effort into your dressing.
AH: What? It’s a bad connection. I couldn’t hear what you said. Effort?
MD: But now in this quarantine time, we’ve been doing these Zoom interviews, you’ve actually been a lot cleaner and—
AH: I haven’t. I actually need to shower. Or something. I’m thinking about it. OK, people out there, like maybe Mike and some people, they made fun of me because of my dress. Because my style is a little more relaxed. And calm.
MD: Some people call it “the Oscar Madison style.”
AH: And now everybody’s in fucking sweatpants! You know what I’m saying!
MD: That’s what I mean! You were ahead of the time! And now that everybody’s in sweatpants, you’re actually been wearing real pants.
AH: Just picture Eminem like, 15 years ago. Always in the velour tracksuits. Right? So comfy.
MD: I wish I had a velour tracksuit right now. Now would be a great time for that.
AH: Yo, Mike, I think I texted this to you when everything started going crazy, when they were like “You better get toilet paper now”—I was like, “Mike’s got a fucking bidet. He doesn’t care about this.”
MD: I’ve got fucking Toto Washlet Seat, y'all. I’m fuckin’ good. It has a dryer setting and everything. It blowdries your butt.
Did it come with the house?
MD: I had that put in.
AH: Too bad Spike’s not on here. He’s got a toilet where, when you walk in the bathroom, the seat goes up.
With Beastie Boys Show, how strange was it to perform effectively a two-person stage act? How different was it from playing live?
MD: Well, let’s not forget—Adam is a trained professional thespian. Adam, you have a background in musical theater—like Oliver! Esteemed productions like that.
AH: Yup. Oliver!’s why I quit high school.
MD: We were exhausted at the end of each night doing the show, because we were actually having to think all the time. There was never a place to be comfortable and really to hide behind. It was fatiguing in a different way than we’d ever experienced before.
AH: We can do the crowd [work] thing. The crowd thing’s no problem. [The problem is] we’re not actors. And you can see the difference. Like, my best friend is an actor, she’s been doing it forever. And she helped me and Mike and she’d be like, “What are you doing? Why are you saying the words so weird?”
MD: I feel like a dick saying it, but it is the truth: being on stage feels very native and normal to Adam and I. That’s what we’ve been doing with our lives since we were 18 years old. But having to communicate these stories, and staying true to our authentic selves, that was an interesting space.
AH: Well, Mike, it’s like—I was in a movie, not so long ago, and all I had to do was walk down the street. The camera was across the street filming me. I was trying to walk normal and everytime I did it, I looked like I had a basket on my head I was trying to balance. I looked nuts. The guy just kept being like, “Just walk down the street. Just. Walk.” I was like, “I’m trying!”
How many takes?
MD: Did the director throw anything at you? Physical abuse? Verbal abuse? Anything?
AH: He might not have been paying attention.
Beastie Boys Story has a recurring bit with a loud voice yelling the phrase “crazy shit.” The credits identify the voice as Bill Hader!
MD: We’re big Bill Hader fans.
Any other big names hiding in the multimedia experience?
AH: You know. Tom Hanks. Oprah Winfrey. [Pause] Jose Canseco. Oh. The chef Tyler Florence.
MD: [Cracks up]
AH: [Very pleased with himself] That was pretty good, Mike. Come on.
MD: [Still laughing] I gotta give you that one. You got me with that one.
There’s a small moment in the movie that I love, Adam, when you’re reminiscing about meeting your future bandmates at a Misfits show. You say, “It might have been the Circle Jerks but I’m gonna say Misfits because I like the Misfits better.” That opportunity to slyly reshape your past, to make it cooler—that must have been nice.
AH: Well, it would have been easier to sort of...rewrite. But we wanted to make it as honest and real as possible. You know, if you look bad, I mean, you might as well own that. How else are you gonna grow?
Right. There are two big moments like that in the movie: when you discuss your relationship with ex-bandmate Kate Schellenbach, and when you discuss the misogynistic early song “Girls.”
AH: We felt like, if we’re gonna tell the story of our band, it’s everything. And a big part of our band is Licensed To Ill. And there are things [from that era] that we are proud, and there are things that we’re not proud of, and to be able to comment on it—it was actually really nice.
What was Spike’s impact on the live show?
AH: We rewrote the show [after Spike came in]. He kept wanting us to talk about our feelings. And the emotion.
MD: Spike is big into, “Well, what were you feeling?” If it were up to Adam and I, the show would probably have been two-thirds—
AH: Fart jokes.
MD: —and one-third storytelling. Without ever having to get into anything uncomfortable.
Looking back at everything that’s happened to you over all these decades, how much if it was bitter and how much was sweet?
AH: The bitter stuff was when we were looking at videos. Like when you watch yourself? When you’re a teenager and you thought you were really cool? It’s tough.
MD: But even that stuff, that’s the bitter part, yeah, but it becomes sweet because we’re the freakin’ most fortunate people alive. We got not only to live through that, but then also to have done all this other stuff, and now we get to comment on it and stand on stage and call ourselves out. In a certain sense it’s our worst nightmare, all of our most embarrassing moments actually existing on YouTube. But in terms of making this film, it became clear we have to take advantage of all of that. And sometimes that footage tells the story better than anything Adam and I could do. It’s an opportunity to have a dialogue with an earlier-in-life moment.
The book is this sprawling epic. Was there ever any part of the process where it felt unwieldy? Like you just wanted to abandon the whole thing?
AH: No. When we got into it, we were into it. There was so much to put in there.
MD: We did have a sequel book we wanted to put out called Funny to Us. All these anecdotable things that are genuinely [only] funny to us.
AH: We might. One day! Hopefully. You know. I’m working on my own solo deal.
MD: Adam has an intimate memoir.
AH: Yup. Yup. Intimate. It’s just a lot of raunchy stuff.
MD: Yeah, finally you’re gonna bring the raunch.
Wow. Are you currently working on it?
AH: Every day. Getting raunchy every day.
What’s your process? Laptop? Longhand?
AH: No, no, I’m not working on anything. I’m working on staying alive. I’m just seriously like pacing my house. Standing in the corner. Trying to figure out what the fuck is going on. Just living fucking day to day. Minute to minute.
MD: Trying to buy disinfectant wipes unsuccessfully.
AH: I haven’t been able to read. I have a hard time focusing. I just need to be entertained right now.
MD: Pineapple Express. That’s what I have to say. I really think it’s one of the best movies made in the last 20 years. I’ll put it in my top 10.
Does working on this book/live show/movie trilogy have you thinking of new creative projects?
AH: Not me!
MD: [Laughs] I think it’s been a really good process, getting through this. But there’s not, like, another part in this group of things. The only other thing is: we recorded so much music together as a band for so long. There’s so much [unreleased] stuff. For a while, there was no way that Adam and I could approach dealing with it, or even listening to it. But now, after having gone through all this stuff, we feel like we could pick that stuff up. We probably will, at some point. The vault is there.
Do you have a good sense of what’s in there? Or you haven’t even cracked the vault?
AH: I’ve been listening to some.
How is it?
AH: It’s pretty bad. Really bad. Some of it is—really, really bad.
MD: We should start making playlists of the worst moments and blackmail each other.
AH: A lot of garbage. [Pause] But there’s some nice stuff in there.
You guys always produced a lot of extra content. I remember watching your Criterion Collection video anthology over and over and being totally captivated by “Ciao LA,” which is like “Sabotage”-video extended universe.
AH: That’s on there?!
MD: There’s a bit of that in the new film! It’s funny you mention that: Adam and I, our pet peeve is that there all those things we do that are intensive extra things—that nobody gives a shit about. Or nobody ever notices. Basically. So thank you for noticing.
The B-side “Boomin’ Granny” [a horny ode to May-December relationships from the Check Your Head sessions] is another one. I think I know all the words to “Boomin’ Granny.”
MD: Oh, [in the vault] we got a lot of potential “Boomin’ Grannies.” [Laughs] We got in trouble in England because we didn’t know that “fanny” meant something else in England. [Note: the song goes “boomin’ granny / boomin’ fanny.”] We were on TV. On Jools Holland maybe? And we were singing “Boomin’ Granny"—it was not fondly looked on.
You were on TV, and you decided to do “Boomin’’ Granny.”
AH: Well, it’s a hit.
To me, yes.
AH: You’re supposed to do your hit on TV. [Pause] We didn’t actually get in trouble. They were just like, “What are you doing? Why are you saying that? On TV? What’s wrong with you?”
This is very much not important but I felt like with the titles of the book and the show, you’re stressing that it’s “Beastie Boys,” not “The Beastie Boys.” Or do you not care?
MD: Alright. First off, I’m giving you high, high marks. Virtually nobody outside of the two of us ever points that out or notices. And the answer to your question—it bugs the shit out of us. All the time, people are like [does annoying squeaky voice] “The Beastie Boys.” There’s no “the” in the band name!
AH: Would you say “The Mudhoney?” “The Nirvana?”
MD: You don’t say “The Run DMC.” “The Funkadelic.”
AH: But the worst, though is—The Beasties.
MD: That is the worst. And actually the British tabloids were especially fond of using that
AH: Or they liked to say “the Jewish Beasties.”
That is awful. You had this big contentious relationship with England when you first toured in ‘87, which you document in Beastie Boys Story. How’s the relationship with England now?
MD: It’s funny, because we had our blowup fight with England that ended in the Liverpool riot. And then [after] Check Your Head, it was that thing of we’re trying to have a relationship with the country of England but the country of England wants nothing to do with it. And then by the time Ill Communication came out, it was all good. It took time for us to heal.
Are there any countries where you guys are secret superstars?
AH: Everywhere. Everywhere! What are you talking about?!
MD: I feel like Canada—
AH: Canada loves us.
MD: Canada, and I still don’t understand why, really embraced the band.
AH: Where not, Mike?
MD: [Laughs] Where not? I’ll come up with something. I feel like Spain, not as much. Like, they’re fine with it. But it’s not like [does terrible Spanish accent]: “I must-aaa have-a Beastie Boys.”
The movie reminded me that you guys were only in your early twenties when you made Paul’s Boutique. That blew my mind. I don’t even have a question. Can you believe you were able to make that when you were so young?
MD: I can’t believe that we were able to do it when we were so hot.
MD: No, I mean, it’s part of everything we did, from [the beginning], from just deciding that we were gonna be a rap group; that we were gonna go on stage and rap. We never thought, “Oh, it would be crazy if—.” It was just, in that moment, doing that thing. And it almost makes more sense that we were young, because when you get older, it becomes harder to be completely committed.
AH: And Yauch did have big ideas and plans. He would come up with things, and maybe it was just on the fly, but it felt real formulated. Like he’d been thinking about shit for a while. Like advanced things that Mike and I are not accustomed to. Advanced thinking.
You talk about that a lot in the book and the movie. How Yauch had all these ideas and all this energy. How he was able to make so much happen. At the end of the movie, you are clearly pained as you talk about losing him. How difficult was that to handle? To figure out how to communicate that?
AH: Well, we knew where the story was gonna go. Um. [Clears throat]. It’s just—uh—you can think about things. You can even write them down. But when you’re telling them, saying words, out loud. Feelings out loud. It’s just different. It hits you in a different way.
MD: Definitely. We knew what we’d written. But we didn’t know—it’s not until we’re on stage, basically performing that, we didn’t know how that was going to feel. And there were moments that the feelings were—overwhelming. The feelings took over.
OK, you guys have to go. Before you do, can I just get some advice, to the people self-isolating all over—
AH: Advice on what?!
How to make it through—
AH: A global pandemic?! What the fuck do we know!!
MD: Global pandemic—we’re definitely not the guys to ask. But in terms of day to day existence, I would say, make an effort to send things you’re liking—music, movies, books, whatever—to a few of your friends and ask them to do the same. I’ve been listening to quite a bit of sweet soul music during this quarantine time. A little bit of some West African things, a little Zambian rock music. I’m all over the place. What we’re missing out on is this interconnection with other humans. Interconnection with people who we really do care about, and really do care about what they’re thinking. You can bring that in, in simple ways. It’s a cool thing
AH: OK, I’ll give you a piece of advice: for people, if you're walking around—back the fuck up. Get the fuck away from me. [Pause] And don’t feel like you have to finish anything. Water colors. Puzzles. Leave it out!
Originally Appeared on GQ