But being ruminative is not what the Beastie Boys are all about. They made a lot of people dance, laugh, think and — in some ways most impressive — feel included in their scene. To be down with the Beastie Boys was — and is! — to be on the inside of a style, a method of art making, a worldview: “Down with Ad-Rock and Mike D and you ain’t and I got more juice than Picasso got paint,” as Yauch put it in “The New Style.” I still get chills when I hear the early rap songs — “Hold It Now, Hit It” most of all — and remember that startled feeling when it became apparent these guys weren’t only joking around, they were good rappers.
Most of my favorite passages focus on the formative years. Diamond riffs on a diner in a tidy wooden building you can eat in today — the Metro, on 100th and Broadway — that was once the ramshackle residence of one of the original members of the group, John Berry, and his father.
Diamond’s voice is lapidary, droll. Horovitz comes on like a borscht belt comedian, but beneath that he is urgent, incredulous, kind of vulnerable. There is an almost Caulfieldian sense of grief about the irretrievable past. Both are collectors — they kept the hydraulic penis for 30 years, after all. And this book is their attempt to uncover the details of their lost civilization — a pre-smartphone era where serendipity ruled — to today’s youth.
“Pre-cellphone/smartphone, kids had to call each other’s houses,” Diamond explains in a lengthy aside that goes on, wonderfully, to describe the ultimate agony: “When my mom picked up and started dialing before she realized I was already on the phone.”
Really, it’s a fascinating, generous book with portraits and details that float by in bursts of color. The fact that a Black Flag show served as a kind of Big Bang for New York’s punk scene is a revelation. Then there’s the unusual genesis of the lyric that opens their song “Paul Revere”: “Here’s a little story I got to tell.” I always considered this, in tone and syntax, to be the most explicitly Yiddish of their lyrics, and assumed that Horovitz, who delivers the line on the record, was the one who wrote it. But it turns out that he first heard it from Run of Run-DMC, of all people, while sitting on a stoop before a recording session. As Horovitz recalls that day, it was also one of the first moments the band felt they had arrived. “Just a couple years ago, me and Dave Scilken got busted for writing graffiti, so we ran and hid from the police in a stairwell leading to the basement, two doors down from where we are sitting now,” he remembers thinking as they waited for Run-DMC to show up. “And here we were, waiting to record a song with the greatest of all time.”