Growing up a child of the 80's in the NY/NJ/CT Tri-State Area, I remember when I first heard Beastie Boys License to Ill on the radio. I wasn't really a big fan of rap, but I couldn't get the sound of Beastie Boys out of my head. The whining shrill of Adam (Ad-Rock) Horovitz, the pounding drum beats of Mike Diamond (KMike D), and the thrumming of Adam (MCA) Yauch's bass guitar was irresistible enough. But the catchy rhymes sealed the deal for me. I was hooked. And so, when i learned a few weeks ago that Apple TV was going to release a full length, Spike Jonze directed feature chronicling the story of Beastie Boys ('the' is not part of the band's name), I made an appointment with my TV.
The movie isn't so much a movie or a documentary as it is a trip down memory lane, as told by the two surviving members of the band (Diamond and Horowitz) as they stand on stage at the Kings Theater in Brooklyn in front of a packed house of Beastie fans. Camera capture the on stage gags and the audience reactions as the hosts set-up each 'chapter' of their story.
Chapter 1 begins in lower Manhattan with the three founding band members meeting each other. One need not be a Beastie fan to know where they came from, just listen to the accents. I was shocked to learn how young these kids were when, influenced by the Clash and Run DMC, they formed their own punk bands and found places to play. Most were friend's dorm rooms or crappy apartments, but it was a real as their ambition. I wondered to myself where these kids parents were as Horovitz repeatedly tells the crown how often they skipped school to go hang out at record stores and friends' apartments. Soon, they are somehow befriending producer Rick Ruben and the head of upstart Def Jam records Russell Simmons, and the game is on. By chapter 4, still teenagers, they've fallen in with Simmons and have signed with Def Jam. This final part of what I would call Act 1 of the story, starts when the band gets tapped to open up for Madonna on her 1987 World Tour after, as Horovitz tells it, Madonna's first and second choices were either too expensive or unavailable. They go on tour with Madonna and begin what would become their License to Ill calling card: boozy party guy antics and more antics. The booze and idiotic behavior was part of the Beastie Boys brand, and while they ate it up and enjoyed the ride, it wasn't going to last. The old footage and images are wonderful and compelling, and serve as reminder on how committed the three band member were to documenting just about everything they did. The costumes alone are worth tuning in for. I won't spoil what happens next as the band migrates West to Los Angeles, but it is a fun ride.
In the end, this is a powerful, passionate, sad story of love, friendship, loss and music. You won't be able to contain your emotions as the story winds down with the passing of Yauch when he finally succumbed to cancer in 2012. Jonze, Diamond and Horovitz address it in the best way possible, with silence and imagery. This film is a beautiful story and instant must for music fans, even if rap and punk aren't your favorite genres.