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Pollywog Stew (1982)

I never knew the Beastie Boys did straight-up punk.

Licensed to Ill (1986)

“(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party)” was impossible to avoid.  The video was on heavy MTV rotation, and I disliked the Beastie Boys for many reasons:  shouty lyrics, frat-boy antics, low-level homophobia.  Of all the things to fight for, I thought, why is partying first?  But the biggest reason was that hip-hop wasn’t on my radar; I was twelve, and only making the transition from Top 40 to Euro synth-pop.

Paul’s Boutique (1989)

At Barnes & Noble, I spread all the alternative music magazines I could find in front of me on the table so that everyone could see how alternative I was.  Even though Paul’s Boutique got plenty of positive press, my antipathy towards the Beastie Boys had evolved into indifference.  They were mainstream, I thought, and to hell with the mainstream!  I was too busy with the review of the latest Peter Murphy album and the up-and-coming Nine Inch Nails, who I suspected might get big.

Check Your Head (1992)

R___ had a poetry class with me.  He wore baseball caps backwards and was in a fraternity:  in other word, the type I associated with the Beastie Boys.  And, sure enough, when I delivered a copy of my workshop poem to his dorm, there, on the floor, was Check Your Head.  Mark Strand took a liking to R___’s work, much to my dismay.  Strand held up phrases of his for us to examine:  a crumb of soap.  Grandmother slurping soup.  I wondered, How was this possible?  Strand gave me a C, and I retreated to the Baltimore raves, where frat boys hadn’t yet infiltrated.

Ill Communication (1994)

In X-Force #43, Rictor (a mutant with the ability to create seismic waves) takes his teammate Shatterstar (a warrior from another dimension) to the Limelight to teach him about human feelings.  When Shatterstar hears “Sabotage,” he notes the atavism of the song, how the bass rattles his bones.  When a young girl tries to dance with him, he runs away, wondering what it would take to make him feel human.  Years later, he and Rictor become lovers.

Hello Nasty (1998)

Ad-Rock apologized for his past homophobia in a letter to Time Out New York.  “There are no excuses, but time has healed our stupidity,” he wrote.  “We have learned and sincerely changed since the 80s.”  He takes it a step further in “Alive” when he raps “Homophobics ain’t OK,” while wearing a fuzzy powder-blue jumpsuit.

Hot Sauce Committee Part 2 (2011)

Adam Yauch passed away from cancer about a month ago.  A friend in Brooklyn told me about passing a beauty salon that had a hand-written sign reading ‘R.I.P. MCA.’  I didn’t know what it meant, my friend said.  Neither did I.  Adam Yauch, to me, was not MCA but the founder of Oscilloscope Laboratories and vegan Buddhist.  But, rewatching the videos, I realized how Adam Yauch is inseparable from MCA, the way I’m inseparable from my 80s self for which I have yet to apologize.  There he is dressed like a scruffy 80s motorcycle rocker; then again with short-cropped gray hair.  There he is his delivering a gruff rap about beer; then again criticizing disrespect towards women.   There he is, still fighting.


I:  The wounded hand or the scars of the poet

The image of a writer typing until his fingers bleed is, I’m afraid, a fabrication attributable, perhaps, to Bryan Adams.

II:  Do the walls have ears?

Next door lives Jimmy, who has Tourette’s.  Sometimes, late at night, he screams, and the screams penetrate our shared wall, and it almost sounds as if the wall is screaming.  The walls say, Ahh!  Jimmy!, an unbroken howl, as if they had done something unspeakable.  In the mornings, Jimmy nods and say hello, and the walls stay silent about the previous night.

III:  The snowball fight

In Colorado, the snow is wholly unsuitable.  It’s crisp and powdery, impossible to pack together.  The balls disintegrate in your mittens, and if you manage to get one to cohere, upon contact, it evaporates, a whiff of ice, a halo, a cloud.  On the East Coast, however, the snow is wet and slushy, as if it had already partially melted on the way down.  It clings to branches and cements itself to the sidewalks and will, overnight, in a feat of treachery, turn to ice.  The crystals are and thick and gristly.  The snow tastes of salt and metal; in other words, like war.

IV:  The profanation of the host

Jean Cocteau, speaking before a 1932 screening of his film:  “One can’t tell the story of film like this.  I could give you my own interpretation.  I could say: the solitude of the poet is so great, he lives out his own creations, so vividly that the mouth of one of his creations is imprinted on his hand like a wound; that he loves this mouth, that he loves himself, in other words; that he wakes up in the morning with this mouth against him like a chance acquaintance; that he tries to get rid of it, that he gets rid of it, on a dead statue; that this statue comes to life; that it takes its revenge; that I sends him off into terrible adventures.  I could tell you that the snowball fight represents the poet’s childhood and that when he plays the card game with his Glory, with his Destiny, he cheats by drawing from his childhood instead of from within himself.  I could tell you that afterwards, when he has tried to create a terrestrial glory for himself, he falls into that ‘mortal tedium of immortality’ that one always dreams of when in front of famous tombs.  I’d be right to tell you all that, but I’d also be wrong, for it would be a text written after the images.”

This is Orpheus, who, with a glance over his shoulder, sees the image of Eurydice, now fading from view, now disappearing back into darkness.