‘Fame Was Like an Extra-Large Bag of Fritos’

Between the Beastie Boys’ retrospective book (“Beastie Boys Book”), their 2018 “event tour” (featuring readings and Q&A) and “Beastie Boys Story” documentary — which comes out Friday on Apple TV+ — one might wonder what’s left to talk about. But Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz and Mike “D” Diamond — the third Beastie Boy, Adam “MCA” Yauch,” died of cancer in 2011 — along with film director, longtime video collaborator and friend Spike Jonze, did a round of Zoom interviews Monday to promote the film (which was reviewed here by Variety’s Owen Gleiberman).

The conversation — where 10 interviewers got to ask one question each — was, not surprisingly, highly entertaining and all over the place, so an edited and condensed Q&A follows.

Jonze started things off by saying what made the film special for him. “I like the idea of trying to make something that represented all the things I love about them and their band,” he said, “and the idea that it’s the people who were [there] describing what happened, rather than people talking about their cultural influence or relevance.

“Not many people who are in a band for that long are still great friends,” he added.

You say one point in the film that the Beastie Boys “could have been any three white guys.” Do you really believe that?
: Looking back, at that moment when [Def Jam Records cofounder and original Beasties producer] Rick Rubin introduced us to [Def Jam cofounder and original manager] Russell Simmons, Russell saw something in us that we didn’t see in ourselves. “These guys are gonna make rap records and I can get them on the covers of magazines” — it was a struggle for Russell, because rap was an underground culture that he was trying to bust into the mainstream, and he saw us as part of that program. That’s what Russell’s mission was; Rick’s mission was separate, he just wanted to make great records; and we were gonna make our sh–. There were these different agendas.

Horovitz: To clarify, we were terrible, we were really bad. It’s not like he’d found this undiscovered gem.

How did the idea for the film come about?
: After we did the “Beastie” book, it was like, “What are we supposed to do now? Do readings and feel kinda lame in a bookstore?” So we came up with this idea with Spike of doing these kind-of performances [for the “event tour”]. We wanted to give a sense of the arc of time and where the stories take place, but the book is 500-something pages and we couldn’t expect people to sit in their seats and deal with us for more than two hours. So we did those shows and it seemed to actually go well — and we were literally figuring it out onstage — and we were like, “Hmm, we should have filmed that.” So we took a little break and got back together with Spike and [documentary coproducer Amanda Adelson] and started to rewrite the show to get more of the story down — and it wasn’t until literally we were going back into the theater that these different gags would happen. That’s how we as a band have always worked and how we worked with Spike — all of us getting together and a lot of ideas come up and we implement them on the fly.

I remember being pitched “Licensed to Ill” when it came out and being told you guys were going to be huge. Did you feel that way at the time?
: No! It wasn’t anything we ever thought about. Russell — we think differently of Russell now, understandably [due to the multiple rape allegations against him made in 2017], but back then whatever he was doing was the biggest and best thing, so we were going to be that. We come from a punk background, so for us or our friends, it was never “Are we gonna make it one day?,” so it was wild when people started buying our records and we were playing bigger shows.

You said in the film how strange it was to see people taking “Fight for Your Right to Party” seriously.
Diamond: We didn’t actually know any party-bro-type dudes, so we said “Let’s do this song as a doof of these guys we don’t really know” — and then those guys are in the front row when we go on tour! At first we just went with it, but then it was like, “Woah.” Where we come from, New York City and hanging out in Greenwich Village, there was nothing like that. So in a way it was good that we had the falling out with Def Jam [the group separated from Simmons, Rubin and Def Jam in the late 1980s] because then we could fall back on each other and be like, “Okay, what do we want to do.”

Horovitz: It was like the extra-large bag of Fritos — at first they taste good, and then you eat more and you’re like “These are really salty” and you don’t feel good, and you finish the bag and you’re like “I’m never eating another Frito again.”

Jonze: That’s a poignant metaphor.

At Woodstock 1999, you spoke about the crowd’s bad behavior in a way that was far from the sort of image you had when you first started. Where did that come from?
Horovitz: For me, just being around Yauch and seeing what he said and did and taking stands publicly was inspiring — that you can make fart jokes and also care about people, and respect your place in the public in that you have a platform to say things and people will listen, whether they give a sh—or not. It was like, I don’t know, if Yauch can do it, I can do it.

This is more of a cinematic question: What film influences did you bring to this documentary?
Diamond: Well, when we were starting out, we loved the Bad Brains but we loved Monty Python just as much, and I kinda laugh when you say “cinematic influences” because we always come back to these [corny] comedies like “Meatballs” and “Caddyshack” and “Pineapple Express” and whatever.

Yauch, and all of you, basically renounced your “Licensed to Ill”-era bad behavior. How did you explain it to your kids?
Diamond: My kids are teenagers, and I was really happy that they got to travel with me during the [“event tour”] because it was like, “This is going to happen to all of us, we’re all going to have actions and situations in our lives that we’re not proud of and could handle better,” and here I am with my best friends Adam and Spike and we get to talk about that. With the kids, it’s great — there are so many times around the dinner table you get to talk about this stuff.

Horovitz: That’s the great thing about the [tour and documentary]: Basically, because of that, we didn’t have to have the awkward conversations with our kids, the “don’t be an asshole” conversation.

When “Nathaniel Hornblower” [Yauch’s fictional character] bum-rushed the stage when R.E.M. won an award at the 1994 VMAs, did you ever find out what Michael Stipe thought?
Horovitz: I remember a friend of Michael Stipe’s did tell me, pretty soon after it happened, that he honestly was pretty surprised at getting bumrushed by Hornblower [laughter], but when he found out what was going on he thought it was pretty funny. But I did hear that some people who worked with the band, like from Warner Bros., were not happy.

“Beastie Boys Story” is produced by Grammy Award winner Jason Baum and Amanda Adelson, alongside director and writer Spike Jonze, and executive produced by Mike Diamond, Adam Horovitz, Dechen Wangdu-Yauch, John Silva, John Cutcliffe, Peter Smith, Thomas Benski, Dan Bowen, Sam Bridger, Michele Anthony, David Blackman and Ashley Newton. Losel Yauch, Frances Yauch and Jonah Hill serve as co-executive producers.

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