It's 1 AM and I can't find my records.
I have a box of them somewhere. I also have a box of cassette tapes, which I found, two huge containers of CDs, and then hundreds of gigabytes of music in various places around the house, in the cloud, on my phone and, right now, as I type this, streaming through Spotify. But I want to find my records and short of shaking my wife awake to tell her how urgent this is, even though we don't have a record player, I'm stuck assuming they are in a box in the garage, though clearly mislabeled, or else I'd have those records in front of me right now. See, I'm looking for something specific: the 12" single of "She's On It" by the Beastie Boys that I've had since 1985. I bought it at the Record Alley in Palm Springs on the same day I bought the 12" of LL Cool J's "I Can't Live Without My Radio". which is also in that box. I was 14 and what I remember is that I'd taken the SunBus down to the store -- something I did on a fairly regular basis -- and had spent a long time talking to the excessively cool girl behind the counter about music. I was really into New Wave and Goth music at the time but was slowly getting into bands like The Replacements and Husker Du and also, more slowly, rap and hip hop, which was only just then starting to occasionally find its way onto MTV, but was completely absent from the radio in Palm Springs, though sometimes at night I'd be able to get KDAY from LA on my radio if I turned the antenna just so and held a piece of tin foil in my mouth.
"If you like RUN DMC," the girl said to me, "you should listen to this." She handed me a record that featured three Jewish guys sitting in their underwear at the beach as the cover photo. "They're white guys who rap."
That sounded preposterous to me, but, like I said, she was excessively cool, I was 14 and the deal was sealed. Plus, the guys on the cover looked like they could be my cousins. I took the record home and put it on. I listened to the B-side first -- "Slow and Low" -- because the girl said RUN DMC had written the song, and my mind was completely blown: It's never old school/All brand new...By the time they got to the part about White Castle fries only coming in in one size, I had my new favorite band. And I didn't even know what White Castle was. "She's On It" was an entirely different beast -- it sounded like a heavy metal song with rapping. It was also, well, dirty: It's gets annoying, so high on the tip/If a pirate had a Def Jam shirt, she'd be hard on his tip. When you're 14 and the most compelling thing you've ever experienced is scrambled porn, this was like having someones cool older brother suddenly show up in your bedroom with a whole new language and some secrets, too.
I've had that record now for 27 years, along with every single other record the Beastie Boys have made. So when I found out Adam Yauch died last Friday, I found myself horribly sad, near tears, and then eventually in tears. I don't really think of the Beastie Boys as the kind of music I'd choose to sit in my house crying to, but there I was no less, tears streaming down my face while I listened to "Sure Shot". You see the thing about the Beastie Boys is that I'd not only grown up with them, I felt like I'd grown up around them, too. When I was 15 and wanted nothing more to be cool and pick up girls and drink beer, they were there with their first album. When I was 18 and heading off to college, experimenting with even more things, there was Paul's Boutique. When I was drinking 40s and wearing hoodies with the rest of my fraternity brothers, Check Your Head showed up. And when I was in love -- really in love, with the woman who would become my wife -- and realizing that women weren't bitches and whores, weren't objects to objectified, there was "Sure Shot" with Adam Yauch telling us it was about time to end the disrespect of women.
What the Beastie Boys also did, in a very fundamental way, was show that being an awkward Jewish dude with too much pop culture trivia at the ready was something that could be cool. The Beasties didn't start out erudite and enlightened, but they ended up there and that, too, was cool. When you're young and Jewish and want to make art, role models aren't exactly thick on the ground, but here were three guys who looked like me who were making art. It would eventually be great art. The Beastie Boys have been playing behind me since I was 14 and so I've tended to think of them as belonging to me, which is ludicrous, I know. But that's what makes some art great: it comes so close to you that you forget it's just words, or pictures, or sounds that played while you were young, when you were older, but still so young, and then again today, when you weren't so young at all.
A few years ago, I was asked to speak at the 20 year reunion of the fraternity I'd been in during college. I was a great frat boy: at times misogynistic, racist, sexist, homophobic, probably an alcoholic...though, in truth, I wasn't really those things at all. I had sisters that I loved. Great female friends. Girlfriends I cared about deeply. I had friends of every race. I was -- as I am now -- a fervent believer in gay rights. But when you gather young men together and add alcohol and drugs, well, you end up doing things you regret in retrospect. What we wanted to be then was simple: we wanted to be the Beastie Boys, or what we thought were the Beastie Boys. We dressed like them. We drank like them. We played their music constantly. It was, in retrospect, absurd. They were characters in a drunken western who, eventually, became adults embarrassed by their own youth. We didn't know that then, of course. But the thing is: those are also some of my fondest memories of being young and dumb. So when I wrote my speech for that evening I wanted to make sure to pay homage to the past and also apologize for the stupidity of our actions. For some reason, I thought all those boys I'd known then would still be boys, trapped in the amber of the moment, as it were, but of course they'd all become like me: they were married, had children, jobs, lives and they also had many of the same regrets. We'd been so young. We'd been so dumb. We'd let two of our friends kill themselves. We'd had such a good time. We made terrible mistakes. We laughed so much. And here we were, celebrating, because it's a life and that's what you do. I believe you have to honor the mistakes sometimes because it makes the successes so much sweeter.
I had a great time that night, but it was also filled with a kind of melancholy that I'm feeling again, today, after obsessively reading all the obits of Adam Yauch and then watching the Hall of Fame induction of the Beasties this evening, too. When a smart, gifted young man dies it's always a tragedy. But when you realize that you're only a few years younger than that smart, gifted young man...and that you're not that young anymore, are in fact somewhere right in the middle...you begin to recognize that the sadness you feel isn't just about the loss of that person's life, but also the recognition that who you were when you met that person is long gone, too.
So maybe tomorrow I'll find my records and I'll dig up that 12" and I'll buy a record player and I'll listen to the sound the needle makes in the grooves and I'll be 14 again for a few minutes. But, god, who wants to be 14 again? No, I think the better thing to do is to turn the music up loud and dance around the house like a fool, pretending I'm in the Beastie Boys like I always do when their songs come on, chanting you can't, you won't, you don't stop over and over again, because it's impossible not to feel good when you're singing along to the Beastie Boys.