Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Spike Jonze, Adam Horovitz (a.k.a. Ad-Rock), and Michael Diamond (a.k.a. Mike D)

The Beastie Boys discuss their bread and butter: “Being fools and telling fart jokes”

Spike Jonze, Adam Horovitz (a.k.a. Ad-Rock), and Michael Diamond (a.k.a. Mike D)
Photo: Apple TV+

It started way back in history, with Ad-Rock, MCA, and Mike D. The Beastie Boys were one of the most noteworthy and influential acts in American music for over 20 years, and following the death of Adam Yauch, in 2012, it took surviving members Adam Horovitz and Mike Diamond years to process the loss and continue addressing the group’s legacy—first with the sprawling Beastie Boys Book in 2018, and now with Beastie Boys Story, the Spike Jonze-directed documentary adaptation of the live show that recounted the band’s wild times. Following the film’s premiere on AppleTV+, The A.V. Club sat down with Horovitz and Diamond via the now-ubiquitous Zoom video chat to discuss adapting their stage show for the big (and small) screen, the virtues of puzzles, and why this might end with an image of Horovitz eating Arby’s in a dumpster.

Adam Horovitz: Two quick things, and then we’ll get started. One, my mother-in-law is bringing over some soup, so I might get interrupted for a sec in, like, 10 minutes.

Michael Diamond: What kind of soup?

AH: Social distance soup. A bean soup.

MD: A “social distance soup.” What the—

AH: No, she’s not going to, like, come here and sit... you know what I mean. She’s not going to be part of this interview.

MD: She’s not going to drop the soup in your lap.

AH: And two, I just finished a Wacky Packs puzzle that [original Beastie Boys drummer] Kate Schellenbach gave me. Or loaned to me.

MD: Cool. Look at that, you have so many nice friends that are giving you puzzles.

AH: I started a puzzle club, Mike.

MD: Puzz Club?

AH: Puzz Club. You start slow... It’s a casual club, especially now. I don’t need the pressure. It’s just me, Kate, and my friend Frank.

MD: I mean, it’s like the Wu-Tang. Did they “Bring The Pain” hardcore from the beginning?

AH: They did!

MD: I guess they did.

AH: Yeah, they most certainly did. Okay, that’s all.

MD: Okay, Alex, we’re sorry for our tangents here.

AVC: No, no. Feel free, if you have a puzzle-related fact you’d like to share.

MD: Are you a puzzle enthusiast?

AVC: I was a puzzle enthusiast for a lot of years, and then I had a kid. That ended that free time.

AH: Yeah. How old is your child?

AVC: Eighteen months now.

AH: Jesus Christ.

MD: Well, eventually your child will become of puzzling age.

AVC: Yeah, the big chunky puzzles, right?

AH: Chunky Puzz? That’s my new grunge band.

MD: Chunky Puzz would be a really good name for, like, a Northwest group.

AVC: All right, so this is something that’s been bugging me for years, but I can’t find the clip online. I swear I remember watching your 1994 VMAs performance, and seeing a preshow interview with you guys, where you said that MTV stuck you and Green Day in a “punk rock ghetto” away from the other acts, and then MTV got mad at you for saying that. Do you remember this?

MD: I think that was me running my mouth, so I cannot deny said statement. But yeah, I remember. It was at Radio City Music Hall. And it was a really hot night, I remember, getting over there. And then we get there, and our dressing rooms, with Green Day, were like—it’s true. We were in some poor... I mean, it was nice enough of them to give us dressing rooms, I guess, although we were both performing. You know, you go to those things, you think you’re going to be, like, sharing a hummus dip with Prince. No, uh uh. No sharing hummus dip with Prince and Madonna for us.

AH: Where would you give you the dressing room, Mike? Think about that, if you were them.

MD: Me? I get it.

AH: You’re going down the list—

MD: They’re like, “All right, Green Day and Beastie Boys. They’ve been on tour. They’re both idiots. They can all be idiots together, and then that way Prince and Madonna don’t have to get hassled by these fools.” I get it.

AVC: Given how much the group evolved over the years, that seems like something that never really changed—you guys never lost the desire to fuck with the format of whatever thing you were doing at any given moment. 

MD: I mean, it’s what we strive for. And in recent times, with the book and stage show, and now with this film, I think we definitely went into all those projects with that mentality of like, “All right, our bread and butter really is just being fools and telling fart jokes.” But our next bread-and-butter category would be, yes, if we’re going to do something that’s a form that already exists, how do we do it totally different? How do we approach it so it’s completely different than what anybody else is doing?

AH: Mike, so you’re saying you’re outside the box, is what you’re saying?

MD: I mean... I’m not saying I am, Adam. I’m saying we as—

AH: No labels.

MD: —a group. “Outside the box” is the worst term. Now I feel stupid even saying what I’ve said.

AH: No, but it’s punk to do something different, so we always wanted to just be punk and do something different.

AVC: There are so many great moments of that, where it’s just something unexpected. For example, there’s the great story in the book of you performing at the Bestival Festival in Dorset, when Mike, you disappeared before the encore, and then came back out in that amazing outfit.

MD: I would say I was resplendent. I came out resplendent in—it was sort of like a house, like a robe—but kind of like a robe I’d like to think that a royal person would wear.

AH: It would be Thurston Howell.

MD: Yeah, it was some real Thurston Howell shit.

AH: It was one of your best moments, Mike.

MD: Actually, I should go find that robe. That’s what I should be wearing for this interview, for all of COVID. While I’m home doing Zoom meetings—I’ve been doing it all wrong. I should be wearing that robe.

AH: Look at the three of us. Look at the three of us in shitty T-shirts and schleppy sweatshirts. We suck.

AVC: Yeah.

MD: We should be in the Thurston Howell robe, obviously.

AH: That moment was great, but my other really favorite Mike live moment was when we played a festival, a different festival, in ’92. It was raining. It was just a kind of shitty day, and Mike was in a mood. He’s very moody.

MD: I was moody.

AH: Moody Mike. And we go onstage, and I realize—we’re all wearing coats, because it’s England and it’s raining. And Mike found some duct tape, and he wrote, “FUCK ALL Y’ALL,” on the back of his coat. [Laughs.]

MD: And you know the best thing about it? First off, actually, quick side note. I think we were in Belgium, not England. But same weather. You know, rainy—

AH: Why you got to ruin my thing, Mike? Who cares?

MD: I’m elaborating. I’m not ruining, I’m building upon—you laid the groundwork out. And that’s what we do as a group.

AH: All right, Belgium.

MD: You laid the groundwork, and now I’m, like, executing, you know? Kind of like cheerleaders when they do the human pyramid. You’re on the bottom.

AH: You’re saying I’m a bottom? All right.

MD: [Laughs.] I guess I am. Anyway, so we’re—whatever. It was Belgium, it was raining, I was in a mood, Adam is correct. We were on tour, and we had been sleeping on the bus for, like, three or four nights in a row. But the funny thing is I did that, and I don’t think anybody other than you, Adam, and maybe Yauch—like, I don’t feel like anybody else noticed or cared.

AH: So then, that’s fun. What does it matter?

AVC: So it was a magical moment just for the three of you, then.

MD: Yeah, it was not like Britney, like, coming out onstage with a python. Not a big moment. [Brief pause.] Adam, you didn’t like my Britney analogy, huh? Tough crowd, tough crowd.

AH: It’s all right. I was just looking at myself [on camera] thinking that I looked like Saddam Hussein when they caught him.

MD: [Laughs.]

AH: No? Truth be told you guys, I’m a little high, and I’ve had way too much coffee. So I’m coming with heat today. Coming full Horovitz, right at you.

AVC: The book is bursting at the seams with stories like that. When you first started choosing what was going to go in the stage show, before you even got to the film, how did you decide what made the cut?

AH: Well, kind of like how we did the book. Mike and I just sort of made a list of what stories we thought would be good. What would be good to say in front of people.

AH: And then they—what happened? And then Spike was around, and...[Sees Diamond has sent a chat message to everyone, asking the name of the weed Adam’s smoking.] Oh, now you’re doing texts, Mike? Now you’re going to be funny, huh?

MD: I did send a message to the group, yeah.

AH: [Reads the question.] It’s called “Banjo Popcorn.”

AVC: That’s a great name.

AH: I find the pot with the weirdest, funniest names.

MD: Anyway, I would say when first Adam and I sat down to write what became the stage play, and then Spike came in and was rewriting with us, and I think the hardest part of that was that here we were trying to take this 500-whatever page book, right? And make that work within hopefully not too much more than two hours. Although, with our gabbing and tangential ramblings on it, [it would] often would be longer than two hours.

And then for the film, it was just, like, rewriting and rewriting and rewriting with this concept in our heads of, like, what is going to work better in that iteration? But until Spike and then our editors, Jeff Buchanan and Zoe [Schack], until they started working on it, we didn’t realize how it was going to take on this whole other form—where all the historical footage really came to life and brought the story to life in a different way.

AVC: Was some of that just a question of documentation? Were there memories or experiences that really stood out to you guys, but you ended up not using because there’s just no photos or evidence of it?

AH: No, just—I don’t know. Like, I don’t remember what Mike was just saying because I wasn’t paying attention, because I was trying to type something into the thing.

MD: You were trying to write something funny into the chat, weren’t you?

AH: I was trying to put a picture of cookies into the type machine, but it wasn’t working.

MD: Oh, yeah, I don’t think it lets you do emojis in the Zoom chat, does it?

AVC: I don’t think so.

AH: It was a picture of cookies, it wasn’t—

MD: Sorry, so what was your question that Adam couldn’t remember, and now I can’t remember?

AH: No, we selected whatever was funny. You know what I mean? I guess it is important to have people around sometimes to say what you’re going to do, because then, if you listen to those people, they’re like, “Yeah, it’s not that funny. Move on from that.” So it was nice to have Spike help us with that.

MD: And also, Adam and I wanted the same thing as Spike, but also very different. Like, if it were up to us, we would have goofed around tangentially for two and a half hours without really worrying too much about emotions or whatever. And so Spike was, like, this good kind of conscience of, you know, continuing to check in with us. Like, “Wait, hold on. Stop. What were you feeling at that moment?” Why does this need to be said from the stage, basically. And then, the other thing working with Spike was, it’s also great because he has his own opinion, but it’s also not like he’s coming from some other place. You know, he was there at G-Son Studio with us in L.A. for a long, long time. And he was there alongside us through a lot of the arc of that creation. So yes, he has his own perspective on it, but we never had to really explain things to him.

AH: Because we were all friends with Spike, and so we have the same references and get the same jokes. Same music. Same sort of stuff.

MD: Well, and I think—there’s something in terms of punk. Coming from a punk rock background or punk rock consciousness, that kind of set the tone for what Adam said, us looking at and doing things differently, and I think Spike totally embraces that ethos 100%. So we always felt connected with him that way.

AVC: Given how much archival footage there is, did you ever consider adapting it into a longer form?

AH: You mean like an eight-part miniseries?

AVC: Honestly, a lot of the scenes, I was watching and thinking, “I would watch an entire docuseries about this.”

MD: Well, what if we made a standard version of a documentary, but in puzzle form? Like, a series of two dozen Beastie Boys puzzles, all—

AH: Two dozen?!

MD: Yeah! [Laughs.] All telling different moments.

AH: Two dozen. You know, it would be cool. It’s just a lot of work.

MD: Well, this was a lot of work!

AH: I know, that’s what I’m saying.

MD: Actually, we talked about that. We did talk about that before we did what became this. We talked with Spike about doing a multi-part thing going more in-depth. And at some point, maybe we’ll still do something like that. I guess it would be a lot of work. But this was a lot of work, too.

AVC: As you started digging through all this old footage and images that you hadn’t seen in years, what were the things that surprised you most, or that you hadn’t remembered?

AH: Just the amount of things that were on film was pretty amazing, just because not everybody had cameras. Like, back then your photographer friend had a camera. You know what I mean? But it was just great to see so many old pictures. And Mike and I had gone through so much for the book, but then for the movie, they really dug deep.

MD: I do always talk about it, but I feel lucky that timing-wise, right when we started recording rap records—like “She’s On It” and “Slow And Low” and “Hold It Now”—was kind of right when the Sony Hi8 whatever, camcorder thing came out. And so the “Hold It Now” video is all just footage from one of those. It was like those were the first things we bought when we had some money. So yes, now everybody has phones and films everything all the time and instantly posts them, and there’s no mystery to anything. But then, it was kind of an exciting time, because all of the sudden—before that, you would have had to have a friend with, like, a Super 8 film thing. You have to get the film developed or whatever. But now, all of the sudden, we’ve got these cassettes, and to instantly be able to watch them... Early on, that was something that Yauch figured out—from having friends in the surf/skate/snowboarding world who were all editing their own videos. [He] was like, “All right, we can just start editing that stuff.”

AVC: Even just based on the last seven minutes of the film, with Steve Buscemi, David Cross, and Ben Stiller in the audience, the Bob Dylan sketch, it seems like you wound up with a ton of footage from the stage show as well. How did you guys and Spike decide the stuff that didn’t fit in the doc when you were making the jump from stage to the screen? 

AH: For the most part, all of that was Spike.

MD: And Jeff and Zoe.

AH: Because the show was almost four hours. It was really—three and a half hours, it was long.

MD: But it wasn’t four. It wasn’t that bad. We went long, but it wasn’t—was it really four?

AH: It keeps getting longer as I talk about it.

MD: Yeah, I feel like you’ve added. I think we did maybe reach the three-hour mark, which is not really forgivable. Like, we fucked up. [Laughs.]

AH: Well, Mike and I like to bullshit a lot.

MD: As we went along in the editing process, we started to do screenings in theaters with friends that we’d invite. And it was just interesting. There’s stuff that we thought was great—because in the moment, in the theater, in front of the audience, there was this really elaborate intro piece where Adam started reading this story from the book called “The Ring,” and you start somewhere offstage, it goes through all these different sets, and then ends up onstage in front of the audience. And as it was happening in the theater, I was like, “Wow, Spike is a fucking genius. This is great.” But then watching that on film in a theater with people who weren’t in that room, it didn’t resonate that way at all.

AH: But the thing is that we were—we thought the movie was going to be just a documentary—I don’t know if you said this, Mike, because I spaced out.

MD: Because you’re on weed and coffee.

AH: We thought the thing was going to be just a document of our stage show. And then, Spike had turned it into a documentary.

MD: Are you trying to say that Spike turned it into a multimedia extravaganza?

AH: He turned it into a circus, yeah. But I’m happy that he did. It was—and apparently, Mike and I aren’t that interesting for three and a half hours.

MD: I believe—if you’re in the theater, I think we were, obviously. [Laughs.] People in the theater were just enraptured, Adam, with what was happening. You know, they had a lot more investment. They had to buy the tickets. They had get there. They had to smoke some weed beforehand, drink some beer at the intermission. Like, they’re a lot more invested in that.

AVC: You’ve talked about how you guys are normally really comfortable onstage, but that it was actually really uncomfortable for you being your authentic, vulnerable selves consistently for that entire time. But isn’t there also that authenticity to the parts where you were both breaking and just bullshitting? I don’t think it’s a coincidence that some of those moments in the film are people’s favorite parts, where it’s just like, “Oh, there’s Beastie Boys doing their thing.”

AH: Yeah, Spike tried to take that from us. Yeah, big-time director, screenwriter. Gimme a break.

MD: Academy Award-wining screenwriter, Adam. Don’t take away his accolades.

AH: Allegedly. Allegedly.

AVC: The last decade and the last few albums obviously were a victim of time constraints, and got short shrift compared to the history from the ’80s and ’90s. Are there particular stories or footage from that 2000-2012 era that you have a particular fondness for, or that you wish could’ve found a way in to the doc?

AH: No, if we really wanted it to be in there, it would have been in there.

MD: I was trying to think, though, what we were digging for in either photos or clipwise. Because there were some things.

AH: Really, what I’m trying to say is we came up across this [while] writing the book, is that the exciting stories—when you’re young, it’s all exciting. And it’s like nobody wants to hear about Mike fucking with his kid’s potty training. You know what I’m saying? The stories weren’t as exciting as you get older. That’s just how life is. Do you know what I mean? Real life as a grown-up is not as fun as crazy times as a teenager.

MD: I agree with that. However, I just want to point out that I have a bestselling how-to book on potty training, okay? It was a niche hit.

AH: Douche? What did you say? You’re freezing up.

MD: It was actually kind of contradictory. I said it was a niche hit, which doesn’t really exist. If you’re niche, that means that you’re not—it’s not, like, playing to a broad audience. So how can it be a hit?

AH: What was your niche hit?

MD: My potty training book.

AH: I know, I’ve got to get that.

MD: Yeah. [Laughs.] Happy to help you out. Get you out of that dumpster.

AH: Yeah, that’s what I do when I have to go to the bathroom. I just rip my clothes off, and I just shit in a dumpster. [Laughs.] It’s hard to find dumpsters these days.

MD: Shitting in dumpsters—yeah, they’re not, like, prevalent like they once were. It’s true.

AH: No. If I had to pee on a scaffold in Manhattan, I’d be fine.

MD: Yeah, that’s easy.

AH: I’m so glad we got to end on that note.

MD: See? We brought it back to our scatalogical specialty, so that’s good.

AVC: That will be the last two puzzles that you produce of your 24-part puzzle set.

AH: Oh, my god, my puzzle is me eating Arby’s in a dumpster. Mike, what’s your puzzle?

MD: Oh, like a little illustration of me?

AH: [Laughs.] I know the puzzle. It’s your stereo falling on your head.

MD: Oh, yeah, that would be good for the last one. Yeah, me laying on the ground, underneath all the records.

AH: Mike showed up the first day we were going to do the show with a gash in his head, because everything from his record shelf tumbled on him.

MD: I had these record shelves that I thought that I put in well with anchors, you know, like those anchors—but, there was a lot of weight, because it was records and hi-fi equipment. Apparently, I’m not the best installer, it turns out.

AH: I would never let you do that at my house.

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