In second grade I appeared on local television to beg my parents for a Celine Dion album. I was part of my school’s choir – Tiny Tunes. We acted as emissaries of Manvel, proving the town pumped out more than farmers and SUV meth labs, both predestined to crash against bridges in a drunken haze. Tiny Tunes were of a block of groups raising money for some cause, who knows what. This performance was recorded to tape by my parents. The camera kept cutting to me because I continuously rolled my eyes into the back of my head as I mumbled Christmas lyrics I barely knew. Local fame through spastic convulsion. At its end the host came ’round asking us what shit we needed Santa to bring. There were requests for video games, fishing rods, makeup. I asked for a Celine Dion album. I got it.
One of the next albums bought for me was Spice Girls. I think I was in the fifth grade and loved it so much. Always found myself opening the liner notes to look at Scary Spice’s cleavage, not sure of their meaning. I carried the girls with me to school. On the bus I had the album out and a cutie sitting nearby asked to listen. But I didn’t even own a Walkman. Just liked to lug it around. Keep it close. A couple years later, during one of my birthday parties, I hid this album behind a desk so my friends wouldn’t see it. In following years only fished it out when I needed Scary. The two other CDs I owned were singles of “Macarena” and Master P’s “Make ‘Em Say Uhh!” Horrid but great. Then in the seventh grade I found music I didn’t have to be embarrassed over. Music that appealed to more than a pubescent cob and lack of taste.
I was at my friend Sam’s, living on his farm for a day or two. We probably spent our day lighting stuff on fire, trying to turn a barrel into a boat that could be sailed through ditch water. Looking at Hustlers. Feeding dead birds to his dog, Bert. At night we watched TV in his living room, drinking Mountain Dew, tanning ourselves in cathode rays projecting music videos.
Growing up in the country we had three channels so I was exposed to little music. Zero videos. All I had for audio culture was an Ace of Base tape, and putting a recorder up to the downstairs radio’s speakers so I’d have ninety minutes of music to listen to in my bedroom at night. So watching these music videos, existing for a few hours beyond our three channels and bad radio stations, was great.
That night at his place I saw the video for Beastie Boys’ “Intergalactic.” Holy shit. It was sci-fi, goofy, energetic, visually referencing things I’d never seen before. I was drawn to it immediately, a magnetic power akin to my favorite sequence in A Goofy Movie: Max’s pop number. Like Goofy, “Intergalactic” had me rewinding it over and over, obsessively watching, getting a rush as I stood a foot from the television. Feeling so fucking cool.
I didn’t know Beasties before then, but had to get this album, Hello Nasty. Knew there was swearing on it so worried it might carry a Parental Advisory sticker. I was twelve and pimply, unable to pass as someone who could handle the FUCK word. My mom didn’t swear and would never get it for me if the sticker told her it was a bad thing. That label wasn’t there, but I had little money.
Along with selling off my Goosebumps collection, a common way to make money was doing the shit labor for my dad’s farm. Often this meant $5 to clean a grain bin on my grandma’s property: hours of scraping rotten soybeans off a cement floor, wearing a dust mask, soaking a shirt in sweat, sweeping up mouse shit. I didn’t do any work specifically to get the album, but $15 meant depleting most of my stash. To spend that much based off one song was a risk, but I felt compelled. Hooked by the music. Sold by an urge to unpeel the sardines.
I loved the album immediately. Had a Walkman by this point, so lugged Beasties everywhere. Was the only album I owned, so I spun it hundreds of times. Even after much of it became rote, it always invoked within me a certain amount of energy. Never fell into the realm of background music. Every day on the bus in seventh grade I was blaring it loud enough for others to hear. Often had the cardboard album case sitting out so people could see what Cool Man Nolan was listening to. Same thing as yesterday. After summer, when 8th grade rolled ’round, I showed up with Hello Nasty still in hand. Had no need to invest another $15 in anything else because what I held felt so perfect. One time I had the music paused and heard a girl say, “He’s still listening to that?” I don’t know if I was to be proud or ashamed. I just knew I loved it.
The album was cool, driving, all over the place musically, long, energetic, funny, and even had cursing. I grew up in a house where we didn’t swear, where crudity was vilified. Shits and motherfucks in music gave a jolt, felt exciting, even after I learned to swear away from my folks. By the fourth grade I was confident enough to do this around my friends. Became what I christened The Fuck Machine – a jukebox stocked with filth. Asked classmates to pretend to give me a quarter, and when they did, I’d repeat “Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck…” I had so little exposure and every new thing was exciting like swearing, like an album full of things I’d never heard before. The music was so damn powerful and foreign. I didn’t know hip-hop. Didn’t even know it was hip-hop. I just dug the sound.
It felt too awesome for me to be listening to. I was so into Star Trek at the time that I’d get episode guide books from the library, then follow along with the lists of trivia and goofs as I watched every night. The library gave me access to every Trek movie on VHS. I wrote their names into my Civics workbook. Amassed piles of tapes I recorded episodes to. Labeled them “Star Trek: DS9 — Ferengi Episodes. Record Over This and Die!”I was an awkward kid. But I still felt cool whenever I put on that album. Beasties name checked Mr. Spock.
I loved the album as a whole, and so many miniscule moments. Little ten second chunks of a song that I wanted to listen to over and over. Lyrics that were always in my head. Some of them pulse in my brain to this day. There were songs I’d skip over, only to months later come back and realize I was totally into them. I came to love one of these skipped-over songs through its bass. I had a friend who also liked the album and we’d listen to it at his house on his older brother’s DIY-box subwoofers between sessions of Quake II. So I got to know the cool parts where shit would shake toys off shelves. As I saw those exact seconds approaching, I’d flip the extra bass switch on my Walkman so that I could bass out with my $8 headphones. I eventually found out how to hook up a CD player to my parents’ cheap receiver. Played these parts over and over with the treble down, bass up, destroying the cheap paper speakers.
During lunch Sam sometimes put lettuce and sunflower seeds in my CD player. He was wild and destructive. Once kicked my backpack and broke to pieces the Sir Mix-a-Lot album in there a friend had lent me. Between salad ingredient fallout and listening through the album so many times, songs began to skip or not play. Sometimes we’d hit a bump on the bus and the music would stop for long periods. Wasn’t sure if it was the ten second anti-shock or if my CD was finally fucked. Multiple times a day I hit it with hot breath, wipes of my shirt. Looked at my pimpled, puffy reflection through the nicks. Someone told me you could fix a CD by rubbing toothpaste into the scratches. At night I carefully applied Aquafresh to little sections where I felt they were needed, then dabbed it to my face.
With Nasty getting worn down, I eventually had the idea that if I loved that album so much, I’d probably like more of what the Beasties made. The next can unpeeled for me was Paul’s Boutique. I was with my mom at Salvation Army and she wouldn’t drive me over to Target to get it, despite that it was raining out. Didn’t think I needed to waste my money. So I ran across the road in a t-shirt through a downpour to buy the album. Was soaked at the checkout counter. My money all wet. In the car I put it on. Didn’t like the first song, a bunch of shout outs to girls of different ethnicities. But then it got good. I learned the lyrics to “Egg Man.” Grew to love it all, and played it lots. Even though I didn’t get over there, the first time I went to NYC I wanted to go by what had once been the actual Paul’s Boutique. The Beasties meant so much to me, even at 24.
Slowly I acquired the rest of their albums. Couldn’t get Ill Communication because it had a parental advisory on it. A girl I liked with big boobs lent me that one but I wasn’t into it. Perhaps I’d have had better luck sniffing the plastic case, knowing she’d touched the thing. Though nothing ever equaled Nasty, I still soaked in as much of their catalog as I could buy. Eventually I had it all. At times I’d sit in our upstairs computer room listening to three Beastie Boys albums simultaneously on various players, thinking I was so awesome as I jerked off to dial-up porn. Practically believed my parents and sister felt envy that I was listening to such rocking music, that I could sit in the wake of a blast of noise and transcend the world of our farm. The band always made me feel cool, especially in my awkward adolescent times, during those periods I needed confidence the most.
Freshman year of high school MSN messenger was a big thing and my first email for it was firstname.lastname@example.org . Chatting on there with both boy and girl classmates, I figured they’d be more drawn to that awkward real-life version of me after chatting with this suave, funny beastie_boy. That they’d realize I knew cool shit and wasn’t just a dorky, anti-social dipshit. That perhaps my dick would get sucked because my stack of Beasties CDs was a half foot high. Or at least get a cuddle and a kiss on the cheek because I slipped the funny lyrics into conversation. It didn’t work out that way, but I still loved my screen name.
Later in high school, once I’d become slightly less awkward and knew a lot more music, I ended up spending hard time at pawn shops buying albums and movies on VHS. Between these purchases and the internet, I felt I was exposing myself to more of the world I wanted to know about. Was always trying to find the next film or record to latch onto, to acquire. I didn’t listen to Beasties as much anymore because I had so many other things that were drawing my interest, distracting me from the world. Still though, every time I saw a copy of Hello Nasty at a pawn shop I’d buy it. I ended with four or five by the time high school was over, but none of the copies ever earned their scratch marks like the original.
It’s been many years since I’ve spent serious time with the Beastie Boys, but they’re always one of the first to mind in my list of favorite groups. I’ve shed many of the things that I enjoyed during my formative times, but they’ve always stayed with me to some degree. Whenever they created a new album I’d still pick it up and enjoy. Had shirts of theirs I liked to wear even after my interest began to fade. The last time I saw one of them my thirty-five year old sister with four kids was wearing it. She knows zero of their songs. In college I made a short film about a lesbian rapist and used a song from a Beasties instrumental album to open it.
I haven’t listened to an album more times than Hello Nasty, and in that regard it will never be eclipsed. It was the first seminal album for me. Afterward came Fashion Nugget, Antichrist Superstar, Odelay, OK Computer, and Yoshimi to round out the rest of my musical bedrock. But that album with the sardine can was always the most defining for me in a lot of ways. It is the progenitor of my musical love. I saw Neon Indian the other night and he commented that Beastie Boys were the first interesting thing he was ever really exposed to. I feel the same.
Today I have hundreds of albums that all fit onto my 160 gigasnort iPod. Can dial up something new in seconds. It takes a click on a torrent site to acquire an album. No more laborious hours shoveling away mouse shit and rotten beans, hoping my grandma would be home so I didn’t have to drink water from the hose. My music taste is varied, fractured, unfocused – even when I love an album I often won’t listen to it more than a handful of times before losing it in the digital wake of sixty new things. I know more, but less intimately. Nothing else will ever wear such a permanent groove into my memories, associations, and emotions.
If my first exposure to Nasty was today it wouldn’t receive a fraction of the attention that it did, that it deserves. I wish I could have that kind of permanent attachment again, but I won’t. It’s hard to conceive of ever having to go back to owning just a single piece of music. I guess if I found myself stuck on a desert island and could only have one album airdropped in from the music gods, I wouldn’t choose Nasty. I can conjure so much of it from memory that I don’t need the actual disc. My prayers would instead beg for reams of toothpaste. I’d spackle it to my brain, patching together the few moments of Hello Nasty I’ve somehow forgotten.