Or I should say Michael Diamond and Adam Horovitz on Adam Yauch…
“He had us fooled in the most beautiful way,” Michael Diamond said of Adam Yauch, his friend and fellow Beastie Boy for more than 30 years, describing the latter’s “incredible optimism” during his three-year battle with cancer. “I believed, up to last week, that Adam was somehow coming back,” Diamond confessed, in a long, frank interview after Yauch’s death on May 4th. “But I wouldn’t trade that optimism for anything,” he added quickly, sitting in the kitchen of his Brooklyn home, only six blocks from the house where Yauch grew up. “Because the other option is no fun.”
Did Yauch always have a fighter’s spirit?
He had this tenacity and faith before he discovered Buddhism. His mom said that was already there. No matter how straight-up nuts an idea was, he had the ability to follow through on things he believed in. Like the cover of Paul’s Boutique: “A 360-degree photo? You can’t have a camera spin around.” He researched it and found one. It was an innate thing for him.
As a rapper, Yauch had a unique, raspy baritone. He sounded more like a soul singer.
Even when we were doing our first hip-hop records, when we were 19 and 20, he sounded like a gruff 40-year-old. He was the Bobby Womack of rap.
Yauch was a gifted MC. It was his flow on things, rather than specific lyrics, that first blew Adam [Horovitz] and I away. Early on, we were in the studio, amazed by how Yauch made it seem so effortless. Horovitz and I were maybe a little jealous. And Rick [Rubin] said to me, “No, this is good. This is where Yauch is at. You sound like you’re working hard. You’re the working rapper. [Laughs] I’m still not sure what to take away from that.
What were your first impressions of Yauch when you met as teenagers?
Adam taught me the ropes – how to make my own [punk-band] badges, how to fake [hand] stamps to get into shows. And after he, [original Beastie Boys guitarist] John Barry and I saw Black Flag at the Peppermint Lounge, Yauch said, “We’re starting a band, and you two guys are in it.” It was the same energy that enabled him to start his film company, Oscilloscope – the ability to will something to happen.
What’s an example of that on Licensed to Ill?
We were playing around with this 808 drum machine. We had this beat, and Yauch said, “I’d like to hear what it would sound like backwards.” Run from Run-D.M.C. was there, and he was like, “Man, this is crazy.” But Yauch recorded this beat, bounced it to another tape, flipped it around – this is pre-digital sampling – and bounced it back to the multi-track tape. The reversed beat basically became “Paul Revere.” Yauch saw this thing we couldn’t see – and he killed it.
He talked about experimenting with acid during the time of Paul’s Boutique.
Yauch was starting this inward mind journey. We were layering a lot of samples on top of each other, and Yauch was definitely pushing that. The acid experience gave him the ability to see, “Wow, this is great – press ‘play’ on everything at the same time.” Yauch was great at lacking fear.
Did his personality change after he became a Buddhist?
He abandoned the band for months in the winter to go snowboarding, on this very serious level. Then it wasn’t snowboarding. He would disappear for two months of teaching by his Holiness the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala. He gradually incorporated that into the music. He was the first to realize we had this soapbox, and we needed to do something with it.
But he was never dogmatic about it. He’d say, “You should see these monks. They love playing practical jokes on each other.” When we were smashing cars in the “Sabotage” video, it was the same thing. We just did it with mustaches and wigs.
How much music did you make at your final recording session with him last fall?
Adam instigated it. It could only come from him, in terms of where he was at with treatment. It was stuff we had written or demo-ed, and there were new ideas. He wasn’t sure he was able to do vocals. But after a bit, we ended up doing them. And he was fine. It was a way for him to say, “Yeah, I’m doing it.”
Can you imagine making music without him?
I can see making music. I don’t know about a band format. But Yauch would genuinely want us to try whatever crazy thing we wanted but never got around to.
“I’m totally numb,” Adam Horovitz of the Beastie Boys said bluntly, in his only interview following the death on May 4th of his bandmate Adam Yauch. Sitting in the New York office of the Beasties’ publicist, only 10 days after Yauch’s passing, Horovitz fondly recalled their lifetime together in punk, hip-hop and hijinks. He also struggled to describe his feelings after his friend’s death and admitted that healing was slow in coming. “My wife is like, ‘I want to make sure you’re getting it out.’ But then I’m walking the dog and I’ll start crying on the street.” Horovitz shook his head wearily. “It’s pretty fucking crazy.”
Yauch was the oldest of the Beastie Boys. Was he a leader in the early days?
Yauch was in charge. He was smarter, more organized. In a group of friends, you all come up with stupid shit to do. But you never do it. With Yauch, it got done. He had that extra drive to see things through. We each had our roles. One of his was the make-it-happen person.
I’d be like, “We should take these pictures where we’re dressed as undercover cops. That would be funny.” But Adam was really into movies. So we made a whole video of that ["Sabotage"]. It wasn’t just a nice picture for us to have.
What was Yauch’s musical role in the Beastie Boys?
He was a really good bass player. He loved Daryl [Jennifer] of the Bad Brains. And he could sound like that. When we met [producer-musician] Mark Nishita, he and Adam would talk all this musical shit: “You should go up a fifth here.” I’d be like, “Tell me where to put my fingers, and I’ll play that for four minutes.”
Adam was the Techno Wiz – that’s what me, Mike and Rick [Rubin] called him. I went to his apartment in Brooklyn once. He had a reel-to-reel tape recorder, and he had strung the tape all over the place – through the kitchen, around chairs. He was cutting up this Led Zeppelin beat, playing it over and over. I was like, “How did you figure that out?” He said, “I heard Sly Stone did that.”
How did you and Mike write with Yauch? Who did what?
When the shit hit the fan, after Licensed to Ill, we started having arguments: “I wrote 37 percent of this song.” “These 16 lines are mine.” We decided none of that mattered. From that day on, everything was split three ways. Whatever it was, whoever did what, we all got the credit. Except we had veto power. If you really hated something, you could be, “That can’t happen.”
Did you ever veto a Yauch idea?
He wanted the cover of Ill Communication to be this tree painting. It’s actually on the inside [of the CD booklet]. I said, “Anything is better than that tree.” He called veto on Mike and me when we did [2007's] The Mix-Up. He said, “It has to be instrumental.” We were like, “Let’s try some vocals.” “No, it has to be instrumental.”
Can you recall a killer song or verbal lick Yauch wrote that just knocked you out?
When we were in Los Angeles, doing Paul’s Boutique, he got this crazy apartment in Koreatown. And he made “A Year and a Day.” What happened to the three of us together and all that crap? But I heard that track, and it was some heavy shit. He rapped his ass off. Adam bought a jet pilot’s helmet, rigged it with a microphone and recorded the song wearing that helmet.
How did you deal with the change in his writing, after he became a Buddhist?
His lyrics became simple ideas about love and non-violence. It was a struggle for Adam to write those things. Basic feelings come off as very Hallmark. But we went through that change together. I wrote the lyrics for the song “Gratitude” [on Check Your Head], and Adam was like, “I really like that.” It made me happy and proud that I had made him happy.
What was your reaction when he told you he had cancer?
He said, “I’m gonna be okay.” He’s been right about most shit so far. So I believe him. You would get swept up in his excitement and positivity. We recorded a few months ago. It wasn’t any different from before. We spent more time making fart jokes and ordering food, which was true to form. That’s why it always took so long for us to put records out.
Did the comfort he took in Buddhism help you deal with his illness and passing?
I don’t believe Adam was afraid. Bummed out, yeah. But I can’t think when I ever saw him afraid. We got jumped in Brooklyn one time, so we’ve been afraid in that sense. But, man, he hadn’t been afraid in a long time. That gives me peace.