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SXSW keynote: Beasties tell jokes, remember Adam Yauch's creative brilliance

Staff Writer
Austin 360
Michael Diamond and Adam Horovitz of Beastie Boys talk about their recent book and about the band during SXSW Music on Friday. [RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL/AMERICAN-STATESMAN]

“This is a comedy festival, right?” Adam Horovitz said near the top of a hilarious keynote with his partner-in-rhyme, Michael Diamond, and Nathan Brackett from Amazon Music at the South by Southwest conference on Friday.

In theory, the conversation was supposed to be centered on the best-selling “Beastie Boys Book” that was released last year, but artists also known as Ad-Rock and Mike D. took the same approach to the session that they used creating their albums. They spent most of the hour trying to crack each other up.

“We were actually going to have a dog act come on before us,” Horovitz said.

“No really, there were emails,” Diamond added.

It’s impossible to know whether dancing canines were ever really discussed as a Beastie Boys opening act. As Brackett noted early on, throughout their career, the Beasties were infamous for not giving “the most fact-based interviews.”

“These journalists. They have a different relationship with reality than the band does,” Diamond riffed. “They’re caught up in their bubble of fact-checking and everything.”

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The last time the Beasties were at the festival was back in 2006, when the band was pushing their fan-shot film, “Awesome; I (expletive) Shot That.” They played a secret show at Stubb’s that year. Asked to recall a memory from that visit to Austin, Diamond dryly remarked that Horovitz and Adam Yauch, the third Beastie, who died in 2012, took a long trip into the countryside to eat barbecue that probably “wasn’t worth the drive.” He acknowledged that Brackett was perhaps hoping for a more positive memory.

On Thursday night, the band dropped by Lucy’s Fried Chicken, which they gave a more upbeat review.

The biggest takeaway from the session was that both Horovitz and Diamond feel blessed to have spent so many years creating art with their best friends.

The book calls into question the commonly accepted narrative that producer Rick Rubin was primary mastermind behind the Beasties’ debut album, “Licensed to Ill,” Brackett noted. He said it clarifies the way Yauch contributed to many of the album’s standout elements, like the backward 808 beat on “Paul Revere.” He pressed the Beasties to elaborate on any resentment they might feel, but they didn’t take the bait.

“We were just painting a picture of our friend,” Diamond said, explaining that Yauch had an innovative spirit that they always found astounding.

“He just instinctively knew all of these details of life ... about so many things in life not just music,” Horovitz said.

When Yauch dropped a powerful feminist rhyme on the song “Sure Shot” that fell outside the realm of the band’s standard repertoire of fart jokes and Chef Boyardee references, his fellow Beasties didn’t fully appreciate the importance at first.

“We didn’t realize the impact until we were out in the world and people responded to it,” Diamond said.

They said Yauch’s conversion to Buddhism was eye-opening. “We feel grateful he’d always been interested in things beyond where we were,” Diamond said.

It pushed them to think “about moving forward as people,” Horovitz added.

Though the Beasties have not performed live in years, they’ll read chapters of the book and share stories live at an event dubbed “Beastie Boys Story Told By Ad Rock & Mike D” set to go down in NYC and Philly next month. Director Spike Jonze will be filming, so with any luck, they’ll be back at the fest for another film premiere a few years down the road.

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