“They are the soundtrack to our lives,” we see excited Beastie Boys fans say at the start of Beastie Boys Story, the Spike Jonze-directed, kind of hybrid documentary-live stage performance film that will be released on Apple TV+ this week. (Which was supposed to make its debut at South by Southwest before that and, like everything else, came to a crashing halt.) Jonze doesn’t waste too much time with fan sentimentality before the crushing baseline of “Sabotage” envelopes all of our senses, which is impossible not to cause an adrenaline rush and signal to the viewer’s brain, “Oh, man, here we go!”
But the whole “soundtrack to our lives” line stuck with me a bit. Because, frankly, I was hesitant to write about this film because I am not a huge Beastie Boys fanatic. Like a lot of people, the first Beastie Boys song I ever heard was “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!)” because that got constant MTV and radio airplay when I was young. The problem for me was … I didn’t particularly like that song very much. (And, as I learned in Beastie Boys Story, eventually neither did the Beastie Boys.) Over the course of my life I’ve owned two Beastie Boys albums: License to Ill (I mean, of course, I still owned the album; I did grow a particular fondness for “Slow and Low) and Ill Communication. I am not someone who is going to pretend I bought Paul’s Boutique on its release day. (Though a lot of my friends are huge Beastie Boys fans and I always felt a little left out.) Anyway, my point is, it was difficult for me to go along with the whole “soundtrack of our lives” business. That said, hold that thought.
Filmed in front of a live audience in Brooklyn in April of 2019, Beastie Boys Story plays more like a comedy show than it does a straightforward documentary. And, right now, with most of us stuck at home, there’s something comforting and visually pleasing about watching Ad-Rock (aka Adam Horovitz) and Mike D (aka Michael Diamond) on stage, holding court as they, earnestly and hilariously, tell the story of the Beastie Boys. (Of course, Adam Yauch died in 2012 and it’s crazy to think he’s been gone eight years already.) It’s a pretty fascinating thing to watch, as Horovitz and Diamond take us through the history of the Beastie Boys in a style more reminiscent of a Martin and Lewis show. The pair have a way almost levitating themselves out of the story and talking about their past lives as if they aren’t even the same people, in almost a “wink-wink, look at these crazy kids,” kind of way. At almost two hours on the nose, it’s long for a documentary, but Horovitz, Diamond, and Jonze keep the proceedings moving at a pretty blistering pace.
This is a film that’s hilarious, sad, and for some reason features an entire montage set to Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5.” There’s a pretty hilarious juxtaposition as Horovitz and Diamond compare footage of themselves on American Bandstand in 1987 – as the band is, let’s say, just kind of winging it and flopping all over the place – to that of a streamlined machine performing “Sabotage” at the 1994 MTV Video Music Awards. (Also, this is the night of the infamous Nathanial Hornblower incident, as Hornblower, Yauch’s Swiss director alter ego, rushed the stage in protest after “Sabotage” lost to R.E.M.’s “Everybody Hurts” for directing. Rewatching now, it’s kind of amazing how Michael Stipe just laughs the whole thing off, at least on stage.)
Now, here’s what hit me the most while watching: as we go through the Beastie Boy’s story, hearing track after track, memories came flooding back. Even though, even when it came out, I wasn’t a huge fan of “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!),” that was the song of a certain period of my youth. As we went further along, “So Watch’Cha Want” brought back a ton of memories from high school. “Pass the Mic” and “Sabotage” were the theme songs of my college experience. And so on and so on…
It’s weird when you break down what the term “soundtrack to our lives” even means. Because when a soundtrack is playing in a movie, it’s rarely presented as that character’s favorite song. The character usually has no control over the soundtrack to their life we are watching. In “Pretty in Pink,” at the prom, as Andrew McCarthy’s Blane is moping around, “If You Leave” by O.M.D. is playing. (I watched “Pretty in Pink over the weekend so I’m going to go ahead and use that movie as an example.) Blane didn’t pick that song. He doesn’t even particularly like that song. But O.M.D is literally the soundtrack to Blane’s life.
I wasn’t a diehard Beastie Boys fan, but as I watched Beastie Boys Story, it really hit me how their music has been such a part of my life, even though I was rarely the one playing their music. In my own internal biopic in my head, a lot of important moments of my life would be scored to Beastie Boys music. So, yes, that whole “soundtrack to our lives” comment is pretty accurate, and Adam Horovitz and Michael Diamond make for a pretty hilarious, dynamic comedy team.
You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.