Q&A with Mike D. of the Beastie Boys

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Q: How has your background of living in New York City informed your work?

A: People say, "I can't imagine how you grew up in Manhattan!" Somehow, they think that it can't possibly have been safe or productive. When I first became aware of music, it was probably the same way a lot of people do — even more suburban or rural people — from my older brothers playing music. The tremendous difference was that at the same time, I didn't need to ask my mom for a ride to go buy a record. Admittedly, my parents were of the more liberal sort, so as long as it didn't interfere with me being in school, I could go tag along with my brothers and go see the Clash or an Elvis Costello show when I was, like, thirteen years old.

Even whereas today it's a smaller world in terms of being able to access music via the internet and people e-mailing you cool music from wherever and having a musical community that reaches far beyond where you are geographically, that still in no way can match having that actual access to live music and other people playing music right around you all the time. That's how the Beastie Boys met each other. We all went to different schools — Kate [Schellenbach, original Beastie Boys drummer, later formed Luscious Jackson] was going to Stuyvesant, I was going to St. Ann's in Brooklyn Heights, Adam Yauch was going to Friends [Seminary] at that point. John Berry, who was our first guitar player — I knew him from a school called Walden on the Upper West Side. We were all in different schools, but we'd all see each other at these different shows.

Another huge impact on me growing up musically in New York was having to take the subway from the Upper West Side to Brooklyn Heights every day. That's how I first started hearing battle tapes — early Hip Hop tapes that people had taped from Afrika Islam's Zulu Beat Show of like the Harlem World Battles, like the famous ones like Kool Moe Dee versus Busy Bee or the Soul Crush Brothers.

New York isn't segregated the way many American cities are, where there are specific ethnic neighborhoods that don't necessarily co-exist, or they co-exist but in a much separate sense. To me, to this day, I look forward to getting in taxis, because a lot of times I'll hear some incrediblem usic from the Punjabi Taxi Driver, and then I'll start talking to him about Bhangra.

Q: What do you think of the current climate in New York City. Is it as exciting today?

A: First I'd have to say I'm not really qualified to answer that question, because on the one hand, the music that was so significant to me when I was growing up; well, that was then and this is now. I was of a certain age, and let's face it...I'm not fifteen years old anymore. At the same time, I think the environment must be a little bit different. I remember when I was fifteen and going to see bands, the drinking age was eighteen, so it really wasn't a huge deal. There were never really issues of drinking ages, where bands could play, cabaret licenses and where venues could be that exist today. It's in the same way that real estate in general is at such a premium on the island of Manhattan now. I think that's affected all art scenes — not just music.

I remember going to the East Village for the first time as a fifteen-year- old and going to Tompkins Square Park. That really seemed like a pretty edgy thing to do. You didn't know if that was safe or not. Obviously, it's totally not like that anymore. If I were growing up in the city now as a teenager, I'd probably be spending all my time in Brooklyn somewhere. With both music and the visual arts, it's not like those same sorts of scenes don't exist anymore, it's just that they've been forced to exist somewhere else.

Q: What were some of the early, influential bands you saw back then?

A: For me, growing up in New York, it started with Elvis Costello and the Clash and then got into louder things like Bad Brains and Stimulators, because those were like the local bands. Then I started getting into bands from England like the Slits. I remember seeing Gang of Four at Irving Plaza, that was a really big show for me.

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