Twenty-five years ago today, I got in my car and drove to Music Plus in Thousand Oaks to get the much heralded and highly anticipated cassette tape that would become one of my Top Five “desert island” albums. I can vividly remember unwrapping it even before I got back into my car, popped it into the tape deck immediately, and the thrill and delight I felt hearing the groovy organ intro segueing into raucous drumbeat and trademark snark. It was so brilliant I drove around and listened to the whole thing, then took it inside and listened to it again. And again and again and again and again.
I can’t remember much these days, but I still remember all the words to Paul’s Boutique by The Beastie Boys, and will joyfully shout, “And I got more hits than Sadaharu Oh!” any chance I get. (It doesn’t happen often enough, believe me.)
A few years ago I did a reading at San Francisco’s Litquake’s Lit Crawl, where the theme was sex, drugs, and rock’n’roll, so after wracking my brain I wrote the one rock’n’roll story I have in my kind of uptight, nerdy life: the summer I wished desperately to be a groupie for The Beastie Boys. So in honor of its silver anniversary (how did THAT happen?), here is that piece in its entirety. Happy Anniversary, Paul’s Boutique. Thanks for the countless memories, and all the rump shaking you’ve inspired.
Like many bookish nerdy girls, I worked in a bookstore while in high school, college, and beyond. I loved inhaling the smell of books as I walked through the door, and I loved the fact that I worked in a bookstore – it made me feel not just nerdy but smart. And I loved that anything I ever wanted to know was all right there, for a 30% discount or for free while eating lunch in the breakroom.
But the best part about it was stripping. As in stripping the covers off paperbacks to return them to the publishers, and we could have the books for free. The world was my oyster! So much to learn, so much to choose from – I could read Proust and Dickens and Austen and Plath, perfect for an English major like me. But more often than not, the naked books slipped into my purse were actually “Sweet Valley High” novels, and one book that has stayed with me in memory and every move from apartment to apartment: “I’m With the Band” by Pamela Des Barres.
For those unfamiliar with Ms. Des Barres’ tome – it is the story of her life as a rock’n’roll kitten, and her rollicking adventures cavorting with the likes of Jim Morrison, Jimmy Page, and Keith Moon. And it wasn’t that she was just hanging out with these people – she made an entire career out of being a bona fide groupie. To me, her life seemed to be filled with sunshine and flowers, sweet hazy smoke and musky patchouli, feather boas and velvet capes (and the occasional whip and chain thanks to the aforementioned Mr. Page). It all seemed so glamorous, and being a groupie sounded way more fun than working in a bookstore. I envied her position and guileless hipness, and her uncanny ability to be in the Right Place at the Right Time. And, of course, her liaises with famous rockstars.
She was a total inspiration. I, too, wished for that VIP pass beyond the velvet rope. How awesome would it be to sail into the coolest clubs while wearing fabulous clothes, catching the eye of the Rockstar Du Jour, and going back to a swanky Sunset Blvd hotel for some crazy partying and mind blowing sex and then write a best selling memoir filled with flattering photos of me and the hoi polloi? It would be TOTALLY AWESOME.
But let’s face it – there were some obstacles for my groupie-dom. I was not a nubile sex kitten in skimpy outfits, ready for a rock’n’rollin’ good time. I was a bookstore nerd, more likely to get hit by a bus than catch a rockstar’s eye. And the other obstacle:
It was the ’80s.
Sure, that one guy from Depeche Mode was cute, and one of my friends? Totally had sex with the other guy from Depeche Mode! And while I’m sure Robert Plant was all sex with his flowing locks in the 70’s, but by the 80’s, the flowing locks adorned the likes of Axl Rose and Whitesnake, and their contribution to the hole in the ozone layer with their liberal use of Aqua Net did nothing for the sexy factor. And, well, most of the bands I liked – new wave – it was hard to determine which gender the members of these bands preferred. (Though, admittedly, I was a sucker for those boys. More on that another time.)
But despite these obstacles, I had my groupie crush, an object of desire. Had I been a decade younger and he’d been the Teen Beat magazine type, his poster would have been all over my walls. And I was sure we were destined to be together.
Adam Horovitz, aka Ad Rock from The Beastie Boys.
I had been an okay fan of License To Ill. I believed one had to fight for their right to party, and a brass monkey sounded like a delicious cocktail. And Ad Rock, the whiny one, was pretty cute. But hearing about all the hoopla surrounding “Paul’s Boutique” made me go out and buy it – ON CASSETTE – the day it came out. The sheer genius of it made me flip the tape over and over, and shake my head at the thrill and craft – the once obnoxious party boys had gone to another level and had become artistes. Plus the sampling of the Jam and the soundtrack to Shaft made me realize that “the whiny one” – who must have been the aficionado behind the genius (because he was the cutest) – and I were meant to be. I was totally ready to get funky.
At the time, I lived in Southern California, and the Beastie Boys did, too. It was kismet that we would run into one another and our eyes would lock and he’d be all, “YOU’RE DOPE.” And I’d be all, “Awwww yeeeah,” and we would shake our rumps. It was only a matter of time. And in that meantime, I convinced my friends Raina and Monica that they were totally meant to be with MCA and Mike D., the other Beastie Boys, much like we had chosen which Monkee was “ours” years before. “Mike D’s not that cute,” Monica complained. “He’s the dorky one. Why do I have to have the dorky one?” “But he’s cool,” I said. “And funny! Come on, the line, ‘Is your name Michael Diamond? No, my name’s Clarence’ is hilarious.” “Whatever,” she said, not buying it, but it was summer and we had nothing to do anyway. Luckily, Raina was thrilled with her MCA destiny, and our Beastie stalking had begun.
One night, we ran into one of Monica’s friends, Steven, at Canter’s Deli. We gave him a ride, and of course, “Paul’s Boutique” was playing in the car – it was the only thing that was ever played in the car, and we’d committed the whole thing to memory. “Righteous,” Steven said. “This album is the bomb.” We all agreed and then he said, “You know, the other night I was at the AM PM on Fairfax and Ad Rock was there and we totally smoked a fatty.”
“WHAT???” I shrieked. I had been at that very AM PM two nights before, buying a flavorless sandwich and some gas, and Ad Rock had definitely NOT been there. How come Steven had all the luck?
“Yeah,” he said. “He was all, ‘Dude, you wanna smoke a j?’ and I was like, “Fuck YEAH I wanna smoke a j with a fuckin’ B-Boy.” I couldn’t believe it.
“And then what?” I prodded.
“We went back to his place and got stoned and played records. It was RAD.”
“Oh. My. God,” I said. “SHUT UP. Do you mean to tell me that you know where ADAM HOROVITZ lives?”
“Yeah,” he yawned, like it was every day he hung out with major recording artists. He directed us to an old 1920’s apartment complex on Manhattan Place near St.Andrews, and we parked in front. “Are you gonna go in? I mean you’re friends, right?”
He looked out the window. “Lights are off,” he said. “He’s not home.”
“Which one is it?” He pointed vaguely at the dark top left apartment, and we vowed to come back.
So Raina and I (Monica lost interest because she just “couldn’t get into” Mike D) started our Beastie stakeouts, parking across the street and ducking any time a car drove by, hoping to catch a glimpse of Ad-Rock and MCA going in or out. One night we even bought eggs, in homage to “Egg Raid on Mojo” (from their punk rock EP Pollywog Stew) and “Egg Man” from Paul’s Boutique, and smashed them onto the sidewalk, our own in-joke calling card that we were SURE Ad Rock would get and it would intrigue him. But the apartment was always dark – maybe they were out promoting the record? Going to star-studded parties? Visiting family in Brooklyn? But we kept hearing stories – So and So saw AdRock and Mike D at the pool hall on 20th and Wilshire (THREE BLOCKS FROM MONICA’S HOUSE), a sighting at Fred Segal on Melrose, they were on Johnny Carson….they were totally in town. And we realized that Steven was full of shit – why would a millionaire rock star live in a crappy four-plex off Wilshire, when he could buy a mansion in the Hollywood Hills? DUH.
But one thing we got wind of that wasn’t bullshit was that our future husbands were going to be filming the video for their song “Shadrach” at The Country Club in Reseda, and they needed people to come because it was going to be a concert video. Raina and I were all over that action. We planned for days what we were going to wear, deciding that we were going to dress nicely, so we wouldn’t be mistaken for the dumb sluts that let the Beastie Boys pour honey all over them backstage, like in the Licensed to Ill video. They had matured since then, too, so they wouldn’t be interested in the same lame girls. We would show them that we were TRUE fans and had class, and the new mustard colored middy shirt I got on Melrose and my black skirt would be perfect.
So out of the 8 or so girls who showed up, we were the only ones not wearing tube tops and mini skirts.
Still, because we were of the female persuasion (as opposed to the hundreds of dudes there that were shouting, “WHAT’S THE TIME? IT’S TIME TO GET ILL!”), we got pushed near the front, and we were all instructed to scream as loud as we could, to make it seem like a real Beastie Boys concert.
That wasn’t hard. As soon as AdRock ran out, wearing a Virgin de Guadalupe tee shirt and a Job rolling papers baseball cap, and MCA shouted, “RIDDLE ME THIS MY BROTHER, CAN YOU HANDLE IT?” Raina and I clutched each other and collapsed in screams and tears. There they were, just FEET in front of us! Each time a camera came by we jumped up and did “the horns” (the universal sign of ROCK AND ROLL) and we were sure we were captured, and sure that Ad Rock and MCA would see us in the footage and think, “Who are those conservatively dressed vixens? They will be ours!”
They did “Shadrach” a few times and we screamed until we were hoarse, and avoided the crowd surfers and stage divers, and then they did a few other songs. And then they ran off, and it was over. Though we debated trying to get backstage (as die-hard groupies should), we instead basked in the magic and went to DuPar’s and went over every last detail of every last second of the night. And then all there was left to do was wait for our MTV debut.
When it came, with much fanfare and a spinning globe graphic that said “WORLD PREMIERE VIDEO,” I was in a friend’s dorm room with a bunch of people. I had boasted that I, Karen Noreen Finlay, was going to be in a real live Beastie Boys video. I was going to be a star AND Mrs. Adam Horovitz. THIS was going to be the first of many moments of glory, a moment to rival any of Pamela des Barres’ – this was going to be IT. I was going to transcend from a mere bookstore nerd into a rock and roll butterfly, or at least have the most awesome claim to fame EVER.
Kurt Loder introduced the video, and the familiar beats of “Shadrach” began. And then I saw, to my crushing embarrassment and dismay: it had been ANIMATED. All the footage had been stylistically painted over, and our place in the crowd had turned into a colorful mass blob. “I was standing right THERE,” I pointed out to the skeptical kids in the room, who probably thought I was full of shit though one girl said, “I can totally tell that’s you!” just to be nice.
But yet – we had been there, which was cool in itself. “Oh well,” Raina and I told one another. “We’ll meet them one day.”
Alas, it didn’t happen – we never met our Beastie husbands. Life went on. Raina went on to marry someone other than MCA, and I went on to date an actual musician, and I discovered that my groupie experience was a lot different than Pamela des Barres’, and I’m just not really cut out for that life. Now I date a former musician, now accountant, and that suits me much better. But every time I hear Paul’s Boutique – still to this day one of my all time favorite albums — I think about that carefree summer, the last summer I was young enough to have a crush and old enough to drive past what I thought was his house (and, um, be prosecuted as an adult). And though I still think AdRock is, like, still illin’, I think it was more about shedding that nerdy bookishness and becoming a rock and roll butterfly, though that didn’t happen, either. Obviously.
But one thing’s for sure, I can still totally fight for my right to party.