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Song of the day: “Way Back Home” by the Jazz Crusaders

tn_crusadersFor some reason I was thinking of this song the other day. Like others of the 21st century, I got one of these iPods, although I got it specifically to drown out the sound of people talking on cell phones on the bus when I’m trying to read or write. Somehow I got “Way Back Home” going through my head but I didn’t have it on my iPod so I couldn’t listen to it.

At home I didn’t have it on CD, but I had it on a “the Crusaders at their best” LP that I tracked down after I first fell in love with the song. I’d been meaning to get it into my iTunes but I hadn’t figured out how to hook up the turntable since finally getting a new computer last year. But today I decided it was time to do it.

See, I never knew about the Jazz Crusaders back in the day, but I started trying to find out about them when I heard this song on a documentary in 2006. Specifically, it was AWESOME, I FUCKIN SHOT THAT, the Beastie Boys concert doc directed by Adam Yauch, who died this morning.

It’s not really a movie I ever watched over and over, but two parts really stuck with me: the beginning and the end. The beginning makes me laugh every time I think about it: a completely incongruous text crawl about Fidel Castro and Cuban refugees.  For a second you’re thinking, what the fuck is this? Is this the right movie? And then you realize that you’re hearing Giorgio Moroder’s electronic score from SCARFACE. This is the opening of SCARFACE! After going through the whole thing, it says something like “Regardless, in 2004 Beastie Boys played Madison Square Garden…” and it goes into the movie.

The movie is the concert, documented by 50 fans who were given camcorders. Yauch weaves the footage together showing many perspectives, good seats and bad, including some dude sitting near Ben Stiller. You can see the movie on DVD or read all about it but it’s the end that I wanted to talk about. After they’ve left the stage, “Way Back Home” plays…

First time hearing it I thought it was a little easy-listening for a second, with those saxophones and everything, that simple, laid back melody, repeated over and over. It seemed kind of tongue-in-cheek to present this song to the stadium full of amped up Beastie Boys fans. And then I started really hearing that beat and that funky bassline, and it clicked. The beat starts getting hard as hell, breakbeat worthy, driving that mellow stroll the rest of the band is going on. I think there are two beats overlapped, actually.

It sounds kind of sad to me, but kind of nostalgic. Like, it’s been a great concert, we’ve had fun, sad to leave, but let’s appreciate what’s in the air right now, let’s leave with smiles on our faces. The perfect choice to play as the fans are leaving, excited about what they’ve seen, and the group is backstage hugging Biz Markie, getting ready to get back on the bus.

Last year Yauch directed the half hour short “Fight For Your Right Revisited,” in which Danny McBride, Elijah Wood and Seth Rogen play the Beastie Boys immediately after leaving the party/pie fight from the 1986 “Fight For Your Right To Party” video. They’re confronted by angry parents, break into a bodega, steal beer, walk down the street spraying it on people, and eventually encounter future versions of themselves (Jack Black, Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly), who have a dance battle and then pee on each other. Those future versions are wearing their same outfits, and are described by McBride-as-MCA as “the ghost of License to Ill future,” a possible future. What’s beautiful is that that’s not the future they ever had in store.

That’s one thing I really respect about Yauch is the evolution he went through in his short life. He and Beastie Boys started as bratty beer-spraying would-be-frat-boys-if-they-went-to-college. That attitude doesn’t change the revolutionary breakthrough that their first album was, not only in bringing hip hop to the mainstream but also in its unique rock-inspired production by Rick Rubin. Then they got sick of themselves, threw away about half of their style and image and made their second album, up there with It Takes a Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back as one of the all time great sample-scapes. An album that could never be made again, partly because it’s lightning in a bottle, partly because it’s illegal.

hornblowerFor more than two decades they continued to reinvent themselves musically, while Yauch in particular changed himself as a person, going from the dust-smoking tough guy of the group to the introspective Buddhist, starting charities for Tibetan freedom while also being a goofball directing some of their videos and confusing entertainment reporters by crashing award shows in lederhosen, babbling about Spike Jonze creating Star Wars. In recent years he founded Oscilloscope laboratories, bringing attention to and high quality releases of a vast catalog of documentaries and independent films. From what I understand he had a big hand in what they put out (and his basketball documentary GUNNIN FOR THAT #1 SPOT is supposed to be great, not sure why I haven’t watched it yet).

He had this very serious and political side, but was still a funny dude. The same dude that was going onto the roof of his hotel throwing eggs at tourists while in the middle of recording an all time classic album.

The other thing I respect about all three of these guys is the way they defiantly did their own thing the whole time. It was crazy for white boys to be rapping in clubs in 1986, but they did it. It was crazy for rappers to be opening for Madonna at that time, but they did it. It was kind of a joke, with all their corny slang and style (the VW hood ornament on Mike D’s gold chain instead of Mercedes), but also they legimiately loved, respected and help evolve hip hop. It made sense when they toured with Run DMC, but also when they started playing instruments and were doing festivals that the Red Hot Chili Peppers would do. Almost all rappers, including the greats, at some point in their career start imitating the rap music that is popular at the time, desperately trying to stay relevant. Beastie Boys stayed relevant by never fuckin doing that. Taking their time on an album, going where their hearts took them.

Beastie Boys were cool nerds before it was cool to be a nerd. They were complete dorks who stormed into a scene with funny hats and a giant inflatable dick and somehow made people respect them. They were white Jewish kids who loved black culture but didn’t pretend to be a part of it, legit hip hop without ever pretending to be gangsta. They loved pop culture and punk rock and crate digging. They had more hits than my man John Woo. Yauch was a great example of becoming a better person and more enlightened without ever having a stick up his ass. Trying to do the right thing and never turning up his nose at everybody else.

I can’t listen to Stevie Wonder’s “Never Dreamed You’d Leave in Summer” or “They Won’t Go When I Go” without getting sad about Michael Jackson, because Stevie played those for him at his memorial service and they were so perfect. For me today “Way Back Home” is the perfect song to eulogize MCA, so I’ve been listening to it too many times. The title even fits the occasion, although it maybe sounds like a more Christian concept of death than a Buddhist one. But listen to this song – it’s like Beastie Boys themselves. At first it’s “is this a joke?” and then it’s “this is actually good!” and “holy shit, this is funky!” It says I’m sad about this, why the fuck does this type of shit happen to so many good people, but also let’s appreciate how good it was to have him around contributing to our culture. We wish we could have him longer, at least he crammed alot in there like he knew it was only gonna be 47 years.

thanks Adam Yauch, good work

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34 Responses to “Song of the day: “Way Back Home” by the Jazz Crusaders”

  1. One thing from AWESOME I FUCKIN’ SHOT THAT! was when they had that jazz/instrumental section of the concert with the cheesy bungalow and summer party lights. The crowd previously was red hot, singing along. But I remember those fans being pretty damn silent during that section. Mind you they weren’t booing, but they weren’t exactly funking along to these guys.

    I wish I have a link to a book which talked about PAUL’S BOUTIQUE, how when the Boys presented to Capitol their “highly anticipated” follow-up, the execs were damn disapointed. (They gave them a juicy advance to lure them away from Def Jam) They even tried to suggest the guys to make more radio-friendly songs like Brass Monkey. If I remember right, it was Yauch who stood up, threw a piss fit, and yelled “we aint doing no more Brass Monkey shit!” (This is paraphrased from memory.)

    Same book had an amusing anecdote when the Beatles filed C&Ds against them for sampling their shit for BOUTIQUE and one of the Boys commented “Aint it awesome that the Beatles are suing us?” I like to think YAuch said that too, but I don’t believe so.

  2. This was extremely well written and heartfelt Vern. Thanks for taking the time. I’ve been bumming all afternoon. License to Ill was the first hip hop record I owned, given to me by an older friend in 1995. I was ten. Started me off on a life long love affair with the genre.

    Beastie Boys made me feel ok about being a white kid who loved hip hop. There’s a dozen of their songs that I only have to hear a bar of and I’m back in middle school again, cruising through the halls with my hood up and my headphones on, trying not to be noticed, Check Your Head blasting in my ears. They were among a handful of artists I can truly say helped pull me through some tough times. Hard to think I won’t get to hear any new MCA lyrics ever again.

    Thanks Adam, for your life.

  3. I have been seriously emotional about this off and on all day. It’s sad that I didn’t realize how much the Beastie Boys meant to me until something like this happened. I guess that’s the way it has to be. If we fully appreciated everything we had all the time we’d be so gobsmacked by gratitude that we’d forget to breathe.

    I think every white dude of a certain age wished he could grow up to be a Beastie Boy at one point in his life. Now that there’s a spot open, we know more than ever that we never could be.

  4. Adam Yauch is, and forever shall be, FUCKING AWESOME.

    It took the air out of me when I read that he’d died today, and all I could think to do was immediately listen to the Beastie Boys.

    The world needs more people like Nathanial Hörnblowér, the kind of person who knew how to live and love in equal measure.

  5. Yeah it kinda sidetracked me a bit today. I wasn’t a hardcore Beasties fan but I was a fan. I proudly still bumped their first 4 releases on the regular prior to today. Part of the appeal of those albums was the way Yauch played off his peers as the straight man in the group. Which considering how zany they all were says alot.

    That and the creativity in all the videos he directed for the band plus all the interesting movies & documentaries he helped put out there to a bigger audience through his distribution company is a big reason why it sucks that he left at 47.

    You could only imagine what else he could’ve done even though he left such a great artistic legacy behind as is. He really was one of the good guys. One of the ones who went out of his way to make sure real art and creative projects still thrived somehow through his own resources in this world that’s so used to lower common denominator forms of entertainment.

  6. What a perfect summation of their career. The last part left me with tears, Vern. Thank you.

    I’ve been seeing the phrase “fuck you, cancer” being written a lot today. I think it says it all.

  7. “They were white Jewish kids who loved black culture but didn’t pretend to be a part of it, legit hip hop without ever pretending to be gangsta.”

    And that right there defines the difference between “real hip hop” and the clones out there today who claim to be “hip hop”. It’s an artform about embracing who you are as an individual and expressing that and not pretending to be anything else and conform.

    None of that trend hopping and monkey see monkey do bullshit that has infected the culture since the mafioso rap era was at it’s peak. These cats represented the essence and for that will forever remain legendary in the eyes of many hip hop babies such as myself.

    Brilliant write up Vern.

  8. I’d like these kind of posts more Vern about the music you like. You introduced me to Maggot Brain for which I’m very appreciative. R.I.P. MCA by the way.

  9. Thanks Vern. I knew I could bring my broken heart here and you’d have just the right words to help me through this sad news.

  10. Unfortunately two memorable BB moments for me have been pulled from YouTube, so I can’t post them, but they’re floating around the Net out there:

    (1) That moment from the SNL 25th Anniversary special when the Beastie Boys were going into “Sabotage,” then Elvis Costello(!) hijacks them and they play “Radio Radio” instead.

    (2) From the LICENSE TO ILL era when the Boys perform “Fight For Your Right” on a Japanese TV show, with the group visibly drunk and Yauch telling the audience to “rub his balls.”

  11. Tonight on HBO will be airing the pre-recorded Rock N Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony for this year. I think I might watch that. (Unless my intel is wrong, Chuck D. inducts them, which is a very nice touch.*)

    *=Same ceremony that Axl Rose snubbed despite Guns N Roses getting inducted. Really after Yauch, I have less and less sympathy for Axl bailing out because his ego couldn’t squeeze into that hall. What a cunt. Though I’ll be honest, I did enjoy the speech given by rest of the members, including one member (can’t remember which) who thanked Freddie Mercury which I thought was a nice touch.

  12. A lovely elegy, Vern. Cheers.

  13. I’m very sad to hear Adam Yauch passed away, I remember dancing to Intergalactic with my cousins back in 1997 when it first came out

  14. Mattman Begins

    May 4th, 2012 at 11:32 pm

    Not to get all super-autobiographical, but the Beasties probably helped save my life. I was going through an utterly wretched summer of ’98, having been officially diagnosed as suicidally depressed, having some largely unhelpful therapy sessions, and having a generally bleak outlook on my future young adulthood. My best friend (soon to be best man) scored tickets to see the Beasties and Tribe Called Quest play in St. Louis, and I was able to convince the powers-that-were-powerless to spring me from the joint for a few days to road trip it down there and score some musical therapy.

    I will not soon forget any aspect of that show…MCA, Ad Rock, and Mike D had some uncanny sense of the crowd’s mood, of when to grab the instruments and play some IN SOUND instrumental funk for two or three numbers, when to spring a “Remote Control” or “Negotiation Limerick File” jaw-dropper on ’em (HELLO NASTY was very new at the time), and when to rock the old school shit (“Scenario” with Tribe from that show was making the rounds on the file sharing networks several years back, and was rightly singled out as one big ball of fun).

    But the crowd, the crowd…I have not before nor ever since seen a crowd so energized after a show as that. Everyone was herding their way to the exits, packed in lurching wads of cattle-like body movin’…and every two or three minutes, this gigantic “whoooooOOOOOOO!” would start up from deep in the crowd, and the rest of us, utterly high on life, could do nothing but add to the surge. Pure and utter joy, caused by the clockwork precision of three guys’ interplay (and Mixmaster Mike’s, too!) that could never be duplicated or imitated anywhere else. Their rhyming was singular, their humor infectious…what can I say. The show didn’t solve my problems, but I left that place feeling GOOD. And I did not remember what the hell “feeling GOOD” felt like that year.

    MCA, with his raspy flows and his never rockin’ the mic with the pantyhose, was an inseparable part of that full-on musical magic. That man is seriously missed tonight.

  15. I know the story goes that the Beasties were what introduced a lot of white kids to rap, but it happened the other way around for me. I grew up on rap, the more hardcore the better, and by the time I was 15, 16, I was pretty militant about it. I didn’t like anything else and wouldn’t even give rock or any of that “music with instruments” stuff a chance. The Beasties were like my gateway drug into the wider world of music. They were hip-hop as fuck, so in my heavily demarcated young mind that made it okay that they were more than that, too. They introduced me to guitar riffs and funky instrumentals. The first punk songs I ever listened to were the ones on ILL COMMUNICATION. They were the first group that made me interested in the music and not just the lyrics. Now I voraciously devour every form of music I can, because it all has value if you know how to listen to it. I learned that from the Beastie Boys. They were a one-stop horizon-broadener.

  16. When I read that Adam Yauch had died last night it hit me harder than usual.

    The reason being that for the last few months my Grandmother has been seriously ill and we were told she was due to pass away last night.

    So as I was sat, thinking things over, the news that MCA was gone at 47 (so young, but also, 47? When did we all get so old?) came as quite a shock.

    But more than sadness at his passing, as Vern said, there is gratitude. I feel grateful. We all had Adam and his work in our lives. And I’ve had a loving Grandmother for 38 years, who was never mean to me, who only loved me. How lucky am I?

    And we are all lucky to have had Adam and people like him and if we can say thanks and, whilst missing them, cherish what they brought to this world in their time here, however long it may be, then that is a life truly lived.

    And so right now I say thanks Adam, rest in peace. And thanks, Grandmom.

  17. Absolutely gutted by the news.

    It’s had me down all last night and today.

    Beautifully written Vern…….what a life he had. Got this sucks…

  18. Madonna on her facebook page put up some photos of the Beastie Boys when they opened for her tour in ’85.

    http://sphotos.xx.fbcdn.net/hphotos-snc7/p480x480/292271_10150888538304402_10584534401_12052066_165981354_n.jpg

  19. SNL did a nice Adam Yauch remembrance an hour ago, an old clip of the Beastie Boys doing their thing, sounding awesome, looking a little bit goofy but a lot badass, hopping like possessed madmen while they yell-rap into their mics, a beautiful cacophony leaking out from their world to surround their audience in beautiful sound, making life fun & interesting for everyone.

    On page 19 of this 2005 study (ctrl+F “Beastie”),
    http://www.misrc.umn.edu/workingpapers/fullpapers/2005/0519_092705.pdf
    you’ll see that The Beastie Boys, dj-ing artists extraordinaire, were on the cutting edge of decimating Vern’s beloved round disc. But I think we can forgive them for this dangerous innovation.

    I’m no Beastiephile, but I have always loved me some “Sabotage.” Yeah, yeah, that’s the big FM radio mainstream joint, who cares, not original, you’d have to be a fascist retard not to enjoy that song, etc.. But it’s awesome. Timeless. Classic. In a major coup for nerds not named asimovlives everywhere, that song even made lil Captain Kirk look cool.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MeRghYqi090

  20. Did you see the video of Coldplay singing FIGHT FOR YOUR RIGHT? No no, it’s better than expected, because I think Coldplay are definitely flirting with their bland image here and know how absurd it is to sing such a song as heartfelt ballad. So I guess MCA would not just approve, but also maybe think “Damn, why didn’t I come up with that?”

    http://youtu.be/q9yq88LY2N0

  21. Coldplay is pretty terrible. Just not my cup of tea.

  22. I agree. But listen to their cover version. Just because for the reasons that I mentioned earlier.

  23. I tried listening to it and the guy STILL sings way too close to the mic. It was unbearable so I couldn’t even make it past a few seconds.

  24. Its interesting we’re talking about “Fight for Your Right” considering the Beastie Boys disowned that shit, never played it live again after their ’86-87 tours.

    Pity because its a great track. I’m sorry Rick Rubin allegedly mixing it behind their backs and putting it on the LP (against their wishes) put a sour taste on their mouths forever on that song, but shit happens.

  25. Mouth – I bet you would also like this unabashed hardcore rock track from their last album: “Lee Majors Come Again”

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sfVqHwjvOsI

  26. I generally find Coldplay pretty intolerable but I liked that cover. If someone could just convince Springsteen to play their version it would be pretty much perfect.

  27. From the VH-1 Rap Honors several years back:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XzXGMi_AD5w

  28. I like Poof Diddler’s music about as much as I like Coldplay’s (read: not at all) but that’s how it’s done. Beasties made FUN music. Shit that made you bounce. You don’t cover a Beasties song and make that shit a mopey downbeat piece; c’mon son.

  29. Broddie: I disagree. I say if you’re going to cover a song at all, change it completely. The original song will always do whatever it was designed to do better than you can, so make it do something else entirely. That way it’s its own thing, not just a copy. For example, there’s Jonathan Coulton’s cover of “Baby Got Back,” Radiohead doing “Nobody Does It Better,” a whole album of sad AC/DC covers by the guy from Red House Painters, and pretty much everything Johnny Cash covered once Rick Rubin started working with him.

  30. Mr. Majestyk – See I disagree and I love those AMERICAN RECORDINGS albums with 2 being my favorite thanks in part to his versions of SOLITARY MAN and WAYFARING STRANGER. But a lot of those songs still kept their essence intact even when an artist covered them in their own style and not the original artists style.

    When we talk of Cash for example his most famous display from all that work with Rubin which was his cover of Trent Reznor’s HURT. In both songs their is a sense of turmoil and regret & self inflicted pain so I think it’s even superior because it did a better job at running with those themes than the NIN one which is still a masterful record on it’s own terms.

    Both songs still stand for the same thing though. Convey the same tone musically even if it’s done in different styles. Same with the Depeche Mode cover on that album where he maintains their celebratory yet satirical look at faith and the way man handles such a thing in this world (Ie: televangelists). Coldplay took a song about standing up for doing kid shit when you’re a kid and made it sound like something I wanted to slit my wrists too 20 seconds into that video. Personally I wouldn’t consider that the same thing. Shoutout to Mr. Coldplay for at least paying homage though.

  31. The wrestling show I was at last night was dedicated to MCA. Weird, but nice.

  32. Amazing artist…great write up. Cheers MCA

  33. Way Back Home is a wonderful song

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