I’ve always heard that people remember where they were and what they were doing when something important happens to them.
The first time I heard The Beastie Boys’ album “Licensed to Ill,” I was arguing with a guy over five dollars. I had loaned a classmate (oddly enough, I don’t actually remember who) a fiver several weeks prior, and the scumbag hadn’t paid me back. I was in the school parking lot after-hours. I’m not sure why. I think my dad, who was and still is the school board president, had a meeting and I was just hanging out. Or it could have been the school carnival. Or a bingo night.
Doesn’t matter. What matters is that I asked this kid for my money back. He didn’t have it. I told him he needed to get it. He told me I could have his brother’s rap tape. He reached into his pocket and handed me a manilla cassette. It wasn’t in a case, and it had been turned over so many times (tapes had two sides and you had to turn them over) the writing had been worn off. I told him I needed to listen to it before I agreed to the trade.
I don’t remember getting the keys to our truck. That bit of the memory is fuzzy. The next part of the memory that I can recall with clarity is of me, in the truck seat, and the other kid waiting by the open truck door to see if the trade was acceptable.
I put the tape in the tape deck.
And I heard “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” for the first time. I remember turning the volume all the way up on the family truck. I closed the door and left that kid standing alone and a little confused. I didn’t care if the speakers blew or my eardrums busted. I just knew I wanted the music LOUDER. I wanted it in my head.
The next memory I have of that album is much more clearly defined and much more debauched. Sensitive readers might want to stop here.
Last day of school. It was tradition for the seniors to water-balloon lower classmen. The group I ran with did not approve of this tradition. We were…well, punks and thugs, for lack of better terms, and we refused to be intimidated by seniors and jocks. So on the eve of the last day of school we hatched a plan. A few of us would skip the last day of school and spend the ENTIRE day filling water-balloons, and we’d show those seniors what it truly meant to be terrorized. We called some people, a lot of people actually, made the plans, and went to bed secure in the knowledge that the seniors were about to get demolished.
The next morning I left my pickup at a young lady’s house just a few blocks up from the school. This young woman had a dubious reputation. A lady of ill-repute, if you will. According to the rumor mill, she had scratched a hashmark into her wooden headboard to record her sexual conquests. These marks, as the rumor went, ran the length of that headboard. She was also famous for fighting at the drop of a hat.
In any case, she was a tough chick, and my friends and I were a little scared of her. Thinking back, I seem to remember that she was prone to fits of vertigo from time to time, but I’m pretty sure all the drugs caused that.
At the time, I had a 4×4 extended cab Chevy with a big toolbox in the truck bed, and we had tasked this questionable young lady with overseeing a couple confederates to fill my toolbox with water-balloons. Our plan, such as it was, was to arm the bed of my pickup, drive around the school immediately after last bell, and show the seniors what it meant to go water-ballooning.
My anxiety grew as hours fell away and the end of the school day approached. At 3:55 the bell rang, and I sprinted from the school and down the block to meet up with everyone. We had to hurry. If the school cleared out too quickly and everyone went home, our work would have been all for naught.
When I got to my truck and saw what they had accomplished, my jaw hit the floor. These three high schoolers, led by an ornery, drugged-up nymphomaniac, had literally spent all day filling water-balloons. It didn’t even look like they’d stopped for lunch. My toolbox barely shut, and they had also filled up four big hefty bags with water-balloons. They claimed they had filled more than 250. I have a feeling they underestimated.
We all loaded up in my truck. There were seven people inside, and the bed of the pickup was standing room only. We took the sunroof out so one person could stand up and throw balloons from inside the cab of my truck.
I popped in “License to Ill,” found “You Gotta Fight for Your Right,” and off we went.
We terrorized the school. We struck fear into the heart of West ISD. We demolished the seniors, faculty, and we even hit the principal with a barrage of balloons. We were chased by the local PD twice and pulled over once. The fuzz told me to pop all the balloons. We emptied the Hefty bags and popped the water-balloons. The cops left, I unlocked the toolbox and the additional cache of ammo, and we continued on our reign of terror.
The Beastie Boys provided our soundtrack. When I think of that day, I see the superintendent, running through the West ISD parking lot towards my truck, screaming in anger, and then getting hit with dozens of balloons all at once. And as that memory replays in my mind, I can hear the Beastie Boys.
“KICK IT!” I pull off the road and into the school parking lot. Superintendent must have been told about us. He explodes out of the administration building and begins running towards my truck in a head-on trajectory.
“You wake up late for school / man you don’t wanna go!” From the bed of the pickup, someone yells “get him,” and the people in the back launched a coordinated assault of balloons over the top of the cab. Balloons, dozens of them, dripping with water, fly through the air in a multi-colored arc of H2O destruction.
“You ask your mom ‘please’ / but she still says no” The balloons hit. Water showering over the superintendent. Bits of exploded balloons litter the air like confetti. I cut the wheel to the right as hard as I can. I smash the accelerator. The 350 V8 roars to life and the tires squeal. The truck whips around in a perfect 180 and I head for the exit.
“You miss two classes / and no homework” Looking in the side mirror. Superintendent is behind us, on the ground, soaking wet. The jackals in the back of the pickup are still pelting him as he bellows in fury.
“Your teacher preaches class / like you’re some kinda jerk” People in the back of the truck are screaming like victorious Spartans. Some of them are still throwing balloons at the defeated Superintendent. A year’s worth of anger at authority literally washing over him.
“YOU GOTTA FIGHT” Front tires jump a curb and and we hit the street. “FOR YOUR RIGHT” The people in the back of the truck are singing along now. “TO PAAARRRRRRRTY!” I accelerate hard, the back tires break traction and squeal and smoke, and we barreled down the street. Kids on the sidewalk who had seen what happened were cheering at us.
That’s what the Beastie Boys meant to me. Subversion. Anti-authoritism. Raucous behavior and unrepentant hedonism.
I kept that tape for a long time. I eventually took a sharpie and scrawled “Beastie Boys” on it, but it stayed with me throughout high school. I don’t know where it is now. I lost it years ago. But I’ve never lost the Beastie attitude, and I hope I never will.