28 May 2012

Disney Daze: Week 20: The Aristocats

In 2012, this intrepid reporter plans to watch, in chronological order, all of Walt Disney Studios' 52 theatrically-released animated features, one per week.

Twenty films in, it is striking how different the first dozen and a half Disney features are from one another. Yes, the package films share a format, the princess stories contain many of the same tropes, and all of the features possess the same underlying aesthetic, but it is quite easy to parse out the myriad differences between say, Dumbo and The Jungle Book, or The Sword in the Stone and Alice in Wonderland. Perhaps the knowledge of Walt's passing unfairly taints one's judgment, but 1970's The Aristocats feels by far the most derivative and familiar. More than any other film up to this point, The Aristocats bears a overwhelming similarity with a previous Disney feature. Well, make that two features; Lady and the Tramp and One Hundred and One Dalmatians. 

It is difficult to determine which of the two previous features The Aristocats more closely resembles. The high life of Duchess and her kittens showcased in the opening scenes, the budding romance between her and the freewheeling alley cat Thomas O'Malley, and the appearance of a dimwitted bloodhound who recalls the faithful Trusty, all produce enormous echoes of Lady and the Tramp. Meanwhile One Hundred and One Dalmatians is faithfully evoked in the sketchy animation style, while the arduous journey the cats undertake to get back to Paris after being abandoned in the countryside is almost an identical story element to the latter film. 

And yet The Aristocats manages to transcend its comparisons and come out a rather worthwhile and ultimately fun picture. I for one would put it above Dalmatians in the triptych rankings, although both are far below the majesty and emotional elegance of Lady and the Tramp, which is a truly enduring work of art. The Aristocats possesses a much better rhythm than Dalmatians, which gave no clear indication of the length of the puppies' journey back home. Everything flows much more smoothly with the cats, the film rarely hits a dull patch. The climax that sees the alley cats coming to save Duchess and her brood, is a ramshackle spectacle of fast-paced action that never once feels rushed. A lot of Disney films in fact suffer from split-second third acts wherein the villain is vanquished in a matter of moments, followed by an all too brief coda. The Aristocats does not quite linger, but it also doesn't speed. 

One of the film's weaknesses however is the animation style, which is so threadbare -- particularly in early moments with the human characters -- that it often becomes distracting. The animation of the cats' guardian, Madame Adelaide, is the biggest offender. Her white hair shows numerous pencil lines whenever she tilts her head and her physical movement is jerky and entirely unnatural. The design and action of the cats themselves is decidedly better, although the film never once reaches the heights of previous Disney features like Bambi or even Dalmatians for that matter. Occasionally elegant moments will pop out, but they are fleeting. For example, early on in the film when Thomas O'Malley is hitting on Duchess, he keeps on smooth-talking while subconsciously rolling over onto his back and stretching, in a perfectly executed moment of feline physics. Much later on he hooks his tail beneath Duchess's as a means of holding hands in a piece of animation both subtle and graceful.

Thomas O'Malley is voiced by Phil Harris, who did such a wonderful job as the scene-stealing Baloo in The Jungle Book that he was tasked here with playing roughly the same exact character. A few other stock Disney voices make an appearance as well, alongside new talent including Eva Gabor as the prim and proper Duchess. Of course, the ubiquitous Sterling Holloway makes an appearance. Here he plays Roquefort, a household mouse who is good friends with the cats. The best appearance of a Disney regular here though comes courtesy of the wonderfully-named Thurl Ravenscroft who briefly crops up as the bass-playing Billy Boss, a Russian cat with a huge beard that is a bandmember of the alley cat gang, led by Scat Cat, himself fabulously portrayed by Scatman Cruthers. (Ravenscroft will forever be remembered as a different cartoon cat as he spent fifty years providing the voice of breakfast cereal mascot Tony the Tiger.)

The alley cat band performs a raucous rendition (only slightly marred by an egregiously offensive racist stereotype) of "Ev'rybody Wants to Be a Cat", one of four fantastic songs written for the film by the Sherman Brothers. Here the brothers are once again in fine form, this time showcasing their incredible versatility. The swinging jazz rumpus of "Ev'rybody..." is juxtaposed early on with the sweet and deceptively simple "Scales and Arpeggios" that takes music theory as its inspiration. Thomas O'Malley gets a jaunty theme song that spells out his disposition and philosophy, much like "Bare Necessities" did in The Jungle Book. The smooth title number features the last recording of the elegant crooner Maurice Chevalier, who came out of retirement specifically for the film. He was convinced to take the job by a demo recording of the song sung by Richard Sherman in full Chevalier imitation. Excluding previously written work that would appear in the package film The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, The Aristocats would be the last animated Disney feature the Sherman brothers would work on until The Tigger Movie in 2000.

All in all, The Aristocats performs rather admirably despite its various setbacks. The film was made at a time of great uncertainty at the studio. The budget was minuscule and production resources were at a minimum. The film's place in the Disney lineage means it will always be compared to the many classics that preceded it. And yet The Aristocats has a well-defined sense of purpose and a surprising amount of confidence. The film doesn't take chances but it doesn't necessarily need to. It proves its worth in its devotion to the characters, who really care about one another. They convince us that this story is worth telling and it's their personalities that make the journey a worthwhile one, every paw print of the way.

20 May 2012

Disney Daze: Week 19: The Jungle Book

In 2012, this intrepid reporter plans to watch, in chronological order, all of Walt Disney Studios' 52 theatrically-released animated features, one per week.

On the fifteenth of December 1966, Walter Elias Disney passed away from lung cancer. Ten months later the last animated feature that he had a hand in shaping, The Jungle Book, was released. The film would signal the end of one of the most influential artistic lives of the twentieth century. From his scrappy beginnings scribbling out drawings in a garage to almost single-handedly running a huge multimedia empire (before such a phrase existed) Walt Disney had changed the face of popular entertainment forever. The Jungle Book would be his last personal statement in the field that he got his start, the dreamlike world of animation. And while the film would not reach the artistic heights of say, Dumbo or Bambi, The Jungle Book would prove to be a worthwhile bookend to a phenomenal career.

For the last decade of his life, Walt had all but abandoned the animation department. His heart lay elsewhere, namely the sleepy city of Anaheim where Disneyland, his burgeoning "theme park" (hitherto also an unknown term) was providing tactical, three-dimensional joys to the world. In Walt's mind, Disneyland was a project that he never had to stop improving. At a certain point, the films needed to be edited and released, whereas the park could be rebuilt year after year. The films produced following Disneyland's opening show a noticeable drop in quality (Sleeping Beauty excepted since it had begun production a full five years before the park broke ground). The animation department had been drastically cut and more importantly Walt was nowhere to be seen. After the failure of the The Sword in the Stone at the box office, Walt decided he needed to be more involved in the story department and he threw himself completely into the development of The Jungle Book.

The adaptation of Rudyard Kipling's Mowgli stories was originally suggested by Bill Peet and with Walt's approval he began a treatment of the film, as he had on both Sword and One Hundred and One Dalmatians. However Walt was not pleased with Peet's efforts and the two argued bitterly over the tone of the film, which Peet wanted to be darker. Walt prevailed and shortly thereafter Peet left the production and the studio all together. Walt assembled a new writing team, led by Larry Clemmons, who received a copy of Kipling's book with Walt's implicit instruction not to read it. Walt found himself once again wrapped up in the story development, acting out characters for the animators and intricately describing scenes down to the tiniest detail. It was a return to the role he played so well in the production of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, which had been announced to the assembled studio staff with the boss acting out the entire film for two full hours.

The film begins with the infant Mowgli washed up on the shores of the jungle in a broken skiff, his parents presumably dead in the water. He is taken to be raised by a family of wolves by the panther Bagheera who throughout the film acts as Mowgli's guardian angel, rushing to the boy's aid at the slightest sign of danger. When the boy is around ten years old, word spreads through the jungle that the sinister tiger Shere Khan has returned and it is determined that Mowgli must return to civilization for his safety, as Khan hates humans and will surely kill Mowgli if given the chance. The film follows Bagheera as he tries to take the reluctant child back to mankind. Along the way Mowgli meets a series of animals whom he mimics, learns life lessons from, and is ultimately betrayed by. 

The animals in the film are voiced by one of the finest casts Walt Disney ever assembled. The great George Sanders plays the evil Shere Khan with a mellifluous malevolence while the gentle Sterling Holloway successfully plays against type as the insidious snake Kaa. But Phil Harris undoubtably steals the picture as the carefree bear Baloo, whose infectious take on life is summed up in the fantastic tune "The Bare Necessities". The song was written Terry Gilkyson, who was the original songwriter for the film and ultimately wrote a handful of numbers, all of which were scrapped save "Necessities" when Bill Peet left the picture and the story was lightened up. The rest of the soundtrack was composed by the stalwart George Bruns, who wrote some really interesting instrumental pieces (check out the jazzy garage rock number playing beneath the third act meet-up with the vultures), and the Sherman Brothers, who contribute several songs here, all of which are considerably stronger than their Sword in the Stone numbers. The highlights include Kaa's hypnotic lullaby "Trust in Me" and the swinging tour-de-force "I Wan'na Be Like You" sung by the great Louis Prima as the orangutan King Louie.

The monkey sequence featuring "I Wan'na Be Like You" is easily the best scene in the film. It is the point when all of the successful elements of the picture are firing at once. The animation is lively and inventive, matching the infectious song's upbeat style. The scene moves the plot forward, introducing the idea of the animals' obsession with "man's red fire", which separates Mowgli from his jungle brethren and will play a pivotal part in the finale. And the scene is incredibly funny. In fact, The Jungle Book might be the funniest of all Disney features. Most of the laughs come from Baloo and his laid-back demeanor. Occasionally his antics remind one of the great clown Goofy, and in the monkey sequence his delirious desire for a good beat sends him off in a coconut mask and hula skirt, impersonating an ape to get closer to the captured Mowgli.   

Despite all of its strengths, The Jungle Book is far from a perfect film. The third act drags when Mowgli meets the Beatle-esque vultures in a barren part of the jungle. The scene possesses a complete lack of momentum, slowing the film to a solid halt that is only barely saved when Shere Khan arrives and a climactic battle is waged between him and Baloo. By this point we have seen our lion's share of animals (lions excepted) and the exchange between Mowgli and the vultures feels all too repetitive, a bit like The Sword in the Stone in that regard. Another setback in the film is a habit of recycling animation. Two egregious examples come to mind. There is a parade of elephants who pop up occasionally in the film, and each time we see the same piece of animation as they march into the frame. The more obvious bit is a gag where Kaa the snake becomes tied in a knot and when he unties himself his body becomes jagged and limps away. The piece is repeated shot-for-shot later in the film for no apparent reason. It was barely funny the first time and by the second it simply takes one out of the picture.

The Jungle Book was a rousing success at the box office thanks to its hit soundtrack and nostalgia for the company's guiding force, who had left the world less than a year before. After Walt's death, the animation department would become adrift, increasingly stifled under a desire to determine what exactly Walt would have done on current productions. Unfortunately artistic intuition cannot be taught and the following decade's slate of films would be seen as pale imitations of works the studio had released years before. The Jungle Book itself would be the source of one such revision, sharing animation, actors, and traits with the company's adaptation of Robin Hood. "I Wan'na Be Like You" indeed.

15 May 2012

Disney Daze: Week 18: The Sword in the Stone

In 2012, this intrepid reporter plans to watch, in chronological order, all of Walt Disney Studios' 52 theatrically-released animated features, one per week.

The Disney studios were no stranger to tales involving royalty, castles, and magic. Their bread and butter had come largely from films such as Cinderella and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, stories that featured idealized glimpses of nobility and regal bearing. The happily-ever-afters of these films involved a debonair prince and a fortress of solid stone. And yet the studio had only shown the romantic side of these legends. What of the men of these pictures? What was their story, where did they come from? Was there more to be said than was initially perceived by these ciphers of indeterminate qualities? 1963's The Sword in the Stone provides one possible answer, although the story is far from dashing. 

The film is based on T. H. White's Arthurian legends, collected in the series The Once and Future King. Animator, writer, and children's author Bill Peet adapted the story into a series of episodic events that mainly shows the wise yet clumsy wizard Merlin teaching his ward "Wart" (or Arthur) - a lackey longing to be a squire - lessons by turning him into various creatures. First he's a fish, then he's a squirrel, and finally he has become a sparrow. Some oblique lessons are gleaned from these experiences, all after fleeting brushes with death. Merlin's confidante and companion is a talking owl named Archimedes who also spends time teaching Arthur but prefers books to experience. (It is rather interesting that the human tutor chooses instruction through mimicking an animal, while the animal touts scholarly study.) 

Due to a lack of narrative drive, the picture drags in places and ultimately feels tedious and repetitive. However there are some nice moments sprinkled throughout. When Arthur is slumming as a squirrel, he runs into a female member of the species who instantly becomes twitterpated. She fawns over Arthur, following him around to his general annoyance and ultimately saves him from the clutches of a Wile E. Coyote-esque wolf who has been hunting Arthur (no matter his genus) throughout the picture. After she rescues Arthur, the female squirrel clings close to her beloved, who unfortunately is all too quickly turned back into a human. He then leaves her to return to civilization. The squirrel is crushed and her emotions hit hard as she gazes longingly into the distance as dusk descends.

The animal transformations reach their zenith after the sparrow Arthur is captured by Merlin's rival the hideous witch, Madam Mim. Merlin arrives at the last moment to save Arthur and challenges Mim to a duel, where the two magicians try to destroy one another by becoming various creatures. The scene is decently conceived and it is nice to see the unexpected choices that Merlin makes (mouse, crab, goat, germ) but by this point in the picture the transformations have become all too routine and there is no source of real drama to the proceedings. Mim is quickly vanquished and Merlin and Arthur once again return to the castle. Shortly thereafter Arthur pulls the sword from the stone - a plot point not mentioned since the film's introduction - is crowned king, and the credits roll.

The Sword in the Stone is the first Disney animated feature to contain musical compositions by the heralded Sherman brothers, Richard and Robert. Heretofore the brothers had contributed songs to several of the live-action Disney features of the early sixties, including The Parent Trap and The Absent-Minded Professor. Unfortunately their work on The Sword in the Stone is for the most part bland and forgettable, a shocking summation when one looks at their subsequent body of work, which would include the award-winning soundtrack for Mary Poppins, as well as several iconic Disneyland attractions, including the Enchanted Tiki Room and it's a small world. Their compositions in Stone are limited to a clunky attempt at turning the opening fairy tale narration into song, and a blatant knock-off of Cinderella's "Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo" (the far less enchanting "Higitus Figitus".) 

Like the soundtrack, mediocrity rules the day in The Sword in the Stone. It was the first film where the layoffs in the animation department, along with a meager budget, are overwhelmingly apparent. One Hundred and One Dalmatians managed to achieve some sort of notable artistic style, using its xerography method to an occasional advantage. Here the animation looks too rough, with pencil strokes bleeding out of character designs that are staged against flat, static, and often monochromatic backgrounds. A series of blank canvasses for uninspired animation. The look of the film is not quite ugly - but it is far from beautiful. In fact, embracing ugliness would have made for a more interesting visual experience, instead all we get is serviceable and dull.

06 May 2012

Disney Daze: Week 17: One Hundred and One Dalmatians

In 2012, this intrepid reporter plans to watch, in chronological order, all of Walt Disney Studios' 52 theatrically-released animated features, one per week (except when he falls behind because he was at Disneyland).

Despite the debt the studio incurred after the lavish Sleeping Beauty failed at the box office, Walt Disney vowed to keep the animation department open even though it had become one of the least profitable divisions of his ever-expanding company. The man who constantly reminded everyone that it all started with a mouse, knew all too well that Disney was synonymous with animation and while the studio expanded to live action features, television, and theme parks, they needed to retain their core identity. Unfortunately retaining the animation division was different than maintaining the animation division, and post-Sleeping Beauty saw the largest downsizing in the company's history. The animated features from here on out would have to be made quickly and inexpensively. Half decades could not be spent tinkering on stories or toying with new processes.

Interestingly enough a new process called xerography is what enabled all of this change to come about. Developed by the largely unsung Ub Iwerks, who co-created Mickey Mouse with Walt and drew almost the entirety of the early shorts himself, xerography was a process that allowed the animators' original drawings to be photocopied, or Xeroxed, directly onto animation cels. This negated the need for a department to ink the sketches to cels, therefore cutting labor costs significantly. The process resulted in a whole new look for Disney films, where looser designs prevailed, as the animators' style made it onscreen intact. Walt himself did not like the sketchy new look but by this time his involvement with animation was nominal and he understood the economic necessity of such a timesaver. In particular, the studio's first feature to be produced with xerography, would benefit greatly from the process as it required the design of a hundred spotted dogs.  

The title sequence in One Hundred and One Dalmatians is both my favorite of all the Disney features as well as the best section of the whole film. It begins with a splash of spots being sprayed on myriad hand drawn hounds.  With a hip, jazzy flourish, the title briefly appears only to be washed away with yet more spots. Other credits are shaved offscreen like fur. Some title cards become both an extension of the dog theme and a whimsical translation of the title being displayed. For example, a series of spots transform themselves into moving musical notes to herald the work of George Bruns, the orchestration of Franklin Marks, and songs of Mel Leven. The layout artists' page is literally laid out before us. The sequence takes up a full three minutes and is worth every frame.

Of course, praising the credit sequence as the best moment in any film is nothing if not a backhanded compliment. Luckily One Hundred and One Dalmatians has more going for it than just the title design. The introductions of the main players in the film, the dogs Pongo and Perdita and their "pets" Roger and Anita, are charming. We pan across a beautifully designed London landscape before zooming into Roger's cluttered apartment. He is toiling away at the piano while Pongo looks out the window searching for a mate for his guardian. Here we get a lovely sequence of prospective brides, all parading down the boulevard with their dogs, each an identical caricature of their guardian. The joke is rather obvious but the execution is well done. 

Soon Pongo espies Perdita and Anita heading for the park and he tricks Roger into taking him for a walk. The meet-cute of these two couple is another solid piece of animation, with great set-ups and a pleasing pay-off as Pongo causes all manner of disturbance to get his dreamer of a guardian to notice the comely woman reading on a park bench. As these things usually go, this ultimately involves dunking them both in a lake. The best part of this scene is the animators' work on Pongo's facial expressions as he sees his plan coming together. His tongue out, open-mouthed joy is particularly infectious.

From here we flash forward to domestic life as the two couples, both canine and human, now reside under the same roof. Perdita is pregnant and this news warrants a visit from the devious, ghoulish villain Cruella de Vil, who gets a phenomenal introduction as Roger composes a jazzy song detailing her devilish traits. The musical sequence is perfectly animated, showing Cruella's silhouette approaching the front door as Roger calls her "a spider waiting for the kill" and suddenly the window frame looks just like a web with Cruella standing in the center. She then barges in and gives the audience a tour-de-force in villainy. Cruella de Vil is vile, vicious, and vain. While most animation on One Hundred and One Dalmatians was collaborative, with several animators sharing characters, the great Marc Davis, one of Disney's heralded Nine Old Men, was solely in charge of Cruella. And what a hell of a job he did. Dalmations would be Davis's swan song in animation as Walt moved him over to Disneyland where he left his indelible mark on the designs of such attractions as Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion. Cruella in fact looks eerily like a distant cousin of the latter attraction's infamous Hatbox Ghost.

Shortly hereafter Perdita has fifteen pups who are subsequently stolen by Cruella's dimwitted henchmen and taken to a run down mansion in the English countryside where they will be kept along with dozens more dalmatians until they're fully grown and slaughtered for their fur. Charming. Regrettably just as the plot kicks in, the film for the most part loses itself. There are a number of factors for the film's failings. There is very little effort on the directors' or animators' part to distinguish between any of the puppies, besides the fat one who is always hungry. This gives us nothing tangible to latch onto in moments of danger. Of course, the thought of a puppy perishing should be reason enough for dramatic tension but it simply doesn't work in practice with so many interchangeable dogs running around. On Snow White we spend ample time with the seven dwarfs, and while their personalities are basically the descriptions inherent in their names, we become attached to them. Another problem with the film's latter half is pacing. There is only a short amount of screen time spent getting the dognapped puppies to the mansion and for Pongo and Perdita to travel through the country to retrieve them. However the journey back takes twice as long and becomes nothing more than tedious since we are never given an idea of how much ground has been traveled nor how much is left to go. Therefore it becomes quite a shock when the animals return home and we discover that they've been gone over a month. Onscreen it plays out like two long days and nights. 

One Hundred and One Dalmatians has a few special treats but fails to live up to the best in Disney animation. Some of the best moments are the most fleeting. Twice in the film we get glimpses of television programming that are deliriously surreal. The first program is watched by the puppies at home and is a typical 1950s-style western with a dog in the hero's role. The interesting moment comes with the commercial that follows. The product advertised is a snack called Kanine Krunchies and features a whacked-out, warped jingle with sparse line drawn animation. Why was screen time given to a dozen dogs watching a black-and-white television? Is this some sort of social commentary? Later in the film at Cruella's decrepit mansion, the thugs Jaspar and Horace are transfixed watching their favorite game show "What's My Crime?" wherein criminals are trotted out before well-to-do contestants who try and guess their infractions. It is moments like these that stick out with One Hundred and One Dalmatians, when a little bit of personality and casual weirdness peek out from the spotted blur.

04 May 2012

Dropping Science Like Galileo Dropped the Orange: Personal Reflections on the Beastie Boys in Honor of Adam Yauch

To me, the Beastie Boys will always be the coolest band of all time. From their arrival as farcical frat boys on their drunken debut album Licensed to Ill, to the mash-up madness of their masterpiece Paul's Boutique, and the subsequent stylistic reinventions found on albums like Check Your Head and Ill Communication, the Beastie Boys were always one step ahead of the rest of us. Even when they stopped caring about being cool, around the time they appeared stuffed inside a sardine can on the cover of 1998's Hello Nasty, they became cooler for not being cool. Or something like that. And last year's triumphant return with the phenomenal Hot Sauce Committee Part II confirmed that whether they were busy playing pranks, punk rock, or basketball; whether they were fighting for human and/or party rights, or just sticking their dicks in the mashed potatoes; the Beastie Boys were always the coolest guys around. With the death of Adam Yauch today from cancer at the young age of 47, the world lost a major part of its awesomeness.

I always thought that Adam Yauch, whose nom de Beastie was MCA, would have made a fascinating subject for a well-researched biography or in-depth documentary. Yauch was the member of the group that went on the most transformative of personal journeys over his quarter century in the spotlight. Mike D has and always will be the goofball, while Ad-Rock was both the pin-up prankster as well as the most gifted musician, but Yauch started out as the aggressive one, a young man who was angry and confused, who took drugs and carried guns, only to find himself later in life won over by Buddhism, a lifestyle which saw him blossom into a peaceful, loving vegan. Through the years he would come to take on the roles of activist, filmmaker, and producer, all while continuing to push his music into wonderful new territories.

Obituaries will abound in the next several days and my goal is not to sum up a life but to show how much impact it had on one. I've known the Beastie Boys' music since before I was cognizant. Thanks to my older brother Shawn (who indoctrinated my toddler self into Star Wars as well) I was practically born into the Beastie Boys. One of my earliest memories comes from when I was five or six and living in Fresno, California. I remember lying on Shawn's bed with his big grey boom box nearby, cranking Licensed to Ill and... taking a nap. Ah the soothing lullaby of "No Sleep Til Brooklyn".

Also around this time I remember seeing an article in the Fresno Bee about the Beastie Boys coming to town on their worldwide Licensed to Ill tour. I don't know if Shawn made it to that show or not, nor do I remember anything pertinent in the article since I could barely read, but I remember the picture of the Beastie Boys so well. They were standing on a street corner that later in life I realized must have been some grimy spot in Brooklyn, but at the time I thought was taken right there in Fresno. How else could it have made it into the Bee? Who knows how accurate these memories are a quarter century removed from their occurrence. All I know is that I've carried them around all my life. For some reason they stuck.

A decade or so later, when I was first becoming interested in music myself, as opposed to aping the tastes of my hip older brother, I got hooked on the Beasties' 1994 album Ill Communication which spawned the massive hit "Sabotage" and subsequently the greatest video of all time. My first day of high school happened to fall on my 13th birthday and I wore my brand new Ill Communication ringer tee-shirt to commemorate. My father proudly took a photo of me wearing the shirt before I left for school that morning. I wonder where that photo is now...

My friend Mike Braida owned the VHS copies of the Beastie home videos, Skills to Pay the Bills and Sabotage (as well as a kick ass ABA/Aloha Mr. Hand shirt he got at Tower Records). We were really into skateboarding at the time and I remember freeze-framing the skate footage the Beasties edited in all afternoon long. I was really into hardcore too, mostly early Black Flag and Minor Threat, and I would play the hell out of songs like "Heart Attack Man" on my Walkman while skating the 7-11. To me, one of the greatest Beastie Boy records is the one-off Aglio e Olio EP which was released prior to Hello Nasty. It's eight punk rock songs in eleven minutes. My younger brother Christopher, who probably loves the Beasties most of all, hated it. He sold it to me for a $1.

I've always said that my mother, who passed away from cancer ten years ago this summer, heard Licensed to Ill more than anyone in our family because she had three sons who all went through their own personal Beastie Boys phases. I bet she could've completed the "Paul Revere" couplets my brothers and I whiled away car trips reciting. Once she and I were driving around our suburb of a suburb in her silver Subaru Loyale, listening to the Beasties, and she came to the realization that the Beastie Boys' style is basically that of nursery rhymes. She was very excited by this revelation and subsequently told my older brother. He was skeptical.

In the summer of 1998, my mom took me and my friend Mike up to visit my aunt in Seattle. (While there we saw a film at the theatre I would end up working at six years later, which coincidentally also left us this week.) Hello Nasty had been released earlier in the month and every record store Mike and I went into, or bar we passed, or car that stopped, was bumping that album. The release of Beastie Boys albums were massive cultural moments. The whole world would eagerly anticipate the Boys' latest transmission and upon release would thoroughly comb through its beats and rhymes for new catchphrases, jokes, and insight. The world has now lost a piece of that unity and while I hope that Mike D and Ad-Rock continue to make music and art, the Beastie Boys are no more. They gave us all a towering collection of songs, slang, and style, and for some of us they gave even more. They were there throughout our lives, commenting on and reflecting our world back at us.

Farewell MCA. Thanks for everything.