The music of the Beastie Boys was entirely an expression of their personalities, a chance to delightedly splurge out on to record everything that amused them. And early on, in their teens-get-drunk debut album, Licensed To Ill, that resulted in obnoxiousness. But mostly they were kinetic and colorful, which is why the new Apple TV+ film about them works so well. The format suits the story.
Beastie Boys Story simply documents a stage show where winningly they talk the audience through their personal history. It’s much like Netflix’s Springsteen on Broadway. But since the third Beastie, Adam Yauch, died in 2012, the band no longer perform, so where Springsteen punctuated his memories with songs, the Beasties do it with film clips.
The doc isn’t really about the music, though; you don’t need to know your ‘Paul Revere’ from your ‘Johnny Ryall’ to enjoy it. It is, as all the best music tales are, a love story. The mutual affection between the two surviving Beasties, Mike Diamond and Adam Horowitz, is plainly unforced, and Horowitz is nearly in tears talking about Yauch near the end. Their regret about the way they treated their original drummer, their teenage friend Kate Schellenbach, rings equally true. And, unsurprisingly, it’s very, very funny: at one point the pair note that much of the band’s motivation was making each other laugh, and that joy is apparent throughout, from their teens to middle age. I came away from it wishing the Beastie Boys were my friends, and feeling glad they still care for each other.
Parchis: the Documentary (Netflix) tells a very different story — that of a manufactured band of Spanish pre-teens put together at the end of the 1970s, who for a few years were a phenomenon in Spain and Latin America (they even headlined Madison Square Garden, albeit to an audience entirely of emigrés). This one is in the talking-heads format, but it’s the scope of it that makes it so compelling. It’s not just five middle-aged people remembering what happened when they were little; there are also their on-the-road tutors (one of whom remembers it as the most exciting time of his life, perhaps because he was going to the grown-up parties awash with drugs after the kids had been packed off to bed), managers, label staff (the head of sales at Discos Belter, their label, cheerfully recalls being given 500,000 pesetas a month to distribute payola to DJs and TV producers), cultural historians and more.
The music is uniformly awful — Parchis made S Club 7 look like Stockhausen — but there’s a captivating amount of cheerful cynicism on display. The group’s existence was the result of cynicism: a baby boom in Spain in the late 1960s and early 1970s meant there were scores of children who needed entertainment, and a shortage of that entertainment. The group’s manager realized that if he could assemble some kids and get them on a TV show called Aplauso he would be rolling in money, regardless of whether or not they were any good. ‘They could sing anything,’ notes their producer, ‘within the limitation that they didn’t sing well.’
Naturally, it all goes a bit Lord of the Flies, with the kids packed off to Argentina with almost no adult supervision, and the eldest lad becoming an object of lust to both young girls and their mothers. Naturally, too, they’re not the ones making money from it. ‘I don’t even know who was stealing from whom, how often and in what way,’ observes one of the members, who — like all of them — looks back on the period with a generosity of spirit I’m not sure I’d have been able to summon. It’s absolutely fascinating, a window on a world most Anglophone pop fans won’t even know existed.
Finally, a commendation for a lower-budget affair. Dirt Road to Psychedelia: Austin Texas During The 1960s (Amazon Prime) recounts how a sleepy Texas city went from being ‘six months behind’ (as one participant puts it) to being an even more exciting hotbed of psychedelic music than San Francisco. It benefits from the unusual presence among its interviewees of an old police officer, who wonders if maybe he and his colleagues should have been tougher on the first middle-class drug users in the city. ‘But the courts were sympathetic to ’em,’ says Officer Harvey E. Gann. ‘They weren’t hardened criminals.’ It makes you wonder just how many countercultural moments happened only because the participants had the education to talk their way out of trouble.