Catching up With the Beastie Boys’ Legendary Lyricist

photo: James Katsipis

How did a kid from the Upper West Side get involved in surfing?
I was traveling around and getting to be in places where there’s beautiful water and waves. Not taking advantage of that seemed like a shame. That coupled with the fact that my older son is ocean-obsessed. He’s 9 years old and about to do his first surf competition. So if I wanted to spend anytime with him then I had to learn how to surf.

So your son basically taught you how to surf?
Well, I don’t want that to get back to him. There’s all kinds of egos involved. But I would say he’s more of the inspiration. I can still handle him in the line-up. Let the record state – I can still hold my own against him in a heat. That will not last that much longer.

When did you start going out to Montauk and why?
It was kind of from coming to Malibu that we ended up in Montauk. We spend our summers in Malibu in Point Dune and there are nature reserves. You would never know you’re in a city next to 11 million people. Then we’d come back to New York in September and the kids would be in school after surfing all summer, and we’d kind of be in culture shock. The only thing that we found that was comprable to Point Dune was Montauk.

You had a wine blog for a while. Your reviews were much more fun than the average wine write up. Are there any food or drink items you’ve had in Montauk that are review worthy?
Countless. One of the things that inspired me to blog about wine was some of the great, locally source, quickly put together meals that I’ve had in Montauk. Simple, grilled local fish and veggies from the farmers market. And usually – because of the time of year we’re out there – I generally a White Burgundy or a Chabli wine, which is a sub-region of Burgundy.  That’s about as good as it gets: when you have a little bit of salt air and a little bit of salt water taste in your mouth from being in the water and you’re getting your creatures that you’re eating from right there in the water, and you’re getting your produce from farms that are nearby.

Grand Royal is still one of my favorite magazines of all time. If you ever started another publication, who would be on your dream list of editorial subjects?
That’s a tough one. Maybe it’s because of the time that we’re talking right now—it’s 4 p.m. and I really need an espresso—but I would love to do an in-depth espresso article. I want it on all levels. I want to go traditional Italian. I want to hit the things that are happening with coffee in the U.S., I want to get down to the science and neurology, and what happens when people drink coffee. So, if you have an editor that’s willing to give me ridiculous amounts of expenses to achieve this—I’m going to need a worldwide travel budget to make it happen—I’m willing to do it.

What music do you listen to these days?
I’m always all over the place. I get a little crunk with it. Now that I’m in Malibu, I get a little Neil Young with it. I get a little Santigold with it. I get a little Rusko with it.  I listen to a lot of old music actually.

Would you ever encourage your sons to pursue a career in music?
I have to admit I cringe a little bit at that thought. I just feel like music is a tricky thing. It’s like a last resort. You should only do it if you’re so obsessed with it you couldn’t possibly do anything else. But I guess you could say that about anything creative and in the end I would totally encourage them to do anything and everything in the creative realm. It’s difficult to make it and it takes a toll in terms of doing it and putting yourself out there. It can be a path hard forged, but it can be very rewarding.

What was it like playing CBGB’s for the first time in the 80s?
It was kind of a big deal for us as hardcore kids from NYC. I mean CB’s was legendary. We were too young to have gone to any of the first wave of infamous punk shows there: Ramones, Television, Patti Smith, Blondie, Suicide, Talking heads, etc. But that was the legend that was woven into the stinky, stale-beer-and-cigarette-air of that spot. Plus we were huge Bad Brains fans, and there we were, all of the sudden, opening shows for them there.

Do you ever get writers/creators block and if so how do you alleviate that?
As a band we spent a vast amount of our career in the studio with writer’s block. The only sure fire thing is that you just have to keep showing up. There are moments in your work where things came together really quickly or really seamlessly, where it took no effort at all, then there’s moments where there are things that you’ve trashed time and time again, started something and picked it back up two years later because you couldn’t figure it out, but then somehow it comes together in the end. That’s just as good as those quickly inspired moments – it’s just a lot less fun along the way.

Tell me about the work you’ve been doing down at the Rockaways. What do you think those in New York and otherwise can do now to help those still affected by Sandy?
It’s interesting, for me personally I have never been in a situation that demanded such immediate action. There was no time to think, or take meetings, or plot out. There were real, basic human needs that had to be met. So it was heart first, dive in, start doing, get warm food to people and figure it out as we go.

Rob McKinley and I went out to Rockaway a few days after Sandy. We brought a car full of supplies: batteries, cleaning stuff, boots, etc. It was heartening to see the effective grassroots distribution networks that arose, taking place at the Rockaway Surf Club, Veggie Island, etc. It was good hearted and right-minded people handling business among displaced sand, pieces of boardwalk, and cars strewn about. People’s ruined appliances and lives were literally kicked to the curb.

There was no power, no businesses open, and no hot food for people. [The latter] was one basic need where we felt we could have some impact. So immediately we contacted restaurant friends: Fat Radish, The Breslin, Back 40, Sam Talbot, etc. and started bringing hot meals out from the city. Quickly we realized that by the time we were getting meals to people in high rises, community centers, and churches, it was not so hot. A food truck was needed to provide this rapidly changing landscape with hot meals. All the restaurant people and our friends on the ground helping us out were so amazing, enabling us to feed 500 people, daily. So I guess my take away is: go in first hand. See what is there, and where there are needs, then focus intensely and specifically on what you can do. Don’t be hasty, but do not deliberate at all.