Beastie Boys Book: PixPixPix

PixPixPix is a slim story of a chapter, a vignette of fifth graders in 1978 attempting to call into a television station to play a video game on air after school. I couldn’t help but ask “Why is this chapter even in here? It’s not about the band, it’s not about New York City specifically, and yes, it’s a great capture of what elementary school kids did after school before the internet and overachievers and helicopter parents, but how, specifically does it relate to The Beastie Boys’ story?”

But the answer came almost immediately. Luc Sante’s chapter is big and sweeping and it would be incredibly easy to position the band as being savants somehow, destined by their gifts and the era to become the stars they eventually became. PixPixPix is about showing they were goofy, dumb kids just being themselves. No one was destined for anything. It’s about having fun, not about any sweeping grand pronouncements.

It lets you know that fun is the important thing in this story.

A love letter to 1981 NYC

If the first chapter of The Beastie Boys Book is a love letter to Adam Yauch, the second (titled: Beastie Revolution) is a love letter to 1981 New York City from Luc Sante. He describes a romantic vision of being a punk kid from a poor, forgotten city that is full of music. It is immersive and beautiful and you can feel the raw energy of a place that’s about to burst (re-burst?) back into America’s consciousness.

A clip from the kindle version, showing a stage that’s about to be vandalized by the crowd.

I think I listened to the author-read version of this chapter like three times and read it at least twice. There are too many bands to name, too many artists, all people who lived on the edge of society and could make a living as a poor artist because living in NYC was cheap.

If you want to fall in love with New York City and early rap and punk music, you could do worse than reading this chapter as a stand-alone essay.

An introduction

Before I get started: the kindle version of the Beastie Boys Book is only $1.99 right now. As much as I enjoy the audiobook, there are pictures and graphic design in the actual book that are also a goddamn delight. But it’s also almost $30 and a brick. So the $2 kindle version, read on the iPad, works pretty good.

There are almost no cultural touchpoints in Wild Card, the introduction to the Beastie Boys Book (with the exception of the Tibetan Freedom Concerts). But it’s a lovely tale of friendship between the three guys in The Beastie Boys, Michael Diamond (aka Mike D), Adam Yauch (aka MCA), and Adam Horovitz (aka Ad-Rock).

This chapter was written by Adam Horovitz, and it could have been Yauch’s eulogy (he passed away from throat cancer in 2014). His love for one of his best friends comes through in every sentence – from being amazed at him going off to go snowboarding after a 16-hour flight to Australia to him knowing how electric guitars worked to Yauch being a guy who always amazed Horovitz.

It’s a great, positive picture of male friendship, and it’s also super-moving. I want to have been Yauch’s friend after reading this chapter, and at the same time to be more like Yauch. He seems like he was a good person.

And that’s one of the things I really like about this book: the love. So much popular culture is about people being cool or angry with each other or making fun of something. This book is not that at all, and we need more love in the world.

It’s one of the reasons The Beastie Boys Book makes me so happy.

Um, hi

It’s been about three months since I posted anything, and four months since I posted regularly. I like posting regularly, but life sometimes gets in the way.

Life got in the way. I got in my own way. Reading got hard, I got burnt out, blah blah blah. These are explanations, not excuses.

But I got inspired. At least, a little tickle of something a couple of weeks ago. And now I need something that isn’t work and isn’t coronavirus to focus on.

So here it is: a chapter-by-chapter listen of The Beastie Boys audio book. Why? Partially because of the trailer for the upcoming Beastie Boys Story:

But I was never a huge fan of their music. I’m still not. But they are fantastic storytellers, and I love a good story.

This audio book, though. It’s SO GOOD. I listened to it last spring and I still regularly think about it. The 1980s and the 1990s were brought back to life.

So the intro credits: they’re read by Reverend Run from Run DMC. Run DMC is still the band who introduced Aerosmith to me. Their version of Walk This Way is the better one, IMHO.

Join me over the next few weeks, as I talk about and share of the various cultural touchpoints, music, and memories that this book brought to the forefront of my brain.

A further step in anxiety and mystery

The Vanishing Stair is the second book in the Truly Devious series; they are not stand-alone books with three separate mysteries. The puzzle is spread across all three books in the series, and while there are smaller mysteries solved in the first two books, all the big answers are presumably going to be answered in the third and final book, due to be released in January 2020.

Stevie is a junior in high school attending Ellingham Academy, a prestigious private school in the Vermont Mountains. Ellingham was a prosperous industrialist whose wife and daughter were kidnapped in the 1930s. Stevie starts out working to solve that mystery: who did it, what happened to his daughter Alice who was never found. But that investigation triggers events in her own, current time period. The story is told both in the present time and as a string of events in the 1930s. The chapters are well marked so you know where you are in the two threads of the larger mystery.

Personally, Stevie’s anxiety speaks to me. It is part of her character, but that’s it: it’s just part of her character. It absolutely affects who she is and how she does things, but it’s not fetishized or presented as a problem to be solved. Writing anxious characters like that, who take their meds regularly and have therapists, normalizes them and makes it ok.

I’m still all in on this series and look forward to the next book coming out in January.

Posole Rojo with Chicken

Posole is a delicious Mexican soup that uses hominy. Trying to understand what hominy is took up a long discussion at dinner with my husband. What’s the difference between corn and maize? What’s hominy? (Corn and maize are the same thing, hominy is a type of field maize that’s been treated with an alkaline solution to make it more edible.)

Regardless, this is a yummy soup with chicken and hominy and veggies. We served it with tortilla chips, but I’ve heated up leftovers with rice and both are good.

1T oil
1 medium white onion, chopped, plus thin slices to serve
6 medium minced garlic cloves
3T ancho chili powder
2t ground cumin
14.5oz can fire-roasted tomatoes
2qt chicken broth
1.5lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs
29oz can hominy, drained and rinsed
0.5c chopped cilantro
3T lime juice, plus wedges to serve
salt
tortilla chips
thinly sliced radishes to serve

In large dutch oven over medium-high heat, heat the oil until shimmering. Add chopped onions and cook until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, ancho powder, and cumin, then cook, stirring constantly until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes and cook, stirring, until most of the liquid has evaporated, 3-5 minutes. Add the broth and bring to a simmer. Stir in hominy and chicken, then bring to a simmer. Reduce to medium, cover, and cook for 20 minutes.

Transfer the chicken to a plate. Cover the pot and reduce to low to keep hot. Dice chicken into bite sized pieces. Stir the chicken back into the pot and cook until heated through, 2-3 minutes. Off heat, stir in cilantro and lime juice. Taste and season with salt. Serve with onions, radishes, lime juice, and tortilla chips.

Recipe from Tuesday Nights by Milk Street.

Book-length poetry

In Paris with You was a unique book for me, despite its somewhat formulaic romance plot (which isn’t a bad thing!). Why?

  • It’s translated from the original French, which means that the takes on the characters are different than you might get in a book originally in English. Specifically, Eugene is allowed to be slightly depressed, and that’s totally normal.
  • The hero is named Eugene.
  • It’s a book-length poem. I read poetry infrequently enough that the language that the authors uses is different enough, more emotional and less action-oriented, that it was refreshing.
  • It’s got a lovely happy-for-now ending that leaves open a proper happy ending.

In Paris with You was a great Sunday afternoon read. Would recommend.

Maque Choux

I love a big bowl of veggies and meat. It’s the best. Filling and good for you – provided there’s not too much meat, that is. Maque Choux is a traditionally creole dish that fit the bill for a filling weeknight meal. We served this with rice to add a grain.

1T veg oil
12oz andouille sausage, halved lengthwise and cut into 0.5″ pieces
2T butter
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 small red bell pepper, stemmed and seeded, finely chopped
1 Anaheim chili, stemmed and seeded, finely chopped
salt & pepper
2 garlic cloves, minced
0.5t dried thyme
2c fresh corn kernels (or 1lb frozen)
1t cider vinegar
4 scallions, thinly sliced

Heat oil in a 12″ skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the sausage and cook, stirring, until well browned, about 3 minutes. Transfer to paper-towel lined plate and discard any fat in the skillet.

Set skillet over medium heat and melt the butter. Add the onion, bell pepper, chili, and 0.5t salt. Con, scraping up browned bits and stirring occasionally, until vegetables are softened, 5-7 minutes. Stir in garlic & thyme and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Increase heat to medium-high and add corn, 0.75t salt and 0.25t pepper. Cook, stirring until corn is crisp-tender, 3-5 minutes.

Return sausage to skillet, stir and cook until heated through, about 1 minute. Stir in the vinegar, then taste and season with salt & pepper. Stir in the scallions.

From Tuesday Nights cookbook by Milk Street Magazine.

A fizzy and happy romance

Royal Holiday was a fizzy delight of a romance novel, inspired by a combination of Meghan Markle’s mother, Doria Ragland, and the author’s own grandmother. In the book, Vivian, the mother of the main character in Guillory’s prior book, The Wedding Party, tags along on her daughter’s work trip over the Christmas holidays in London for the British royal family. There, she meets a retainer for the family, and they proceed to have a whirlwind romance. But alas, Vivian must go back to Oakland and her job. What does the future hold? (Spoiler: it’s a romance novel, so it’s required to have a happy ending.)

Royal Holiday was a fun read, and I was gratified to read a romance novel about a couple in their 50s. Love isn’t unique to those in their 20s! I enjoyed it and would recommend it.

If you care about a dictionary…

The Grammarians is a lovely story about two twin sisters living in the late 20th Century in and around New York City. I don’t actually want to say too much about the plot, but I loved how familial the story was, how close the twins are even when they’re fighting, and how much love was interwoven. Even when everyone is driving each other nuts, they all still love each other – families are like that.

The action is driven by the women growing up – you get their entire life stories from birth to death 258 pages – but also by a dictionary, Webster’s Second Edition. The Third Edition is apparently very controversial, in part because the second was so stodgy. One of the women has a job writing about grammar, and so is the prescriptivist and is more akin to the second edition; the other writes poetry and stories using vernacular language and so is the descriptivist, and could be compared to the third edition. (A short definition of prescriptive vs descriptive lives here, if you’re interested.)

But that is all in-the-weeds, and you certainly don’t need to care about that particular argument in order to enjoy the book. You can (I did) enjoy the characters and their relationships to each other and New York City in the 1980s. I highly recommend The Grammarians.