Home > Chapters > 87. Death Of A Beastie Boy

87. Death Of A Beastie Boy

Just lately, it seems that every time I switch t’internet on, another rock star has died. Some of them have been knockin’ on heaven’s door for a while and news of their demise came as no real surprise. Others have trod the stairway to heaven far too early, their deaths being bitter pills to swallow. Some were victims of their own careless addictions, others fallen to fatal afflictions. But all sadly missed, by many. All with their own stories to tell and all leaving memories, and connections, behind them.

And so it came to pass, what seems like a lifetime ago, I met Mike.

He and his wife, Betsy, moved in next door. They were actual real ‘Merkins, from L.A. no less. He was a ground crew sergeant in the USAF based at Mildenhall, about 10 miles from here. They moved in, to what they termed as ‘off-base housing’, sometime in the early summer of 1987.

In true American style, and as a foretaste of what was to come, his introduction to me was to offer me a Budweiser while I was working in the front garden. And our friendship was forged.

 Before long the friendship of our households became the epitome of all that is good and drunken in the greater schism of Anglo-American relations. We introduced them to different aspects of our culture such as proper beer, yorkshire puddings, Marmite, Sunday Trading laws, driving on the left and just four channels of TV. They brought to the table such previously unheard of delights as unlimited Buds/Millers/Coors, BHX, 24 hour 10 pin bowling, Superbowl, M&M’s, DIY pizza, Dorito’s, CheezeWhizz, amazing geographic ignorance, and a totally indifferent view to anything except their own concern. Hell, we loved ‘em! And, have to say… I think they loved us!

But we did enjoy a most awesome friendship, man. Mike really was a fish out of water. Think LA surfer dude. Beach bum by day, parrr-tay animal by night, think Mike. If I was American, I could have been him. Or, I would have liked to have been him. Saying that, he wasn’t the most handsome of guys, having been cursed with a cleft palate at birth. The resultant scar gave him what seemed a permanent snarl and maybe explained much of his general demeanour. Not that it bothered me and not that it stopped him from enjoying life and anything parrr-tay orientated. Much Budweiser was supped. Many nickels were tossed and against foreheads, cans were crushed.

 He was a breath of fresh air. A month or two after their arrival he asked for a favour. Would I mind driving him to Ipswich, some 40 miles away, to the import compound, to pick up his motor that had finally arrived from Stateside. No problem I said.

They had to jump start the car, the battery having jumped overboard on the voyage but once that was done Mike was back in his comfort zone, ready to cruise.

It was a bright red Cadillac Camaro. It was goddam fucking awesome and I followed them home all the way up the A45 in the outside lane at 50mph… They loved the car and so did I. We had several trips out in it although I never got to actually drive it. The whole idea of a ‘column shift’ held a few horrors for me and I politely passed on proffered opportunities. Sadly the Camaro didn’t last long. Mike and Betsy started feeling the pinch of whatever financial demons they were carrying and got rid of it in partial exchange for a less thirsty and more suitable Ford Capri.

And so you ask, what has the death of a rockstar got to do with a long past friendship with an American beach bum? And more importantly, which rockstar?

It was a hot summers day. I remember being in shorts and the windows of the front room being wide open. It can’t have been too long after Mike and Betsy had arrived from the States because he had just finished setting up his beloved stereo, which was the reason I had gone round. He was dying to show it off.

Their front room was minimalist to the extreme. Couple of sofas, tv, two huge speakers and the stacking stereo system. Kenwood. Lights and dials everywhere. Deck, cassette, cd, tuner, amp and equaliser. And with a huge volume knob that went up to at lest 11.

His hallmark track will always be ‘Hotel California’ by Eagles (Apparently, something I heard just recently, Don Henly gets might pissed off by people saying The Eagles, instead of just, Eagles.)

Mike took great pleasure in demonstrating the power of his stereo by playing this most bodacious track. It would be pretty cool right now to claim that was the first time I ever heard it, but I somehow think it wasn’t as it was released about eleven years earlier and I hadn’t exactly been living under a rock since, but the reverence with which he played it was uplifting and as short a time ago as just a couple of months I distinctly remember claiming that there wasn’t a day go by that I didn’t hear the song played at some point on the radio. I think Mike played it at around mark 5 on his Kenwood. And I have loved the song ever since.

 But the most defining point of Mikes existence for me, and a moment that shall ever be synonymous with everything he was and ever wanted to be, was the next track he played for me.

It was of course, not that my build up gave any inkling, Fight For Your Right by The Beastie Boys. And here was a song, and a band, I had never heard of before. They were total ‘Merkins.. young, loud and brash… and sporting stolen VW emblems as jewellery.

As a confirmed metalhead I really didn’t know what to make of this rock-rap. But it was new and different and I was drinking his beer, so I sat and listened. And loved it. I don’t really know how far Mike turned his volume up. If someone fired a pistol behind me, I doubt I would have heard it but it was the sort of loud that once there was a lull between tracks, the silence was more painful than the music. It was the sort of loud that riveted you to your chair and you clutch your chest to stop your heart from bouncing around as it’s buffeted by the booming bass.

Halfway through the next track, where I really am awake all the way to Brooklyn, there is a sudden, deafening silence, where I think I have finally gone deaf.. my years of gigging have culminated in a coup de grace courtesy of Kenwood and The Beastie Boys until I was aware of someone talking though the open window whom Mike had caught a glimpse of out of the corner of his eye, ‘cos he sure as hell didn’t hear him.

The someone had come to complain about the noise. Mike was like yeah whatever but the neighbour was like, quite insistent. Mike asked him where he lived and the when the neighbour said ‘the next street…’ Mike was like… ‘oh.. okay dude..’ And we listened to the rest of the album, License To Ill at a very boring 3 or maybe 4 once the party pooper had retreated.

 And that, dear reader, is that. I do not own, nor ever have or will own a Beastie Boys album in any shape or form. But from that day to this and way beyond I will always think of Mike when I hear them on the radio or tv.

There’s your connection. Adam Yauch, or to give him his stage name of MCA, was a founding member of the Beastie Boys and died at the tender age of 47 on May 4th 2012 after a battle with cancer. Up until the point of his death, if you had said his name I wouldn’t have known who you were talking about.

 Mike and Betsy went back to LA in ’89. They left their dog, a manic little Yorkie terrier called Snoopy with us, promising to send money for shipping it out when they could afford it. Snoopy eventually went to live with our other next door neighbours. We kept in touch with Mike and Betsy for a while until Betsy rang one day to say that Mike had been in an argument with a bouncer at a night club, fighting for his right to party, and had ended up being thrown down the stairs. He spent two days in a coma before his life support was deemed pointless.

 Mike was no beastie boy, but he was my connection to them and far more significant because of it. I miss him.

 

 

 

 

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Categories: Chapters
  1. May 11, 2012 at 00:18

    Brilliant story! Well done.

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