Mike D of the Beastie Boys on His Cars, Running the Mille Miglia, and More
The illest Q&A from here to Gardena.
We all know Mike Diamond as one-third of legendary hip-hop/punk rock/sampling pioneers Beastie Boys. As 2012 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductees, they never slept till Brooklyn, were known to get Intergalactic, and famously chased around bad guys while wearing bad suits in the classic Spike Jonze-directed "Sabotage" video, selling some 50 million albums along the way. But Mike D's interests spread far beyond the musical realm, where his love of red wine, surfing, and time behind the wheel of his Mercedes-AMG E63 S wagon are just as important to feed his creativity as time spent behind a drum set. In May, Automobile joined Mike as he rumbled his way through the Mille Miglia in a pristine 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing, the timeless MC enjoying every stop along the 1,000-mile rally across Italy. This summer he's touring worldwide with a series of solo DJ gigs and spoken-word shows with fellow Beastie Boy Ad-Rock, promoting their New York Times bestseller, Beastie Boys Book.
Automobile Magazine: Your bond with the Mercedes-Benz began when the brand underwrote the landmark "Art In the Streets" exhibit in 2011 at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. Had you owned a Mercedes before you helped curate that exhibit?
Mike D: I hadn't. But when we began talking they were like, 'Okay, listen, we're bringing you to Stuttgart so you can see what our brand is about.' And really I have to give it to them 'cause I don't think I could have understood it otherwise. And then once I had the experience of driving an AMG, it's not hard to get hooked. I think if you're an experiential-minded person that I think I am—I'm involved in music and other forms of expression—that when you get to drive an AMG on the track and follow a real driver, follow his line and really learn what that's all about, it's a hard habit to break.
What was it specifically about Mercedes or AMG that appealed to you so directly?
I think I saw the AMG process of the one man, one engine. I don't know, I kind of fell for that. I related it to, like, there is just an exact craftsmanship there that is a little bit different.
Before that visit were you into cars at all?
When we were making Paul's Boutique [in Los Angeles], I bought a Plymouth GTX 440 and I was psyched because, you know, I came from New York. I'm like, all right, this thing's bad ass—it's huge, it's got this great huge engine. But then also like a dumbass, because I am a rapper, the first thing I did is put in a sound system with literally two 15-inch woofers in the back seat and like a whole array of amps and crossovers to power everything. And nobody explained to me that there's no electronic infrastructure in a '68 Plymouth to support a system like that. Nobody helped me with the math [laughs]! A lot of people took my money to put in said stereo system, though.
How much did that end up costing you?
I think literally as much as the car, and the battery would die all the time because it was just so much draw. The guy was happy to take my check at the car-stereo place, but nobody was like, 'Oh no, why do you want to do this?' You probably have to have another battery to make it actually work.
What was it like moving to a car-centric city from New York? How did the Beastie Boys embrace the car culture?
Ad-Rock [Adam Horovitz] got a beautiful hunter green Range Rover which was an electrical nightmare. And [MCA, Adam] Yauch kind of won it, he bought a Fleetwood Brougham d'Elegance, I believe I'm gonna say '71. Maybe it was a little bit earlier, but it's as big a sedan as you can drive—like the rear seats literally had foot rests. Not lying, that is not an exaggeration. What an incredible car. And he put in an even bigger stereo system than I had. And oddly that car actually was kind of okay with the sound system. I think maybe Cadillacs were ahead of their time.
Speaking of Paul's Boutique, you guys have several car tracks and references on that album. There's "Car Thief," of course. But one of my favorite Beastie Boys songs of all time is "High Plains Drifter"—you know, 'Doing 120 plowing over mailboxes, radar detector to tell me where the cops is . . . '
Yeah, 'Dirty Mary Crazy Larry, on the run from Dirty Harry . . . I'm seeing blue and red flashing deep in the night, I got my alibi straight and I pulled over to the right.' Yeah, we wanted that song to be like an epic road trip. And for this Mille I meant to laminate a picture of Dom DeLuise and put it on the dashboard of my 300SL as my Cannonball Run reference—I just wanted it as like my homage to Dom DeLuise's finest work.
"Paul Revere" is a very cinematic song about a guy on the run, a narrative style which you guys are famous for.
Yeah, correct. Coming from New York it was like a fantasy that we could actually have whatever car we wanted. In New York City it's a pain in the ass to have a car, but when you move to L.A. you could have any car you want—you can drive a three-axle G-wagen if you want. It probably doesn't work well in certain parking structures, and you'll probably get some looks, but still.
And now you own an AMG C63 and an E63 S wagon?
The E wagon is incredible because what else like it is there? What else is there where you can take your kids to go surfing with surfboards and skateboards and go away for a weekend and fit everything in there and drive fast and safely. And at the same time you could also go to Home Depot and pick up whatever you need, and you could go to Laguna Seca on a weekend and follow an AMG driver on a track and hang, right? To have all that in one car and not have to have two or three cars to do that variety of things is pretty amazing.
And let's be honest, there's car culture in L.A. and identity gets wrapped up in there. And one of the things I love about the wagon is people just think I'm, like, a Beverly Hills mom. They have no fucking idea. Like I've parked it in so many different surf destinations up and down the California coast, and it's only just once in a while that people who really know about cars see it and are like, 'Whoa, dude.'
The E wagon is about as cool as you can get, honestly. Do you have any other dream cars?
I don't own a pickup, but I could go for like a [crew-cab] pickup. It doesn't have to be huge, I'm not expecting performance, so not a Raptor, but just something that's a little bit of fun. Maybe it is a Raptor, I don't know; I'm not, like, an off-road guy. I have a vintage fantasy of, like, being in Costa Rica or Nicaragua surfing somewhere, in either just an old Land Cruiser or Land Rover. I do feel like I've driven some four-wheel-drive vehicles on the sand and those two really do just eat it. Like, they're really good. And they really look great.
I think in terms of style, like Adidas Superstar [sneakers], there are certain things with intrinsic design, like a pair of Cons or even Vans classic slip-ons. When something's done in its form as best as it can be, it doesn't need to be updated. It's reached perfection. The SLs we drove on the Mille, I think that form, those Gullwings are perfect. They're not practically perfect—I'm actually interested—like, could you design a Gullwing where you don't need two people to roll your windows up or down? Also, why do the SLs get so hot even when you have the windows out? Is it because you're so far under the engine with your front legs?
That's a very good question because it gets ridiculously hot in there.
That's my only knock on that on the car—aside from the obvious limitations of technology—is that it gets so fucking hot in there. It does work when it's a cooler day and you open up that little window and you're going at a good clip. But it doesn't work when a day is warmer, like on the days where we were down by Rome. Then it doesn't really do anything for you.
No, but it is from 1955. Did you think you would enjoy driving a 60-year-old car that much?
No, I didn't. I would drive it again. I don't know exactly what the maintenance issues would be—let's remember we did have a team of mechanics that had these things running every morning and going for 13 hours every day without us having to think about it. But I would in a second take one down through the southwest of France into Spain. That would be so fun, I wouldn't hesitate. Well actually I would hesitate because there's no place to put a surfboard. It is literally impossible to put a surf rack on top.
What was the aspect that you like most about the machinery?
Aesthetically in its own way, it's like a perfect men's suit, or like when I talk about the [Converse Jack] Purcell or the Vans slip-on or whatever: It's perfection of a certain form. I mean, they nailed it. It's not going to get any better than that. You're eight years old and you have the Matchbox car of the Gullwing, and it's as good as it gets.
Also, at different points we were all kind of punishing that thing and giving it all we had. We're all going way faster and driving way more aggressively than we probably should have, given the brakes and all the technology involved. Everyone went at a pretty hard clip—except the day when traffic and frustration and lack of sleep really got the best of us. [Mike's team decided to bypass a checkpoint to avoid gridlock.]
At least you were smart enough to cheat—that traffic was brutal.
Not cheat—give up! We got taxed hard. We were in third yesterday before we had, like, an NBA Kyrie-level meltdown.
What do you think you'll remember about the Mille Miglia years from now?
The experience of not only driving these incredible cars in this weird mobile community, but then through literally the most beautiful and historic piazzas and central squares that man has ever built. The Mille is really about community. And that we actually get to just friggin' hit the accelerator and haul ass through these cobblestone streets going where usually people aren't even allowed to drive at all, into these piazzas, and people welcome us with open arms for punishing their cobblestones.
And the police escorts . . .
That's always a good time, and it's going to screw us up for awhile. We're going to be an L.A. and see lights and go, 'Oh, awesome. I'm going to go faster! I don't need to stop for a red light now.' And the other bad habit that I'm going to have to break is—I hope I don't actually do this, but it will cross my mind —I'm going to be in traffic on the PCH and be like, 'I'm just going to drive on the other side for awhile. I'm going to be safe about it, but I'm just going to drive on this side.' And then when there's oncoming traffic I'm going to try to pull back in, but then nobody's going to let me back in and it's going to be fatal.
That will be the last anyone saw of Mike D. Tell us about Adam Yauch driving a Ferrari on Mulholland.
It's in the Beastie Boys Book. Again, being New York guys we get out [to L.A.] and Yauch had rented a red Ferrari and is like, 'Yeah, I'm going to go for it.' I remember this is the License to Ill tour, and I had actually rented a Benz SL convertible—you know like Richard Gere, American Gigolo-style. Anyway, Yauch is flying around Mulholland and he pulled over cause he saw there was a Ferrari, and it was the actor Paul Williams who had run his red Ferrari off the road. And he had an epiphany that 'I don't want to end up being the incoherent guy that somebody recognizes that's driven his Ferrari off the road.'
He claims that centered him, made him realize he didn't want to be that guy.
Well, partially, yes.