In 1985, I was working for MTV News. We generated music news copy that was read, with relative degrees of competence or indifference, by Martha, Mark, JJ, Nina, and Alan. There were five or six of us newswriters in a medium-sized office/bullpen; we spent our days talking to managers and publicists and rapping out 60 word stories about upcoming Scorpion tours, occasionally slipping in items about Fela or Robyn Hitchcock to amuse ourselves. It was a small, convivial office which resembled the Mary Tyler Moore newsroom to a surprising degree (in case you don’t think newsrooms are actually like that, this one was). It was a delightful place to work. Merle Ginsberg, bless her heart, had landed me the job in late 1983, and by ’85 the cast of characters in the office were Michael Shore, Stu Cohn, Kathy Somach, Michael Azzerad (or did he come a little later?), and John Norris (who was not yet a VJ). I was the youngest person in the office; the second youngest was our boss, Doug Herzog. Doug later became president of everything. If you ever see him, tease him for the fact that (in a later job) he canceled Mystery Science Theatre 3000, the greatest TV show of all time. Doug hates it when you do that.
The office was on 57th and Broadway — in the Colosseum Books building.
John Norris and I shared a desk, and we ended each day by watching Jeopardy at 7:30. I miss this ritual; both John and I were excellent Jeopardy players. For dinner, I would often have pizza with anchovies from nearby Mariellas; although it goes without saying that Mariellas was, at that time, the best non-Hoboken/Brooklyn slice in New York, I undertook this ritual largely just to annoy John, who somehow found the concept of anchovies spectacularly repugnant. With every bite, literally with every bite, he would sneer at me and say “How could you? How could you?”
After Jeopardy was over, three or four nights a week I would strap my bass on my back and walk sixty blocks downtown, regardless of the weather, to rehearse with my band, Hugo Largo. We rehearsed in a ground floor apartment on 9th street between 1st avenue and avenue A. It was good exercise and allowed me plenty of time to congratulate myself on what a stunning young artist I was.
Doug, who ran the department, was extremely tolerant of my extracurricular interests, which involved not infrequent touring with the Glen Branca Ensemble (I was a permanent member of the group from late 1983 to mid 1986), and creating elaborate hoaxes that usually involved the office xerox machine and near-criminal abuse of the concept of the inter-office memo. Hoaxes were a lot more fun before the computer era.
Now, by mid-1985, I already had a long-standing relationship with the Beastie Boys. I may detail this elsewhere, but I was integrally involved in the beginning of their career four years earlier, one of my best friends at the time was Rick Rubin, and around this time Rick, Mike Dugan and I were tossing around ideas for a Beastie Boys movie (it was a variation on the standard guys-who-need-to-stay-in-haunted-house-to-inherit-money plot; only it was going to be called The Beastie Boys are Scared Shitless, which would have made it instantly superior to all other films of that milieu).
In the middle of 1985, the Beastie were on the precipice of breaking big. The “Rock Hard” single was getting a lot of attention, License to Ill was on the way out, and the band had just been invited by Madonna to be the opening act on her Like A Virgin tour.
One day, Rick Rubin asked me to meet him for dinner. We saw each other fairly often, so this wasn’t that unusual. We would usually discuss grandiose concepts to take over the music industry, sometimes involving an idea we had for a super-aggressive, super political hardcore metal/punk band that was to be called The Jews. Rick was reading a lot of Meir Kahane in those days, and around this time he solemnly presented me with a copy of Kahane’s Time To Go Home.
I think we met at a Chinese place he favored on University Place, where he always ordered the General Tso’s chicken. Rick told me that the Beasties had definitely decided to do the Madonna tour, and that this was a huge break for them. He then patiently explained that the Beasties were still kids, and a little bit out of control, he was too busy to go on the road with them, and that Rick needed someone he could trust to keep an eye on them.
It did make a little sense that Rick would ask me to be a tour manager; the Beasties liked me, and I had some experience with touring (both due to the time I had spent touring with Branca, and because I had spent a lot of time on the road with different bands when I was a journalist — I had worked actively as a journalist from 1978 to 1983). Rick was also well aware of my connection to MTV News, and I am sure he thought that it would help to have an MTV employee actively involved with the Beasties.
However, what Rick asked me next surprised me.
“The band also needs a DJ,” he explained. “So I want you to tour manage and be on stage with them as a DJ.”
Despite the fact that I had DJ’ed extensively at clubs in the early 1980s, I had never done ‘artful’ scratchy and bumpy type DJ’ing before, so I told him I didn’t think I could do it.
“Not a problem,” Rick cheerfully answered. “I can teach you everything you need to know in an afternoon.”
I was definitely intrigued. Every 23-year-old has to dream, at some point, of going on a big rock’n'roll tour (Hugo Largo, at that point, were just playing small-ish clubs and performance art spaces). At rehearsal that evening, I told my band about it, and they seemed sufficiently amused by the whole idea, and didn’t think that the time away would hurt us too much.
I was inclined to take the gig, but didn’t know how it might effect my job. Somehow, because Doug had allowed me a week or ten days off here and there to tour with Branca, I though he might be amenable to working something out, especially because it was Madonna.
The next day, I spoke to Doug. Doug’s office was attached, via glass wall, to the main newsroom.
Doug patiently listened to me. He then courteously but firmly explained that he didn’t think he could hold my job for me for the six or eight weeks I would be away. Now, I was making about 25 grand a year at MTV News — a LOT of money for a musician living in Hoboken who paid $475 for a railroad flat — and I quite liked my job there. Doug, sensing my confusion, then told me “Look… it will almost certainly cost you your job here, and what will you get in return? Okay, maybe you’ll get to see Madonna’s tits, and you’ll probably have a good time, but Tim, remember…there are no xerox machines on a tour bus.”
Then, with exquisite timing, Doug held up my most recent artfully honed piece of hoaxery: A picture of a baseball team, each face carefully replaced by the face of grotesque child star Mason Reese, along with an accompanying fake memo asking people to join the MTV softball team. This has appeared in the mailbox of every employee.
I agreed to stay, and didn’t leave MTV news until I went full time with Hugo Largo about a year and a half later (I had a later stint with MTV after Hugo Largo’s defenestration in mid 1989, but that’s another story).
The next day I snuck off to xerox machine and created about a thousand one dollar bills, each with Doug’s face on it. For years thereafter, at opportune moments I would pull out one of the Doug dollars.
So I didn’t become a temporary Beastie Boy, though I am happy to say I made one significant contribution to the tour: when the band played Radio City Music Hall, before the show I fed Adam Yauch a line that a journalist colleague of mine, Dave Schulps, had once told me he had heard 70s rock monstrosity The Godz say on stage: “New York, you have the best cheeseburgers and the best pussy.” Adam ended the show with it.