The History of the Young Aborigines
In a January 2003 conversation with Beastiemania.com,
founding member of the
Young Aborigines, Jeremy
Shatan cleared up a lot of the confusion about the group that
would later lead to the formation of the Beastie Boys. The story
begins when Jeremy Shatan and Michael
Diamond were in seventh grade. Michael Diamonds
older brother David, and my older brother Greg, had been great
friends. Therefore it seemed fitting that Mike D and I clicked
too. Pretty quickly our friendship began to focus on our growing
interest in music. At the time, Michael was already taking drum
lessons and I was still trying to learn piano. In fact, we were
in the Walden Jazz Band together (note: Walden was the school
we went to.) When the whole ska revival happened which included
bands like The Specials, The English Beat, & The Selector,
I even thought of taking up the trombone but never did.
by Kate Schellenbach
|Before long John Berry joined up with Jeremy Shatan who
then in turn introduced him to Michael Diamond. The three
then formed a tightly bound friendship that would later become
the core of the Young Aborigines. Sometime around 7th
or 8th grade, John Berry
came to Walden. I hit it off with him immediately. It helped
that we both lived above 96th Street, which back then was
considered somewhat of a no-man's-land. After a while, I got
the idea of introducing them to each other. So we all got
tickets to see Joe Jackson. A punk group called the Members
happened to be the opening act. As soon as they started in,
John began pogo-ing madly in his seat and he kept on throughout
their entire set. At the intermission, John Berry went to
the bathroom and Mike D turned to me and said, What's
up with this guy? He's totally insane! I said, No,
no, he's cool, he just has a lot of energy.
As time went on, we were all hanging out and spending more time
together. And logically since John Berry was learning guitar and
Mike D had the drums, I suggested that they get together and play
music. So the first sounds of what would later become the Young
Aborigines were just guitar and drums, with me in the background
making snide comments. It just seemed natural for me to get a
bass guitar and join the group. Pretty shortly after getting an
instrument and taking a few lessons, I was jamming with Mike and
John. We wanted to make music that was a stew of all the stuff
we were listening to. Groups like the Gang of Four, Siouxsie &
the Banshees, Joy Division, the Raincoats, Young Marble Giants,
and dub reggae were what we were into at the time. Due to the
fact that my neighborhood was full of Cuban immigrants who played
fantastic salsa, I also wanted to add a little Latin influence
to the mix. We came up with the idea that the music should be
primitive in some way, which is how we came up with the Young
Aborigines as the name of the band. I even bought a record of
Australian Aborigine music for inspiration!
Schellenbach, who later went on to be in the Beastie Boys
and Luscious Jackson, was the next addition to the Young Aborigines.
Mike D and John befriended a group of girls they dubbed
the "bag ladies." They chose that name because the girls
dressed almost in rags just like the homeless women around New
York, who carried all their possessions around in shopping bags.
Kate Schellenbach was one of them, as was Jill Cunniff, who both
later went to be in Luscious
Jackson. Kate wanted to play drums, so we asked her to be
the percussionist in the Young Aborigines. Using a combination
of Mike D's old drums, a conga drum, and other stuff that was
lying around, Kate played standing up. She looked just like Maureen
Tucker in the Velvet Underground.
Now that the four members of the Young Aborigines had come together,
it was time to compile the material that would become their repertoire.
After awhile we started assembling a set of songs. Our songs
were not written in the conventional sense. Instead they usually
arose out of a sort of collective improvisation that began with
one member's idea. For example, I might come in and say, Check
out this bass line. I'd play for a bit and then John would
start working on a contrasting guitar part. Michael would proceed
to find the rhythm and begin assembling a drum pattern which Kate
then would interlock with him. However once the songs were finished,
there was almost no improvisation. No one played solos. Maybe
in the end, I would have a few licks that I could add in at the
end of the song and Mike would have an extra fill or two to spice
One of the things we would do at
the end of rehearsals was play a song I called "Asshole".
This consisted of me playing guitar, John on bass, Kate at the
kit and Michael on the mic. This was the beginning of his being
a front man. His "singing" was mainly consisted of shouting
"Asshole!" and insulting each member of the band in
turn. It was a good way to blow off steam before putting down
the instruments and dancing maniacally to Michael Jacksons
Off The Wall or Uprising by Bob Marley and the Wailers.
In the book American Hardcore: A Tribal
History, author Steven Blush states that the Young Aborigines
had various singers. Although the book has other inaccuracies,
such as misspelling Shatans last name, that fact is not
far from the truth as Jeremy Shatan explained to Beastiemania.com.
John wrote lyrics to several of the songs, but was not really
interested in singing. This led to our auditioning practically
anybody who was interested to sing in the band. For example, Jill
Cunniff tried out as did some of the girls from Walden. Yet in
the end we were never really satisfied. We gradually started to
accept the idea that we would be an instrumental group. This led
to our performing without a vocalist in our two live performances,
both of which took place on the same night.
In the liner notes of the Some
Old Bullshit, Mike D briefly mentions the two shows that
the Young Aborigines performed at. Fortunately for us at Beastiemania.com,
Shatan was able to recall more details. Somewhere around
this time, in the summer of 1981, we got a gig at 171A.
Then somehow we got another gig for the same night, opening for
a more established band at another club. The first show went especially
well, mainly because the audience was almost entirely made up
of friends. Michael Diamond's brother, Stephen, got it all on
tape. The entire set was recorded including the obnoxious guy
sitting next to him who said, That was nice! in a
nasal voice after every song. The rest of the night was a bit
of a blur due to exhaustion. However, I remember getting home
at about 5:00 a.m. and just sitting in my chair for an hour. Then
my dad came in and asked me to make him breakfast.
Just as the Young Aborigines were on their
way to getting more gigs the band began to fall apart. After
our big night, things seemed to just dissipate. Mike D had met
another kid named Adam Yauch
in the clubs. They both were into hardcore, as was John somewhat.
Adam and I got along fine, but there was not really a place for
both of us in the band. While Adam liked what we were doing and
respected my playing, he was not interested in sounding like what
we were playing. I still remember showing him how to use his thumb
and pluck strings for that funky Larry Graham effect.
Eventually what happened was that
the Young Aborigines would rehearse and then Adam would show up
and what later became the Beastie Boys would play. I would usually
go home and do homework at that time. Frankly, I was not into
the hard, fast rules type of stuff that they were
playing, which was heavily influenced by bands like The Necros.
Then I went away for the rest of the summer and when I came back
things had just continued with the Beastie Boys while the Young
Aborigine's had been shelved. In time, they were gigging all over
the place, most memorably at The Kitchen, a legendary avant-garde
performance space. Then Polly
Wog Stew came out. I wasn't too into that sound, but I
thought it was pretty funny. I had dinner with Mike D sometime
after that and I remember him telling me that they had just recorded
this song where they really fucked up the bass sound and had made
a prank phone call to Carvel. I still think "Cookie Puss"
is pretty damn amusing.