We lost another Beastie Boy, this time not its de facto leader, but one of its lost members: founding guitarist, John Berry.
The history of popular music is full of stories story about someone getting kicked out or not sticking around before their band eventually becomes massively famous. They become a trivia question for the ages, as young fans form conclusions on how stupid someone could be at blowing their shot at the big time, too naïve to realize that it would take prophetic foresight to assume your garage band would one day perform in a sold-out basketball arena.
John Berry was one of those guys.
Popular music is also filled with stories of irresistible personalities, those able to catalyze and create ideas that are just wild enough to work.
John Berry was one of those guys, too.
He formed a band called the Young Aborigines with his buddies: Michael Diamond, Jeremy Shatan, and Kate Schellenbach.
Hearing stories about a young Michael Diamond—who was too shy and socially awkward to even say hello to his friends’ parents—it’s utterly amazing he became the frontman of band, one that would sell out basketball arenas quite regularly.
Crazy people make you do crazy things.
When hardcore began taking off in New York City, Berry simultaneously formed a punk group called…the Beastie Boys. It was in his loft where they played their first show and did some of their early recordings. Traveling to each band’s practice was as easy as bassist, Jeremy Shatan, tagging in Adam Yauch (Diamond and Schellenbach were also in the Beastie Boys).
The Beastie Boys got some notoriety around the city, and when things started getting more serious for the band, that’s when Berry lost focus and was eventually replaced by Adam Horovitz, who played guitar in fellow NYC punk act, The Young and The Useless.
Long story short, the Beastie Boys—as a goof—recorded a (kinda) hip-hop song about an ice cream cake, dropped their instruments, and later became the first rap group to have an album top the Billboard 200.
John Berry, being the wayward soul that he was, ironically benefitted the Beastie Boys (at least the version that we came to love), as Horovitz fit in perfectly, had no problem transitioning from punk to hip-hop, and arguably became the group’s de facto rock star.
In 1994, when the Beastie Boys released Some Old Bullshit, a compilation album of their old punk stuff (as well as that song about the ice cream cake), John Berry became a minor celebrity—at least in alternative circles—when his name and likeness appeared multiple times in the liner notes.
Being a Beastie Boys diehard, I was always curious about John Berry. Where did he live? Did he still play music? Did he still hangout with the Beastie Boys?
When I met and interviewed the Beastie Boys for the first time, I asked about John Berry and received a very casual answer. Horovitz said he saw him at a show in Brooklyn a year prior. It seemed like Berry had drifted into the ether, much like many of our old high school friends.
Years earlier I attempted to ask the same question at a Beastie Boys concert on a homemade poster that read: WHERE’S JOHN BERRY?
Much to my dismay the venue didn’t allow signs, but I snuck it down my pants anyway.
During the concert—when the lights were at their brightest—I pulled the sign out of my pants. Before any of the Beastie Boys could focus on it, I was swarmed by security guards with multiple members pulling out their walkie-talkies and frantically pointing at me. (I guess I was high priority, since I was holding the only sign in the entire arena.)
Fearing that I might get escorted out of the building, I launched the poster towards the stage and made a mad dash towards a cluster of people.
When I heard about John Berry’s death, this was one of the first memories that came to mind. At least to me, it was a microcosm of his career: he never made it to that sold-out basketball arena, and though his name was briefly displayed in bold letters, there was a force that made him fade into the ether once more—BUT—as thousands of people gleefully bounced around to the Beastie Boys’ music, it’s neat to think that none of it would have been possible without John Berry.