It’s autumn 1993 and if you were very, very lucky, you would have managed to lay your hands on a new magazine published by none other than the Beastie Boys. Their short-lived Grand Royal title was a total delight despite its utter chaos. Here’s why…
Scratch a random music fan and under the surface you’ll probably find that, at one point or other, they produced a hastily assembled photocopied fanzine and sold it out of a Tesco bag at gigs for 50p. In 1993, the Beastie Boys turned that whole idea of the fanzine on its head with the publication of their own, Grand Royal magazine.
It was a strange time for the Beasties. ‘Ill Communication’, which appeared the following year, would catapult them into the serious big-league and would be the first in a run of three US Number One albums.
Eyes were firmly on the musical output and there seemed little interest in their diversifying business interests, which also included the quirky but brilliant Grand Royal Records, and the X-Large clothing range.
At the time, many wondered why they were bothering, what with ‘Ill Com’ about to ride roughshod over pretty much everything. The Beasties didn’t help matters, with increasingly rare interviews. One of the few times Mike D talked about the empire was when Select magazine’s Sam Upton visited the operation in LA in early 1997. It was quite the eye-opener.
“We didn’t sit down and think, ‘Hey, let’s make a magazine,’” Mike D told Sam. “We had all these people writing to us about the band and we weren’t getting back. We had this simple ambition of a newsletter, but then we saw a couple of other bands’ fanzines and they were just like, ‘This is what the band’s up to now’. We were like, ‘No way!’. So we made it into a proper magazine.”
“It was an entirely unpredictable publication that would have a feature on Ted Nugent followed by a piece about Bill Clinton’s dog,” recalls Sam Upton, who these days runs marketing agency, Soul Content. “Because there wasn’t much commercial control, Mike D, the two Adams, and their mates could do pretty much whatever they liked, which resulted in a situation where you’d never know when the next issue would come out – or if it would at all.”
The first issue of Grand Royal, with Bruce Lee on the cover, appeared in the autumn of 1993. Its 76 pages were a total riot: Lunch with Kiss at a fan convention, art with the colourblind George Clinton, fashion tips from the idiosyncratic Long Island auto body shop owner Joey Buttafuoco, and a raft of interviews by Mike D, including The Pharcyde, Q-Tip and Def Jam’s Russell Simmons. Inevitably there was stuff about Tibet and there was even a bit of Beasties album news.
The print run was just 7,500 and it sold out in double quick time. It’s rare to see a copy of Issue One today. The last time I saw one a couple of years ago, it went for upwards of $150.
The original aim was to publish three issues of the magazine a year, and there was talk of a worldwide distribution deal being inked, but with six editors, including all three Beasties, all doing what the hell they liked, the operation was a study in organised chaos.
“We visited the office – a small warehouse on the outskirts of the city,” remembers Sam.
“There were about 10 or so young Californians wandering around, some working, some not, and in a room overlooking the warehouse space was Mike D, fielding calls like a New York businessman. I didn’t expect him to be as hands-on as this. I assumed there would be layers of management and an editor he left the decision-making to, but he was involved in every aspect of the magazine.
“I wasn’t told about any great plan for Grand Royal other than ‘We do it for as along as we enjoy it’. The place wasn’t exactly a hive of activity – there was a lot more happening on the indoor basketball court there – so it was perhaps no great surprise new issues would come out months late.”
Or in the case of Issue Two, a year overdue. Sam (who remember worked for a successful UK monthly) questioned the sense of the magazine coming out so late. He asked if the advertisers ever complained.
“Oh yeah,” replied managing editor Jamie Fraser. “They get pretty irate, but that’s part of the allure. You can advertise in any magazine that comes out on time.”
Issue Two, which included a Biz Markie seven-inch flexi-disc and was twice the size of its predecessor, and featured the famous mullet haircuts article (”Our impassioned plea for all peoples to stop doin’ the do that’s hair, there, and everywhere”) and a 24-page guide to cover star Lee “Scratch” Perry. Despite being brilliant, the 50,000 print run was wildly ambitious and they found themselves (probably literally) sat on tens of thousands of unsold copies in the office.
Grand Royal called it a day with Issue Six in 1997. Issues Three and Four really saw them hit their stride. The former featured an iron-on transfer (which is still in my copy) and the cover pointed to an utterly brilliant “32-page history of everything analog with Bob Moog…’, preceding our own recent Moog cover by 20 years. Great minds and all that, though.
Inside, there were a number of great articles, including Spike Jonze’s ‘The perpetrator’s guide to Hollywood hotel swimming pools’, a 10-page history of Adidas, and a piece about the paintings of Evel Knievel, while Issue Four’s masterstroke was ‘The Turntable: A visual Hi-fi history’, which included a giant poster featuring 100+ record players. According to beastiemania.com, Mike D often compared the mag to a fine wine, claiming “each issue is designed to age gracefully, with mellow undertones, and a fruity finish.” It really was a total treat of a publication.
“Looking back, I don’t think there was a Puff Daddy-style desperation for world domination, just a desire to keep being creative in the increasingly large gaps between records,” says Sam. “There was the hint of very rich and periodically bored young men ploughing their money into business ventures rather than hand it to the taxman. There certainly didn’t seem to be too much panic that their offices were full of cardboard boxes containing unsold back issues of Grand Royal.”