[24 January 2012]
After the mostly serious storytelling of “Johnny Ryall”, the Beastie Boys remind us once again that they are truly the masters of jokester rap. “Egg Man”, as Beastie Boy Adam Horovitz reports on the audio commentary for the 20th-anniversary reissue of Paul’s Boutique, was inspired by the trio’s longtime penchant for egg throwing. The boys would drop eggs from hotel room windows and drive around in limousines launching shells at innocent bystanders. As if to prove that an accomplished work of art can be inspired by anything, no matter how trivial or adolescent, the Beasties turn their shell-cracking exploits into a mock-heroic epic full of faux pathos and legitimate laughs.
“Egg Man” begins with the narrator noticing a bald man outside his window and launching an egg at his unprotected head. As if to confirm the old adage that once a criminal has committed a crime, he feels the urge to repeat it, the speaker then throws another egg at an unarmed man (he had no “egg gun”) in a convertible. These egg-throwing shenanigans quickly become habitual. Next, the criminal enters a man’s home, throws the yolk in his face, takes his cash, and leaves “my man standing with an egg moustache”. Our egg villain doesn’t rely on just one type of weapon, though. He sometimes uses hard boiled eggs instead of raw eggs (“tossed it out the window three minutes hot”). The speaker talks about how “drive-by eggings” are “plaguing L.A.” and begs us not to laugh, for “it’s no joke”. Indeed, crime doesn’t pay, so the jokester finds himself in a cell for his disservice to society. By the end of the song, though, it appears that the speaker has decided to use his egg-throwing powers for good. He warns us that “You made the mistake you judge a man by his race / You go through life with egg on your face”. The Egg Man has become a kind of vigilante, then, a Robin Hood figure who uses eggings to bring justice to those who have shown hatred toward their fellow humans.
“Egg Man” is full of so many puns and cultural egg allusions that it’s nearly impossible to list them all. We are informed that “Humpty Dumpty was a big fat egg”, as if we didn’t know this. We get philosophical musings like “an egg, a symbol of life” and “which came first, the chicken or the egg?” The Beasties reference Dr. Seuss’ classic children’s book Green Eggs and Ham and the protagonist Sam, I Am. The boys end with the imperative lines, “Not like the crack that you put in a pipe / But crack on your forehead here’s a towel now wipe” .
More impressive than the song’s lyrical allusions, though, is the way the tune’s samples comment with sophistication regarding the plot. We get snippets from the shower scene of Alfred Hitchcock’s classic 1960 film Psycho, as if to suggest that the eggings are akin to a violent murder. The group uses samples of dialogue from Taxi Driver, equating the Egg Man with the mentally disturbed, possibly psychopathic protagonist of Martin Scorsese’s 1976 film. The song’s insane groove itself, anchored by a bassline from Curtis Mayfield’s “Superfly”, points to the song’s ironic nature. No doubt many have found themselves dancing to the inescapable beat only to be surprised by the song’s absurdist subject matter.
If there’s a theme to “Egg Man”, perhaps—much like in Alexander Pope’s masterful satire The Rape of the Lock—it’s that we often tend to make mountains out of mole hills. The Beasties paint the Egg Man as a kind of picaresque anti-hero, one who takes pleasure in surreptitiously breaking petty laws, but he is treated as a legitimate threat to society. I can’t help but think that Saturday Night Live cast members Andy Samberg and Chris Parnell were inspired by “Egg Man” when they made their satirical SNL digital short “Lazy Sunday” in 2005. A story of two urban white dudes bravely trying to attend a matinee showing of The Chronicles of Narnia and eat some tasty cupcakes performed in a hardcore rap style is akin to the Beastie’s cartoonish horror story about egg-throwing. If we only know one thing about the Beastie Boys, it’s that they never take themselves too seriously.