His name is well known to fans of Paul’s Boutique from one line in 'Looking Down the Barrel of a Gun': “Coordinatin’ trim is my man Dave Scilken!” His lascivious touring title “Trim Coordinator” derived from the beer-drinkin’, breath-stinkin’ Licensed To Ill-era Beastie Boys, when Scilken’s nominal responsibility on the road was to corral willing girlies into the Beasties’ backstage bacchanal. Yet little is known publicly about who Dave Scilken really was.
In the film of the Paul’s Boutique release party atop the Capitol Records Tower, Scilken, sporting a Fifties flat-top haircut and with his red t-shirt tucked into his jeans, goofs on the roof with the rest of the Beastie inner circle. During the interview segment, the Boys summon Scilken to join them on-camera to discuss their forthcoming Christmas record, which, to much mirth, Scilken impishly announces will be called Dave Scilken Presents: Mike Diamond & the Beastie Boys, A Dave Scilken Christmas. “It’ll be out…um,” says Scilken, checking his watch, “this time next week!”
“Dave was a good friend,” says Dante Ross, producer and A&R man, who’d known Beastie Boys since he was 14. “He was a very good art director, but he never fully developed his own thing. He looked like this innocent kid, but he wasn’t that innocent. I could just never imagine Dave as a grown-up. He was always this irreverent kid.”
Scilken died of an apparent drug overdose in 1991. In an interview in Grand Royal Magazine, Issue #2, Mario Caldato, Jr. observed that it was after Scilken passed that the Beasties really felt the imperative to finish Check Your Head: “They knew they had something to do and the work got real focused. We had purpose and meaning.” In life, Scilken got a Paul’s Boutique name-check. In death, he inspired the completion of the album that brought the Beasties back to public popularity, including key track “Gratitude.” Check Your Head’s liner notes contain the indelible dedication: This Album Goes Out To David Scilken.
Scilken was so publicly linked to the Beastie Boys that a photo once appeared in Details magazine of him above the mistaken caption “Beastie Boy Adam Yauch.” Originally, Scilken’s closest friend in the Beastie Boys was Adam Horovitz. As young teenagers growing up in unreconstructed New York City in the early Eighties, Scilken and Horovitz (vocals and guitar, respectively), Arthur Africano (bass) and Adam Trese (drums) formed the goofball punk band The Young & The Useless. In the most famous photo of The Young & The Useless, the four band members line up tight from left to right: Dave Scilken rocking a mohawk haircut with liberty spikes; Adam Trese looning with a Beatle-esque mop-top; Adam Horovitz throwing a proto b-boy pose; and Arthur Aficano, wearing a wide-brimmed cap, laughing with the rest of them. The prevailing feeling is one of camaraderie and hilarity.
Just weeks before the 25th anniversary of the release of Paul’s Boutique, Arthur Africano sat down in a cheese shop in Silver Lake, California to talk Beastie pre-history. As Africano spoke of his friend Dave Scilken, a crinkly, twinkly grin enveloped his face. It said as much as the words that follow.
"There was nobody I was closer with at the time of the birth of the Beasties than Dave Scilken. He was many people's best friend. His ability to bond with humans was unparalleled. He could make friends and keep up social engagements at an impressive volume, more than anybody I knew. He had more friends than anybody I knew, and at times you thought he never slept. He knew so many people, was so close with so many people, went so many places and would just talk forever and always be doing something.
"When we met, he was eight and I was 10. I was in fifth grade when I first became friends with his older brother John. Outside of our grade school in New York, P.S. 41, John introduced me to his brother Dave. The day I met him, Dave was drawing in coloured sidewalk chalk, on 11th Street near the corner of 6th Avenue, right outside the school. In one square of the sidewalk he did this little piece of artwork in coloured chalk of a Hell's Angels logo, and under that he did a juxtaposed mirrored image and wrote “Heaven's Devils.” It was a weird double image. It really cracked me up. I thought That little kid's really cool! He was eight years old at the time. And then I really didn't see much of him after that because I went to a different school for sixth grade.
"Adam Horovitz and Adam Trese and I started our band The Young & The Useless not long after, in eighth grade. Once we started high school, I was taking school more seriously than the other guys; they were taking getting a band together more seriously. Just from hanging around the Village and the East Village, I reconnected with Dave Scilken and said, “I think this could be the singer in our band.”
"Dave was not shy. In fact, he wanted to be the manager more so. He'd been doing things like starting a fanzine, and he was managing a band called The Americans. He said, “There's an Americans gig tomorrow night, you know what that means.” No, what does that mean Dave? “It means tonight is... flyer night! You have to come out with me and paste flyers up all over town. I got the paste, I got the flyers, and you do is hold 'em and I'll do the glue, or just look out for cops. We gotta cover from St. Mark's to this place and that place...” He was always doing stuff like that. It wasn't specifically that Dave could sing, because he couldn't. He couldn't even keep time on hardcore songs. Whenever we were finishing the first four bars or the solo, we'd have to look at him and raise our guitar necks, and when we'd go down he knew that was when he had to start singing again. But his banter with the audience and his ability to deal with club people before and after the gig, he was always working it. Left to his own devices he could talk anybody into anything.
"He looked like the cutest little kid all the way through his entire life. He always looked years younger than he was. People couldn't believe the statements that would come out of his mouth. He would charm people. He kept this level of precociousness, this odd kind of wisdom without so much knowledge that people trusted him. He came off as sweet and honest and that worked for him almost his entire life.
"Adam and I were starting this band from when we were 13 and 14 but it took a while for it to get off the ground. When we finally were getting gigs, Adam wrote a song based on a one-paragraph blurb in a fanzine that said, “The band members are between 14 years old and 16 years old and have skinheads and mohawks.” Adam wrote a song called “14-16-Skinhead-Mohawk” and those were the only lyrics. It just went: der-der-der, “14! 16! Skinhead! Mohawk!” That's how I remember our ages because I was the second oldest one in the band. And that's how I remember Dave had the liberty spikes that he has in that photo of the band. He held that look for a while.
"It’s funny, the hat that I’m wearing in that photo, I had that hat a long time. It was from an upstate New York racetrack called Saratoga. It was where my heavily gambling brother and fun-family-outing dad wanted to go every August. What a ridiculous thing to hang onto for years, a free Cap Day cap, not from the Mets or the Yankees but from a racetrack. It had a paper brim, like a painter's cap, better than average elastic, and it didn't have staples it had stitching. All the guys in that scene identified that cap with me because I had it for so long. I took it to my freshman year of college in Austin. And the very first time the Beasties played Austin and opened for Madonna, I was there. I went to the gig and somewhere outside the Erwin Centre Arena after the show there was some unanticipated mobbing and they said, “Holy shit! We gotta get in the car! We'll see you later!”
"And then some girl was ripping my cap off my head and running away and I said, “Those girls took my...I've had that for six years...that was my favourite...” And somebody said, “You'll always remember that it was ripped off by some marauding teenyboppers.”
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