Music History

Adam Yauch’s Hilarious Alter Ego Epitomized the Beastie Boys’ Michievous Creativity

The story of Swiss music video director Nathaniel Hörnblowér.

Nathaniel Hornblower Beastie Boys

Mike D, Nathaniel Hörnblowér, and Ad-Rock

Frequent Beastie Boys collaborator Nathaniel Hörnblowér has an impressive resume. He directed classic Beasties videos (including ‘So What Cha Want’ and ‘Pass the Mic’) as well as the rap trio’s 2006 live concert film, Awesome; I Fuckin’ Shot That!. He is even credited for the iconic photograph on the cover of Paul’s Boutique. Nathaniel Hörnblowér, of course, was the ludicrous alter ego of Beastie Boy Adam Yauch. The character was an outlet for the group’s mischievous sense of humor –and it symbolized Yauch’s boundless creative presence in the band.

Sometime during the Paul’s Boutique era, a costumed caricature of a Swiss yodeler started showing up at press events. Nathaniel Hörnblowér wore lederhosen, a red beard, a feather in his cap, and always seemed to be packing a pipe. During interviews, Hörnblowér spoke in a ridiculous accent and waxed philosophical about his homeland.

When Yauch was on camera as himself, he delighted in weaving Hörnblowér’s mythology. He told one interviewer that his Swiss cousin was an “old yodeler” who “pretty much invented snowboarding.” Yauch’s ad-libbed bullshitting was almost poetic. He rambled about how Hörnblowér “built his own helicopter out of wood and plays a flugelhorn.”

Related: 20 Things You Didn’t Know about the Beastie Boys 

Hörnblowér’s most notorious public moment occurred at the 1994 MTV Music Video Awards, where ‘Sabotage’ director Spike Jonze was nominated for a ‘Best Direction’ award. When R.E.M. won the award, Hörnblowér stormed the podium, telling the crowd, “I’m from Switzerland, okay? Let me just tell everyone that. And since I was a small boy I had dreamed that Spike would win this. And now that this has happened, I want to tell everyone this is a farce, that I had all the ideas for Star Wars and everything.”Jonze feigned horror at the incident during an interview with MTV News, saying, “I wanted to stop it from happening, because it was just an appalling situation.”

Jonze was also a coconspirator in the Hörnblowér ruse during a 1994 segment of MTV’s ‘Get Late’ show (hosted by Kennedy), during which he explained, “Nathaniel is one of my early mentors in the film business…. He’s a Swiss filmmaker who started building his own cameras in the early fifties. I’ve learned quite a bit from him.”

The MTV incident wasn’t the only time that Yauch called on Hörnblowér to express his sense of gleeful outrage. In 2004, The New York Times published a sour review of the Beastie Boys’ ‘Ch-Check It Out Video,’ directed by Yauch under the Hörnblowér pseudonym. Reviewer Stephanie Zacharek said the video “shows the Beastie Boys moving as fast as they can but going nowhere at all.” Hörnblowér responded by writing to the Times and demanding that they send him a goat. In the letter, Nathaniel explained that not only was the reviewer mistaken about the quality of the video, but that the newspaper had been couriered to “my homeland, the Oppenzell” by means of a goat, which had died in the process. “Then I had to give the mailman one of my goats,” Hörnblowér explained, “so remember, you owe me a goat.”

In 2011, the Beasties cast David Cross as Nathaniel Hörnblowér for their star-studded ‘Make Some Noise’ video. Yauch also directed Cross in the short film ‘A Day In The Life Of Nathanial Hörnblower.’

David Cross Beastie Boys

David Cross as Nathanial Hörnblower in the ‘Make Some Noise’ video

The absurdism of the Hörnblowér character belied Yauch’s tremendous influence in the Beastie Boys. According to the book The Beastie Boys’ Paul’s Boutique (33 1/3), Yauch “often took the creative lead” during recording sessions. His music video directing career represents an immense part of his contribution to the band’s legacy – and a less humble man might’ve basked in the credit for directing hit videos. Yauch, however, made a joke of his influential role. It was characteristic of the visionary rapper, who was humble, hilarious, and brilliant to a fault.

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