I don’t normally get emotional about celebrity deaths, but I have to say, the passing of Adam Yauch (pronounced yowk), a/k/a MCA of the Beastie Boys, hit me hard, for a lot of reasons. Last year, I lost a very dear friend to cancer, and I know more people now than I ever dreamed I would who have been touched by the evil hand of cancer. When you lose a dear friend at the young age of 60 or you read that a 47-year-old has lost the battle, as is the case with MCA, because of this horrific disease, you get sad at first, you feel helpless, and then you just get pissed off. It’s a disease that is no respecter of persons and it’s like an unbeatable enemy that cannot be defeated, no matter what you throw at it.
But I digress…
When I first heard the Beastie Boys, it was on a crackly A.M. radio station back in the glory days of my teens, and it was one of their first big singles, No Sleep Till Brooklyn, from their debut album, Licensed to Ill. It was unlike anything we’d ever heard before: a blistering mix of rock and hip-hop with a beat that made you move your ass, whether you wanted to or not. They were irreverent upstarts that came out of nowhere and made their mark on the music scene almost overnight, and it’s hard for me to believe that some of their music is now almost thirty years old.
While they started off as a band of young hooligans, as the years went on, they evolved in a way that most rock musicians these days don’t, Yauch especially, and their lyrics reflected that evolution. Some of their earlier lyrics were undoubtedly questionable (though, I still love them), but lyrics from their later music showed a maturity and an awareness that you don’t often see:
I want to say a little something that’s long overdue
The disrespect to women has got to be through
To all the mothers and sisters and the wives and friends
I want to offer my love and respect to the end
~Sure Shot, 1994
I’m taking doody rhymes to the brand new height
I shine on the mic like UltraBrite
Created a monster with these rhymes I write
Goatee metal rap please say goodnight
Now here’s a little something that you might not like
My DJ’s name is Mix Master Mike
It’s a real pity that you people got to bite
But I could understand ’cause it sounds so nice
Reading you the news ’cause I’m Country Mike
Use a microphone like Shazam uses tights
Try to keep clear of that hate and spite
So I keep my mind still like the still of night
Now who in the world do you want to fight
It’s against the system we should unite
Homophobics ain’t alright
If you learn to love then you might love life
Dip dip dive so-so-socialize
Open up your ears and clean out your eyes
If you learn to love you’re in for a surprise
It could be nice to be alive
Yauch was a Buddhist, who helped organize the effort to free Tibet, which became a pop culture touchstone in the 90s, with the Tibetan Freedom concerts, which raised over $2 million for the cause. In the aftermath of 9/11, his Milarpa Foundation made a stand:
In the wake of September 11, 2001, Milarepa organized New Yorkers Against Violence, a benefit headlined by Beastie Boys at New York’s Hammerstein Ballroom, with net proceeds disbursed to the New York Women’s Foundation Disaster Relief Fund and the New York Association for New Americans (NYANA) September 11th Fund for New Americans–each chosen for their efforts on behalf of 9/11 victims least likely to receive help from other sources.
It’s hard to know where the Beastie Boys will go from here, or if they’ll go at all. Their recent induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame was more than deserved, and his absence from the proceedings should have been an indication for where we are now.
I know I am only one of the very many who cannot express how sad I am at Adam’s passing. The B-Boys have been a part of my life’s soundtrack for decades, and their musical legacy has been interwoven into the fabric of my life. They never took themselves too seriously, and they were never afraid to poke fun at anything and everything. And even now, when I think to my (hopefully) years ahead, I know that I will still be “body movin’” to the Beastie Boys, even if it’s only a wheelchair butt-shake.
May your spirit pass in peace, MCA…you will be missed, but you will never be forgotten.
Well I got to keep it going, keep it going full steam
Too sweet to be sour, too nice to be mean
On the tough guy style I’m not too keen
To try to change the world, I will plot and scheme
WATCH the Beastie Boys’ “Intergalactic” (1998):