Words for Yauch
Yesterday, while pumping gas, en route to picking up dinner, I shed a private tear. Half of me thought it was ridiculous – that we can’t ever really LOVE celebrities and therefore aren’t privy to the emotional whiplash that comes from their loss. I get the exponential (or is it existential?) thinking that the celebrity/fan bond is special, even personal, in a sense, because they are “there” through various phases of our growth and experience – their art benchmarks our memories, and memories are made truly special by sharing them with those we love. But to me that’s always sounded like media propaganda or hippy bullshit – no offense to the hippies (I’ve spent much of my life toeing your aesthetic). But my sentimental side, the side that kind of cried at Getty, would be remiss not to explore that angle.
I’ve read and watched numerous accounts of John Lennon’s murder. I remember seeing distraught strangers the day Jerry Garcia died. I remember Cobain, Biggie, Pac, Shannon Hoon, and other modern greats going too soon. Yet none dredged my gut like the passing of Adam Yauch, aka “MCA,” yesterday, Friday, May 4, 2012.
Those who know me know I love music – and I love none greater than that of the Beastie Boys. Licensed to Ill legitimized me as a white rap fan at age 10, and would later be singularly responsible for getting me into Zeppelin, via Bonham’s “Levee” drums on “Rhymin & Stealin.” Paul’s Boutique confused me – it was ahead of its time and I wasn’t ready for all the layers. But in a sample-based art form, Paul’s stands alone as the greatest (and probably most sued-over) piece of production this side of Dre, and today it’s the Beastie’s album I turn to most. Check Your Head was a revelation. At Camp High Rock, in the summer of ’92, the shit was ubiquitous! Our councilors were all bros from Brooklyn who looked, acted and talked exactly like the Beasties. They even performed “So Whatcha Want” at the end-of-session talent show – in a word, EPIC. The aforementioned track and “Pass the Mic” are two of my favorite songs of all time, and what’s further, Check Your Head earned the Beasties endless props for re-flexing their instrumental chops not heard since the punk/”Cookie Puss” days.
What other rap group at the time (or since, really, aside from The Roots) played their own instruments and experimented with other genres? Moving on – ’94, in my opinion, is the greatest year for hip-hop (but feel free to debate). While Nas, Biggie, Gangstarr, Jeru, Common, Organized Konfusion, and Outkast were busy dropping more serious, street-bound classics, the Beasties were lacing us with Ill Communication and lending some refreshing levity to the scene. I remember peaking in the back of a car to “Sure Shot.” I remember wondering what the hell that instrument was on “Flute Loop” and requiring more of it in my musical diet. I remember laughing to the nonchalance of “Get It Together,” and also thinking that I need look no further for a definition of cool than the “Sabotage” video. By 1998 I had discovered crazy amounts of new music at college, but that didn’t change the fact that (for me) Hello Nasty was the musical event of the year. “Intergalactic” was a triumphant re-entry and “The Negotiation Limerick File” straight gave me goose bumps. I remember driving solo through the Canadian night, eight hours, Burlington to Toronto, to see them perform in an outdoor amphitheater for 50,000 heads, general admission, and getting so amped that I repeated that very drive in reverse to get back to B-Town, nap, rise and rally for the next night’s show in Montreal. Then back to Burlington, and no sleep ‘til Philly so I could see them rock the Spectrum with Getz.
Maybe I do love MCA?
Now it’s Saturday morning. Pictures of my son rocking a Beasties onesie have been posted to Facebook. He watched dad plow through old videos and several beers yesterday afternoon. When he’s old enough to ask what my favorite band was, the answer will be self-evident in these pictures. I’ll be able to tell him that sometimes we act like punks when we are young, that we sample many formats in the quest for definition, that we sometimes contradict ourselves, and maybe even endorse actions we won’t look upon favorably later in life.
But I’ll also tell him to be diverse in his tastes and humor, that it’s ok to make songs as serious as “Bodhisattva Vow” and as goofy as “Boomin’ Granny.” I’ll tell him that MCA was the coolest of the Beasties because he had a god given rasp, a laid-back approach, and was rumored to have banged Madonna on her Like A Virgin tour in ’85. I’ll tell him that even those we idolize make bad decisions, like when, circa Paul’s Boutique, MCA indiscriminately fired a handgun at a passing car. I’ll tell him that the famous are flawed just like us. I’ll tell him that there’s a definite reason dad wore suede Pumas throughout high school, and that there is nothing unusual about lip-syncing in the mirror. I’ll tell him that we must allow for personal change despite what others may expect of us. I’ll teach him to be a feminist, and that to all the mothers, and the sisters, and the wives, and the friends, he should offer his love and respect to the end. I’ll tell him that dad and MCA both met the Dalai Lama and rallied around the hope for a free Tibet.
I’ll be able to show him that living for something larger than oneself is actually what validates life. When he asks about my wedding, I’ll tell him that Uncle Perrin said dad was “as cool as a cucumber in a bowl of hot sauce,” and that mom looked amazing. When he’s old enough, we’ll crack a couple Brass Monkeys (whatever the hell they are) and share our first drink to “Alive.” I’ll tell him that it’s ok to cry, and then I’ll breakdown the meaning of “bittersweet.” I’ll tell him that the artists worth respecting are those who make us more aware of ourselves, who allow us to enjoy ourselves, who forgive us for fucking up, but who always encourage us to grow in the process.
MCA Rest In Peace.