I had just wrangled my daughter into her stroller when the phone rang. Since my husband rarely calls at 10:30 in the morning, I picked up, happy to hear his voice. But his tone was somber, almost apologetic. “MCA died, Honey.” I felt all the blood drain out of my head and limbs, going straight to my heart, which took off in wild variations, not unlike a beat from Paul’s Boutique. “What?! What?!!!” And then I was crying in the middle of the sidewalk, feeling like I’d lost a close friend, when really it was a man I’d never even met.
That is what good artists do — they give you their art as a gift, which makes you feel like a greater part of the world, close to another human that you have never had a linear conversation with, instead having conversed on a whole other level, allowing yourself to be moved by their creations. Oh, how the Beastie Boys moved me. I think I’ve created illegal dance moves to their songs, things that would make me blush profusely when faced with the evidence in the cold light of day. Something about their ability to be goofy and serious at the same time, set over heavily sampled beats, just made you want to dance in the most wild-out ridiculous ways possible. The dance floor was cleared at my wedding, when Joel’s Haitian relatives and my Connecticut working class guests were shocked by what could have taken over the college boys who were now inexplicably doing push-ups and knocking bodies, while the women were literally jumping on top of each other and screaming along the words to Root Down. And then they joined right in, because, come on, the Beasties are universal.
I once had a crush on a guy who informed me, knowingly smug, that he didn’t care for the Beastie Boys. “The way they come IN all at ONCE is so overRATED. They annoy me.” The crush lasted as long as that car ride. Anyone who can’t get into the joy and groove that the Beastie Boys create was never going to get my bra off.
I first discovered the Beastie Boys when I was 12, which was kind of perfect, as their early stuff was so immature that it fit my tween development to a tee. My best friend Meagan and I videotaped ourselves rapping along to Fight For Your Right, even convincing her mom to come in and “bust us”. Thank God YouTube was not around in 1993.
Everyone has their favorite Beastie Boys album, and though I know others were perhaps more groundbreaking or classic, Check Your Head was just my album. It combined enough punk sensibilities for my little alterna-chick to get behind, and I remember carrying around the cracked CD case to play at every friend’s house I went to.
Adam Yauch was a rare being, a hip-hop celebrity who had a spiritual awakening and was not obnoxious about it, just let it change him radically and then found a way to bring that into his art and life in inspiring ways. I mean, what other celebrities have changed so radically for the better, and created so many opportunities for others to get involved in activism? I hadn’t even heard of the plight of the Tibetan people before MCA took on their cause.
When 9/11 happened, my husband and I bought our tickets to the New Yorkers Against Violence concert, the proceeds of which all went to help victims of the World Trade Center tragedy, and went to the Hammerstein Ballroom to see the Beastie Boys themselves. It was a kick-ass show, and a night of healing, as all of us were there to say, “We are incredibly sad that this happened, and we are desirous of peace in response.” Yoko Ono’s set was particularly strange, and mostly consisted of her howling, but at the end she yelled, “We’ll make it!” with so much surety and pride that I deeply believed her.
Lately I have really been pining for the 90’s, when there was still music that was radical, dangerous, that called the system into question enough to irritate lawmakers, middle-aged parents, and talk radio pundits. When was the last time you heard something on the radio like Sure Shot? Well, probably yesterday, when the whole world was in mourning for Adam Yauch, whose life is an example of someone who stayed true to his community and reached out beyond the boundaries of it at the same time. I am so grateful to him for the joy his work brought to my life, from the audacity of Nathaniel Hornblower’s antics to the way MCA’s rhymes just made me want to get up and embarrass myself on the dance floor. My heart goes out to his wife, daughter, and the brothers Adam and Mike that he shared his life with. But it is also with all the people of my generation, who feel that we are losing our friend.
“Surely, he was all real things to us: our blue-striped unicorn, our double-lensed burning glass, our consultant genius, our portable conscience, our supercargo and our one full poet.”
― J.D. Salinger, Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction