On the afternoon of Friday the 4th, I logged in to a social website I belong to and saw that headline on someone’s post: RIP MCA.
My stomach sank, my jaw dropped, and my mind raced. I remembered that he had cancer. I remembered that he had not shown up to the Beastie Boys’ induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. “I should have known he was this close,” I thought. Another friend of mine is a hospice nurse, and when Steve Jobs stepped down as Apple CEO last summer, he told us all “He’s getting his life in order. It won’t be long now,” or something to that effect.
But that’s not all I remember about MCA, or Adam Yauch.
My first memory of the Beastie Boys was hearing that awful song on the radio, “(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party).” I was in high school, and it still seemed lunkheaded and incredibly lowbrow. I would change the station whenever that dumb song came on. To me, this wasn’t rap. Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five & the Sugarhill Gang were rap.
I think I saw the video on MTV shortly after that, and realized that this was a little *too* lunkheaded. Very over-the-top. This was parody, but it wasn’t poking fun at rap culture, it was poking fun at lunkhead culture.
That’s when I first saw MCA – whacking a shoe against his head, a move I hadn’t seen since Spicoli in Fast Times. Then the door burst down, he strode in wearing his black leather jacket, grabbed a can from a guy, swigged, threw the can at the guy’s head, spun another guy around and spit the liquid in that guy’s face. Definitely not the kind of behaviour my parents or any other adult I knew would condone.
Naturally, my opinion of the Beastie Boys changed right then and there.
They were part of the soundtrack to my junior year of high school. Our school had a “talent show” where I’m sure some other acts showed real talent, but Pete, Ted and I lip-synched to “The New Style.” I took the role of MCA because I had dark hair, could grow stubble, and my dad had a leather jacket I could wear. We later bum-rushed the stage while the emcee was introducing another act. We jumped around, screamed “BEASTIE BOYS!” and then ran off the stage. I was previously kind of a shy kid, but the Beastie Boys brought out my prankster side, a little bravado, and a sense of fun. I wasn’t terribly shy after that.
I feel pretty lucky that I got to see the Beastie Boys tour in 1987 with Fishbone & Murphy’s Law, but as time passed, my friends and I left the Beasties behind, found 2 Live Crew, graduated high school and went to San Diego to attend my first year of college. The summer before my third freshman semester, Paul’s Boutique came out.
I read in Yauch’s obits that Paul’s Boutique was considered a commercial flop, but I never got that impression – it was immensely popular with my friends, especially the pot smokers. The dense samples and drug references made it easy to burn out and take it all in. These Beasties were more earnest and committed to their craft – still having an incredible amount of fun, but not the lunkheads of Licensed to Ill.
I started working at my college radio station in January of 1990, and while trying to figure out an on-air name, one of the guys in the booth suggested “Sam The Butcher.” I liked it because it sounded hard, and I was getting into industrial music at the time. I later realized that he had gotten the Brady Bunch reference from “Shake Your Rump.” I’m still Sam The Butcher around the ‘net, so the Beasties have remained with me since then.
Check Your Head came and saw the Beasties playing their own instruments once again, which I respected, having taken up guitar myself. However my next big memory of MCA was his signature rhyme from 1994’s “Sure Shot” off Ill Communication – “I wanna say a little somethin’ that’s long overdue/The disrespectin’ women has got to be through/To all the mothers and the sisters and the wives and friends/I wanna offer my love and respect ’til the end.” This affected me because it was plain spoken respect for women, not something that was common in rock or rap. I grew up very close to my mom and sister, so hearing this made me feel good about listening to their music, and it was a straight up rebuke to the group’s earlier misogynistic antics.
Lastly, Yauch has contributed in small ways to my progressive emergence as a Buddhist. From the track “Bodhisattva Vow” to establishing the Milarepa Fund for Tibetan Freedom, he did his thing without getting all preachy. Sure, his efforts for Milarepa & Tibet were large and publicised, but it never seemed in your face. At least not in mine. So, as I got more into Buddhism, I could feel the presence of Yauch supporting me, along with other friends. It sounds weird, or maybe kind of hippie/New Age, but it was one of those things like “yeah…Yauch’s a Buddhist. Cool. So it’s not just me that understands life in this way.” Hard to describe, but I’m sure you know what I mean.
Thanks, MCA. Namasté, Yauch. In little ways, you helped me become who I am.