A couple of weeks ago, one of my favorite groups was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I have a strong dislike for awards and certifications and ceremonies and that kind of thing, but I took a moment on Twitter to give love and congratulations to the Beastie Boys, because really—they deserved to be there. It was satisfying to see a group I grew up loving (and still love now and never stopped loving) honored for their contributions to rock music. If any group cannot be pigeon-holed into a single genre, it’s the Beastie Boys. So let’s just go ahead and recognize them everywhere. Hip Hop Honors, Rock and Roll, Walk of Fame, Grand Old Opry…go for it.
When I found out that Adam Yauch—MCA, he’s got a license to kill—wasn’t going to be able to attend the ceremony because he was too ill, my heart sank. I knew he’d been diagnosed with cancer a few years ago, because the Beasties had to cancel their tour and postpone their album. Somehow, though, once the incredible Hot Sauce Committee was finally released last year, the general assumption was that Yauch was alright. That he was going to be OK. He even directed the video for “Make Some Noise.”
And now he’s gone. I’m glad that induction ceremony happened when it did.
I blogged about that video just over a year ago, and I said this about it: “The new Beastie Boys video reminds me of how deeply satisfying it is to have been their fan for about 27 years now. They just never disappoint!” That’s the truth. I was lucky enough to see the Beastie Boys live a few times over the course of those 27 years in various stages of their career, and they were awesome. Life and energy and power and happiness and FUN.
I’ve had the “Who’s your favorite Beastie?” discussion many times with many people, and the general consensus always seems to wind up being all of them. But if you break it down, you do it a little like the Beatles—and Yauch was the George Harrison of the Beasties. Maybe you wanted to date Ad-Rock and party with Mike D, but MCA is the one you wanted to get deep with. He’s the one you wanted to philosophize about life with over a nice vegan dinner. He’s the one you wanted to talk to about art and New York and basketball and Buddhism. MCA, what up?
Two big things happened in my musical world in 1989: The Cure released Disintegration, and the Beastie Boys put out Paul’s Boutique. I have never listened to two records more than I did those over the next few years. 23 years later, they are both in my top five all-time favorite albums. The Beastie Boys never have never had a low point, but they have had a high—and that was it. Paul’s Boutique moved the bar for progressive, innovative rap music so high that I don’t think anyone can ever top it. Even Miles Davis called it the greatest album ever made. By anyone. Ever.
Even though there’s no video, I have to include the “B-Boy Bouillabaisse” here. It’s the greatest 12 minutes in the entire history of hip hop. MCA has the coolest part, of course—the “Year and a Day” section that kicks in at the 3-minute mark.
If the Cure were the soundtrack of my teenage isolation and anger, and Morrissey is the soundtrack of my adult disappointment with life, the Beastie Boys are the ongoing soundtrack to friendship, fun, and good times. They’re the sound of skate parks, hair dye, cool sneakers and cute boys. The Beastie Boys made me want to move to Brooklyn.
When I grieve over the loss of a person like MCA—someone I didn’t know—what I’m really grieving on a personal level is the recognition of lost eras of my life. Friendships that went by the wayside, people I did know who have passed on, and the realization that I’ll probably never feel that way about a group or artist that I might discover as an adult.
Adam Yauch was bigger than just the music, though, and over the next few days there will be lots of tributes to him and the other work he did (creating the Free Tibet Music Festival, directing tons of videos for the Beasties, making a movie about high school basketball players, and so on). This is just about me, really, and about losing another one of my musical heroes and another slice of my personal soundtrack. My heart goes out to Yauch’s wife and daughter, as well as to Adam Horovitz and Michael Diamond, who I know must be feeling the loss of their brother in a heavy, heavy way.
Here are a few of my favorite Beastie Boys moments out of so many. And all of these videos were directed by MCA, of course…Nathanial Hörnblowér, Adam Yauch from Brooklyn, Yauch with his fisheye lens, Yauch with his close-ups and his hoodie and his gravely voice and his beard like a billy goat.
Good times, good man. Thank you.