Photo: Spin Magazine
The Beastie Boys defined an era by writing the handbook on cool, but all that’s over now. Friday’s news of the untimely death of Adam Yauch (aka MCA), 47, brought the unlikely, riotous and always visionary quest of the Beastie Boys to a close.
There’s no way the Beasties can go on without Yauch, much in the way Nirvana couldn’t continue without Kurt Cobain.
The Brooklyn-bred group was the sum of its parts, and though Yauch was often labelled its conscience, there was no leader. The Beasties were founded and sustained on friendship, which clearly came through in their music.
Rather than let their early days as smart-aleck punks define who they were, the Beasties, and Yauch in particular, found a way to transcend the inflatable onstage penises and lyrics like “Girls: to do the dishes/Girls: to clean up my room/Girls: to do the laundry/Girls:and in the bathroom.”
Whether that meant turning hip hop into supersonic bliss on “Paul’s Boutique,” curating cool-as-shit finds in Grand Royal magazine, or taking music videos to a whole other level under the pseudo-name Nathiel Hornblower, Yauch and the Beasties had no shame in their game, just plenty of heart.
A lot of rock journos will say the heart of the trio was Yauch—Mike Diamond was the aesthete and shrewd businessman, while Adam Horowitz was the snot-nosed punk—but I disagree. Together, all three members confronted their past and gleefully worked to make art out of magic. They did it for most of my life.
What always impressed me about the B-Boys was that they never forgot where they came from. Everything about them screamed New York, from those nasal accents and bravado to the clever way they cursed. The city pulsed in their veins, oozed out in their lyrics. Say what you will about “To The Five Boros,” but few rappers today could deliver such a message with that much clarity, depth and precision.
It remains to be seen what Yauch’s legacy will be, but aside from being living proof that you can confront and move past your mistakes, as an entertainer Yauch taught his fans what it means to be true to yourself, and nothing more than yourself.
When MCA took the mic on “Sure Shot,” telling “the sisters and the wives and friends” that he wanted “to offer my love and respect till the end,” he faced his past and made peace with it. When he launched the groundbreaking Tibetan Freedom Festivals, settled down and had a daughter, the kid from Brooklyn who used drop acid on the ski slopes could finally say what he stood for.
And while we were bopping our heads, getting into some trouble, all the cool kids began to take notice. We’ll never forget him, or the Beastie Boys’ sound.
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