A FAREWELL TO ONE OF THE ILLEST

Most days I hammer away at my keyboard wondering if anyone is feeling exactly the same way I am. I click-clack on about love, lust, or plain old douchery, depending on the hour or my mood. But today wandering down that same road didn’t feel right, because I don’t just know – I’m certain – that others feel the same way I do upon learning of the loss of Beastie Boys co-founder and rhymin’, stealin’ badass, Adam Yauch.

So indulge me for a moment if you will, because one of my heroes is dead, and writing about anything else would just be inauthentic.

“Born and bred Brooklyn U.S.A.; They call me Adam Yauch but I’m MCA…”

I suppose it’s only appropriate that I was in Brooklyn when I heard that MCA was gone. I’d been doing that obnoxious thing where I was reading the news feed on my phone as I walked, head down, oblivious to everything around me. Then I saw it… and I froze. I stood there in the middle of the sidewalk for a good minute, feeling like the volume of the world had been abruptly turned all the way down.

And I begged for the words to be wrong.

“Fuck,” I said out loud (sorry, mom). “No. Fuck. No no no…” I think a lot of people were similarly poetic when they found out, too. There’s really nothing else to say when you hear something like that, is there? Only I wasn’t just reading about some guy in some band that lots of people who never owned Paul’s Boutique or couldn’t recite a verse claim to be huge fans of now, especially after something like this happens. I was reading about a member of the only band I’ve ever really considered to be a part of me. Like one of my limbs was just lopped off, and I wasn’t prepared to figure out how to go on compensating for its loss, how to adjust to life without it.

Licensed to Ill came out when I was in first grade. First. Grade. And yet within a few years, it became my favorite album of all time – still is. That fact consistently surprises people, like when they learn that my favorite movie is a blood-soaked, historic war tale (“Braveheart”), or find out exactly how many tattoos I have. Like somehow my girly exterior belies all of this, covers up my sheer affinity for people and things that can f*ck shit up.

In high school I drove around blaring “Hey Ladies,” “Root Down,” “Get It Together” and the newly-released Hello Nasty album like the certified badass that I wasn’t, in my white girl voice, in my parents car. My sports teams took the field to “Sure Shot” like the suburban hard-asses that we weren’t, and in college my dance team choreographed a suggestive routine to “Girls” like the wannabe skanked-out Jesuit school girls that we definitely were. The Beasties were everywhere that I’ve gone, and if my iPod could be depicted by a pie chart, a sizable slice would belong to them.

To this day, I’ve been known to walk out of a bar in disgust if the jukebox is conspicuously lacking in Beastie-ality, I know every word to at least half of their catalog, and I long for the days when the only “situation” people talked about was doing homework on the train to High Street station, with no mention of the Golden Ab’d One (sigh).

I’ll never forget the day at my old job when my boss told me I’d be interviewing them for the first time. It had been my biggest dream and deepest dread from the moment I’d started my career interviewing bands and celebrities for a living. “Shit!” I thought. What if they weren’t everything I’d always imagined they were? What if I met the single most important band I’d ever really call myself a “fan” of, and they disappointed me? What if, in real life, they sucked?

I’d never been nervous doing interviews, but the day I sat down across from them I could feel my breath get shorter and my voice get higher as I introduced myself. It was like the part of the roller coaster ride where you slow climb to the top. Exciting, scary, but mostly you just try desperately to keep from hurling.

The thing about the Beasties, who I ended up having the pleasure of interviewing a few times over the course of my career, is that they loved, LOVED, to mess with people. They’d run circles around your questions, making hysterical, nonsensical statements back, playing off of one another like some perfectly attuned hacky sack circle of total BS. You never really knew if you were in on the joke or if you were the joke.

But I remember that MCA was always the one who I looked at to gauge how badly I was being played. If anyone cracked a smile or tried unsuccessfully not to laugh, it was him. He had a kindness that took pity on the likes of me, I wasn’t the first one they’d done this to, nor would I be the last. And if they seemed cooler than you when you spoke to them, it’s because they really were. Not in a pretentious way, it was just fact. Though they’d never be the ones to bring it to your attention.

I can still remember the gritty, old New York feel of their Oscilloscope offices, their hipper-than-your-average-white-guy sneakers and tees, and thinking when I walked away from them (more than once) how lucky you’d be to have one of these guys be your dad.

And now a little girl is without her impossibly cool, thoroughly decent father, and that’s brutal and unspeakably sad, any way you slice it. My heart breaks for everyone in Yauch’s inner circle today: for his wife, his child, and for Mike D and Adam. That’s the kind of chemistry, history and dynamic that can never be replicated. Can never be substituted. And all that they can hope for, and we can hope for as fans, is that the hole left in his absence will get smaller eventually over time.

That’s the thing with Adam, and with the Beastie Boys. People will throw around words to describe him like “pioneer” and “legend” now, they’ll mourn the loss of his gravelly rhymes and activist lifestyle. And they’re right on all counts. What the Beastie Boys did for hip hop at a time when three smart-mouthed, white, punk kids dared to charge the scene was unheard of. It was brazen. It was irreverent. It didn’t only take talent, it took balls.

But the thing with legends and pioneers is that they seem impossibly far away for your average fan. They’re the kind of unattainable that us common folk never really expect to be able to grasp with two hands. But Yauch was different. He was as regular a guy as you could ever be… if you were an ordinary guy with extraordinary lyrical talent, that is.

So tonight I mourn the fact that I’ll never see the Beastie Boys perform live again. There will be no more cryptic, silly interviews in the future. The mic will never be rocked quite as hard as when Ad-Rock, Mike D and MCA took the stage together.

Lastly, thank you, Adam, for the years that you fought for your right, sabotaged the competition, and showed us all how to elevate the game. Your beloved five boroughs weep for your loss, and I salute you. For a guy who was never anything but down to earth, it’s only fitting that you now take your place in the heavens with the rest of those we lost too soon.iWINGMAN

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6 thoughts on “A FAREWELL TO ONE OF THE ILLEST

  1. Having shed my writer-skin some years ago, I fell compelled now to crawl back into a genre that I once knew well. It’s a shame that it takes a death, a loss, a longing to make this leap but sometimes, it is what draws the creativity out of people.
    It may sound selfish or cold, but for me, the death of MCA wasn’t just a loss to an industry, a daughter or a wife, but a piece of my formative years. Every year that I get older, it seems that a part of my youth has to go with it. The 80′s and 90′s are back in full fad-mode and the Beasties have never waned. My god, they were just inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame but had to postpone their tour because one of their wings was broken… Pardon the cliche but they never broke from each other. Never. There were no solo albums or hybrid projects or country albums. They just kept on blazing trails like Lewis and Clark and the guy-who-liked-to-rip-up-maps (an Family Guy fans??). They kept on making revolutionary and relevant music.
    However, I have to make this about me. We all do right? I, with Kane and Tim performed as the Beasties and Fight For Your Right at my high school’s air band contest. Kane, Mark and I had to perform an insanely embarassing dance in our 8th grade gym class (as required for all students of pubescent age) and we chose “Pass the Mic” as our song.
    And then there was the day, while on adventure in downtown Albany that I found the ultra-rare “Demos and Outtakes” bootleg cd at Last Vestige. An 80′s montage couldn’t do justice to the finding, receiving from behind the counter, inserting into the shop cd player and hearing “Rock Hard” and “She’s On It” for the very first time. Smitten doesn’t even begin to tell the story. It has been a man-crush that I don’t need a mountain top to yell from. Just the stock speakers in my Xterra with the aftermarket bass turned up for “So Whatcha Want” feat. Cypress Hill.
    Our parents will never understand why we mourn this man. It’s the same as us not understanding why Frankie Valli’s falsetto engaged men and women alike or why Janis Joplin was anything more than just that one song you see on the cd infomercials. They don’t have to though because in the long run, MCA was their Hendrix, or Joplin, or Morrison or Valens…
    I grew up a little more today against my will. I didn’t become wiser. I didn’t become more mature. I just got older… as in things that I held dear in my youth (and continued to hold dear) seem to leave with each passing birthday.
    I hope I haven’t turned the art of writing on its ear with this missive but Renata’s writing’s have inspired me and I hope she will approve.
    We are sad because we were there; with the music, with the videos, with the messages and with the time….

  2. Dan – Hell. Yes.

    “Every year that I get older, it seems that a part of my youth has to go with it//I grew up a little more today against my will…”

    Well said man. I love the Last Vestige reference. FYI, I have Beasties vinyl framed on my wall, so I appreciate the sentiment. As someone said on Twitter today oh-so-accurately, “The Beastie Boys never sucked. Not once in all this time.” Amen to that. Not many people can say the same.

    • What is strange, yet binding, is that I too have the License to Ill album on my wall. I have it opened to the spread with all three of them posing in front of the World’s Fair. It hangs with Wu-Tang’s 36 chambers, The Chronic, Eazy Duz It, He’s the Dj I’m The Rapper and Juicy by Biggie. All Vinyl. All Memories of a time gone by.

      Thank you for the kind words as I think this has been the spark I’ve needed for some time.

      With loss, there is gain…

      • Mine sits next to Johnny Cash’s Live From Folsom Prison, Springsteen’s Born in the USA and the Sixteen Candles soundtrack (a vinyl find which was born from a conversation I once had when I was 18 to a friend who unearthed it 10 years later and sent it to me. crazy right?) Sometimes inspiration comes in the strangest of places, but it’s never accidental.

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