“To me, Adam Yauch, better known as MCA of the Beastie Boys, was one of those people. Even though he was diagnosed with cancer in his saliva gland on 2009, he was going to get over it.”
By Sean May
Death is an unfortunate inevitability to everyone in this world. People pass through our lives, and some of them will die before we do, and we’ll have to confront the grief, the anger, the sadness that comes along with it. Others will outlive us and go through the same when we go.
But there are certain people in this world that aren’t supposed to die, at least not when they still have so much to give to the world. These people, their legends bigger than they could ever be, are supposed to fade away gently, giving their fans and followers time to make peace with their mortality, to give them time to realize that just like us, they’re human.
To me, Adam Yauch, better known as MCA of the Beastie Boys, was one of those people. Even though he was diagnosed with cancer in his saliva gland on 2009, he was going to get over it. He was going to get better, and he was going to grow old and go through that gradual fade. That’s what I thought at least…but sometimes life isn’t fair, it doesn’t make sense and the wrong people are taken at the wrong time for the wrong reasons. But MCA was a legend, and I thought he was exempt from those rules.
When I heard that MCA had cancer, I was shocked. He was the de facto leader of the Beasties, the elder statesman, despite only being about a year older than the other two members. The diagnosis, at that time, was good, and everyone seemed to be optimistic about his recovery. More importantly, he was a legend in my mind, and therefore was going to come back from this, a hundred times stronger and with the ability to make music for decades to come. Maybe it was selfish or foolish for me to think that, and looking at it now, of course it was…but back then, when the diagnosis first came out, it was a bump in the road, and he was going to get better.
But things don’t exactly work out the way you’d expect them to.
Sometimes the hero dies, sometimes life proves once again that nothing is sacred, nothing is safe, and that the things you grow up idolizing will inevitably die, in one way or another.
I don’t want to make it seem like I can provide a fitting tribute to MCA. I never knew him except through his music, his films, and his renowned activism. But the Beastie Boys inspired me early in life to explore music that was outside of the traditional, safe zone that plays on the radio or is otherwise provided to you on a silver platter by one media conglomorate or another. The Beasties taught me weird was good, and that stupid classifications like what race you were, where you were from, or the opinions you held shouldn’t keep you from purusing your art and making exactly what you wanted to make.
The Beastie Boys’s 1998 album Hello Nasty was one of the first CDs I ever bought with my own money, at a Blockbuster, back when Blockbusters sold CDs…or existed at all for that matter. I was in my first year of middle school, and up until I looked at that strange cover art, with the Beasties crammed into a sardine tin against the backdrop of a gleaming yellow sun, I didn’t really have any impression of what music could be.
The first moments of Hello Nasty, the stereo sweep of an airplane passing overhead followed by a fuzzed-out guitar riff and a scratching turntable, were something completely new to me, something so profoundly different than the Elvis Costello, Billy Joel and Jimmy Buffet records my parents played when I was growing up. This was experimental, radical, and bold. As I listened to the CD further, I was constantly amazed by the collage of genres and samples that the Beasties laid out over the twenty-two tracks of Hello Nasty.
I know saying that an album changed my life, partially molded me into the person I am today sounds trite, but I truly mean it.
After listening to Hello Nasty and loving it, I explored the Beastie Boys further. Almost coincidentally, in 1999 the Beasties dropped The Sounds of Science, a two disc retrospective of their careers up to that point. A year later, when the Criterion Collection released a DVD of their music videos (one of the first DVDs I ever bought), I became a fanatic.
I spent countless hours scouring P2P networks finding rare live performances, forgotten B-sides and whatever else Beasties related I could find. I listened to songs over and over again, picking up references, trying to figure out who Saraharu Oh was, who Eddie Harris was, to decipher the critical mass of pop culture references the Beastie Boys dropped into their music. It was one of the things that made their music worth listening to, worth obsessing over. This fantacisim made me into the person I am today, and it taught me that music, and pop culture in general, doesn’t have to be bound into a narrow classification, and that mixing things up and clashing sounds or ideas together wasn’t only OK, it had the power to be something great.
I regret that I never got to see the Beastie Boys in concert, that I never really had a chance to thank them for providing me with so much inspiration and creativity at a pivotal point in my life, but I can at least stay safe in the knowledge that the art the Beastie Boys put out will be there, forever, for some other kid to pick up and realize their mastery, their complete control of their craft, and, like me, hopefully they’ll be inspired to do the same.
Check out some of the best videos the Beastie Boys did below, and remember how uncompromising, and more importantly, how fun they were.