Bear with me. I’m not in the habit of posting long entries nor of extolling the virtues of a celebrity who has died and whom I’ve never met. But over the last week, I have been sorely puzzled as to why news of the death of Adam “MCA” Yauch of the Beastie Boys has so keenly affected me.
I am not a fan of hip-hop or rap but nevertheless, have all but the latest of their albums. This is thanks to a couple of ex-boyfriends who were also not hip-hop/rap fans but nevertheless thought Beastie Boys were the bees’ knees of all kinds of awesome.
[In fact, having recently watched (as opposed to noting in the background) a bunch of their music videos, I’ve gained sudden insight into the aesthetics driving one boyfriend’s penchant during the 1990s for close cropped hair, backwards baseball cap, untucked, pressed, button down shirts and goatee.]
Back then, I didn’t really understand the obsession. Intergalactic and Sabotage were great songs and their music videos sang to my generation, reared on a TV diet of Japanese anime and 1970s and early 1980s cop shows. But as an overly-serious adolescent, I had dismissed the Beastie Boys and their screeching, sneering raps about rhymin’ abilities, hard partying, porno mag confiscation and ‘ladies’ as gauche. [My probably expressed this then as ‘boys – eww!’] And hadn’t revisited this opinion since. Interestingly, my adolescent self did not see the inherent contradiction of listening day-in and day-out to R’n’B.
But since news of MCA’s passing, I’ve had Beastie Boys on continuous rotation; rediscovering and reappreciating the tunes I knew and being blown away by the rest of their oeuvre.
Because, like all great bands (whatever the genre), the Beastie Boys evolved and took the music scene with them. From their beginnings as enfants terribles, to sampling experts and funk beat purveyors, to their return to punk roots on the guitar and drums, through to their later incarnations as rap’s elder statesmen – pleading for unity and tolerance in the wake of September 2011 (2004’s To The 5 Boroughs), organising and playing Free Tibet concerts and apologising to the ladies for any prior lyrical disrespect (MCA in Sure Shot). They began their careers rapping about their rights to party and never lost that, but expanded to cover more political and introspective, Buddhist-influenced beliefs.
As their success and fame grew, their musical and personal integrity became clear. Their early lyrics may have been crude and their shows puerile (gigantic phalluses and scantily dressed women in cages, anyone?) but the Beastie Boys were never bullies. Rather, they were the jesters – keen to entertain but also speak truth, often by taking the mirror to the emperors of our consumerist culture (and their new clothes).
This bent for hijinks and tomfoolery was plain from their music videos. Just plain fun to watch, the videos veritably heave with irreverent takes on popular culture (see, for example, No Sleep Till Brooklyn which satirises the glam metal movement in 1986).
So I suspect the reason that MCA’s death has affected me so keenly is simple: I’ve grown up alongside the Beastie Boys and their music. Adam was a Beastie Boy, but he was one of us. And we are forever young, and forever invincible, right? His passing has been a gentle reminder that this is illusory and even the emblems of our youth are mortal.
I read a great quip amongst the last week’s flurry of stories and chatter. Someone had mentioned MCA’s death to his father and expressed sadness at the news. The father’s response: ‘He’s a Buddhist – he won’t even have enough time to brush his teeth before he’s back.’
RIP, Nathanial Hörnblowér – it’s been a pleasure. Thanks for the tunes, your music videos, the awesome costumes and the mustaches.
Here are a bunch of B-Boys vids.