In remembering Adam Yauch, aka MCA, let's take a look at Tibet. As a member of the Beastie Boys he helped redefine what music could be and pioneered and perfected the medium of music videos. But that was not enough for Yauch.
After backpacking through Nepal and meeting Tibetan refugees he returned to the U.S. and founded the Milarepa Fund which was to be a nonprofit advocacy group named after a Tibetan saint. His work for Tibet's liberation extended to supporting other groups through the Milarepa Fund and by creating the Tibetan Freedom Concerts that brought together some of the biggest names in music from 1996-2001 to perform in front of hundreds of thousands of fans on three continents in an effort to raise awareness about Tibet to people who would otherwise be uninformed.
The need for drawing attention to Tibet is as important now as it has ever been. During March and April nearly 30 Tibetans have, in protest of Chinese occupation, set themselves on fire, a practice known as self-immolation.
Tibet was taken over by China's military in 1951. Since that time Tibetans have either lived as a conquered people or in exile. The Dali Lama has been an exile from his country since 1959. The Dali Lama's approach has been a peaceful one, meeting with world leaders to raise awareness and draw attention to his nation's plight. In the past year this has changed with a younger generation of Tibetan exiles taking a more drastic approach, thus reflecting their growing desperation. Within Tibet protesters have taken to self-immolation. China's military has limited many of the images and news reports about the self-immolation, but the reports of seven self-immolations in Tibet within the first three weeks of March as well as dramatic images of a Tibetan exile in India who set himself on fire has renewed interest in region.
The Tibetan people want their country back. They want the Chinese forces to leave. Under Chinese rule Tibetans have not had a say in how they are governed, outspoken critics of the Chinese government have been silenced through prison and beatings. Only a few weeks ago the U.S. Senate called for Chinese officials to give an account of monks forcibly removed from the Kirti Buddhist monastery, which has been a center of protests. The monks' whereabouts and condition are still unknown.
What the U.S. and other western nations consider unacceptable in Syria has been going on in Tibet for over half a century. Conditions that led to the Arab Spring of 2011 are the same conditions present in modern-day Tibet. It is easy to think that if China wasn't such an insular and powerful nation these conditions wouldn't be tolerated in Tibet either.
This is perhaps what is most upsetting to those of us who don't personally know Adam. His family and friends lost someone they loved, the rest of us lost someone we knew of and whose work we loved. The Tibetan people lost one of their most high-profile supporters in the U.S.
Many people in my generation only know about Tibet because of Adam Yauch. The man who in 1986 rapped, "They call me Adam Yauch but I'm MCA/Like a lemon to a lime a lime to a lemon/I sip the def ale with all the fly women," went on to found an organization that would try to free a repressed people.
I want to say that his work with Tibet is what most impacted me, but that would be a lie, and if I learned anything from the Beastie Boys it is, "Be true to yourself and you will never fall." But that's what good art does, it hooks you, brings you in, then teaches you something, reshaping how you see the world.
Adam, like all of us, grew up. And like many others, I grew up with him. His lyrics became more socially conscious and less chauvinistic. Moving beyond songs like 'Hey Ladies' and 'She's Crafty' he would go on to rap, "I want to say something that's long overdue/The disrespect to women has got to be through/To all the mothers and sisters and the wives and friends/I want to offer my love and respect to the end." And while his topics took on greater seriousness his lyrics still contained the sense of humor and irreverence that brought us to the group in the first place. "Well I got to keep it going keep it going full steam/ Too sweet to be sour too nice to be mean/On the tough guy style I'm not too keen/ To try to change the world I will plot and scheme." That is what he did; he changed the world for all of us who are lucky to be fans.