All weekend I've been thinking about the late great MCA, Adam Yauch, member of The Beastie Boys. I traveled through Brooklyn and thought of him, a Brooklyn boy raised in the still unhipped neighborhood of Midwood. I thought about my little brother Blake at 8 years-old blasting "(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (to Party)." I thought about my ex-boyfriend who blasted Check Your Head every morning on his drive to the nearby community college. I thought of my friend Judy driving in her Fiatt in 1989, in her 12th pair of converse hightops, blasting Paul's Boutique. She was blasting my mind, because I associated the Beastie Boys with well, boys. That's how flat my world still was then: there was "boy" music and "girl" music. Yet here was Judy whacking the steering wheel singing along with gusto and I thought: here's another reason Judy is a thousand times cooler than me, deeper than me, more worldly than me. She gets something about life that I don't yet--she gets Paul's Boutique. For awhile it was unique to like that album. My brothers who loved License to Ill didn't like that album, my boyfriend didn't like that album -- somehow you weren't supposed to like it -- but now it's one of those records that people say they like, like they've always been that cool. It wasn't like that right away -- it was one of those slow burners that snuck up on everyone. It required something of its listener. It required that you let go of something in order to accept what it was: new, experimental, and alive. It was unique to like that album and Judy liked it.
The Beastie Boys could have easily been a gimmicky band and been lost in the plastic bin of MTV 1980s relics, but there was more to them than that. They could actually play music, and they had the vision to take the feelings of certain pieces of music and let that speak in their work. That is what sampling is: we couldn't say it better ourselves, so we won't. They also had the rare quality of growing up, without growing old. It's an unlikely trajectory in the world of commercial rock -- a place that usually thrives on the antics the Beastie Boys came in with, (partying, large penises on stage, sexism) but gets squeamish when you ask for forgiveness with integrity. Incredibly, they were able to do that and keep growing as artists.
When I heard that Adam Yauch had died, it was like learning that one of the guys I went to high school had died. I honestly had not listened to a Beastie Boys album in a few years, but they were one of those bands that inhabited my life. I only bought one album of theirs, but they were in so many cars that I rode shotgun in and in so many backyards that housed parties, and in so many warm summer nights talking in living rooms, dorm rooms, and bedrooms. They were inside some of the boys I loved most, some of the boys I grew up with, some of the boys that are no longer boys at all. They are men now, still a bit younger than the men that make up the Beastie Boys, but they've grown up.
When someone dies in your world, it's an uncomfortable rearranging. The tapestry of your life has shifted and you need to figure out how it fits. I did not know Adam Yauch personally, nor can I claim to be his biggest fan, but I feel a tear in the fabric of the life I've known so far. It's too early to lose him. It's not just that he was too young to die yet, it's that the world we inhabited together is too young to loose him. I am not ready for a Beastie Boy to die. That's not what's supposed to happen -- and yet, here we are.
I went through the Lower East Side this weekend thinking all this. Then I saw that the location of "Paul's Boutique" is now a yuppie wrap place. You don't have to live in New York for 20 years to feel the symbolism of that. Things go away, times change, eras end. No matter what you think or feel, that is what's supposed to happen. Luckily, through it all music goes on playing.
MCA, in the words one of my favorite Beastie Boy rhymes: like Jonie loves Chachi, you're the cheese, we're the macaroni. Thank you for your great effort.
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