Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Lemme Pass the Mic to Yauch

Fight for Your Right to Party - Coldplay (YouTube)

Adam Yauch is dead, and there was no good reason for this news to affect me.

Sure, the Beastie Boys have been a part of my life since before my first teenage girlfriend, but they weren’t close friends of mine. Musically, the Beasties were more like those distant relatives you see at family reunions every few years, and you don’t mind seeing them and sharing some friendly banter, but once you part ways, you don’t really miss them much, either.

My friends and I openly fought liking License to Ill when it took the world by storm. To like that album would have been openly endorsing the kind of assholes who made fraternities pits of superiority and smarm in the late ‘80s. My fratophobia caused me to miss most of the hysteria surrounding Ill and the heavy debates that followed Paul’s Boutique, which emerged my senior year of high school.

I specifically remember hearing all my cool friends talking about how much their sophomore album sucked and thinking, “Thank God the Beastie Boys are done.”

In 1992, my childhood friend and wisest musical snob I know mailed me a package with Check Your Head inside. The note attached read, basically, “I have to take back all the bad things I’ve ever said about the Beastie Boys. You need to give them another chance, too.”

So I did. Scott knew I’d drunk the Kool-Aid on Public Enemy, Ice Cube and a handful of other rap acts by 1992; I would be more receptive to what the Beasties delivered. I liked Check Your Head. It was “good.” I wasn’t converted into some rabid Beasties fan, but my animosity was broken. We had reached a musical detente.

Future run-ins were mostly positive and brief.

“Sabotage” is easily one of the best songs and videos of the entire 90s. (Please don’t debate this. It is nigh indisputable.) Yauch was the organizer behind 1998’s Tibetan Freedom Concert in Washington, D.C., and everything about that concert experience was fun and awesome, and I even loved the Beastie’s set.

My passive admiration never quite converted into fandom. And that’s more or less where we remained until May 4, 2012, when MCA died.

It’s a damn shame that people have to die to focus our attention, but that’s the way of the world. It’s true in The Avengers; it was true in M*A*S*H and LOST, and it’s true in music. I must not have been alone in finding Yauch’s death a reason to reconsider my thoughts on the band, because six of their albums hit the iTunes top 50 over the weekend. Lots of folks must have had second thoughts.

Friday night, I went on eMusic and bought their first two CDs, and I’ve been playing them quite heavily since. I can’t explain it, really. There’s just this sense I missed something important, and now I feel compelled to pay penance for my youthful musical ignorance.

MCA, wherever you are, if you can still read blogs -- and if you can, you’re probably not in Heaven, because surely God has better taste -- please accept my sincerest apologies for fighting y’all for so long. I should’ve tried harder sooner, and I take back all that frat boy stuff.

To hear the Beastie Boys is to hear three guys unafraid to take chances, walking the line between cheeky and passionate with bravura and knowingness. They make fun a vital part of the art, and I’m ashamed that I refused to see the power in that.

Adam Yauch is dead. MCA is dead. The world is always starving for serious fun, and now there's a little less to go around.


Anonymous said...

Paul's Boutique really is the rap equivalent of Sgt. Pepper. If you want to see some real fun, check out this letterman performance.


Billy said...

@Anon -- Thank you so much for that link. I'm not all that fond of the Coldplay cover, but I was pretty sure any Beastie song I posted would get flagged for DMCA and didn't want the hassle. They were quite freakin' fearless. It's been fun hearing the maturation and guts between those first two albums.