I started writing this post weeks ago, in the days after Adam Yauch passed away. I wrote most of it in a single pass, closed the window and walked away, only coming back to it now. In between I read a lot of tributes to MCA online. And then I deleted a lot of this post because there’s very little I can say that hasn’t already been said better.
It’s not often a celebrity death has any kind of real emotional effect on me. When Michael Jackson died, I was mostly fascinated with the media spectacle, not just of his death but his entire life. More recently when Whitney Houston died, it was a sad end to an amazing talent derailed by life as a celebrity, I guess. Honestly, I didn’t think about it a whole lot.
MCA is different. When a celebrity dies young, it usually—though not always—has something to do with their own choices and coping mechanisms. That isn’t the case here. Adam Yauch wasn’t a celebrity destroyed by fame. He was an artist, father, husband and activist who succumbed to cancer.
He was also a huge part of the soundtrack of my life.
That’s the common thread to most of the tributes I’ve read. (At least from people like me who didn’t know him. The ones from his friends and bandmates are all substantially more personal and touching.) “The soundtrack of my life.” If you’re currently aged 30-45 and in any way cool, the Beastie Boys probably fit that description at least a little. They are a top-five group for pretty much everyone I know. But the Beasties have always been a little bit more special than most universally loved bands. I’ve had several fights with friends about which are the best Dire Straits or Smiths or Daft Punk albums. Arguing over the best and worst Beck album is literally an annual event at the drunken mess that is my birthday party. These fights can get ugly. They also never happen when we get to the Beastie Boys, because with the Beastie Boys, there isn’t a wrong answer.
We all have our Beastie Boys moment—the thing that made them important to us. For me, it was “Sabotage.” Any other band and that might seem like a cliché, discovering a group at their absolute pop-culture apex. But the Beastie Boys aren’t any other band and “Sabotage” is a perfectly acceptable answer. Finding them when that video was all over Much Music (that’s Canadian MTV for people who don’t live in Canada) is perfectly acceptable because “Sabotage” is a fucking awesome song with a fucking awesome video. Because of this, *Ill Communication* holds a special place in my heart, and when the conversation (invariably at the aforementioned drunken birthday mess) comes up, that’s the answer I give. No one questions it. I believe most of my friends go with *Paul’s Boutique*. Also correct. One guys says *Hello Nasty*. He’s right, too. The older friend likes *Licensed to Ill*. He’s so OG it hurts. No one chooses *Check Your Head*, but they wouldn’t be judged harshly if they did. See also: *To the 5 Boroughs* and *Hot Sauce Committee Part Two*. (The Mix-Up is obviously a special case.) It’s a test you can’t fail. (Unless you answer *The In Sound From Way Out*, in which case you’re asked to leave for being an asshole.)
MCA, Mike D and Ad-Rock charmed a generation. They were taken seriously as artists despite never seeming to take themselves too seriously. When a celebrity dies, I mostly stay away from the coverage these days because it really doesn’t affect me. MCA is different. I am affected. I am genuinely sad. I don’t compare my loss to that of his family and friends, but there is a loss for me. And that’s not something I’m used to.
When asked if he could imagine making music without MCA, Mike D responded “I can see making music. I don’t know about a band format. But Yauch would genuinely want us to try whatever crazy thing we wanted but never got around to.” Adam Yauch didn’t deserve to go out so young and I’m eternally gratefully for the music he had a chance to make. I hope the remaining Beastie Boys make some more of it, but more than that I hope they lead long, healthy and happy lives. They’ve earned it.