Life is hard. We all know it and feel it through our work, our relationships and just figuring out what it is we want at the end of all of this. One thing that I know helps get me through the rough patches in life is music. The moment you play a song, that melody and those lyrics enchantingly carry you off to a place of a mutual understanding where you realize you aren't alone in your thoughts, fears and aspirations. Music, is something that washes from the soul, the dust of our everyday life and it allows us to see a new perspective, start anew and realize we're not alone in anything.
I must have been at least four years old when I first discovered the Beastie Boys, while sitting in my basement with my older siblings. I remember watching the music video for "(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party)!" and thinking, what a cool song this is and whatever lyrics I could understand, I kept repeating them over and over until my brother got annoyed, sat me down in his room and played the whole song for me that he taped off the radio, a rather fuzzy quality at the time but said, "These are the words of the song, okay?"
It was then I started listening to the Beastie Boys more often and began tuning into Muchmusic, anticipating the video and singing with them. I would jump around the house much to my mother's chagrin and remember vividly breaking a plate on the way upstairs from the basement because I wouldn't stop dancing to their music in my head. I could hear every Beastie Boy sing their part and it made me happy. As a kid, I never sang the words right to save my life and sometimes today, I flub the lines but even if the Beastie Boys ever heard me sing, I know they would be content with the fact that they could reach out to that zany, socially awkward little girl. What the Beastie Boys gave me as a kid and still do to this day, was fun and excitement; a chance to be myself in a world where everyone conforms and not be afraid of what tomorrow brings. Their song, “All Lifestyles” proves that notion with the lyrics:
“Go and do your thing, ‘cause you’re unique/If it don’t hurt nobody else then/Don’t be afraid to be yourself”
This past week, someone from my childhood left this world, sinking my heart to depths of unfathomable consciousness. Adam Yauch, also known as MCA and one-third of the Beastie Boys, died on May 4. While it may not come as a complete shock to many since he was battling cancer before, a loss of life, is still always a loss of life. The heart becomes heavy at any cost and I've realized those that heal me through music and laughter, can't last forever in the physical but instead, have been immortalized for all of us and these generations to come. It is with great sadness that I write this whole piece. I've been seeing all week, whether it be on Facebook or Twitter my friends expressing their condolences and affections for a man a lot of us didn't really know but only understood and related to through the music he created. I didn’t really need to say much but I felt my experience would be the only way I can express my thanks to someone who meant a lot to me in my formative years and had been there for me in times when I needed it most.
Born on August 5, 1964, an only child to a social worker and an architect in Brooklyn, New York, Adam Yauch showed others who he was through the efforts and initiative taken throughout his years. He taught himself to play bass guitar as a teenager and formed the Beastie Boys in 1979 as a hardcore punk band originally with Kate Schellenbach, John Berry and Michael Diamond (Mike D) but later became a trio in 1983 with himself, Diamond and Adam Horovitz (Ad-Rock). The Beastie Boys started their major-label career with two essential albums: Licensed to Ill (1986) which became the basis of rap-rock and became the first hip-hop album to top the Billboard chart, followed by Paul’s Boutique (1989), an outrageously eclectic production that became the model for experimental hip-hop. Yauch played an active part in the band’s image, directing many of their music videos over the years under the pseudonym, “Nathanial Hörnblowér”.
Yauch had that signature scratchy voice, a husky belt among the voices of Diamond and Horovitz and most times, you couldn’t help but smile because Yauch had the best lines in the songs. One of my favourites was from the Grammy-winning track, “Intergalactic” off the Hello Nasty album. The line Yauch raps goes:
“If you try to knock me you'll get mocked/I'll stir fry you in my wok/Your knees start shaking and your fingers pop/Like a pinch on the neck from Mr Spock”
It’s genius. It really is. I always have a smile on my face when listening to that track, that and a whole bunch of others like “Sabotage”, “Ch-Ch-Check It Out” and “Body Movin’” which has an equally interesting music video where Yauch is seen hilariously sword fighting a thief in the night and meets his fatal demise. That was one of the neatest things about the Beastie Boys. As a trio, they were so worldly hilarious and eclectic in their visions, never sticking to one scope but at the same time, maintaining their identity. Yauch was a visionary. He had a clear passion and talent for filmmaking, dabbling with genres of all sorts and it was shown in every video he directed with the band. His love led to his founding of Oscilloscope Laboratories, a film production company created in 2008. His directorial debut was a basketball documentary called, Gunnin' For That #1 Spot.
Last year The Beastie Boys released their eighth studio album, entitled Hot Sauce Committee Part Two which was originally planned for a 2009 release under the title Hot Sauce Committee Part One. That album was to be the first installment of the two part set but it was delayed due to Yauch’s cancer diagnosis; a form of cancer was found in his salivary gland. After a two year delay though, one album has been released and though it is not clear as of yet if there is a plan for a two part album, fans will have to wait and see. Yauch directed the extended music video for “Make Some Noise”, a sort of film stylized music video entitled “Fight for Your Right Revisited” which managed to lampoon not just the three of them and their career thus far, but hip-hop in general and the song that made them famous 25 years ago while showcasing the new album’s latest tunes in the process.
In 1994, Yauch, a practising Buddhist, created the Milarepa Fund, a non-profit organization devoted to Tibetan independence. Under the organization, he planned several benefit concerts to support the cause including the Tibetan Freedom Concert. He was bravely known for being outspoken and speaking up, starting discussions on what people didn’t want to talk about and that made him all the more admirable.
Yauch spoke to PBS Frontline a few years ago about how he affects change in this world, saying that we each all have the ability to do so:
“I think every person has the ability to effect change. I think we’re often led to believe that it’s just celebrities [who] have some ability to effect change, but I think that what’s important for us to realize is that everyone of us affects the world constantly through our actions, through our every smallest action, through our every thought, our every word, the way that we interact with other people…we’re constantly affecting the world.”
The Beastie Boys offered so many listeners in the early 1980s a fresh hip-hop sound, reaching out to not just one particular audience but a whole generation of those who knew music and could understand it beyond a specific genre. The Beastie Boys were charming, hilarious and they grew up in front of us without losing their sense of awareness, humour and an ear for the latest beat. The trio had sold more than 40 million records worldwide by 2010 and just last month, the group was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It was in 2011, that Yauch received the Charles Flint Kellogg Award in Arts and Letters from Bard College, the college he attended for two years before dropping out. The award is an honourable one, given in recognition of significant contributions to the American artistic and literary heritage.
One thing I will always remember about him is how he showed us to be bold, to be yourself, speak your mind and what does it matter what someone thinks about you? Self-worth conquers all, is what I get out of what he showed me through his actions, his lyrics and his efforts. What's commendable about Yauch is that he lived his life the way he wanted and it's inspiring and something you don’t see often especially over the years with the way the media and industry views the norm and social etiquette amongst people of the industry. He was a pioneer of music and what I get from his life is if you say you're going to pick up yourself tomorrow and start living it or fixing it, you're wrong. No one can confidently say that they will still be living tomorrow and Yauch lived for the day – each day, and proved to himself and those around him that he was capable of being who he wanted to be. He made his mark on this world and many lives and because of it, he will be deeply missed by all and not forgotten.
Adam Yauch is survived by his wife, Dechen, his daughter Tenzin Losel and his parents Frances and Noel Yauch.
Adam Nathaniel Yauch, August 5 1964 – May 4 2012