Monday, May 7, 2012

MCA and the Beastie Boys - Commentary


The mighty Adam Yauch has passed away, or as I prefer to think of it, he's fighting evil in another dimension. This depresses me in ways that cannot be written about, blogged out or even effectively communicated in any way, shape or form. The sadness I feel transcends normal human comprehension. It is a dearth that has it's own dimension, zip code, website (www.horriblydepressing.com) and phone number. You could navigate the Earth by it.

The fact that Adam Yauch will no longer tour with the Beastie Boys and compose music is terrible, terrible, terrible. String theory theorizes that there are 11-12 dimensions that make up what we call reality. I theorize that one of those dimensions is the mass depression that exists because Adam Yauch is gone.

Totally fucking awesome.

When I found out about Adam Yauch I was on www.rollingstone.com and there it was. WTF? I didn't even know he had cancer. If he had been in his 80's, old and falling apart, sure, you'd hear that he'd passed away and feel bad, but when someone dies young and great, it just feels very, very unfair.

Saying the Beastie Boys are great and that their music is legendary and that they are all very talented musicians is a waste of fucking time. Writing about how the Beastie Boys are awesome is like writing about how the sun is bright, hot, and important to life on Earth.


So liking the Beastie Boys is easy. They are quality. They kick it next to Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, whoever. In fact, from what I heard Obama has just declared it a national week of mourning, and if anyone says anything bad about the Beastie Boys you can punch the really hard in the mouth until a police officer shows up to arrest them for not having any taste at all for good music.

I found out that Adam Yauch died and eventually called my best friend for no damn reason. I had seen him just a few days ago, but just like me, he grew up Beastie, so I knew he was in the same dimension of sadness the whole world is, even little children who never heard of the Beastie Boys. There was a death in the family, so that's what you do, you call up your friends and mourn.

No, seriously, right now little kids living in the Amazon Jungle who don't even know what a compact disk is are scrawling rap lyrics in the mud with a stick, maybe even trying to beatbox, and they are crying because the Beastie Boys are gone.


I have to admit that I had not bought a Beastie Boys album for some time. I had grown up on the Beastie Boys. Starting with License to Ill, and then was astounded by Paul's Boutique, and then just couldn't believe how Check Your Head changed music, changed everything...maybe I'm crazy, but every rap album after Check Your Head sounded better, as if the industry knew that the Beastie Boys had once again wrecked the bell curve for everyone in music.

Growing up punk in Southern California back in the 90's was basically an invitation to get your ass kicked on a daily basis. Having a shaved head, a leather jacket, military green Dickies work pants and Doc Martin's (with black or black-and-white checkered laces, never red or white) with an Exploited t-shirt was an open invitation to get your ass beat by everyone in Ass Kicking City.


I got harassed by cops and the school administration because I had a copy of Living in Darkness by Agent Orange. I got beat up by the captain of the school's football team (he was a junior, I was a sophomore, so as you could imagine I lost that fight awesomely) for wearing a Dead Kennedy's t-shirt. Apparently, he didn't care for the Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death album as much as I did.

I knew one kid who got beat up for having a mohawk, which started a brawl involving everyone who listened to punk rock and heavy metal against all of the kids who were into football at my high school. So my point is, at that time punk rock wasn't just music, it was a culture, a counterculture, and it was dangerous to publicly admit to listening to it.

To us the Beastie Boys were punk rock, too. At any party where the radio was on it was perfectly legitimate to replace a cassette tape blaring The Adicts or the Red Hot Chili Peppers with License to Ill. Yes, it was rap, but no, it was cool, they were punk. Turn it up.


I've always believed that this was the reason that Adam Yauch, aka MCA and everyone else in the Beastie Boys were always fucking cool. Their music was always very, very relevant. They were also extremely prolific, which is why I hadn't purchased an album from them in a while. Ever since Ill Communication they had kept composing album after album that I just couldn't keep up.

The reason was, if you listen to Paul's Boutique, it is an extremely complex, compellingly deep album. It weaves disco, iconic Old West cowboy imagery, growing up in New York City and rebellious rap. Don't forget, rap was just catching on at the time. American and the rest of the industry didn't really respect fucking awesome badasses like LL Cool J, N.W.A., Public Enemy, Run DMC and a lot of other bands were doing at the time.

Just as the Beastie Boys reshaped not only music, but the awareness of what music was to the general public at the time, they also reshaped what was expected of a great rap album to people who liked rap. I write about hip-hop a lot because hip-hop artists are basically poets, philosophers and logicians. They really belong to the same groups of people that told rhyming stories about the deeds of gods and men long ago in ancient Greece. Rap is an art form because of this, which is why when you think about it, artists like Tupac Shakur or Bone Thugs-N-Harmony are no different than Plato or Shakespeare. Poetry, logic, myth and a beat. That's all you need to have a good time, B.C. or A.D.


The reason I suddenly rocketed into this wild ass-tangent about high school, punk rock, the hip-hop and ancient Greece is because with the Beastie Boys, purchasing one of their albums was always a solid choice. If you had a road trip to go on, a party to go to or people to entertain, the Beastie Boys was the perfect choice and Paul's Boutique was perfect for any mood.

In the copy I have the text for all the lyrics run on after another, in lower case across the paper, and it tells a story of a person who is an American outlaw of sorts, stealing cars, shooting other criminals, hooking up with girls at parties, smoking and drinking across the U.S. frontier.


With this album Adam Yauch and the rest of the gunslingers were saying, "Wait a second, we were just kidding, but fuck that, we're good at this..." When you go on YouTube and watch the music videos for "No Sleep 'Til Brooklyn" or any of their old videos, there's something very ironic in their manner and appearance.

The video for "Hey Ladies" does it all. They make fun of disco, they make fun of themselves, they mock being cool and concepts of machismo...I mean, fuck it, it ain't comedy unless a body is lying on the floor, and with the Beastie Boys, no matter how big they ever got, or how talented they became, or how rich they got, it never seemed like it got to their heads.

That's why their music stayed relevant, all the way from the 1980's to the 2010's. The Beastie Boys never sold out. With the death of Adam Yauch (meanwhile, in another dimension, Satan and his devils are losing whole fleets of demonic starships to this awesome new commander fighting alongside the forces of good known as "MCA") artists across the industry, from LL Cool J to Perry Farrel are talking openly about how the Beastie Boys forever shaped their perceptions, their music, and their perceptions about music.


"Looking Down The Barrel of a Gun" was always the perfect song to play when you were mad at the world. It was a powerful song, an angry song, and MCA always had the powerful voice, the angry voice. He had this throaty rasp to his lyrics, as opposed to the rest of the boys, who could sometimes come across as a little goofy, so you knew when MCA talked bout shooting you he probably meant it.

Album after album they kept making these classics, and I knew that when I bought one you could just hear it, you had to listen to it. You had to feel that music. Just like Edgar Allen Poe or Chekhov or any great work of art, to truly appreciate the Beastie Boys you had to memorize their lyrics, and believe me, my friends and I all tried. More than one person at a bar in L.A. has the lyrics to "Brass Monkey" ready to go, perfectly memorized, with a crystal clear precision.


That's why I feel so bad that Adam Yauch is no longer with us, even though he is now commanding whole legions of angels that are currently obliterating five (count 'em) of Satan's death stars at the same time. Not only is Adam Yauch that awesome of a military commander as he currently fights evil in another dimension on behalf of the forces of light, it's also because he was an awesome musician, and with the Beastie Boys he created music so powerful, so intelligent, so driven by a real personality who was down for the music and the fans, not the industry, that to this day buying three of their albums, no matter which one, will always be a solid purchase no matter who you are.

I remember at one point a friend of mine said, "Hey, check this out," and popped in a cassette tape that was a single of "Shadrach." I listened to it and couldn't believe what I was hearing. Was this just rap? There had to be another term. Why wasn't this on MTV all the time?


But they got on MTV and David Letterman and played all over the world. The Beastie Boys did it, whatever you had to do to be a legendary hip-hop band, and it's so painful I can't see them all play live anymore. What's wrong with the world?

I still remember how all of my friends and I felt right before Check Your Head came out. The air had been electric with anticipation. For a young man listening to music and watching MTV back then, it was an uncertain time. The Poison and Phil Collins and hair metal music videos had been replaced by Nirvana, Alice in Chains and Jane's Addiction. The culture of music had shifted. The punk, goth, industrial and alternative music people had just about taken over.

But MTV had rap videos, and by the time Check Your Head was on it's way, there was a lot of hip-hop to check out. You could hear so much more diversity with rap coming out of the tape players of your friends or bumping off the airwaves, so the pole was very high for the Beastie Boys to jump. It suddenly scared the hell out of all of us that our favorite band had gone into the studio, but now they were going to have to face a whole new world of music. Did they still have the magic?


Between using fuzz distortion that emulated the spirit of industrial that seemed to pervade all music at one point in the early 90's, playing their own instruments and delivering tracks that alternated between dub, punk and rap, Check Your Head was a fucking party in heaven. I remember that for one summer, the Beastie Boys were all my friends and I could listen to, aside from The Chronic and the original Cypress Hill album. We'd rap along with the lyrics, even watching their music videos and imitating the jumps, leaps and gestures the trio made for the "So Wat'cha Want" video. They were back, and of course they dominated.

What I always admired about them as musicians is how every album felt like they really did give a damn. We've all seen those fucking VH1 specials where a band puts out two good albums, crashes to the ground, delivers a third, and then fades into an embarrassing vapor, aside from the inevitable Greatest Hits album.

The Beastie Boys never, ever, ever did that. You could stand by the group, as a fan. They were the football team that never fumbled, broke up or lost. They were the racing horse at the track that was always the sure bet. With just about every other band out there, ever now, there's always a feeling of it being some sort of gamble when you buy their latest LP without checking it out on the internet. Not so with the Beastie Boys. You could always leave the music store with a handful of their CD's knowing you had a fistful of platinum.

I'm going to miss them, and now I feel that, as a fan, I took them for granted.They were like the Grey Goose or hip-hop. Always awesome. Every one of their albums was as cunning, as original and as timely as License to Ill, Paul's Boutique, or Check Your Head. The much-anticipated Hot Sauce Committee Part Two is going to really hurt to purchase. I grew up with friends who where very devout fans of the Beastie Boys, and just like MCA, I really wish they were here, now.


Just the same, it's ok. We'll always be able to listen to the music Adam Yauch and the rest of the Beastie Boys made on the car ride to where we need to go, for the rest of our lives. No matter who you are or where you are going, busting out "So What'cha Want" on your car stereo as loud as you can will not only drive away the blues, it will always be so powerful that it makes your whole world shake, rattle and roll forever.

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