Earlier today I was trying to think of a 90’s luminary whose loss would be as hurtful, and I came up short.
Much has been written about the arc of MCA’s career from bratty b-boy to something of a generational ambassador.
It’s hard to overstate how tuned in the Beastie Boys were to what was going on while always putting their stamp on it.
They went from thrashing to rapping to sampling to funking and just kept going until they had accumulated seemingly every sound they could make, but still they kept on.
And that’s why this loss hurts so much. It feels like the needle has come off the record too soon.
A weekend and beyond of non-stop Beasties music has reminded me that they could do pretty much anything and I’d be happy to let it play. Too Many Rappers proves that the well of mind-blowing beats was far from dry.
Yesterday I was thinking about how unfair it is. The Dick Cheneys and George W. Bushes and Fred Phelpses and Rush Limbaughs and the Koch Brothers all outlived the guy who introduced a generation to the Dalai Lama, and whose ventures brought At The Drive-In and Banksy to the masses.
I also mused to myself that such injustice could only indicate that we either live in chaos or have been forsaken like a lesser world, unworthy of heroes who are consequently forced to move on.
I know that the former is the truth, but the latter feels true as well, which is deeply sad.
The Beastie Boys were no strangers to injustice. The hilarious and fully worthwhile compilation of their clips from the 1994 MTV Video Music Awards is a very funny reminder that they were forever victims of their goofball image, losing out to other MTV darlings R.E.M. and Aerosmith, who maybe were a bit more willing to treat the proceedings with the respect they didn't deserve.
Of course, by then MCA had moved on and was confronting tyranny in Tibet, standing up for women, and condemning aggression, but he wasn't so serious as to be above some Andy Kaufman-style antics, crashing an awards acceptance speech long before Big Baby Jesus or Kanye.
One of the most admirable things about the Beasties is how they were never willing to play the game. In a genre rife with superstar producers and commercialism, they still did what they pleased, switching from stoner funk to thrash to breakbeats on the same record, or in the case of Sabotage, arguably the same track.
My experience with the Beasties is nothing uncommon. I remember reading the stories about Madonna's wild opening act on the Virgin Tour. I would have been eleven when I remember Girls having a good run on Q107's Top Ten at Ten. I also remember the Fight For Your Right video on MTV.
I remember skating with my brother and his friends who were rocking Paul's Boutique. Check Your Head came out as my friends started to experiment, but I was always a bit sheltered and wouldn't really get it for years after that.
I was in a band in Upstate New York when the DC Tibetan Freedom Concert was cut short by lightning, but had tickets for the doomed-to-be-cancelled Beasties/Rage Rhyme and Reason show at RFK when I returned to DC in 2000.
As I watch Awesome; I Fuckin' Shot That!, I realise just how much I took the Beasties for granted.
They have been there my whole life, just making awesome music, making people smile, and making people dance. I can think of few pursuits more worthwhile.
By the way, if you haven't seen Awesome; I Fuckin' Shot That, it's as fine a concert film as ever made, and a masterpiece of video editing by MCA's 'uncle' Nathanial Hornblower. It it truly worth your valuable time, and guaranteed to satisfy.
I just watched MCA incite utter pandemonium at the end of Shake Your Rump at the Garden. Now he's playing stand-up bass in a ruffle-shirt/powder blue tux. Soon he'll be letting the crowd rip Paul Revere, and I will forget for a moment that this is it.
I will eventually learn to accept the many riches MCA left us for the precious, finite gifts they are.
And more, I will try to remember that Adam Yauch lived more in 47 years than most of us will ever appreciate, much less attempt.
Let this be one more cruel reminder that our time is limited and the clock is ticking.
And yet, I can't end this on a down note, because Gratitude's bass line is blowing my speakers out and a psychedelic orgy of funkiness is taking place onscreen. Gratitude is what they had for us, and the feeling has never been more mutual.
Thanks for the music, the memories, the inspiration, the movies, and the example.