Adam “MCA” Yauch: Old school memories and subsequent graduations
Adam “MCA” Yauch, co-founder of the rap group the Beastie Boys, passed away on May 4, 2012 due to complications with cancer of the salivary gland. He was 47 years old. Adam is survived by his wife, his daughter, and many of my memories. Old school memories and subsequent graduations. The Beastie Boys helped hone me into the free-thinking, nirvana-seeking enjoyer of life that I am today. Hearing of his passing made me revisit some of those early insights.
In 1986, I was a junior high metal head. I had wispy long hair and was declared so skinny that my knees and elbows looked like knots in guitar strings. I had a Ratt shirt, which I had purchased from an actual Ratt concert.
In my mind, though, I was tough. Tough enough to wear fingerless gloves and a flea-market necklace that consisted of a pair of miniature handcuffs attached to a choke-chain dog collar. This was the same one that all the cool kids wore. It was in this state that I first experienced MCA and his fellow Beastie Boys.
Cherie, the undereducated 16-year-old chubby girl who lived in the duplex down the road played License to Ill on cassette tape non-stop and knew all of the words. She was more developed than most of the other undereducated girls in the neighborhood, and could buy cigarettes from the lech at the Zippy Mart, so naturally, I valued her tastes in music.
The hit single from License to Ill was “Fight for Your Right!” Cherie liked this song more than the others on the album and would often rewind the tape in such a way that you could hear a scrambled squeal while it was being rewound. This song featured low-class distorted guitar with a face-slap of rap by what sounded like three white amateurs. It was hard to digest. Confusing even. Rap and guitar? I knew that Run DMC and Aerosmith had tried this idea before, but that song had too much polish. “Fight for Your Right” was raw.
With me, on the surface, there existed a love/hate relationship with this song. How could I be a true-to-the-root-metal-fist-pounder who makes devil horns with my fingers if I was drawn to this addictive shit-hop that all the turds were listening to? Note: “Shit-hop” was a term used by a friend of mine nicknamed Chunk. Chunk lived up to his name as he was short, curly haired, and about 80 pounds overweight. He had a jean jacket, wore a Metallica Metal Up Your Ass shirt and played drums. Chunk was my badass metal friend in 8th grade.
When no one was looking, I purchased License to Ill and began my personal relationship with The Beasties. They were playful. That album was a guilty pleasure to a six-foot, hundred-pound, lanky metal fencepost like me. It was among my first glimpses of the other side of the tracks. I wondered if I was the only cool dude experiencing it or if I was a rad douchebag like all of the other mouthbreathers that liked it. Ultimately, this album helped me achieve a personal revelation: I was listening to something other than metal. Cherie, the undereducated but wonderfully top-heavy teenaged chain-smoker, MCA, and the rest of the Beastie Boys had inadvertently planted the seed that grew into a broad musical taste and mind. For this I am grateful.
In late 1989 I was a senior in a quasi-redneck blue-collar high school in Florida. I wore button-up shirts and jeans at school, and Anthrax, Flotsam and Jetsam, and Metallica shirts on the weekends. Teachers would cut me more slack when I wore clean shirts that had buttons on them, and I embraced slack well. I still had long hair down to my nipples. I also had what you might consider a “dirty squirrel” mustache and eye-glasses that had a little bit of a tint to them. I looked kind of like a gentler, skinnier Joey Ramone with bigger elbows. In no way did I relate outwardly that I liked anything remotely related to rap, even though my secret boombox collection had grown to hold Straight Outta Compton and Paul’s Boutique with the same personal regard as Iron Maiden and Judas Priest.
In Mr. Lee’s history class, I remember this greasy white kid named Jerry asking Mikey Mike who he thought the best rapper was. Mikey Mike was a medium-sized black kid who had one of those Kid-n-Play inspired flat-topped stove-pipe hairdos. He wore MC Hammer pants and a Billabong corduroy jacket he continuously borrowed from a preppie girl named Kristi. Mikey was well-liked by cheerleaders, jocks, and many white kids who spoke with a fake blackcent. He was, after all, an exceptional dancer.
Everyone around thought that the answer was going to be Eazy-E or LL Cool J, but it wasn’t. Mikey Mike answered that question with The Beastie Boys. After a pregnant pause, he cited their DJ’s abilities and that they were fresh. “Shake your rump-a!” he sang out, demonstrating a hip gyration. No one questioned Mikey’s musical taste. He oozed unapologetic pop culture sense. He was carefully studied by nearly all of the white kids who listened to rap at school. If Mikey Mike said that the Beastie Boys were the best rappers — they just were. No one questioned him.
Paul’s Boutique was a masterpiece in song and concept and Mikey Mike realized it earlier than most. With his realization, harmony threatened this divided high school. That music brought happiness and destroyed boundaries. With the Beastie Boys came, quite by accident, an expanded worldview. For this I am grateful.
In the early ’90s, I graduated high school, moved out of my parents’ house and into this bargain rental beach house that had a pool, a ping-pong table, and these holy-shit sized speakers that a guy named Steve built. Steve was crazy. I don’t mean that in a zany, wacky, or quirky way. He was the kind of crazy that makes you uncomfortable. The kind of crazy that makes the papers…
The speakers were glorious. When Check Your Head came out and blasted out of those speakers it was massive. Those speakers cooled the air when they were turned up. They blew out candles. They produced audio so fantastic that they even covered up the sound of the time Dan barfed all over the bathroom, causing him to subsequently slip, fall, and finally curl up into a throw-up encrusted fetal position.
Those freak speakers made the house bearable even if the volume wasn’t so. Our slumlord practically encouraged us. Once he said to my roommate Gary, “I wouldn’t piss on you if you were on fire!” after Gary complained that our landlord’s handyman skills were those of a chronic masturbator wearing mittens.
The speakers erased that emotional trauma. You could easily overlook the sound of the gentle streams of water dribbling down on Gary’s then-molding bed from the perforated roof or the smell of rinsed-off rotten po’k chop sandwiches and chili-gulps going from the kitchen sink and emptying into the driveway. When those beautiful speakers were pumping “Watcha Watcha Watcha Want!?” everything felt right. Their art erased bad vibes and should be considered medicine.
When I added up all of the experiences growing up with The Beastie Boys’ influential irreverence, the sum was a peaceful philosophy towards life. MCA and his seemingly silly counterparts showed me that depth of character wasn’t found where everyone said it would be found. I didn’t need to be grouped as a metal head or anything, I didn’t need to study for it, church was unnecessary, and material things wouldn’t bring it to me. Happiness is a state of mind and the ultimate goal. The wisdom that these fools displayed was very real. They indirectly taught me that those who remain jovial and genuine through the grit and folly end up harmoniously uninfluenced by deception and closed mindedness. There are no races, there are no labels, and there are no divisions. “You’re scheming on a thing that’s a mirage — I’m trying to tell you now, it’s sabotage!!”
Thank you, Adam Yauch. Rest in peace.
Beastie Boys: beastieboys.com