By popular reader demand, CDM remembers Adam Yauch this week, teaming up with our friends at Network Awesome, who dig deep into the archives for some video gems. Peace, Adam, indeed.

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It’s not hard to understand the impact of the loss of Adam Yauch, aka MCA, founding Beastie Boy. With the passing of music idols comes a sense of the passage of time, all the more so when they’re barely into middle age. But MCA, to a swath of music fans, is more than a distant idol. He, and the band he helped build, somehow make a connection as everymen to those who loved their music. It’s not because they’re white kids from Brooklyn rapping, or because Yauch had a Jewish mother; that’d ignore their popularity across the broader hip-hop spectrum and far from the New York City boroughs. It’s not simply their combination of punk and hip-hop and rock, though that blend they and producer Rick Rubin brewed was clearly an essential vehicle.

Somehow, Yauch spans coming of age all the way from unapologetic immaturity to genuine manhood. Maybe it’s beause Yauch was so downright irreverant, ready to speak up, in that uniquely forward manner of New Yorkers, across that whole span. And Yauch’s own journey has unique appeal, seeming to play every possible role a musician can. From starting a band with an inflatable phallus and crank calls to ice cream shops made into raps to contemplative Buddhist advocate and activist, everyone seems to just follow along. “You’ve got to fight for your right to party,” and the fans nod in agreement. “The disrespect to women has got to be through,” and the fans nod in agreement. From raucous kid to advocate of women’s rights, against violence, for Tibetan freedom, in a New York facing down 9/11 and an America choosing between peace and war, Yauch earnestly gave voice to those people. Celebrities can try to do this, but Yauch and the Beasties could do it for fans who truly felt they were one of their own.

To understand that appeal, though, you have to go back to the most irreverant stuff, the jokes the Beasties would later apologize for. You have to see them in their rawest state, mugging for New York’s DIY public access television, making weird informercials for their music. You have to see them live, tearing it up, making the music that kept them from being just another label creation or young kids’ fantasy. People loved Adam Yauch the man because they understood the kid, because they grew up with him. And what an extraordinary path he took – what an incredible, unforgettable voice.

Adam Yauch in Barcelona at SONAR. Photo (CC-BY) Michael Morel.

That’s why I’m hugely grateful to Jason Forrest of Network Awesome for teaming up with us to share some of those videos, some of the oddest and most obscure finds, dug from the archives and found via YouTube, “sampled” from the Interwebs in the way the Beasties sampled on their records. In the lineup:

Live Music Show: Beastie Boys, Curated by The Sadnesses

TALK SHOW – BEASTIE BOYS – All the videos on one Network Awesome page

Assuming you can tear yourself away from watching the videos, we have text, too. Among the many words spilled over the past week by fans, here are a few of my favorites.

Sasha Frere-Jones, who met Yauch first in 1982 at age 15, gets straight to this personal connection in his obituary for The New Yorker:

Adam Yauch was a part of my childhood, an ambassador to America from our New York, which is now gone, as is he.

Understanding both the pre-Rubin Beasties and the improbable, million-selling phenomenon that was to come, Frere-Jones explains:

“Licensed to Ill” presented us with a can of question marks. When did they gain access to handguns? When did they start smoking angel dust? When did they start hitting girls? WHAT. (And you could just sample a Led Zeppelin record? That was O.K.?) When “Licensed to Ill” hit the world, at the end of 1986, it was like an April Fools’ joke that lasted a year. America apparently wanted to hear backward TR-808 drums and samples of Trouble Funk records. Or maybe they liked white kids rapping over loud guitars about partying. O.K.—hold on. Maybe it wasn’t a mystery. “Cooky Puss” was a joke for New York. “Licensed To Ill” was a joke for America. Or on America. It was hard to tell.

A must-read, as I think the most personal of the remembrances, while still – despite his apologies – maintaining enough journalistic distance to provide insight in a way those who knew Yauch must surely appreciate:
PEACE, ADAM [The New Yorker]

CDM reader “nonnon” Dave Madden is not an obituary you’re likely to read elsewhere, but on his personal blog I think he gets right at the heart of that connection to fans, and that feeling of being “fourteen forever.” He paints a picture of 1989:

We weren’t kids, but eighteen only makes a man in theory, especially if you’re still living with your parent(s). The point is, though License to Ill would not be understood, or appreciated, or met with anything but disgust at home or by girlfriends at the time, it was the soundtrack of that first fulltime job and year between half-grownups “taking some time off from school” and someone nudging us with “you need to sort your life out, mate”. It was otherworldly, both the music and the idea that people could stay fourteen years old forever.

I’ll Steal Your Honey Like I Stole Your Bike: MCA RIP and the Influence of Beastie Boys On My 1989

I write about gory technical details because I always find some sense of what makes musicians tick. So, accordingly, we can look back to Electronic Musician for one view of how MCA and the Beasties worked together. For a band that came out of neighborhood friends, it’s little wonder that even in their late albums, they got there by getting together in a room and recording together, all at once. MCA tells EM:

“There is something about the energy of the three of us in the room at the same time,” MCA says. “The main take for any given song will always come from that setting. You could go individually and really scrutinize and do a million punches, but, somehow, the master take always comes from the three of us together. We don’t do as many fixes as compared to how most records are made.”

Future Flashback (2004)

The New York Times takes a New York-centric view of Yauch – whose last name is pronounced, conveniently, in the way the city’s denizens once pronounced York. (Say it: “Yowk.”) Writing for that paper, Jon Pareles codifies the many dimensions of what MCA was to the Beastie Boys, and the Beastie Boys to music:

Mr. Yauch was a major factor in the Beastie Boys’ evolution from their early incarnation, as testosterone-driven pranksters, to their later years as sonic experimenters, as socially conscious rappers — championing the cause of freedom in Tibet — and as keepers of old-school hip-hop memories. The Beastie Boys became an institution — one that could have arisen only amid the artistic, social and accidental connections of New York City.

In the history of hip-hop, the Beastie Boys were both improbable and perhaps inevitable: appreciators, popularizers and extrapolators of a culture they weren’t born into.

Rapper Conquered Music World in ’80s With Beastie Boys [New York Times obituary]

pwr2mca, and accompanying fan page on Facebook, which is “sending love and support to Mike and Adam.” Photo (CC-BY-SA) Margrethe G F.

But maybe the most hopeful vision comes from some of these videos, from the youngest iteration of Adam Yauch on cable TV in his home of New York. That homebrewed, DIY, straight-from-the-neighborhood spirit endured in their albums and videos through multiple decades, multiple generations. And it’s appropriate to remember Yauch as a filmmaker through that medium. It seems we still haven’t seen the act to come out of the YouTube generation, the way the Beasties ascended from public access to MTV. But maybe, somewhere, that neighborhood band is there, whether in Brooklyn or a suburb of Delhi. Maybe they’re fourteen. Through the miracle of recording and the album, we can remember Yauch as the man he became, but also as MCA, fourteen forever, and that spirit that drives musicians – endless, irreverant possibility.

  • Ronnie

    I was a kid when Licensed to Ill came out. Looking back, it made quite an impact on me I guess. I remember me and a friend did No sleep till Brooklyn on electric guitar and drums at some high school music event, much to the dismay of parents and teachers who came to see students play classical music on violin, piano, and whatnot. We sounded like crap but the kids loved it.

    As I moved through life, the music of the Beastie Boys was always there with me to take me to new places. Much love, RIP Adam.

  • youngcircle

    Yauch was way too young to die, but man did he fit a whole lot of living into those short years. The DIY glory of ‘Paul’s Boutique’ was such a massive influence, to me its an absolute classic. Much love to MCA, rest in peace, brother.

  • TC83

    This is a wonder tribute to Adam.

  • Aaron

    As much as I enjoyed their earlier albums, check your head and esp. ill communication blew me away. The collaborations and focus on instrumentation on those records was defining. I never really had the same feeling for the records after those years, but have continued to respect their work. Adam and the boys have done alot for many communities and raising money. They are one of the few that have used their stardom for the betterment of others and had real impact.

  • Phillo

  • bgrggfe

    Beijing policy makers say they’re eager to encourage greater domestic consumption. Chinese shoppers are famously luxury-happy, flying to Hong Kong and further afield in droves to stock up on Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Chanel and more. All of which means the stage is set for the next great innovation to hit China: 
    Louis Vuitton Outlet malls.

  • Downpressor

    It bugs me that people act as if Yauch abandoning Judaism for Buddhism is something cool or something to be admired.

    • Peter Kirn

      It’s my belief that people following their faith of choice, following their convictions, is to be admired. That would likewise include a Buddhist converting to Judaism. And intolerance of people’s beliefs is not something I accept on this site.

    • Downpressor

      Its not a question of intolerance as much as my opinion on his choice. When any public figure makes personal matters public, opinions will ensue. My opinion isn’t related to his choice (even I personally consider it sad) as much as the public response to it which in my opinion wasn’t based on an understanding of Yauch’s choice as much as a sort of Orientalist attitude regarding Tibetan Buddhism on the part of many fans of his generation or younger.

    • Peter Kirn

      I don’t know Adam personally, so I can’t comment on his choice. But the nature of Buddhism is such that practicing the faith is not necessarily “Orientalist.” And I think, given the massive doses of hate and fear applied to faith, a certain amount of leeway can be given in granting people the benefit of the doubt.