|Posted on May 4, 2012 at 2:30 PM|
RIP Adam Yauch
I rarely post about things that are personal, or even music related for that matter, but I was saddened to hear that Adam Yauch passed away today at the age of 47. Adam was one third of the hip-hop/rap/rock trio The Beastie Boys, and The Beastie Boys were one of the bands that really defined my youth, from the 1980s well through my teenage years. I can't think of a time when growing up when they weren't around. The Beastie Boys were the "fun" group. They rapped about friends, and having fun and were a universally-appealing act that welcomed fans of all races, creeds and beliefs. They crossed boundaries in their styles, experimenting being a driving force for the group as they went from punk, to rap to forms of rock and blending sounds together, and were respected by their peers of generations that influenced them, and the generations they influenced.
In this case, though, it's even sadder in how he passed away. Yauch had been diagnosed with cancer and struggled the past few years, unable to perform live since 2009, the year Yauch was diagnosed, and rarely was in the public eye. I remember listening to the local radio station KROQ when their latest album was released a few years back, and the morning show that interviewed the band sans Yauch. His absence was noticeable. It was the Beastie Boys, yet not the Beastie Boys.
As a teen, videos such as Fight For Your Right to Party, Sabotage and So What Cha Want played constantly and I still can remember each distinctly. In the video No Sleep Till Brooklyn, there's a prologue before the music began (which which sometimes cut from MTV) where the Boys knock on a club owner's door. The owner answers and has no idea who they are. Yauch answers "We're the band." The owner looks at them, and asks where their instruments are. He's handed a vinyl record, looks at it dumbfounded, and breaks it over one of their heads (I want to say it was Mike D), yells they only play rock music at the club and then promptly slams the door in their face.
Knock knock again. The owner opens the door once more and the Beastie Boys are now dressed in quintessential 1980s hairband garb, large poofy wigs and all. The Boys are gladly accepted now. The video then consists of them playing the song, starting in the full hairband getup and gradually stripping it all away and, through quite funny scenarios, end up in their trademark clothes.
Then they smash up the rock instruments and unload a machine-gun on all the amps in glorious destruction.
Of course it's fun, but it's also exactly what the BeastieBoys were all about. They were rock, but yet they weren't. They were aware of this and ran with it, creating a sound that influenced countless other bands. A guitar solo in the middle of rap song? Who would have tried such things? They did…and they had fun while doing it. Their music opened a lot of doors, and the three MCs (and occasionally one DJ) were incredibly likable in the process.
They were activists as well with quite a few charitable causes they contributed to, such as the ASPCA, Habitat for Humanity and a number of New York-based charities. Their biggest, though, is the Tibetan Freedom Concerts in the 1990s (and I think a couple the past decade) which brought together a variety of musical sounds from the most popular groups of the era (Red Hot Chili Peppers, A Tribe Called Quest, The Fugees, Sonic Youth, Pavement, Rancid, Patti Smith, Eddie Vedder, Blues Traveler, Blur, U2, Radiohead, Beck, De La Soul, John Lee Hooker, Smashing Pumpkins, Rage Against the Machine, Bjork…the list goes on.) Another showcase of their desire to promote causes larger than themselves, but also promote diversity in cultures by attaching diverse acts to their cause.
The Boys were never really controversial figures, outside of being often loud and causing a ruckus sometimes. They also never seemed to exude an ounce of arrogance in the proc ess, something a lot of rap artists today could learn from. They could have, considering their massive success and high influence on music, but again never did. I suppose with Yauch's passing, though, it's all more a sad reminder that there was a time when music, especially rap, was ambitious and creative and doing more beyond trying to "prove" something or rap about how great they are (there are exceptions, of course, but they more prove the rule). It blended fun, accessible music with a progressive sound that's retrospectively humbling today and, sadly, won't be coming around ever again.