Other than his untimely death itself, the most shocking thing about Adam Yauch’s passing was that he was 47. In the abstract, we all knew that the Beasties were pushing 50. Shit, all you had to do was look them up on Wikipedia. But no one ever believed it. For our generation, the Beastie Boys were forever 22, the turnstile-hopping, egg-wielding, seltzer-spraying punks. Rap’s les enfants terribles, whose first prank was conning the frat boys of America that they were just like them, brandishing blow-up dolls and bottles of Budweiser. Little did they know that they were also religious searchers, music video visionaries, and street art scholars. Decades before Kanye, they were pioneers of sophisticated ignorance.
No one figured they’d turn out to be a top 5 rap group ever and that’s the way they liked it. Sabotage never works when you know it’s coming and the Beasties re-invented their sound at every turn. The brat-rap of Licensed to Ill was replaced by the spliff-lit western sampledelica of Paul’s Boutique. That in turn birthed the fish-eyed funk of Check Your Head, the punk rap, funk, and B-Boy fusion of Ill Communication, and the space-is-the-place wilding out that was Hello Nasty. I stopped listening to the Beasties with To the 5 Boroughs because there was something unsettling about them serving as rap’s elder statesman. It was a role they handled well, but with the mild discomfort of being jeans and sneakers guys dressed up in suits. That’s not what I’ll remember, nor will you. We will remember screaming sarcastic ramblings about girls, party anthems, distorted grooves, the sound of pure madness distilled into three Noo Yawk Hebrews channeling their neuroses and insane nerves onto the unsuspecting adult world. They were our ambassadors against the squares, the Merry Pranksters returned as rap saboteurs. The triumph of the uncivilized.
My first concert was Lollapalooza ’94. I can trace everything I love about music back to that day. George Clinton. Tribe. The Breeders. Pharcyde. Cypress. I was 12 and my cool older cousin had told me that she wanted to take me to a show. I loved the other acts on the bill, but the main attraction was the Beasties. They were amidst their Ill Communication prime and I’d taped their “Sabotage” video off Yo! MTV Raps and would religiously re-watch it in my room, jumping off imaginary rooftops, clutching phantom guns, and kicking in fake fences. I’d stare for hours at the cassette cover that always looked to me like John Belushi ordering from a drive-thru. Most of all, I’d scream the lyrics loudly, maybe too loudly.
But the brilliance of the Beastie Boys is that there was no such thing as too loud. Like no other group of their generation, they had down what it was like to be a teenager. Their sound was all id and outrage, absurdity and eye-rolling. They knew what it was like to be a total shithead, pissed off at the world and ready for retribution through acts overt and subtle. They made you want to buy liquor you weren’t nearly old enough to legally acquire, steal your parents cigarettes, buy a can of Krylon and spray paint the wall in the alley behind your apartment. So I did and I was so much the better for it. My parents might have disagreed, but parents never mattered in their world. Dad was a hypocrite who smoked two packs a day. Mom was just jealous. IT’S THE BEASTIE BOYS.
What I most strikingly remember about that first concert was the sense of adrenaline it produced. A mosh pit broke out and I entered blindly. 12 years old and throwing elbows to “Sabotage” and “Fight For Your Right to Party.” Young and dumb and exorcising my adolescent angst through their songs, our anthems. My cousin’s dead now too. She died young of cancer in her late 40s and I always think of her when I hear the Beasties. She was old to me, but she was forever cool because she understood, she remembered what it was like to be young. She dug the Beasties.
I don’t know what to tell you right now, man. I’m devastated. This is the end of something. And I’m sure I could offer you the predictable “somethings,” but that’s not fair to the Beasties. They were indefinable and inscrutable, rap’s only true punks. So let’s do it like this, let’s do it like that…Yauch, you will be missed on every infinite summer day in this weird cycle of samsara. Tonight and forever, we will egg houses, drink brass monkey, and commit acts of sabotage in your honor. RIP MCA. Where have you gone?