May 11, 2012

Does Doc Zeus not bleed?

I admire Adam Yauch. As a diehard hip hop fan and a child of the 1990s, that might seem exceedingly obvious to say. But beyond the superficial of simply “liking” his music, Adam Yauch was an extraordinary human being. Beyond his accomplishments in music and film, his character was of the highest caliber and it’s a tragedy beyond writing a few eulogistic words that he was ripped away from the rest of us at the sickeningly young age of 47. He deserved better. Far better.

For a group that started as socially conscious as spilled bong water in a fraternity basement, the Beastie Boys grew up. Over the years, they evolved into something beyond the frat rap idiots whose biggest concern was the eternal, existential fight against parental oppression. They became tireless human rights activists and respected humanitarians willing to be vulnerable in public and speak truth to power when the time called for it. They spoke out famously against the sexual violence that occurred at Woodstock ’99 at MTV’s Video Music Awards in 1999. The group spoke prophetically against the United States government’s military aggression in the Middle East and the growing climate of racism against Muslims and Arabic people at time when American citizens were getting blacklisted for publicly expressing their views on the matter.

However, the group’s most shining achievement in the realm of social justice occurred when the band helped found and organize the annual Tibetan Freedom Concert in 1996 to help raise money and awareness for the Tibetan people’s fight for independence against oppressive Chinese rule. No member of the group was more dedicated to the cause nor perhaps more influential to helping raise awareness in the United States about the issue than Adam Yauch was. Yauch who married a Tibetan woman and converted to Buddhism, fought tirelessly for the cause of Tibetan independence for the rest of his life. He started up the Milarepa Fund, a nonprofit organization, in 1994 to help promote and support Tibetan independence. Over the years and in conjunction with the music festivals the group organized, the nonprofit helped raise millions of dollars to support the cause of social justice.

What I find most inspiring about Adam Yauch and in accordance the rest of the Beasties was the way they ultimately found a way to age gracefully in the music industry and become not only a productive members of society but far more than what they were when they were young kids in their 20s. The Beasties came into our consciousness as smart alecky jackasses, drunk on brass monkey and equipped with a license to ill. They left (and for 2/3rds of the group remain) elder statesmen of hip hop and men who left the world a better place than they found it.

Cancer is a destroyer of worlds and its a testament to who Adam Yauch was and what he accomplished that so many people felt his loss when he passed away. As a young person in 20s who feels far more adrift in this world than I’d like to be, I could do a lot worse than following the example that Adam Yauch left behind for us all. Perhaps, it’s time to get ill.

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