I realize it's not like I've crawled out from under a rock and admitted something that is a shock, but there may not be a lot of 43 year old men who admit to liking the Beastie Boys. Here I am though. Recently, Adam Yauch, one of the founders of the band/rap act died of cancer at age 47. I'm not ashamed to say that it kind of shook me up a little. There are a couple of bands out there that I grew up with and hold a place in my heart, mind, and psyche to this day. The Beastie Boys are one of those, along with The Replacements. Sure, I grew up listening to Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, and the Beatles, along with a bunch of bands and artists that sprung up during my teenage years, but only a couple really connected to me on a level that saw me follow their entire careers. The older bands were not really of my generation, so my connection is after the fact. I suppose what I'm getting at with this is that I'm finally starting to look at my mortality through a medium I love, which is music.
The Beastie Boys were 21 year-old bad asses that invaded a mostly black art form and broke down barriers for that art form. Hip hop was generally disregarded by white, mainstream radio listeners for years. 1986 and the release of "Licensed To Ill" really changed how radio regarded rap and hip hop. When a record sells 8 or 9 million copies, you can bet that someone is going to cash in. With that "Fight For Your Right To Party" was plastered all over pop radio that summer and fueled the interest of rock and roll fans like me. I was listening to the Beatles and Led Zeppelin and then started hearing these guys that were referencing lyrics and using guitar licks from "The Ocean". Yeah, I was sold! The Beastie Boys appealed to my inner goofiness. I wanted to be like that. I wanted to let go and be less inhibited by my upbringing. I wanted to be able to have harmless fun and enjoy any type of music I wanted to. Whether it was pop, hard rock, country....or yeah, rap!
"Licensed To Ill" made it OK for a white teenager to listen to rap. The threat was more comical than it was born of inner city turmoil. It would have been nice if hip hop had found its audience by working from the ground up behind the Sugar Hill Gang, Grandmaster Flash and others, but to be honest, they were seen as threatening to the white standard of what music should be. It took three white, Jewish guys and heavy metal riffs to push hip hop into white, suburban consciousness. I'm glad it did, because opening myself up to it at that age, allowed me to appreciate black artists at the time like Big Daddy Kane, LL Cool J, and Run DMC, and later on in my life it allowed me to unapologetically (not sure if that's a word, but it works for me!) enjoy Ice T, NWA, Sir Mix-A-Lot, Pigeon John, and Lupe Fiasco.
By 1989, I had found myself uncertain of my future and not knowing the direction of my life. I applied to Lindsey Wilson College and broke away from my rudderless teenage years. At the same time, the Beastie Boys released "Paul's Boutique", an album that I immediately fell in love with. Many critics panned it and the public didn't buy it. I did. It played right into my hands as a music lover. It had funk backgrounds (and I love funk), Johnny Cash, The Beatles, and witty, socially sensitive rhymes that just caught my interest. I was hooked. "Paul's Boutique" is now regarded as a hip hop masterpiece that would be too costly to try and recreate in today's litigation happy culture. The beats were clear, the rhymes were bold! They went away from directly copying their huge selling debut and from that point on plowed through their music in their special, no compromise way. "Check Your Head" was their next release and it saw the Beastie Boys playing their own instruments and pulling some influence from early 80's punk. They continued to make albums that were interesting and fun for the next 20 years, which culminated in the release of "The Hot Sauce Committee, Part 2" just a couple of years ago. That album had been delayed in its release due to Adam Yauch's (MCA) battle with cancer. Yet another record by a band that I had been following for 25 years that I really took too. The Beastie Boys were MY band. I grew from a teenager to a man listening to their awesome beats, fun rhymes and endlessly youthful attitudes.
A few weeks ago, I had three friends text me to let me know that MCA had died. They knew I was working long hours and not able to catch the latest news for a few days. Wrapped up in my work, it didn't hit me immediately. It was just another celebrity that died. A few days later, with my work behind me, I was able to reflect on Adam Yauch's death, which came just after the band was inducted into the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame. It hit me kind of hard. One of my cousins was sending me MCA lyrics daily. I was watching videos and interviews and really just sinking into what it meant. Part of my youth was tied to this band and I was near their age. Now, one of them was gone and I wasn't going to get any new music from them as I moved into middle age. Is that life's way of letting you know that things are winding down? That you need to start getting busy with life, because you are on the down hill slide? I'm not sure. I do know that it bummed me out for a week. I didn't know the guy. I didn't have a lot in common with him. He did make music that connected me to my teenage years. Years that I don't remember quite as well as I used to. He was a part of a musical act, along with Michael Diamond and Adam Horowitz, that broke down the wall that pop music had built around itself. It was OK to like hip hop. They made it OK to love them as well as Springsteen, Madonna, and Van Halen! As they aged and matured, they continued to make music their way. They never became an oldies act and never got stale or irrelevant. They re-invented themselves with each new record, without selling out to the flavor of the day. They set the trends and they did it on their terms. I will miss the Beastie Boys.
I suppose I'm waking up to the fact that I am finally at the age where I'm going to see friends, family, and people I know leaving this existence. My connection with the past is going to start wearing away. Hell, if I died today, it would only be about 3 or 4 decades until there would only be a couple of people (my daughters) that will even really remember me or care that I was here. That's life. It's the process that all of us go through. There comes a time when you hit the wall and look back. You realize that your potential for making a difference or leading life in a certain way is pretty much gone. I'm there and I hear life loud and clear. I'm closer to the end than the beginning.
Here is a tribute that was paid to the Beastie Boys by Mix Master Mike, Kid Rock, Travie, and Questlove (from The Roots) at the Hall of Fame induction. I really enjoyed it and it's evident this was born out of love and respect. Enjoy.
"Girls. All I really want is girls."
The Beastie Boys