Saturday, May 05, 2012

Now Here's A Little Story I've Got To Tell...

 As countless fans around the world try to come to terms with the death of a musical icon, Adam Yauch aka MCA of the Beastie Boys, I’m trying to figure out exactly how to describe why his death is such a loss to me, and I just can’t shake this one image that keeps popping up in my mind: a home recorded cassette tape, cracked in two but still improbably able to play in my tape deck, lying on the floorboard of my 1978 Chrysler Volare station wagon, with the words “Ill Communication” scrawled on the label. That tape, more than any other, epitomizes my senior year of high school, a tape that was played on endless rotation, and because of that association, is still my favorite of all the Beastie Boy albums.

When I think of the Beastie Boys, the first person I think of is Jeremy Mucha.’ It was with Jeremy that I first discovered the group and with whom I most often listened to the Beastie Boys while cruising around Vicksburg, MS in the Plaidwagon. I managed to see the group twice over the years, and both times I was with Jeremy. In high school, Jeremy, our friend Billy, and I were always together, but musically, it was definitely Jeremy and I that were a bit obsessed with the Beasties. We would spend hours just driving around at night, wasting gas, windows rolled down and singing at the top of our lungs.

At the news of Adam Yauch’s death, many people have been talking about how much their music means to them, many remembering how they listened to the B-Boys in elementary school when their first album, License to Ill, came out (in 1986). That’s not my story, however. I was a late bloomer to the Beastie Boys. I come from a family of major music buffs, but I was an odd duck about my music tastes. I mean, in the eighth grade I became obsessed with Jethro Tull. In ninth grade, I started listening to Tom Waits. And because we had a satellite dish (the big, old school ones) I could watch Much Music out of Canada and got into a bunch of Canadian bands. Because I had that music station, I did know that Beastie Boys, though not very well. Until the summer of 1994, when the video for “Sabotage” went on heavy rotation.

Ill Communication was released the summer before my senior year, and that summer, 1994, was the first time I ever listened to a Beastie Boy album all the way through. It was not long after that I had all their albums (only four at the time). I had posters, key chains, video collections, I even had a unopened bottle of Brass Monkey on my shelf.

So the Beastie’s became the default soundtrack to my senior year and onward into college. In college, any time my crew (in particular, Lynny, Lucas, and Ian) would get into a car, someone would always yell “Parts!” and we would divvy up who gets to sing the different verses of the band, and we’d inevitably have a B-Boy sing-along. I always took MCA. He was always my favorite. I’m not sure why. Somewhere out in the world, there’s a tape floating around of a bunch of us lip-synching to “Paul Revere” in the Hinds Community College cafeteria.

Skip ahead a few years, and in 1998, the Beasties released Hello Nasty, which is a good, but honestly very strange record. I got to see them again on this tour, once again with Jeremy but also with my dad in tow, because by this time he’d also become a pretty big fan of the group (because my dad was awesome like that). Here I sit writing this, 15 years later, and I think about us three standing there at the show, watching MCA jump around on stage, and having no idea of the profound impact cancer would have on the life of all of us. My father’s and now Adam Yauch’s lives cut short, gone due to cancer, Jeremy’s family having recently had a very big cancer scare, and me sitting here wishing I could talk to my dad about what a huge musical loss MCA’s death is. He’d totally be down for that conversation.

Over the years, the Beastie Boys put out several more good albums (not great, but good) and I enjoyed all of them, but none so much as their last album Hot Sauce Committee, Part 2 (and sadly, I expect this WILL be their last album). I love this album, from start to finish, and think it’s one of their best. For a band that had hit their 25 year mark, they had no business putting out an album as good as that, and it speaks to the seemingly limitless talents the three group member’s had. I was stoked to know they were back in full force and was looking forward to seeing what they did next.

But it is not to be. I am not naïve about death, but dammit, I was hit hard by this. Cancer gets to me anyway, but this was like the death of part of my youth- in fact, one of the best parts of my youth. I know that in the grand scheme of things, one singer’s death pales in comparison to the massive tragedies that happen around the world. But no one wants the painful reality of death to come crashing into their party music. The Beastie’s music is so full of life, I cannot imagine that one is now dead. And I was telling Katie last night that, for a small town Mississippi boy, the Beastie Boys were a major part in forming my mental image of what New York City was like. Now, I’ve lived in NYC since those Mississippi days of dreaming of the hip, big city, and it’s strange to me that it now feels as though part of New York City has died for me. 

So RIP, Mr. Yauch. I didn’t know the man. He was famous, I was the fan. But I just want to give a shout-out to my favorite Beastie Boy, MCA, and thank him for his music’s role in my life. I have all their albums on my iTunes and still regularly play them, but that music just never sounds as sweet as it did on that old, cracked cassette tape all those years ago.

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