It’s odd when someone you grow up with but never actually know passes away. In this case, it’s Adam Yauch, aka, MCA, of the Beastie Boys.
Growing up in the suburbs of Buffalo, New York, my afternoons after school were often spent in front of the television watching videos on MTV (insert crack about “when MTV used to show videos”). From Duran Duran to Poison, Dire Straits to Madonna, I watched them all, and sometime in late 1986/early 1987, the Beastie Boys ‘(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right to Party’ started airing. I’m not going to claim it was a revelation – I didn’t immediately run out and buy the album. If anything, my Catholic School education made me confused about the whole thing. Clearly, these guys were up to no good, and clearly I was interested in it.
At some point, I purchased Licensed to Ill (on tape!), but Paul’s Boutique would slip by me for a period of time, probably until the time that Check Your Head was released my senior year of high school. The single ‘Pass the Mic’ was all over MTV, and I dug it. This time, I bought the album (again, on cassette) right away, as I was starting to explore more hip-hop and rap, like Public Enemy and Run D.M.C.
Although I loved the singles, songs like ‘Professor Booty,’ ‘Gratitude’ and ‘Funky Boss’ made it into heavy rotation, and I was particularly interested in the instrumentals. That interest would carry over to college, specifically on my various college radio shows. Any time I reached a between-song break to talk through, I’d play an instrumental track off of Check Your Head or Ill Communication in the background. In my dorm room, a Check Your Head poster hung on the wall. I never adopted the style or swagger of the Beasties, but their music was ever-present through my college years.
Besides making genre-bending and defining music, they also provided an outlet. There is a physicality to the music of the Beastie Boys, the punches of percussion, guitar and keyboard stabs, the hypnotic vocal rhythms – songs like ‘So What Cha Want,’ ‘Sabotage,’ ‘Bodhisattva Vow,’ etc. demanded the listener move their body. And who was I to deny it? I was never one to hit the dance floor with abandon, but the music of the Beastie Boys got me close to it.
And that’s what I will remember Adam MCA Yauch for – making music that moved me, both literally and physically.