Remembering Adam Yauch, 1964-2012

Sad to hear of the passing of Adam Yauch, the mighty MCA of the Beastie Boys Friday in New York. He was just 47, but will seem forever younger than that. Not just because of his bratty presence, but for his youthful spirit in bringing awareness to Tibetan freedom.

That first Beastie Boys album was transformative for many, but it was for me too – the perfect mix of brash punk attitude, rock chords and shouted rhymes.

As a rock critic of the time, I have had much influence than you would imagine even on my closest friends. So when I was riding down to New York with a pal shortly after moving to Hartford more than 25 years ago and insisted on putting on the Beastie Boys, he was skeptical.

Most roots rock guys were, of rap. But the crunch of that Rick Rubin production, the exuberance of the expression and the specific lyrics: “No Sleep til Brooklyn” got him to admit after hearing the whole thing, that it was pretty darn good.

I was sorry I had missed the Beasties’ first tour, opening for Madonna of all people, but made sure to go to subsequent arena stops for them, driving up to Worcester for a headlining show and making my way down to the Tibetan Freedom concert that, surprisingly, they had organized, this one at the crumbling RFK Stadium in Northeast D.C.

It was a big swell show with members of R.E.M., Eddie Vedder, Dave Matthews all doing a set and lightning striking in the middle of the whole thing, injuring 12. The Beasties’ own set was nearly as electrifying and the whole thing raised more than $1 million for the cause.

Any appearance by the Beastie Boys at any event after that always promised to be a highlight, and their videos, whether directed by Spike Jonze or Yauch himself (under the pseudonym Nathanial Hornblower – he directed “So Whatcha Want,” “Intergalactic,” “Body Movin” and “Che-Check It Out.”) He went ahead and used his own name to do the epic “Make Some Noise” video for the trio’s last album, “Hot Sauce Committee Part Two,” with an all star cast portraying the Beasties: Elijah Wood, Danny McBride and Seth Rogen as the 1986 version, Jack Black, Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly as the Beasties of the future.

Like George Harrison, Yauch was a musician with a strong interst in film, such that he founded a production company Oscilloscope Laboratories, which released his own film, “Gunnin’ for That #1 Spot,” and helped distribute “Wendy and Luch,” Banksy’s “Exit Through the Gift Shop” and Lance Bangs and Spike Jonze’s “Tell Them Anything You Want: A Portrait of Maurice Sendak.”

Yauch was already in our thoughts this weekend, after I saw a screener yesterday of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony taped last month that will premiere Saturday on HBO.

In it, no less than Chuck D of Public Enemy said, “Artistically, they are our role models. Watching them tear down the house up, we learned so much about the importance of a great stage show. They were, and still are, one of the greatest live acts in music.”

L.L. Cool J went further: “If it wasn’t for the Beastie Boys, I wouldn’t have my career that I have today,” he said. “Because the Beastie Boys played my demo tape for Rick Rubin in the NYU dormitory and got me my break. A lot of people don’t know that.”

Safe journey MCA. No Sleep Til Brooklyn!

[A piece I wrote for Salon can be found here.]

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