I've had some time to organize my thoughts now, and I wanted to write this post up to explain why I'm so broken up over the death of Adam Yauch (aka MCA of The Beastie Boys).
When I was a kid in the late eighties and early nineties, MTV was forbidden in my house. My fanatical fundamentalist Christian grandmother paid for cable so she could watch her soaps and westerns, but considered MTV to be of the devil and refused to allow it in the house. The only music to which I was ever exposed up until I was around 12 was Christian gospel and classical music. I developed a deep love for classical that continues to this day, but part of me always sensed that there was a whole galaxy of musical expression and innovation that was happening just beyond my fingertips, and I ached to hear all of it. I resented my grandmother to no end for keeping it from me.
But when I was about 13, my grandmother's health began to decline and she became more preoccupied with that than regulating what I watched on TV. So it became easier to sneak in precious half-hours alone in the den to watch Total Request Live and Jump Start blocks of music videos in the early mornings. I'd had no idea how much music existed out there in the world, and immediately I began secretly buying and hoarding "forbidden" tape cassettes in my bedroom. I'd pay my friends to buy them for me when their parents took them to Strawberries, the only music store in our tiny town.
I fell in love with grunge, hip-hop and various pop, but hip-hop in particular tended to elude my sensibilities despite my fondness for its sound. I couldn't relate to it - I loved the beats, the poetry of freestyle rhyming, the creativity from back when hip-hop was creative and clever and not just verse after verse of bitches and hos and ice. But none of it really seemed to apply to me the way the angst and anger of grunge or the giddy youthfulness of pop did. Until I stumbled across The Beastie Boys.
They weren't pretending at being badass gangstas or pimps, they were three nerdy, sarcastic Jewish kids from Brooklyn who somehow invoked lyrics like "My job ain't a job, it's a damn good time! City to city, I'm running my rhymes!" It was fun and silly and powerful and clever in a way I didn't realize hip-hop knew how to be. When Licensed to Ill came out in '87, I did not turn that shit off ever. It always cheered me up after a bad day, it always made me feel strong to shout alone in my room, "I can't stand it, I know you planned it! I'mma set it straight, this watergate! I can't stand rocking when I'm in here, 'cause your crystal ball ain't so crystal clear!"
They were my buddies, these three MCs who loved Star Wars and pretty girls but told Rolling Stone that desperate groupies throwing themselves at them just made them feel "kinda shy. Like, it's easy to get laid but those chicks don't give a shit about us, really. Makes you feel kinda cheap." And then Adam Yauch started studying Buddhism and discussing it with the press and the fans, everything he was learning and discovering about himself and philosophy, and it inspired me to study eastern philosophy as well. I feel like we went through our learning periods together, if on parallel planes. His mind bloomed open around the same time that mine did.
What I loved about MCA was that he wasn't some Hollywood poseur pretending to be deep; he went to Tibet, studied with monks for years, his wife is a devout Buddhist. He actually went so far as to apologize for the misogyny in The Beastie Boys' early lyrics and to change them in all performances and future recordings from that day on, without being prompted or criticized for the lyrics in the first place. He donated tons of money to campaigns fighting to free Tibet. His role as a feminist activist and supporter of womens' rights made me feel like there were good men out there, when the men in my life were convincing me otherwise.
I grew up with The Beastie Boys, I changed with them, learned with and from them. They were part of a revolution for me, a huge part of opening up a whole new world of music to me. I owe them, especially Adam, so much. So thanks for everything, MCA. I love you, man, and I miss you so much.