Saturday, June 09, 2012

Adam Yauch and Mortality

Under different circumstances, I would have written this and never hit "Publish." But since I haven't posted anything in weeks, here it is.

 I cried when I read the news that Adam Yauch had died.  Which is strange, to say the least.  Maybe I was in a heightened emotional state which made me more susceptible.  I had watched my dad die six months earlier, and my eldest dog a few months after that.

I've only cried at a celebrity death once before, when Charles Schulz died.  Schultz, and his work, were one of the most important influences on my life from the earliest age (there was a collection of hardback Peanuts books in my bedroom when I was far too young to read them, probably a gift from some relative given upon my birth), something I didn't realize, or at least hadn't really thought about for a long, long time, until I heard the news that he had died.  I can't remember whether I actually teared up when Joey Ramone died, but I know I felt like it.  Maybe Joey prepared me for the deaths of Johnny and Dee Dee the following year, and Lux Interior a decade later.  I know I didn't cry when Cobain died (wasn't really that huge a Nirvana fan), but it shook me up.  It was so unexpected, it punched the air out of me.  The only other celebrity death I remember being affected by in any way was John Belushi, and that was in a selfish way: I was disappointed that there would be no more John Belushi movies.  A year later, I kept thinking "Man, when is John Belushi going to make another movie?"  Then I would remember: "Oh yeah, NEVER."  Well, I was still in middle school, you have to give me a break on that.

I can think of several reasons why Adam's death is different.  The Beastie Boys are, of course, my favorite band.  Unlike many of the bands I've loved in the past, I never really get tired of listening to them.  What do they represent to me?  The process of growing up.  I feel about the Beasties the way I imagine a lot of baby boomers feel about the Beatles, in that they were making music that was exactly what I was looking for at several different stages in my life.  Not only did I watch them evolve, but their evolution paralleled my own.  When I was 16, even though I never heard their music, they were pretty much where I was: smart-ass teenagers having a blast playing in a shitty punk rock band.  When Licensed to Ill came out, shortly after I dropped out of high school, they were obnoxious drunks blasting heavy metal and rap (the latter I was just beginning to appreciate).  When I was in college, they were still a little obnoxious, but more clever and laid back, psychedelic party boys soaking their brains in weed and acid.  By the early 90's, they were trying to get to work creating something new, fusing all their separate interests.  As I was becoming interested in Budhism, I discovered that they were right there with me.  On 1997's Hello Nasty, as I was fast approaching 30, they seemed to be looking back at their career, at all their past "selves," trying to figure out how to make it all work (that was my interpretation, any way).  And a decade plus later, on Hot Sauce Committee, they managed to forge a fragile fusion of it all.  I can look at the way they treated their Licensed to Ill material over the years, and see a parallel to the way I think about some of the stupid shit I did when I was a teenager: at one point they were so embarrassed by what dicks they were that they refused to perform those songs.  Later, they seemed to accept that this was simply a part of their lives that they couldn't deny.  When they played License songs in the late 90's through the 00's, they seemed to be saying "this isn't who we are now, but hey, remember what dicks we were?"  You can look at their photos and videos through the years and see them growing up before your eyes.  Look at the "Holy Snappers" video, or the photos on the first pages of the booklet that comes with the Sounds of Science anthology, and you see these high school kids.  Then look at the grey-haired dudes in Awesome: I Fucking Shot That!.  You see the process of growing up.  Which I guess is what the Beastie Boys represent to me, and why they are so near to my heart.


Which brings me to Adam's death.  Adam is only three or four years older than I am (he's the oldest--Horovitz is less than two years older than me).  And his death wasn't suicide, or drug-related, or a car crash.  He died of natural causes.  Adam's death is the final step in a process that's been happening to me over the last few years: a realization that, some day, I'm going to die.  That's always been true, and I've always known it, but it's not a vague, abstract idea anymore.  I'm 44 years old.  Not that that's very old.  If all goes well, I should live another 40 years.  If I'm lucky, I might even live another 60 or more.  But I'm...wow, even as I'm typing this, I'm realizing how literal the phrase "over the hill" is.  I can see my death from this side of the hill.  Is that what "the valley of death" means?

Anyway, I don't feel that selfish deprivation that I felt over Belushi in regards to the Beastie Boys.  I feel like, with Hot Sauce, they finished their journey, in a way.  Or completed something they had been working on for 25 or 30 years, creating a complete, seamless fusion of all their parts: rap, punk, funk jams, and heavy metal.  But I do feel some regret that we won't live to see Yauch fulfill his potential as a filmmaker.  Last weekend, we went to the Silent Theater to see a tribute to Yauch.  They showed all the videos he had directed, including the long-from Fight For Your Right, Revisited, and the concert film Awesome: I Fuckin' Shot That! (one of two documentary features he had directed).  I believe he would eventually have made an impressive feature film.  Watching Awesome, where he gave 50 digital cameras to audience members and told them to film the show, then edited it all together, you see the work of a guy with a sharp eye and incredible patience.  Think about watching the whole concert at least 50 times, each time keeping an eye out for little moments: a girl imitating Mike D's dance moves, Ben Stiller standing in the audience rapping along to "Sure Shot," all these little moments.  I really wish I could see the film(s) he would eventually have created.


Reading the Rolling Stone retrospective on the man, nobody around him believed he was going to die, and they all believe he thought he was going to pull through.  I don't know the guy, and I don't really know shit about him, but I feel like he knew, and he had made some piece with it.  My evidence?  "Too Many Rappers."  The song was released as a single months before the album came out.  When Hot Sauce finally dropped, the version on the album had been doctored up with some cool guitar effects, and Yauch had recorded a different verse for the opening stanza.  I couldn't figure out why at the time: the new verse was good, but the old one had been tighter and, I thought, better.  But, in retrospect, look at the verse he discarded:

I been in the game since before you were born
I might still be MCing even after your gone
Strange thought, I know, but my skills still grow
The 80's, the 90's, 2000's and so
On and on, until the break of dawn, to the year 3000 and beyond
Stay up all night when I MC
And never die, cuz death is the cousin of sleep

So maybe this is what I ultimately get out of my Beastie Boys fandom: an acceptance of my own mortality.  Making peace with the fact that, some day, I'm going to die.  At a younger age, it seemed impossible to make peace with, but now...well, I'm not quite there, but I can imagine getting there.

Addendum:
I did this mostly for myself, but if you're interested, I made a two-part mix of my favorite Beastie Boys songs and uploaded it to Mediafire.  It's missing many of the big hits (and Bobbie will be annoyed that it doesn't have her favorite, "She's Crafty"), but it does have some cool semi-obscure things on it.

Part 1


Slow and Low/SHAKE YO RUMP-AH!!!!/The Move/Sure Shot/Tough Guy/The New Style/Funky Boss/Make Some Noise!/Slowride/Stop That Train/3 the Hard Way/Sabrosa/Egg Man/Root Down/Pass the Mic/SQUAT! (De La Soul w/Mike D and Ad Rock)/Get It Together (A.B.A. Remix w/Q-Tip)/Time to Get Ill (Live w/Doug E. Fresh)/5-Piece Chicken Dinner/Too Many Rappers (w/Nas)/Ch-Check It Out/3-Minute Rule/The Negotiation Limerick File/Ricky's Theme (Live)/To All the Girls (Outro)


Part 2
The Biz vs. The Nuge/Beastie Boys/Rhymin' and Stealin'/Shadrach/Trippel Trouble/The Blue Nun/Don't Play No Game That I Can't Win (w/Solange)/20 Questions (w/Miho Hatori)/The Sound of Science/Eugene's Lament (w/Eugene Cole)/And Me/Funky Donkey/Soba Violence/Dub the Mic/Something's Got to Give/The Gala Event/Car Thief/Hold It Now, Hit It!/Oh, Word?/So Watcha Want?/Alive/And What You Give is What You Get/Crawlspace/Body Movin' (Fatboy Slim Remix)/Intergalactic/Transformations

Addendum to the addendum:
My mix is actually incredibly lame compared to this one by DJ Cutler.  Fucking amazing mix of Beastie songs and their sample sources.

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