This column is about politics. Today, it’s not. Still, there’s Watergate, Paul Revere, Edward R. Murrow, fighting for your right, so, kinda still.
Adam Nathaniel Yauch died Friday. If you’re age 16-66 — maybe 106 — you know him as MCA, one-third of the Beastie Boys. He was 47. Way too young. But gone.
Now, half-white Barack Obama (exactly my age) didn’t say a word, even though he was talking to college kids that day, but make no mistake, MCA was no Jay-Z or Kanye West. This guy was the real deal, groundbreaker, up from his bootstraps, Brooklyn boy made good. Funny the “coolest president ever” doesn’t say a word about the passing of MCA. Weird and kinda sad, actually.
“Yauch was born an only child in Brooklyn, New York, the son of Frances, a social worker, and Noel Yauch, a painter and architect,” Wikipedia says. “His father was Catholic and his mother was Jewish.” Kinda like Barack, all over the place, half this, half that, and a tough life ahead from the outset. But nothing from the first half-white, half-black president (MSM has made him black — he’s not; he’s half-and-half. No, Trayvon Martin wouldn’t have looked like his son.)
The boys, the Beastie Boys, started out as a thrash hard-core punk band in ‘79, at the tail end of the movement. The Sex Pistols, Bad Brains, Dead Kennedys, 999, were lighting up America, banging CBGB, 930 Club, every stop on the scene. But the Boys were on the tail end of the punk movement and were looking for a new sound (they definitely weren’t going new wave).
But wait: Rap didn’t really exist yet, but hip-hop was just starting. Could three Brooklyn boys do THAT? Grandmaster Flash, Run DMC and LL Cool J were rocking the mic. Maybe these white boys could deliver.
So, “Licensed to Ill.” “Three Idiots Create a Masterpiece,” Rolling Stone said after the LP’s release. Oh, and the album happened to include one little song: “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!)” — a rock anthem seared in the heart of every 16-year-old bristling for freedom.
Then they toured with Madonna. Really. That was when I first saw them. Some girls I knew said, “Hey, wanna’ see Madonna?” I was all, “Uh, no!” Then they said, “Opening are some guys called the, uh, Beastie Boys?” I was there. Even though the 13-year-old girls packing the arena were horrified — horrified — the Boys blasted it out.
In 1994, Mr. Yauch rocked the bass on “Sabotage.” “Ahhhhh, I can’t stand it, I know you planned it, I’m gonna set it straight, this Watergate, I can’t stand rocking when I’m in here, ‘cause your crystal ball ain’t so crystal clear.” And just like that — wham! — punk and hip-hop were fused together forever. The song also features one of the top three all-time rock screams, perhaps even a close second to Roger Daltry in “Won’t Get Fooled Again.”
The news of MCA’s death reverberated around the world. SiriusXM went live with a tribute, featuring regular joes calling in to recount their first encounter with the band (a remarkable number of 19-year-olds called in; they weren’t even born when the Boys started out). My own daughter, a college freshman, was distraught. “How am I supposed to study when one of the Beastie Boys died. Now I’ll never get to live my dream of seeing them!”
Rockers, celebrities, football coaches — even politicians — took a moment to remember MCA. “RIP MCA U are a Legend and a pioneer. #BeastieBoys4life,” Snoop Dogg wrote. “RIP Adam Yauch,” tweeted Kevin Smith. “You made my teenage years more fun and your art made it easier for me to do what I do. For a Beastie, you sure were a beaut.” “Friday afternoon playlist all Beasties: No Sleep Til Brooklyn, So What’cha Want, Hey Ladies, Intergalatic, Sabotage,” tweeted Detroit Lions coach Jim Schwartz.
Mike Doughty remembered, too: “1994: Yauch storms the podium at the VMAs, doesn’t get thrown off as fast as he thought, and blurts, ‘Um … and Star Wars was my idea!’ ” Even Sen. Chuck “Facetime” Schumer, New York Democrat, weighed in with his own hip-hop tribute: “Born and Bred in Brooklyn, U.S.A., they call him Adam Yauch, but he’s M.C.A.”
The president took time from his busy schedule to comment on the passing of black musicians. When Whitney Houston, a longtime crack addict, died this year, the White House put out a statement. “I know that [Mr. Obama’s] thoughts and prayers are with her family, especially her daughter,” press secretary Jay Carney said. “It’s a tragedy to lose somebody so talented at such a young age.”
And when accused pedophile and drug addict Michael Jackson died in 2009, the White House weighed in with the president’s thoughts. “He said to me that obviously, Michael Jackson was a spectacular performer, a music icon,” spokesman Roberet Gibbs said. “And his condolences went out to the Jackson family and to fans that mourned his loss.”
Mr. Obama is said to have 2,000 songs on his iPod, but he’s never mentioned the Beastie Boys. Too bad. He could learn so much from them. Still can.
“The true key is a trust in self, For when I trust myself, I fear no one else, I took control of my life, just as anyone can, I want everyone to see it’s in the palm of your hand, The past is gone, the future yet unborn, But right here and now is where it all goes on.” RIP MCA.
• Joseph Curl covered the White House and politics for a decade for The Washington Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.