It has been almost two weeks since Adam “MCA” Yauch passed away after a two-year battle with cancer. During those two weeks I have read, watched, and listened to countless tributes. It was during one of these tributes that I finally realized that a larger piece, than I originally thought, was gone from my past.
I first heard “(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party)” like most kids my age on MTV in 1987. An older cousin of mine had the cassette of Licensed to ILL, and I remember him playing it on this huge silver boom box most of that summer. The Beastie Boys were brash, young, and stupid, the perfect combination for a 9 year-old boy. I might not have understood everything they were rapping about, but I liked it.
The story could have ended right there. As I grew up I remember seeing the videos for “Hey Ladies,” and “So Whatcha Want,” but I totally missed the albums Paul’s Boutique and Check Your Head. I was too far into my grunge phase to let anything without sludgy guitars, and flannel into my CD collection.
Then “Sabotage” happened. It was 1994. Kurt Cobain was dead, and I was slowly emerging from my Seattle-fueled haze. “Sabotage” was the coolest video I had ever seen. It was funny, and the music was killer. It fit perfectly into my post-grunge listening that included Beck and Pavement. I either ordered Ill Communication from Columbia House, or bought it at the local pharmacy that had a case full of music at the front. It also doubled as my comic book shop. It was a pretty awesome pharmacy.
After I picked up Ill Communication it stayed in my CD (I will admit I might have had the cassette) player for weeks. I went Beastie Boys crazy. I bought t-shirts, copies of Grand Royal magazine (I still have a GR magnet on my fridge), I started getting into Spike Jonze videos, and I doubled back and bought the albums that I did not have. I also started to listen to what the three guys in the band were saying about the world.
I will admit that at 16 I was not the most political guy at Pinckney High School. We once had a walk-out over privitization of the school, and I stayed at my desk because I did not actually care. I did not even see it as a reason to get out of class. I was not the brightest guy at 16.
In fact, it took me a few years to really grasp the message that Beastie Boys and Rage Against the Machine were throwing out there. It also took some changes in friends, and growing up to help the process along. At the time I did not realize that Yauch, Adam “Adrock” Horovitz, and Mike “Mike D” Diamond had done the same thing. They were naive young rappers from New York City, and over the course of seven or so years they grew up, and realized they could help make a difference in the world.
Now I did not become a militant protestor. I am still kind of shy about my political beliefs, and how I express them. Most of my friends know me as a liberal guy who keeps himself abreast with the goings on of the world. I have no issues with having a Barack Obama sticker on my car, but there are other issues I support quietly with my vote, and through other means.
I know that was a struggle for groups like Beastie Boys, RATM, and Pearl Jam. They had legions of fans, but most of them were (and stilll are) more interested in music than the message. It is still a struggle for me as I try to be the best human being I can while still shopping at Target.
I am not sure Adam Yauch ever realized the impact he had on a large number of Beastie Boys fans. How he helped change their worldview, and made them realize that we are a part of a world community not just an American community. Some of those fans are probably sitting on Wall Street, or Capitol Hill voicing their opinions loudly. Some might be inside Capitol Hill, or the United Nations working on improving the world. And at least one is sitting in Ypsilanti, Michigan working to make sure his sleeping son becomes a smart, open-minded, human being that loves the world.