MCA: Forever Young, Never Gone
Posted in Digging In the Crates
A few words on a fallen legend
I think the main reason MCA’s death hit us all so hard was the fact that, perhaps more than any other musical artist, the Beastie Boys always seemed so eternally young. Even though all three members have been on the wrong side of thirty since 1996, we’ve never stopped thinking of them as the three kids from Brooklyn. You didn’t just want to play the Beastie Boys at your party; you wanted to party with the Beastie Boys.
Usually when you refer to something’s “youthful energy” it’s some sort of back-handed compliment. There’s an element of the expression that’s almost euphemistic. You’re saying, “it’s fun, but not necessarily anything to be taken seriously,” or “it’s exciting but it’s not quite polished.” Well, there’s at least one exception and it’s the fucking Beastie Boys. From the moment License to Ill dropped in 1986, the Beastie Boys were ready for prime time. They were immediately the most fun guys in music and somehow they never lost it. Sure, they developed their sound over the years, and sure it was a long ass time ago when they really were just three kids from Brooklyn, but there was never a moment where they got stale, never a moment where they felt old. And incredibly, over the course of three plus decades, there was never a moment where they lost that original magic.
That’s why MCA’s death is so tough to fathom. Even knowing he was sick, as we have since the summer of 2009 announcement of his cancer diagnosis, Adam’s passing felt like a sucker punch. Bart and Lisa will always be at Springfield Elementary, Peter Pan will never grow facial hair, and Beastie Boys just do not die. When you connect to a person through their music, the two become conflated in your mind to the point where the man is the music and the music is the man. The music of the Beastie Boys is urgently alive; how can one of the guys who dropped Hot Sauce Committee Pt. 2 just last year be dead? Dead at way too young 47, it almost seems more appropriate for MCA to join the Forever 27 Club.
The Beastie Boys have been around forever though; originally a hardcore outfit, MCA and Mike D had been together since the end of the 70’s, and longtime buddy Ad-Rock officially joined up in ’83. The fact that I, literally half their age, and so many others of my generation were heart-broken at the news of his death speaks volumes. The impact of the Beastie Boys never lessened because the fan base of the Beastie Boys never stopped growing. They never lost the fans that were there when Paul’s Boutique dropped while constantly gaining disciples like myself who weren’t even born.
I’m a teacher by day, and my classroom is always bumping with the music I love (and that I won’t get fired for playing). When the legendary Levon Helm of The Band passed away a couple of weeks ago I just so happened to have a blank CD and my external hard drive on hand. In tribute, I burned a mix of some of my favorite tracks from Music from Big Pink and Rock of Ages and played it for my students. When I heard about MCA I knew I had to honor his memory as well. With so many hits and classics to consider, I must admit the Beastie Boys song that had been on my mind since the news broke was an odd one. “I Don’t Know,” an atypical track even for a group as eclectic and versatile as the Boys, features the vocals of just one the trio; MCA. He’s not energetically rapping with conviction like usual, he’s softly singing with uncertainty, and you know what? It’s beautiful.
So I went out to my car and grabbed my Hello Nasty CD. I was able to get away with playing plenty of tracks from the 1998 masterpiece, but I couldn’t tell you how many times me and my students listened to “I Don’t Know”. Mike D, Ad-Rock, MCA and Mix Master Mike have never just been three MCs and one DJ who get down with no delay, they are truly transcendent artists. Listening to the now lost voice of Adam Yauch croon about the search for meaning on this Earth in “I Don’t Know,”…it’s honestly just too soon to try and comprehend. I just hope that wherever Adam Yauch is now, he has more answers than he did when he cut that track almost 15 years ago.
There’s one kid in my class whose musical tastes I hold in particularly high regard (he enthusiastically approves when I play Stevie Wonder, The Supremes, Hendrix, or Marley, not so much Disco Duck), so when I first fired up the CD and skipped straight to track #15 I called him over to the boom-box. “I Don’t Know” may be the Beastie Boys’ most subdued and pensive track, but I’ll be damned if when that gentle drum intro began he didn’t start shaking his hips. And that’s when it hit me; MCA isn’t dead. The Beastie Boys didn’t stop being vibrantly alive when they got old, and they sure as hell won’t stop being vibrantly alive just because MCA has died. All the Beastie Boys will be dead one day, even Mix Master Mike is mortal, but it doesn’t matter. I’m sad Adam Yauch died, but I’m so fucking happy he lived. The Beastie Boys aren’t Adam Yauch, Michael Diamond and Adam Horovitz, with Michael Schwartz. They aren’t even MCA, Mike D, and Ad-Rock, with Mix Master Mike. The Beastie Boys are every timeless track they have ever released, and with that, the Beastie Boys will live forever.