I knew the man was sick with cancer - everyone knew that. The Beastie Boys had to cancel a summer venue here in Montreal the summer of 2009, when he was newly diagnosed and needed to seek treatment right away. I thought all I'd read about his health in the years that followed was fairly... positive. Until the recent news of him having to miss the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction last month - that sounded rather bad to me - but I never imagined the end would come this quickly. Le sigh.
Forty-seven seems entirely too soon for someone to die.
I'd seen The Beastie Boys in 2007 at Metropolis - everyone was dressed in semi-Mad Men attire for this gala, and because it was a club and not an arena venue, my friend and I just found a spot near the stage to boogie on down, until we (almost) couldn't get back up again. We were so close in proximity to the group, our spit could have landed on them. Me and my five-months-pregnant belly danced so hard, I'm pretty sure the reason Ava Scarlett is so funky is largely due to the fact that she was there with me - we danced together, she and I. That was one of the best concert nights of my life.
Back in the day, their first album, License to Ill became almost anthem-like on school yards everywhere. Everyone wanted to fight for their right to party, and the young boys jumped all over each other in mock-mosh-pit style, and we drank in all the new video images after school on TV. Suddenly it was time to get ill, and all we really want is GIRLS. Apparently there'd be no sleep til Brooklyn either. One only needed to start a wave by whining, "Nooooow, here's a little story I've got to tell..." and everyone would get busy bobbing from side to side. Thems were good times.
My friend Melanie and I would ride the bus home, with our heads pressed together sharing earphones, slurping up all their lyrical stylings, and then we'd bounce the rest of the walk home, rapping all the way. Just like lots of other kids. The Beastie Boys quickly helped bridge the gap between rap and popular music. I felt downright relieved that I could outwardly enjoy this genre of music - outside in public, I mean - in my school of mostly white kids. Those middle school/early high school years (tough for everyone) had my anxiety peaking like crazy, as I contemplated my negritude amongst the beautiful girls around me who had blonde hair, blue eyes, and tiny ski-jump noses. I didn't want to like rap music then. Or at least, I didn't want to identify that way.
For me, listening to rap music had to be limited to the safety of my neighbourhood, and even then, the massive boom-boxes blasting the block rocking beats were firmly affixed to the shoulders of young white males - my friend Paul's, in particular, who skooled us all in the finer point of rap-love. A love that became deeply entrenched in me for the rest of my life, but one I felt needed to be enjoyed in secret. At least, until the Beastie Boys came along.
I really needed the white kids to like them first. Those three middle-class, white Jewish boys from New York made it super-easy for everyone. Accessible. That first album had an almost frat-like appeal - they seemed like yahoos in their videos, and during interviews on the television circuit - I thought it was fun... but it was Paul's Boutique that really hooked me. I cannot stress hard enough how the age of music videos shaped me (shaped us all, actually) but I the remember details of these mini-movies like a person remembers the details of the home they grew up in: they are permanently etched in my mind. I remember how I felt. I can almost taste my memories. My sister and I burned that music into our minds and spirits by pressing rewind.
And this is why Adam Yach's passing is such a sad one for me. Of course, I didn't know the man, but I've studied him in celluloid for the past twenty-five years, and I've watched and listened to him change, with time, and maturity, and marriage... I heard him become more peaceful as he grew into a man. I watched his hair go grey, kind of early, actually... but his low, rough voice never changed much - it's unique and always identifiable. I loved his physical gangliness - arms and legs forever jangling, and his eyes would sometimes blink at a rapid staccato rate he busted a rhyme. They may have changed the message in their music (maturity is a good thing) but they never lost their edge. They just got better and better over the years.
It's infinitely danceable for me - they possess a kind of funk (thanks to that excellent double bass he sometimes played), with hooks and samples lifted from all kinds of places... and of course they lyrics were always ballin'. Lots of texture. You know what kind of company you're in when you casually ask "So are we gonna kick it?" and someone replies, "Gonna kick it root down..." You might be surprised to know how often I throw it out there, kinda like a test. I always gravitate towards the ones who know.
I still watch their hilarious videos with a face-splitting grin on my face, thinking "You statue-posing, karate-chopping stupids..." and my head bounces on my neck, and I laugh at their dumb antics (which are pure awesome) whether they're wearing moustaches, or tuxedos, or space suits, or polyester suits with the ass-pads down the back. More cowbell, yes please. (Fifty points for you if you catch me.)
I don't listen to entire albums the way I used to, but I hear their music daily, thanks to excellent radio. Every. Single. Day. I still dance while MCA rocks the Sure Shot...
I played the flute in high school. I wish I owned one, just so I could play the hook they use here, and in Flute-loop, and in all the others. I close my eyes, and I know just where my fingers ought to go. True story: I met a flautist at a wedding of mutual friends once, and while chatting about music stuff, he picked up his pipe and played the Sure Shot hook for me, out of the blue. I may have fallen deeply in love with Luc Murphy in that moment of excellence... but alas, I was already married.
I might ever have embraced this funky side of me, had it not been for them. True dat. It was liberating for me. I'm not sure another group would have had the same effect on me at all.
My love for all three MC's (and one DJ) is endless, but my poor, poor Adam Yauch... their founding member, the gentle vegan with the gravelly-smooth voice wanted so much for Tibet to be free - he put his attention on a great cause, I think. His mind and soul seemed really... clean. I hope he wasn't scared while facing the end of his life. I'm glad he doesn't suffer any more. I'm so sad for his family.
My heart still fees heavy today, but I'm gonna kick it root down all day.
PS - If you're a fan, check out a documentary called Awesome; I F*cking Shot That which is basically a bunch of fan-shot concert footage, all spliced together. It's pretty freaking fun - I loved it.