Like most folk, when I think of certain music, my brain generally redirects to memories made during specific points in time. Neil Diamond’s “Forever in Bluejeans” will always be the song Mom and I played at full volume along the backroads of Texarkana in the Trans Am sans T-Tops, heh. WRR was the only radio station that played on my cubed, beloved Sony Dream Machine’s alarm clock — the backbone of my Carter years. And so on. When I accidentally saw the Beastie Boys open for Madonna in 1985, though, the musical barometer for the rest of my life was pegged. After that, there was never a Beastie Boys’ era for me, per se. They were always just there for the rest of the ride — the bad and the good stuff alike.
Russell woke me up this morning with the rotten news: “Adam Yauch is dead.” I knew MCA’d been battling cancer, but I thought it’d gone into remission and that he was going to make it. This was MY Beastie Boy. I hate to see him go. It’s heart-twisting, heavy-hitting. Through the years, MCA had become my old friend from the other side of the speakers.
I told Russell that Adam’s band haphazardly managed to have always been in the background of my entire adolescence and adult years, like those guys’d made a deal with the devil or something. I knew them when every house still had a record player with its crappy original needle, when cassette became king, CD following shortly thereafter. I bought their music when we all started feverishly turning toward records again, but this time calling it “vinyl and wax.” It didn’t matter if they had a song in the Top 40; buying Beastie Boys at the record store was still cool, even for music snobs. After Al Gore invented the internet, erm, we didn’t have to dig for the rare stuff anymore; you could get the Beasties on mp3. Happy/sad. They stuck the course and adapted in their own way, often setting the tone for an entire culture. They taught us it was ok to be assholes as long as we were also morally conscious:
I want to say a little something that’s long overdue. The disrespect to women has got to be through. To all the mothers and the sisters and the wives and friends. I want to offer my love and respect to the end.
I had a fistful of records when I first heard the BBs. These days I can’t park my car in the garage because we’re overwhelmed by so much music in this house. I would be a fool to think Adam and Co. didn’t influence a lot of the stuff I love. After all, those three MCs have seen me through my entire musical journey, taking over exactly where my parents left off, weaving in and out between my pop, goth, PR, reggae, Americana, modern classical phases of life. They were there. Always.
In junior high I was playing “Brass Monkey” on my tape recorder when a boy on the school bus in the row across from mine decided to show everybody his dick. I can’t listen to that song now without thinking about being shocked by the sight of little Jackie Tarwater’s penis, the first one I ever saw. Gad. One minute I was a preacher’s daughter from a small town in northern Texas. The next minute I was trapped in an outtake from License to Ill. Magic.
My friend Anna’s parents used to let us borrow their gigantic camcorder when we were in high school and shortly thereafter. I still have several of those tapes — different nights in Deep Ellum and at friends’ parties. In all of those silly windows from our yonder years, the Beastie Boys were back there behind whatever was going on, busting rhymes while we’d lipsync dressed like Lady Miss Kier Kirby. Gag. We knew all the lyrics, all the samples, all the everythings. I was probably never cooler, looking back.
Lori and Gabe and I spent hours listening to Check Your Head. I remember an entire night staring at the evening’s clouds rolling past while we were lying on some kid’s trampoline. One of of us had ordered a lyric sheet from an address on the cassette, and we all took turns reading through the leaflet, reveling in the knowledge of mysteries unfolded: “It’s ‘I think you’re funny with the money that you flaunt,’ you guys.”
Ill Communication was California: mountains, ocean, my Mustang GT 5.0. That was when I turned into a bonafide grownup: married, about to have a kid, three states away from my comfort zone. The Beastie Boys, with this record, were also miles away from where they began. They were adults, having soldiered through their own rites of passages, and charging forward in musicianship. In the afternoons, I’d open all my windows and blare “Get It Together,” every version — and not a soul ever complained.
When Bella was born, she was unintentionally a Beastie baby. There wasn’t a frown “Intergalactic” couldn’t cure. Music during that time was so serious, except for this. And, man, that video sure was a relief from all the otherness on MTV during its time. We put “My name is: Hello Nasty” name tags across her diapered booty and watched her run around with her Teletubby toys. I shouldn’t have been so surprised last year when I was listening to Hot Sauce Committee, and Bella appeared from her room dancing and singing along, “Mom, I didn’t know you had this record.” Why would she say that? Because it was cool? Who was she talking to? Of course, I had that record. Pfft. Now the Beasties had crossed generational lines.
Like Star Wars.
A few weeks ago, when I was under the impression everything was going to be ok for MCA, “Sabotage” came on the radio. We’d been talking, but my fourteen-and-a-half-year-old Bella interrupted me.
“Sorry, Mom, but you know we can’t listen to this song unless it’s loud. Really loud.” And we turned it up and sang-yelled that thing so hardcore that I started to cry a little because it was so incredibly awesome to be doing that with my own teenaged daughter.
After Russell broke the news about Adam Yauch this morning, I realized how important MCA had been throughout my entire life. As obvious as that should have been, it never occurred to me. What a great rock star he was, a champion of goodwill amongst men, a mouthpiece for my generation. Tonight, I’ll drag out my paper thin B-Boys’ “Goodbye, Mr. Hand” t-shirt and celebrate the past twenty-seven years I’ve known a guy I never met. The guy who “never rocked a mic with the pantyhose” was right:
There’s somethin’ coming to the surface. There’s fire all around. But this is all illusion. I’ve seen better days than this one. I’ve seen better nights than this one. Tension is rebuilding. Something’s got to give. Someday we shall all be one.
High five. See you on side B, Adam.