My Life with MCA

My Life with MCA
Adam "MCA" Yauch

When an old friend texted me “Adam Yauch died” last Friday, my head took a moment to register…

Wait… Who? … Wh…

All I could text back was, “Oh no.”

Of course I know who Adam Yauch is – one of two members of the Beastie Boys named Adam – but the man, the professional rapper, punk rock bass player, activist, filmmaker, gets lost behind the mythical moniker MCA.

I didn’t know Adam Yauch the man. But MCA has been there for my entire conscious life – offering gift after gift after gift….

. . .

While in our twenties, that old friend (Chad), another friend (Tom) and I regularly rocked a rendition of the wild west rap epic “Paul Revere” at our karaoke bar. There were only two mics we tossed back and forth like punks, spilling beers, snarling like we were on that boozy run from the sheriff. I nearly punched the beloved DJ Jerry in the face on several occasions while acting out the piano bar heist finale (he hasn't de-friended me on Facebook, so we still must be cool).

Since my bros both aptly impersonated the nasally rapping of Beastie Boys Ad-Rock and Mike D, I growled and yelled my way through the song…

I was MCA.

Every time I boomed, “Now what do we have here.. An outlaw and his beer?” I was channeling whatever it was the performer Adam Yauch channeled to turn himself into the mythical, imposing outlaw.

Whenever I yelled “I run this land, you understand? I made myself clear?” it felt good.

It got me residual cheers that Adam Yauch earned for being a unique voice and a true original.

Thanks for that, MCA.

. . .

But for me, the Beasties were more than just a fun bar band.

“Fight for Your Right” (maybe "Brass Monkey") is as deep as many go into the great Beastie catalog. If that's the only magic you've experienced, it's cool, but just to hint at something you might enjoy investigating if "free time" is ever to exist again in the future (I understand -- there's a guitar in my hand and a cat scratching my knee as I write) -- those dudes can fully jam.

I first learned the extent of this jamming upon popping-in Check Your Head and smoking a few cigarettes during one of those long, angry “Screw my parents/girlfriend/the world/16-year-old-suburban-white-boy angst” drives through the forest.

[ Again: The Jam Room does not endorse smoking. And we (we? Like I have minions?) will come to your house and throw water at you (it’s healthier). ]

The party I brought along for the drive was epically right.

I had owned the album for a while, but what I heard from the full spin was intense: a few fun rap songs, cut with mild interludes begin... But then something happens around track eight besides the end of an album – there’s more album.... .

After the “The Biz vs. The Nuge,” the slow realization begins to occur that the first seven songs have been a slow rev and what’s building is an intensely funky sprinting jam-session of beats, keys, kicks, claps, rock and guitar, sorrow and joy through a heart-filled groove towards the final, thoughtful denouement.

Songs like “Time for Livin’” and “Stand Together” show the Beastie Boys’ roots as a punk band – “P.O.W.” and “In 3’s” flex their funk muscles and “The Maestro” and “Professor Booty” nail down the fact that the guys actually have a good time making good music. (If you're not laughing and dancing by the end, you should stop kicking puppies and give music a try as a hobby.)

A lot of times one of the bigger parts of being a good writer, musician (bullfighter? A lot of things..) is knowing what to cut out and when to end the show (that won’t happen in this blog. Sorry), but there are a fine few albums that reveal the endlessly gushing celebration inside an artist’s head as it pours out (Sublime’s 40 oz. to Freedom is another (oddly both dropped in the same year of 1992)).

A good album can start out a party and be left to spin because it is a party – and Check Your Head brings all the energy, highs and lows, laughs and anecdotes – confident middles and slow, thoughtful ends.

These Beasties are more than just rappers, I learned on that car ride – they are sonic masters. And they actually play instruments. Lots of them.

MCA’s bass roars and bumps through the album just like his voice – providing casually low-end funk with confidence and enthusiasm, laying beats that still bump back into my head today as I walk through the suburbs beatboxing like a white boy – unafraid to beatbox because of this very band.

On the cover of Check Your Head, MCA is the lone Beastie gazing into the camera, sporting a hoodie and silly, balled stocking cap, hand over his bass case, as if to say “This is mine. What’s yours?”

I’ll say it again – Check Your Head would be on an extremely short list of my all-time favorite albums, ranking with the likes of The Wall and OK Computer (why make short lists, though? Did Dunder Mifflin finally fold?).

It’s amazing that this album even exists, considering how many artists take the first whiff of fame as an opportunity to come out from behind the guitar forever and don increasingly ridiculous makeup while writing increasingly popcrapular radio songs (you hear me, Jewel? Sheryl Crow? Sugar Ray?).

The Beastie Boys, after the most successful album they would ever make, still tried to get better -- strode to become more worldly -- became more (not less) human.

I wasn't alive when The Beatles were around, but I can't help thinking of the example they set that was followed by this punk/rap group.

. . .

There are plenty of Beastie anecdotes I could relate – Licensed to Ill being one of the first cassettes I ever hid from my parents (who owned a deli. White Castle was banned in our house) –  2007’s instrumental album The Mix-Up being one of the few records we could stand to play over and over at work one summer because the radio broke and it had no curse words – but I’ll skip to the last….

One of my last great MCemories [Redacted] memories is seeking out and listening to the full (half-hour long) “Fight for Your Right (Revisited)”/ “Make Some Noise” video (directed by MCA himself) just last year.

A Friday night it was – cold beer – Skype with two friends who live across the country. Upon seeking out the video, Joby found it first, began watching for about two minutes while instructing me where to find it – I found it, watched for five minutes while instructing James how to find – Jay finds and begins watching…. Which lead to a night that sounded (to L., who was trying to fall asleep on the couch) like this:

:::Loud music. Weird noises:::
Joby: Hahaha! Wait till you get to this part…
Me: [Two minutes later] HAAH! What the hell was that all about? Jay, keep watching…
Jay: Wait.. Was that Will Ferrell? What’s going on??
Joby: I DO recall Will Ferr… HAHA! Are they..??! Wait till you guys see this…
Me and Jay: CRAP!
:::Loud music. Weird noises. Beer bottles clinking:::

Anyway… I highly suggest gathering up a few of your more Beastie friends and watching the video in any state (Beastie Boys: "Fight for Your Right (Revisited), Full-Length").

What didn’t really click at the time was the near total lack of actual Beastie Boys.

[CAMEO SPOILER ALERT] We hardly realized that a very skinny Adam Yauch himself was only very briefly on screen. The presence of MCA loomed so large, channeled by others who loved him.

. . .

The Beastie Boys created this line they walked – balancing caricatured hip-hop personas with real musical craftsmanship. Those songs from the old days: did they even like White Castle? Girls? To party?

Probably. But Adam Yauch’s personal quest to free Tibet showed that it surely wasn’t all they were about (he co-founded the Milarepa Fund in 1994). Yauch also lead the band in very public awards show speeches against the stereotyping of Middle-Easterners. Adam "Ad-Rock" Horowitz followed, pointing out the misogyny he observed at concerts (specifically Woodstock ’99) bringing gravity and actual thought to more than a few pat-yourself-on-the-back-type MTV award shows.

I found a quote from Yauch I'd never heard before concerning the old antics/new activism dissonance: "I'd rather be a hypocrite to you than a zombie for life." (We can only hope that this blog is a popular hangout for politicians.)

On “Sure Shot,” my favorite song off Ill Communication, Yauch raps, “I’m gonna say a little something that’s long overdue/ The disrespect of women has got to be through/ To all our mothers and our sisters and our wives and friends/ I want to offer my love and respect to the end.”

Even after his hometown New York was attacked on September 11th, 2001, Yauch rapped in the 2004 album To the Five Burroughs, “I’m gettin’ kinda tired of this situation/ The U.S. attacking other nations/ And narration on every station/ False election got me losing my patience” and “I went to get a loan and it asked for race/ I wrote down ‘human’ inside the space.”

. . .

There are people who still know the Beastie Boys as three kids fighting for some oddly-withheld right to party… And that’s okay, because that means there are still more people to receive these gifts the Beastie Boys have to share.

This isn't going to be a very hilarious or interesting blog to many... But I must put myself through the catharsis of getting it all out. I've listened to song after song all week long, thinking of little else.

Nearly a week later and my eyes still well-up as I read the articles and listen to the tunes (being a cancer survivor myself makes it all the more surreal). But I wouldn't trade the great sadness I feel now for never having known of MCA.

Adam Yauch is gone. But MCA will live forever.

A musical pioneer. A mentor.

Who exists alongside all of us.

 

"If you can feel what I'm feeling then it's a musical masterpiece/ If you can hear what I'm dealing with then that's cool at least/ What's running through my mind comes through in my walk/ True feelings are shown from the way that I talk."

RIP Adam Yauch - 1964 - 2012

 

[ I tend to cover Beastie Boys songs on crappy acoustic guitars. Like this: "Sabotage" (acoustic) ]

[ Another great blog covering Yauch’s activism: A Beastie Boy's Surprising Legacy ]

[ An interview: "Sometimes you just gotta shut down." ]

[ beastieboys.com ]

{ Beasties } on Conan

{ Boys } as the MTV house band

Comments

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  • Dude, this is EPIC! I need to write a response to this in due time, you have inspired me. I thought that no one would want to read another blog about Yauch's passing, but after reading this I disagree. Soon I will share my stories too, thanks! These are the ties that bind...

  • In reply to radstarr:

    Nice. Thanks man. I thought the same thing, but had to get it out anyway. There are probably so many awesome memories of this dude that the great blogs could go on forever.

  • In reply to Dan Bradley:

    I'm looking forward to your MCA memories.

  • Beastie Boys - New Jersey 1992
    Click here for the tracks:
    http://www.bigozine2.com

    Might be cool to check...

  • Very well said! This made my morning.
    I'm also one of those people that hasn't listened to much else over the past week. But I noticed today, his rhymes are starting to make me smile and rock out again despite my sadness that he's gone. I just can't help it- nothing starts my day off better. Those guys have played a little part in every day of my music loving life, as far back as I can remember. What a creative and generous individual- the world just won't be quite the same without him.

    I can't help but hold out hope that we'll see another video compilation someday, and maybe some more unreleased instrumental stuff. So many great videos/shorts since the last box set came out.

  • I finally wore my Check Your Head shirt out today because i felt i could do so happily. Was pleased to find that i got comments by people of all ages, shapes and sizes everywhere i went. MCA will be remembered and loved for a long, long time.

    What a great thought, too! Those guys MUST have a wealth of recorded jams... Hopefully we'll see lots more.

    Thanks for hanging out in the jam room, Funkasaurus!

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