The M to the C to the A and It’s a Must

Usually when I’m having a hard time, if I’m feeling upset or depressed, I can turn to the Beastie Boys. Their songs make me laugh when I don’t feel like laughing and give me confidence when I have none. There is almost always something in the lyrics that speaks to what I’m feeling–

Good times gone and you miss them
Everyone just takes and takes, takes, takes
Got weight on my shoulders and things on my mind
This drive through world it just ain’t right
I’m mad at my desk and I’m writing all curse words

– and also something that helps put whatever I’m dealing with in perspective:

What you think that the world owes you?”
I got no time in my life to get uptight y’all
Life comes in phases take the good with the bad
when I trust myself, I fear no one else”.

But I couldn’t turn to the Beastie Boys for help last Friday when I heard that Adam Yauch, known to Beastie fans as MCA, had died. It was too painful to hear MCA’s gravelly voice, playing so perfectly against Ad-Rock and Mike D’s delivery. And it was too impossible for a Beastie fanatic like me to think about the end of the Beasties. MCA’s words from “Root Down” kept running through my head: “What a fucked up situation.”

Incredible MCA mural that went up this week in Brooklyn

I spent Friday reading the many obituaries and tributes. (In fact, I’m still reading the tributes. This one on ESPN, of all places, was especially good. The writer got both the man — “People like Adam live 100 lives in the span of time it takes most of us to live just one.” — and the music: “It was not a record, it was a religion, and I lived in the church.” AMEN, sister.) I paged through my Glen E. Friedman photography books, which I’d originally bought because of the pics of the Beasties, and Ari Marcopoulos’s book of photos of the Beasties in the 1990s.

Mr. WholeHog hung one of our Beastie Boys posters in our front window and we lit a candle, making our own little Beastie shrine.

I tried to feel grateful (“It’s called gratitude. And that’s right”) and I AM grateful for all that the Beasties brought to my life over the years (“It started way back in history”) — but I just felt unbearably sad.

It was too big of a loss. I didn’t know Adam Yauch personally, but I knew all too well the distinct joy that he and the other Beastie Boys had brought to my life. And I knew that losing Yauch meant losing the Beasties, too — and I wasn’t ready for that.

I relied on the Beasties. I relied on their music to be, as so many fans put it, the soundtrack to my life. I relied on their live shows for a jolt of energy that I couldn’t get anywhere else. As a Beastie fan, I got to live in the happy anticipation of waiting to see whatever (fucking awesome) thing they’d do next. But that all ended on Friday. With MCA’s death, it was suddenly clear that the Beasties wouldn’t just fade away, releasing fewer and fewer albums, or performing fewer and fewer shows. Their music wouldn’t become less relevant to my life as time went on; it would just stop.

And I knew that what they’d left behind was more than enough, more than any fan should hope for, really: extraordinary albums, some the best music videos ever made, memorable lines and lyrics that now narrate my life. In the Beasties, I’d found a way to reconcile the seemingly conflicting sides of myself – the silly and the serious; the outlandish and the reserved; the desire to make fun of the world and the earnest desire to change it too. They’d taught me so many things, both big (that you don’t have to be defined by your past: “I want to say a little something that’s long overdue”) and small (how to navigate the New York City subway: “The Bronx is up and I’m Brooklyn down“).

Without the Beasties for help this last week, I turned to my other reliable source of wisdom and humor: Calvin Trillin. (At other times, I might have cringed over dropping the Beasties and Calvin Trillin into the same sentence – as if it was wrong to love both rap music and the New Yorker. But that’s another thing I learned from the Beasties: to love what you love, whether it’s basketball or Buddhism, New York City or LA, punk rock or hip hop.) In Alice Off the Page, Trillin’s  beautiful New Yorker piece on the loss of his beloved wife Alice, Trillin writes, “I know what Alice would have said about a deal that allowed her to see her girls grow up: ‘Twenty-five years! I’m so lucky!’ I try to think of it in those terms, too. Some days I can and some days I can’t.”


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