Adam Yauch, “MCA” of the Beastie Boys, passed away from cancer yesterday at the age of 47.
It’s impossible to measure the influence of the Beastie Boys on my life. They’re one of my favorite bands of all time, though when their first album, License to Ill, came out in 1986, I didn’t get what they were about. I was a senior in high school and “Fight for Your Right” was in constant rotation on MTV. I thought the video was juvenile, the music uninteresting, and their voices grating. When it came to hip-hop, of which I only knew a small amount, I was much more into Run-DMC. I was certain the Beasties would be a flash in the pan.
I was wrong. In college, once I heard the entirety of License to Ill, I finally understood the smart, often witty playfulness of their songs. I was a quick convert. In 1989, when their second album, Paul’s Boutique, was released, I rushed to the Sam Goody near campus and bought it on cassette. (I know, I’m old, get over it.) I thought it was even better than License to Ill, frankly, and it remains one of my favorite albums to this day. After that came 1992′s Check Your Head, which was on par (“Professor Booty” remains the apex of their oeuvre, I think), but after that my interest in the Beastie Boys began to slide downhill. I thought 1994′s Ill Communication was nothing special, despite a few standout songs like “Sabotage” (which gave us one of the greatest music videos of all time) and 1998′s Hello Nasty was completely forgettable (except maybe for “Intergalactic,” which I don’t think is a great song, but is definitely another of the greatest music videos of all time). When the Beastie Boys made a comeback in 2004 with To the 5 Boroughs, I was excited and rushed out to buy it. (It was, in fact, the first Beasties album I bought on CD instead of cassette!) Alas, aside from the song “An Open Letter to NYC,” I found the album lackluster enough that when they returned again in 2011 with Hot Sauce Committee, Part 2, I didn’t bother picking it up. My time with the Beasties was over. Either my taste in music had moved on, or the guys simply couldn’t recreate that late ’80s-early ’90s magic anymore. (I never heard their instrumental albums, 1995′s The In Sound from Way Out! or 2007′s The Mix-Up.)
But I still listen to them regularly. Paul’s Boutique comes out of its case at least once a year, and the song “Professor Booty” is constantly lurking in the recesses of my mind, springing forth like a hungry panther whenever it decides it needs to be heard. “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” is on my workout mix, so I hear it probably once a week. The Beastie Boys will always be a favorite of mine, right up there with Pink Floyd, Planet P Project, early Nine Inch Nails, Fish-era Marillion, and all the others that had such a big impact on me. Their music was fun, their lyrics often far more intelligent than one might think, and their prowess as actual musicians underestimated. MCA was like the older brother of the three members, his hoarse growl as iconic as the King Ad Rock’s nasally whine. I’m sorry it’s been silenced.
As someone said on Google+ yesterday, he finally reached Brooklyn. Sleep well, MCA.