Facebook may have moved on to Maurice Sendak, but I’m still mourning Adam Yauch. Not that he didn’t get his due, if such a thing can be done. In the hours after the news broke, there was not a single trending topic on Twitter related to anything else. I can’t think of another time I’ve seen social media so completely dominated by an event—other high profile deaths and natural disasters included. The Beastie Boys provided the soundtrack to a whole generation, criss-crossing genres and busting expectations open. People were heartbroken, not just by the loss of the man or the music, but by the loss of youth (their own). But Adam Yauch and the Beastie Boys did more than produce some of the best music of the past three decades. They changed the world.
I have always been a fan of the Beastie Boys’ music, but back in the day I was a little more conflicted.
In the 90’s, their influence was everywhere, but it was most noticeable in the bodies and behaviors of boys and men. The Beasties made baseball caps and (for lack of a better word) gangsta swagger part of the white-boy vernacular. I was suspicious of misogynistic undertones (or overtones, depending on the boy). Though the Beastie Boys themselves were pretty clear about the renunciation of the way their first album dissed the ladies, it was less clear that the boys on the street were letting go of that aspect of the archetype. The music was so good, you could ignore the giant penises and caged girls. But what had they wrought upon the youth of tomorrow? I worried a little for my children, before I even wanted any.
As I foster tomorrow’s youth today, the worry seems pretty ridiculous. Yes, the Beasties were out there with their ids flapping on their early records. But what came along with it—and what came after—makes me only happy that they are one of my son’s favorite bands. Granted, he doesn’t mimic their moves and is not (yet) tuned into the stuff that troubled me. But even if he were, I would be able to show him how Adam Yauch came out against it. And how the piles of positive messages they put into the world (lyrically and personally) dwarf the clownish License to Ill licentiousness.
I used to think assuming a character was phony. But now I see the freedom in it. The Beastie Boys taught us that you can be who you want to be and make the kind of music you want to make, whether or not you fit the demographics of the people who came before you. That you can let yourself grow up and still be cool. And you can use your power to change the world in very, very important ways.
For more about the amazing life and work of Adam Yauch, read this.
Photo: Beastie Boys in Japan, Early 1990s; Masao Nakagami