On May 4, 2012, the world lost one of its bright lights. Adam Yauch, a k a MCA of the Beastie Boys, died after a long battle with cancer. Depressing news for music fans all over the world. We at THE BOMBER JACKET send our love and condolences to the Beastie Boys and their families during this difficult time.
MCA was a pretty amazing guy. As a founding member of Beastie Boys, he helped change the face of hip-hop. He traveled the world, rocking people from the U.S. to Japan and back. Yauch was a loud and constant voice for the people of Tibet, making a Free Tibet one of his life’s missions. He founded Oscilloscope Laboratories, a film production and distribution company responsible for releasing such excellent films as “Exit Through The Gift Shop,” ” Tell Them “Anything You Want,” and “Wendy and Lucy.” And by all accounts, he was a pretty humble guy to meet, going out of his way to meet people, shake hands and trade stories. I wish I had gotten a chance to meet him.
Tributes to MCA and Beastie Boys are popping up everywhere. Rather than rehash what’s already been said, instead I want to share a short story about the time I almost got to see the Beastie Boys, and how awful it is to know you’ve missed something the world will never see again.
My freshmen year of college was spent at Penn State Altoona campus, a branch campus of the main university in State College, PA. It was a pleasant campus. I remember the huge pond in the middle of campus, where ducks, rabbits and squirrels played their own Game of Thrones against one another, and students would throw each other into the water on their birthdays.
Near the end of my freshman year, we were hanging out in a friend’s dorm room, probably playing Mario Kart in a smoky haze. It was around 8 p.m. or so:
Our friend Sandy stops over to hang out. She sits, we hang, and about an hour later she lets a bomb drop.
“So yeah, I guess Movin’ On was today.”
“What’s that?” I inquire.
“It’s a big concert they have at the end of the year on main campus. Been doing it for a couple of years now. A bunch of bands are playing.”
“I don’t know, a bunch of bands I never heard of. The headliner is some band called Beastie Boys. Have you ever heard of them?”
At this point, everyone in the room was looking at Sandy, the kind of look you give someone when they inform you that they’ve hit the lottery and have a jet waiting outside to wisk everyone to Zanzibar.
We all freak out a little, which poor Sandy couldn’t quite understand. She had never listened to Paul’s Boutique, License to Ill or Ill Communication. She didn’t know what she, and now we, were missing. After the initial uproar subsided, we had to know more.
“So when are they playing?”
“I think they started already. I didn’t know you guys would be into them. I guess I should’ve said something earlier…”
Indeed, Sandy. Indeed you should have. If only she knew how much each person in that room would’ve loved to see Beastie Boys, live and in person, back when they were on top of the world. State College was about an hour’s drive away from Altoona in those days, before they built a newer highway. We’d never make it in time to see them, even if we had left that minute. Fate had played a cruel joke on us, letting us know about a great band playing so close, yet with no chance to see them.
“How much was it for tickets,” I asked, hoping the cost would somehow help ease the pain, even though we all would’ve sold the shoes off our feet to buy tickets if we had a chance to.
“It was free,” she replied, the final punch in the gut from cruel momma fate.
I’ll never forget the day we missed seeing the Beastie Boys, because it turns out that was the best chance I would get. I never did get to see them live, and now with MCA dead, I never will.
Some of you may not understand why that’s important, but I imagine many of you will. There’s just something so powerful about seeing one of your favorite bands live. No matter how many times you listen to a band’s recorded music, or watch videos of them, none of it compares to having them right in front of you. There’s something special that happens between a band and its audience at a live show that can only be understood by feeling it, being there. Being covered in sweat surrounded by strangers, the music so loud you can feel it passing through you, everyone there to share the moment. You can let go in that moment, all your worries and cares swept away by a wall of beautiful sound. Great shows become lifelong memories, badges of honor.
Shows drive nostalgic recollections like, “That band? Oh yeah, I saw em’ at the Troc back in 2007, back when that other dude was drumming. They were great.” Music lovers collect live shows like Brad Pitt collects Nazi scalps.
Thusfar, I’ve been lucky enough to see plenty of great bands live. Heard Radiohead at Bonnaroo back in 2006, the highlight of a great weekend of music. I caught the Rolling Stones on one of their many farewell tours, saw The Flaming Lips at a county fair, worked at a Ted Leo show and got to serve him food in the green room. All great musicians I’m proud to say I saw live, shows I’ll never forget.
After missing the Beasties freshman year, I never missed another Movin’ On. The next year, Sonic Youth was the headliner, and put on an incredible show. The following year I got to see Guided By Voices. I might’ve never seen the soft rock renegades if they hadn’t played Movin’ On.
In 2001 RUN DMC was the headliner. It wasn’t the wildest show, but at least all of RUN DMC was there. When Jam Master Jay was shot and killed in 2002, I felt fortunate that I had a chance to see RUN DMC live, even if it was years past their prime.
And yet, I never got a chance to see the Beastie Boys. I always wanted to see them live, but kept putting it off, usually because of bad timing, work commitments, or lack of funds. Secretly hoped someday they’d make it back to the middle of Pennsylvania again, but they never did. If only Sandy had told us sooner.
Now, the only chance I’ll ever get to see all three Beastie Boys kickin it live would be to invent a time machine, set it for earlier that fateful day, and give my past self a lift to the show. (I guess if I had a time machine, technically I could go to any show I wanted, but you get the idea.)
I suppose the moral of this story is: Don’t end up like me. If you get a chance to see a great band when they come to your town, take it. Obviously, that’s pretty subjective. If the band is great to you, that’s all that matters. If you have to sell your last bag of whatever to buy tickets for that Times New Viking show, do it. If you gotta skip that last class so you can make it to New York to see Radiohead, beg your professor for forgiveness. If you have to prostitute yourself to intelligent Manitees to make the money to buy that Beach House ticket, well, that’s a bad idea. Use your common sense, ya know?
But really, if you have a chance to go see a live band you really enjoy, err on the side of awesome and go. You never know if the next chance will be the last chance. Bands break up, members pass away, and you never know when you’ll get another chance to see one of your favorite bands in their prime. (Or sub-prime. Sub-prime is still better then nothing. Just ask Aerosmith.) I can’t help feeling like I really missed out, not getting to see the Beastie Boys. I don’t want our readers to feel this way about their favorite bands. See as much quality live music as you can; there’s no substitute for it. And you’ll be glad to have lifelong memories of the bands that shaped your life.
We’ll miss you, Adam Yauch. You were one of the great ones. Let’s hope no one tries to make a hologram of you rapping at the next Coachella (Unless, of course, you actually wanted something like that to happen, in which case I’ll give it a chance. You never know with MCA.)
Some of the better links about Adam Yauch/MCA: