By Itay Ben Eliezer
All over the world, millions are mourning the death of Adam Yauch of the Beastie Boys, who passed away on May 4th. Since that day, I have spoken with many friends and family members, who like me, grew up with MCA and the Beastie Boys. Like me, they are nurturing a broken heart.
Yauch and the Beastie Boys blasted into my life at age 9 via MTV and the now-iconic “Fight for Your Right (To Party)” music video. That video prompted me, like many other kids in the United States at that time, to purchase a little white cassette titled “License to Ill” and play it to the point of disintegration. As a child growing up in suburban New Jersey, the Beasties invaded my room and my life, holding American suburbia hostage with their wacky blend of hip hop and sampled guitar riffs. You just couldn’t stay indifferent.
But my time in the States was temporary, and not long after the release of “Paul’s Boutique,” I found myself on a plane back to Tel Aviv, leaving the Tri-State area behind. Yet the Beasties followed. In junior high, I bought “Check Your Head” on CD at a small store on Dizengoff Street in Tel Aviv. I relished the sounds of “Ill Communication” in high school. “Hello Nasty” was purchased towards the end of my army service. “To the 5 Boroughs” came into my life months before my wedding. I enjoyed “The Mix-Up” with my year-old son. And “Hot Sauce Committee Part Two” was mostly heard on my iPod, while walking my dog after another day’s work.
I grew up with the Beastie Boys. Their music babysat me, shaped my character and helped me evolve. They schooled me. Their masterful samples introduced me to the sounds of Jimmy Smith, Curtis Mayfield and the Dead Boys, among others. Music equals life; the Beastie Boys shaped my musical tastes and changed my life. And while Adam Horowitz (Ad-Rock), Michael Diamond (Mike D) and Adam Yauch (MCA) were equal geniuses in my eyes, they each were so different. The Beastie Boys took change and innovation – musically and spiritually – to a whole new level. Yauch was the one who personified, in my eyes, the trio’s personal growth, conscience and activist passion. All three were musical explorers and music market innovators. And all three were social seekers. But Yauch was the expression of their devotion to personal and collective reflexivity and development. In my head, I hear him singing: “pretending and hoping to find that distant peace of mind – I don’t know, who does know, there is no, where to go.”
Adam Yauch was special. Look at him in that “Fight for Your Right (to Party)” music video. Hear his raspy voice on “Professor Booty,” amidst some serious heavy breathing. Feel him chanting on “Bodhisattva Vow.” Nod your head when on “Unite,” he asks a Knicks player to please drive the lane. Sympathize with him on “I Don’t Know.” He was part of three men’s unique quest to share with the world their love of punk rock, funk and hip-hop, concocting their own unique sound and blazing new musical trails in the process. They made music with so much love; it was their love and respect for one another that allowed it all to happen.
I feel sadness, yet am also filled with gratitude. I identified with Adam Yauch’s serious side, his need to express contemplation, his continuous search for his spiritual and artistic truth. I admired Adam’s ability to blend a mature and grave attitude with a nutty and often hilarious demeanor. I enjoyed his rhymes – he could rhyme “That’s right y’all, don’t get uptight y’all, you can’t say shit because you’re bitin’ what I write y’all” with the same conviction as “and my deepest thanks to all sentient beings, for without them there would be no place to learn what I’m seeing.”
Adam Yauch mixed rough and tough b-boy lyrics with peaceful Buddhist values and didn’t lose a gram of credibility and coherence. He could mesh these elements together because they all stemmed from love and devotion to something bigger, be it the streets of New York, 70s funk, Knicks basketball or the plight of the Tibetan people. Reconciling contradiction is music’s higher calling, and I hope my children encounter beats as meaningful as those I have been so lucky to experience.
In the summer of 1995, I saw the Beastie Boys perform live in Jaffa while on their “Ill Communication” tour. The performance was unforgettable and the encore – “So What’cha Want,” followed by “Sabotage” – still evokes goosebumps. Much has been written about Yauch’s “Sabotage” bass line. I remember him on that stage, bass guitar in hand, jumping in the air as Ad-Rock screamed: “Oh my god, it’s a mirage, I’m tellin’ y’all it’s sabotage.” Few nights in my life were more exciting and more alive. This kind of music is forever.
Itay Ben Eliezer is a writer and photographer. His novel, “Al Odot Yonatan” [about Yonatan] won the Israeli Ministry of Culture’s Debut Book Award in 2007.