If you follow me on Twitter, or are friends with me on Facebook, I’ve made it no secret how deeply the death of MCA a.k.a. Adam Yauch has affected me over the last two days. Adam was one of my heroes – right up there with Kerouac, Ginsberg, Jim Carroll, and Joe Strummer. I’ve loved the music of The Beastie Boys since I was 14 years old (my first two Beastie albums were Licensed To Ill, and Hello Nasty, which features “I Don’t Know” – a heart-breakingly enlightened MCA solo piece with Yuka Honda). They were a band that’s been with me for 15 years; a band I never grew tired of, whose music continued to blow me away, even as their hair began to turn grey. If you missed Hot Sauce Committee, Part Two last summer and you love the Beasties, I highly recommend buying it. The album hinted what we could have anticipated if MCA had survived his fight with cancer: 3 elder statesmen of hip-hop who refused to take themselves seriously as age seemed to catch up. In addition to jokes at their own expense about pushing 50 and still rhyming, they continued to evolve musically and came full circle with brilliant tracks like the Jimmy Cliff by way of Paul’s Boutique song “Don’t Play No Game That I Can’t Win” featuring Santigold, and the rambunctious, sonic dance track, “Make Some Noise”.
I remember watching MCA’s video message in 2009, announcing the diagnosis that would eventually claim his life, and couldn’t help but feel worried. Optimistic at the early detection, but worried. This man was just more to me than a music icon.
On November 23rd, 1999, The Beastie Boys released The Sounds of Science – their greatest hits anthology. It was my 16th birthday; I was confused and aimless. Actually, for a month and a half, I had been contemplating suicide. What led me to such thinking I can only describe as a mix of things that – when you’re 16 – seemed epic and unmanageable. But what kept me from moving forward on any impulses was my slim hope that my problems were not a be-all, end-all. Anyway, the minute The Sounds of Science came out, I bought it and fell in love with it (as I did with all the Beastie albums). Included in the 2-disc set was a 40-page booklet where the Beastie Boys included notes and stories about their songs. Attached to the song “Bodhisattva Vow”, MCA included an essay about his conversion to Buddhism and the personal headaches he created during production on Ill Communication in order to meet the Dalai Llama for the first time.
This essay served as the first exposure I ever had to Buddhism, the one faith – if any – to which I’ve felt any spiritual connection.
Adam’s words about falling over himself to meet His Holiness were both humble and passionate. It was shortly after his first meeting that he became more impassioned to the cause of Tibet, and recorded “Bodhisattva Vow” as a hip-hop tribute to his faith and his mentor. This was when MCA, the humanitarian, was born. MCA, the obnoxious party boy, was now pledging to save the world. If nothing else, but because it was his duty as a human being.
“Whoa.” 16 year old me thought.
Obviously, I didn’t off myself. Obviously, Adam’s words and lyrics had an impact on me that got me through a rough year. In the months after purchasing Sounds, I would continue to tell myself through that shitty, shitty time: “If I can just make it to the end of this school year, I’ll be fine.” But, Adam also showed me: we can all change. Nothing is permanent in this world; nothing is finite. The guy who will fight for his right to party can, 10 years later, “Say a little something that is long overdue/The disrespect to women has got to be due./To all the mothers, and the sisters, and the wives, and friends/I want to offer my love and respect to the end.”
“Bodhisattva Vow” is a very simple song that pledges love and gratitude to the present-day existence had by all sentient beings. In the wake of MCA’s death, it – along with “I Don’t Know” – takes on a very sobering weight about the limited time we have as human beings. It’s not about touchy-feely self-love; it’s about recognizing that life is an opportunity, not a death sentence. Because: you don’t know why you’re here; you don’t know what’s going to make you happy; but what you do know is that sitting around and being uninvolved in the world around you is not going to give any answers.
Adam Yauch taught me that a better tomorrow exists. And, just because you live to see that tomorrow, that doesn’t mean you have to change anything about yourself because you’re older, or that money and success is going to lead to happiness. You should always grow. You should always be open to the world around you. You should always care, and stop to help out when you can. You are not what the world wants you to be; you are only what you choose to be.
Over the last two days, I’ve come to a realization: I loved Adam Yauch. Maybe it was only the idea of him, since I never had the privilege of meeting him. But I loved him, as much as I could. He was a role model and a teacher; a buddha. He was an MC that always left me speechless. He was the only one of my self-destructive idols that showed me life and happiness exists after 23 years old. And it was going to be awesome. On Friday morning, someone I loved very much was taken from me; and as it goes, I will need time to accept it and move on.
As I’ve said – on repeat all weekend – I love you and will miss you, MCA. Your death is one of the saddest things I have experienced since my grandfather, and before that my father, died. But I will never forget what you taught me. I pledge to pass it on in my words and actions to those around me. And maybe, just maybe, I might unknowingly touch some loner kid’s life out there the way you touched mine.
Goodbye, Adam. I love you. Namaste.
“I give thanks for this world as a place to learn/
And for this human body that I know I’ve earned.”
“It’s not so simple as I try to wish,/
But then again what is?/
There is no other worthy quest,/
So on I go.
I don’t know./
Who does know?/
There is no/
Where to go.”
-“I Don’t Know”