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Adam Yauch is Dead

By Colin McGowan, Colin McGowan, & Clayton Purdom | 4 May 2012

Clay: It’s always easy to tell MCA on the record. He hangs back in the mix, an affable scratchiness to his voice; without him, it’s all the leering caterwaul of the other two, flying unhinged into the stratosphere. But MCA hung back, sorta preparing: an absolute calm amidst all the ruckus. When all three shout to punctuate a line, which they do a lot on records, he’s the bass-note that makes it work, the low end theory in practice. Onstage, Mike D and Ad-rock are up front, hyping the crowd, but MCA hangs back—hung back, I guess, not shirking eye contact with the crowd but approaching the entire effort with a bit more concentration. He’d do the dance moves, but only because everyone needed to for it to look cool. Then he’d go hang back. It was cool. It was important, given that there were three of them. Now there aren’t—there are two Beastie Boys, but that’s not enough. There had to be three. But there will still be the records, and you will still be able to pick out Adam Yauch on them, every bit as clear and cool as a morning in May.

Colin: The Beastie who once upon a time rocked a beard like a billy goat, Adam Yauch, is dead at age 47. He is survived by a discography packed to the gills with hot shit. Paul’s Boutique still sounds like nothing else some twenty years after its release; beside De La Soul’s 3 Feet High and Rising (1989), it inhabits a narrow genre of sample collage weirdo future funk rap that burned out like a vodka-soaked match. Its smoke still sticks to eardrums.

We could talk about Check Your Head (1992) or License to Ill (1986) or even Ill Communication (1994), too, but the Beasties’ corpus has been examined much more incisively than I can manage in a state of genuine sadness. I am not mourning the death of the Beasties’ musical output; in fact, “Hey Ladies” is playing out of the speaker to my right, and it sounds terrific. It always will; it will never not remind me of a hot late spring afternoon in my freshman year of high school during which my best friend and I copied earth science homework from some dickhead perfectionist dweeb whose locker we had broken into.

This is as good a memory as any to associate with the Beastie Boys’ music. They were, after all, characterized by scampishness and used their genius to compose brilliant music about chasing girls, being fuckups, and talking shit. And whatever you want to call blunted character studies like “Johnny Ryall” and “High Plains Drifter.” I use “genius” purposefully here. The Beasties are—were, in MCA’s case—geniuses. It takes a special collective of minds to mine the maunderings of slacker types and make them burn fluorescent.

This is what I most love about the Beastie Boys. They were committed to the bullshit from which fun is derived. While other artists were talking about love and death and whatever Important Songs are about, three Brooklyn Jews were talking about talking. They chattered amongst themselves a lot about very little. Images emerged from this swamp-talk: boogers, dust-smoking managers, whatever the fuck a funky boss is. Lots of people knew exactly what they were talking about even when they were barely talking about anything. If you’ve ever sat on a couch, too hungover to think, chuckle-coughing at a Maury re-run, you get it. These are your heroes.

I cannot speak only of MCA. He is impossible to entirely extricate from the group he helped create. Perhaps it’s the Beastie Boys’ collage verse aesthetic or the fact that I can barely picture him without Mike D and Ad-rock by his side. He was the one with the low voice, who sort of fizzled over the beat like a slow-burning dud firecracker. Then Ad-rock would squawk some funny shit about hitting on your sister.

The Beastie Boys were three distinct personalities held together by math. To see a third of what I perceive to be a whole perish is upsetting. (My fingers rattle slightly as I type this.) Adam Yauch—so apt, in concert with his best friends, at making devoted slackerism seem like a vocation that he fucked around and made a career out of it—is dead. I meet this news only with anger. Fuck death.