Remembering MCA

This was originally featured on thepaintedman.com just after the passing of MCA. It was entitled “A Eulogy” when it was originally featured.

In the wake of the passing of Adam Yauch aka MCA of the Beastie Boys I have gone through several emotions. First was the shock when I opened my laptop and saw several stories claiming he had died. Next was disbelief because I hate getting bad news via social media. Soon I found the confirmation by scrolling several trusted new sites at which time the shock began to turn to sadness. My eyes welled up as I read the report of his three year battle with cancer and then just the thought of someone so talented being taken away so young. I literally wept, as ridiculous as that sounds to some, I was broken. I tried calling my wife who is a bigger fan of the Beastie Boys than maybe anyone I know but she did not answer. My emotions began to bounce around from sadness to anger at the disease that took him. I cursed cancer, as did several of my other friends feeling the same way. Social media sites lit up like a switchboard with nearly every post a memorial to MCA. It was so much that when I read a non-Beastie Boy related tweet or facebook update I was beside myself. I reminisced most of the day, opening my iTunes and playing the entire catalog of Beastie Boys material. As I went down the list I could picture times attached to each song like it was a movie soundtrack. I saw myself in like 5th grade arguing with my friends about which Beastie Boy we each wanted to be while reciting “Paul Revere”, of course I wanted to be MCA. He was the baddest of the B-Boys and had the grittiest voice. When he rapped “I’m on a mission, a stolen car mission, had a little trouble with the transmission” I believed him. So I sat there in at my dining room table/office just listening to song after song and welling up with emotion. I was just reading story after story about how the Beastie Boys and Yauch himself touched so many peopels lives. For a moment I was buying “License To Ill” in 86 and my 11-year-old eyes wide opened. It was my first music purchase on my own and one that I was terrified my mom would find out about. Then I came back to reality as a 36 year old crying over a man I never knew but felt as if I did.

RIP MCA

The last time I saw an outpouring like this amongst my friends or people like me was when Kurt Cobain died in 1994. I mean obviously the circumstances were very different but MCA represented my generation, those of us particularly 30 – 40 years old. While Cobain was a huge part of my life and his death was so tragic, the death MCA was different. For one, when Kurt died I was a confused, depressed, and insecure 18 year old kid who loved music but didn’t understand much else about life in general. I was devastated in ways I wouldn’t understand until much later in my 20’s. The passing of Yauch was different because I am now 36 years old and much more aware of the real world. He was not a drug addict and this was not a suicide. This death was tough because it was cancer, that bastard of all diseases that shows no mercy but keeps taking people away from us. He also was only 47 which when I was 18 seemed ancient but now it is only 11 years away. I have been out of high school 18 years and that flew by so 47 is literally not far away. The thought artists I love dying of Cancer was reserved for our parent’s generation, for classic rock bands whose members are in their 60’s and 70’s. When Joe Strummer died of cancer I was sad but I was not around to experience the Clash like I was for the Beasties. Even when Johnny Cash passed away it I felt very upset yet relieved because of how sick he had been. I just wanted him to be reunited with his beloved June in the after life. Death of celebrities is always a weird thing because all we know from them is their art in many cases. Though if that art grabs us and shakes us to our core when they pass on we feel it deeply. It is the connection that art has to so many of us.

MCA’s passing had that affect for sure not just for me but for so many of my friends. He was not just a great MC but a talented musician, director and humanitarian. Yauch was a huge reason I knew anything about the awful situation in Tibet for the Buddhist monks there. The way MCA shifted from a womanizing, beer guzzling, hooligan back in the Licensed To Ill days to a compassionate, respectful philanthropist was inspiring. It showed that you can grow up and not lose street cred, be a sell out, or a chump. I remember when MCA and the Beastie Boys apologized for their mistreatment of woman in their music. That was huge. Again it showed character and leadership with in the hip hop and general rock world. I remember seeing them at a Mumia Abu Jamal benefit at Giants stadium and realizing that this is the same band that would pour beer over girls heads at shows and humiliate them. Now they are standing up for justice and equality. The Beastie Boys were one of the first groups of my generation that made it cool to be social aware but not have to be militantly angry about it. It was the balance many of us Gen X kids that grew up on punk rock and hip hop were looking for. We were a generation of angry and disenfranchised youth looking for ways to change the world. Music was the first place most of us went to find our platform. The Beastie Boys gave us a fun place to relax yet still supported our dissatisfaction with the world. I mean hell, these guys started as a punk band opening for Bad Brains so they were not that different than most of us. They understood us, grew up like us and went through all the same shit as we did. Going through their catalog of music, you begin with a bunch of obnoxious kids in 1986 and as they grew up so did their music and their views. That is not far off from my life. That is really cool.

Musically there growth was quick and always major. By Paul’s Boutique, their second release, they were still wild boys but beginning to evolve musically. The way they incorporated sampling into their songs was groundbreaking. It still is one of the greatest records of the 1980’s. Then in 92 when “Check Your Head” came out again they changed the game. I was in high school when it was released and listening to Nirvana, Fugazi, and Dinosaur Jr as well as hip hop like Public Enemy A Tribe Called Quest, and Del La Soul. “Check Your Head” brought it all together mixing punk rock, funk, jazz, alternative rock, loud & fuzzy guitars and baselines into a hip hop record. It fit with the Alt rock of the time as well as the hip hop that was gaining popularity in the early 90’s. I remember seeing the Beasties with L7, House Of Pain and Rage Against The Machine around that time. It was perfect, a classic mix of aggressive rock, funk and hip hop on one line up. Then of course they would play the lollapalooza tour in 93 I and again blend in well while standing on their own. That is what made the Beastie Boys so good but also last so long. They changed with the times but never changed who they were. To me being a white kid growing up in a racially mixed area of Cleveland the Beasties were saying you could listen to punk rock and hip hop plus ride a skateboard. You can be a part of whatever subculture you want and still listen to us but better yet blow up the culture and diversify. The Beastie Boys taught me how to be cool. They made me explore music beyond what I understood because of the samples in their songs. They even influenced how I dress. I bought shoes, Kangols and other items just because one of them was seen wearing it. For me and many of my friends they represented a new kind of kid in the 80’s-90’s. We were urban but not trying to be black. We were hip hop but still liked punk rock and underground stuff. We were white and yet we can make music that black people will respect because it had real soul. In many ways the Beasties helped break down racial stereotypes and walls that stood between people. They helped bridge gaps between cultures that rarely mingled. You now saw cultures like skateboarding integrated racially and though they are not the reason I don’t doubt their music helped.

By my early 20’s I was DJing and Mix Master Mike was one of my influences beause of his work with the B-Boys. The Beastie Boys were such a part of my musical experience that every band/project I was in, every lyric I wrote, every song I jammed had some influence on it. The way they played funk and jazz influenced me on guitar to try and learn more. MCA’s bass playing made me want to start playing low end and experiment with my own ability. My old college buddy Joel St Julien of the band Ellul said about his passing “Half of my understanding of the bass guitar came from MCA.” It is that kind of influence that these three guys from NYC had on so many. Another old friend Mike Weiss of the band Mewithoutyou said on Facebook “We will miss MCA dearly…dude was a big reason why I started playing music.” I think many of us didn’t realize how much the Beasties influenced us until we were faced with the reality that without MCA it is the end of an era. The other testimony to MCA and the group’s influence I want to share is from a friend named Chris Frascella who was also an influence on me growing up as he was in bands with older friends. These are the guys who turned me on to so many of the bands that formed my musical life. He is a bassist, and a good one. He shared a great story about how Check Your Head literally turned a bad day into a something special.

“True story: A long time ago I was taking a walk through my old neighborhood in Trenton, NJ. I was seriously bummed out because my car had broken down and had no way to get around. I walked to a particularly crappy record store (Art’s when he was on Chambers St) in hopes they would have something cool. I grabbed the first cool thing I saw, a copy of “Check Your Head”. I shuffled home still bummed about my car, ripped open the long-box (remember those?) and popped the CD in. Within a few minutes my mood was completely changed and I listened to that CD on repeat for the entire weekend. Thank you Adam Yauch for turning my mood around that day. May God bless your soul.”

So you can see for me, my friends and so many others the Beastie Boys were more than just a hip hop group. They were influences, voices and leaders with in our generation. They changed the way hip hop was made. They changed the way rock n roll was made. Finally they changed the way so many of us looked at the world. For me the greatest part about the Beastie Boys is the fun I had while listening to them. The memories of times with friends that play out every time I hear “Brass Monkey” or “Hey Ladies”. I think of the videos that made us laugh or just blew us away with the style they were shot. It put Spike Jones on our radar and made us all want to make our own version of “Sabotage”. I actually started a band once based off simply jamming that song and building a sound from it. If ever there was a band that no matter who I with I could find common ground it was the Beastie Boys. I look forward to what Mike D and Adrock have in store for future musical endeavors. I could handle another BS 2000 record for sure. I mean we will have a huge catalog of Beastie Boys songs to last forever and the latest album in my opinion is one of the best. What a fitting end to have that epic video for “Make Some Noise” that is a testament to their longevity, cultural relevance and general coolness.

I will end this eulogy of sorts with a simple “thank you” to Adam Yauch, Michael Diamond and Adam Horovitz for being the soundtrack to much of my life. I also want to say that MCA will never be forgotten. His mastery of MCing will live forever in the music, his directing skills will continue in the videos and his contributions to humanity will never be forgotten by those who he made aware and directly helped. I will end this with my favorite MCA verse from the song “Professor Booty” in which he lays a lyrical smack down on this track. It is pure MCing as it’s finest.

So many wack m.c’s, you get that T.V. bozak
Ain’t even gonna call out your names cuz ya’ so wack
And one big oaf, who’s faker than plastic
A dictionary definition of the word spastic
You shoulda’ never started something you couldn’t finish
Cuz’ writing rhymes to me is like Popeye to spinach
I’m bad ass, move ya’ fat ass, cuz your wack son
Dancing around like you think your Janet Jackson
Thought you could walk on me to get some kinda’ walk
I’ll pull a rug out from underneath your ass as I talk on
I’ll take you out like a sniper on a roof
Like an m.c. at the fever in the d.j. booth
With your head phones strapped, ya’ rocking rewind pause
Trying to figure out what you to do to go for yours
But, like a pencil to a paper I got more to come
One after another you can all get some
So you better take your time, and meditate on your rhyme
Cuz ya’ shit’ll be stinking when I go for mine
And that’s right y’all
Don’t get uptight y’all
You say shit when I bite, when I write y’all
And that’s wrong y’all
Over the long haul
You can’t cut the mustard when fronting it on, it on

RIP MCA

Jeremy Ritch
Jeremy Ritch is a published writer and poet currently traveling the U.S. working on his next book. Jeremy has had many interesting life experiences and you can hear about some of them on Episode 3 of The Farsighted Podcast. You can get your hands on Jeremy's collections of poetry at his Lulu store. If you prefer you books digitally, Sidewalk Stories and Other Poems is available for Kindle at a discount price. The long and the short of it is that Jeremy likes to write and we all like to read what he writes.
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