When visionaries come along, they are usually not always thought to be so when they hit the scene. Many times, once they do reach a certain level of stature or praise, they lose their vision. We’ve seen it time and again in history. When the Beastie Boys came on the scene in a big way in 1986, most people didn’t know what to make of them as white guys in a rap world where most artists were not. People didn’t know whether to write them off as jokes or pay attention to them as real things – the fact that before their transition to rap, they were not doing to well on the punk scene. What ultimately helped them sustain, was the punk attitudes that they intertwined with their rap and hip-hop leanings. Over the course of the nearly 30 years since, they were masters at blazing new trails in music, art and video – and their creator and ringleader on the video and arts front was Adam Yauch (also known as MCA). Sadly, he died today of Cancer. Luckily, Yauch was appreciated in his lifetime as a visionary and we are all the beneficiaries of his .
While the music the Beastie Boys created continued to evolve, it always maintained a consistent style. Whether it was three rappers (Yauch, Adam Horovitz/Adrock, Michael Diamond/Mike D) with a turntablist, instrumentalist with a layer of quick staccato MCs on top or a multi-layered mix of original music, samples and thoughtful rhymes – you always knew you were listening to the Beastie Boys. While the styles might have shifted slightly, the core remained the same.
Their play within the art and video worlds ran along the same lines as their music – using styles that everyone knew and felt comfortable with and then adding their own layers on top to make their products as great as your uncles old cardigan that you used to snuggle with. Their spirit and attitude remained consistent and what may have first led you to ask, “are they for real?”, ultimately made you think that everyone other than them were just posing. And Yauch had a lot to do with that.
Though Yauch always seemed like the most subdued of the three to me, his work directing a large number of their videos (under his pseudonym, Nathaniel Hörnblowér) always seemed to push the boundaries of what was acceptable, but still seemed as right as a chill afternoon hanging with your best friends. The Beastie’s collection of music videos is the only music video set that has actually been released as part of The Criterion Collection.
Yauch used his position to do numerous things for the benefit of society and seemed to have no shortage of friends to help him pull these off. Whether it was the organizing of benefit concerts to Free Tibet or end violence in New York City, he made the best use of his connections. Though I took some pride that he (and the rest of the boys) spent some quality time in one of my old neighborhoods (Atwater Village, Silver Lake, Los Feliz) it was clear what sway the five boroughs held on him and his cohorts. They’re love was greatly shown in their last few releases.
When someone has a vision like Yauch had when he first put the band together and then expanded with the creation of Oscilloscope Laboratories, the recording and film studio he started a decade ago, its hard not to want to be a part of it. Whether watching with envy the people selected for the crowdsourced Beastie Boys concert video he directed (Awesome: I F—in’ Shot That!) or the wonderment when watching all of the stars (i.e. Susan Sarandon, Stanley Tucci, Seth Rogen, Elijah Wood, Will Arnett, Ted Danson, Alicia Silverstone, Steve Buscemi, Mary Steenburgen, Kirsten Dunst, Jack Black, Will Ferrell, and on and on) he got to take roles in his long form video return to Fight For Your Right: Revisited (below), his presence, power and influence was clear and we can now only image what could have been. At the end of Revisited (which clearly illustrates the consistency of the Beastie Boys brand – cool, irreverent, sense of humor), there’s a “To Be Continued: Check back in 25” years. I only wish we could.
RIP MCA, I’m sorry and Saddened that you left so soon…