There is something about the Beastie Boys that goes beyond the records and CDs, songs and music videos. That something is that after all these years they’ve managed to keep the fire that burned beneath them as snot nosed kids from Brooklyn burning as bright as it ever did. From their rise to prominence, to being deemed cultural icons, to their being crowned the elder statesmen of an ever evolving form of art, it was never about the money and status that came with their platinum records. It was always about an enduring friendship put to tape. It is that energy that the Beastie Boys will be remembered for long after the shock of Adam Yauch’s death cedes from memory. But furthermore for the people like me who grew up with the Beastie Boys as an ever present force in the constant media barrage that accompanied the childhood of anyone who is currently under the age of 35 or so, their music progressed in a way that gave us a blueprint for growing up into functional human beings. In youth it was easy to latch on to the sarcastic rebellion of Licensed to Ill. Even though I was born in the later half of Reaganomics, that album remained everywhere well into when I was first becoming aware to music as expression. While I was too young to fully grasp the drunken machismo that surrounded it, Licensed to Ill was the b-side to my grade school discovery of bands like Minor Threat and Bad Religion – its themes resonating to a deeper core in the mind of a pissy little shit of a kid.
As I grew older it was the 90’s era Beastie Boys that drew me in. That hyper-aware sense of the self as an artist that bled out of Ill Communication and Hello Nasty. Ad-Rock, MCA and Mike D forged their own path of individuality that held on to their roots but respected not only what they had been, but who they had discovered themselves to be. No one in the band embodied that more outside of their musical endeavors than Adam Yauch. He was political. He was thoughtful. He was a human being that used his own position and stature to try to help better not only the lives of those close to him but those around the world, especially in Chinese occupied Tibet. When I got news this morning that Yauch had finally succumbed to his long but private battle with cancer, my first thought was not of the loss of a musician, that helped shape not only my tastes but my worldview as well, but of a man who went beyond that fabled role and truly deserved the praise and adoration that he got from three generations of music fans.