Monday, May 7, 2012

What May 5th-7th Means To Me: The Beastie Boys and Adam Yauch

I was honestly surprised by the overwhelming outpouring of support for the late musician.  All throughout the weekend, I heard their music blaring from car stereos and out house windows.  I saw people of all ages either whistling or singing their songs in the street.  And, on Friday, my Facebook feed was littered with praise and condolences.  His talent made him worthy of this; I just couldn't remember another person who recently garnered that kind of praise and attention postmortem.

Everyone I've spoken to about his death has a personal Beastie Boys story.  Whether it be a concert they went to, or a song they loved, there was an unmistakable attachment to the group.  I was hardly the biggest fan of their music, but I enjoyed the hits, and even had a few personal memories myself.  When I was seven years old, my father brought me to Sam Goody in the Nanuet Mall to buy me my first walkman.  It was bright yellow and huge.  A graphic equalizer on the side that I still don't understand the purpose for.  He let me buy two tapes, the first ever tapes I would get to select on my own. I chose License To Ill (and Cinderella's Night Songs).  I wore that tape out, and clearly remember, one late night, fiercely both fast forwarding and rewinding "No Sleep Till Brooklyn" the evening before we were to visit my grandparents at their apartment in Brooklyn. I wanted to memorize it just because.  About 14 years later, I went out on a date with a girl 9 or 10 years my senior.  While having a nice conversation, we both heard a Beastie Boys song play in the background.  I quickly told the story of being seven and choosing the album as my first, and she glumly said, "I bought it then too.  It was the day I got my drivers license."  It ended there.  I'll never forget those two memories.

But I now realize that the Beastie Boys are a generational common ground.  With their punk/hip hop fusion that never took itself too seriously, their music bridged gaps and, as Rick Rubin said in the New York Times,  "As crazy as they were, they seemed safe to Middle America."  Their hit "Fight For Your Right" was the de facto anthem for anyone who grew up in the 1980's, and is a song that still inspires you to sing along any time it's on today.  It's hard to find someone who "hates" the Beastie Boys.  Most, at least, find them fun.  As time went on, the Beastie Boys continued to create catchy, inspired tunes, and expanded their horizons beyond music.  Adam Yauch was more than partially responsible for our generation's awareness of the Tibetan conflict.  These were guys that cared.  And it showed.  For all the above, they became legendary. 

I had the pleasure of getting to know Adam in my early 20's; we both played in the same basketball game for a few years.  I didn't know him well, I was an outsider in a game amongst lifelong friends.  In fact, I doubt many of them even knew my real name, as early on someone dubbed me with the moniker "Kerr," after Chicago Bulls player Steve Kerr, due to my, at the time, bleached blond hair, decent jumpshot, and the lack of ability to do much else.  But I was there long enough to experience his kind soul, sneaky sense of humor, and annoyingly scrappy, (yet easily beatable) defense. I'm sure he had many troubles like the rest of us, but he seemed like the kind of guy who didn't let much bother him.  He smiled a lot and was always quick with a joke. He treated me with respect, was encouraging, and, as he did with anyone else, freely teased me when the situation called for it.  Back then, I think I only had two pairs of basketball shorts, one of which was severely tattered from time and use.  He once asked me why I kept wearing them, to which I sarcastically replied that they were "my lucky shorts."  He gave me an unconvinced look and said, "why are they lucky?  You clearly never got laid in them."  Unfortunately I lost touch with all those guys when I moved to LA nearly a decade ago, but will always remember that game fondly. 

I was incredibly sad to learn of his illness, and, like the rest of my peers, was both shocked and heartbroken to discover that he passed away.  The night of his death, my buddy Rian said via Facebook, "When a cool person dies, his/her spirit should be able to linger around for a day or two to see/hear all the touching things people say/write about them."  And while his spirit may or may not have had the chance to hear all the kind messages and stories in his honor, both his influence and memory are immortal.

RIP, Adam.  

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