It’s the kind of personal evolution we’ve seen far too infrequently in the world of music.
The crass, hard-drinking party boy manages the kind of sudden, inescapable fame that so often ruins people and matures into a kind, thoughtful man with philanthropic and cultural interests while managing to curate a career that spans generations and bridges racial divides.
We’ve been told commercially successful artists often are not humble, caring or well-adjusted.
Generous and intellectually curious people are taken advantage of, preyed upon and swallowed whole by the music industry.
No one gets to be it all. No one gets to have it all.
Apparently, no one told Adam Yauch.
Combing through the countless Internet tributes written by journalists, fans and fellow artists inspired by Yauch’s work as a founding member of the Beastie Boys, it became evident that, if nothing else, the man known to his fans as MCA was the exception to the rule.
As a member of the Beastie Boys, Yauch, who died last week at age 47 after a three-year bout with cancer, provided the soundtrack for the lives of millions of young people around the world and helped usher rap music and hip-hop culture into the mainstream.
But his life was about more than selling records. And he sold about 40 million.
A devout Buddhist, Yauch fought for the political separation of Tibet from China and founded the Milarepa Foundation in 1994, a nonprofit organization that shined a spotlight on the issue with a star-studded series of Tibetan Freedom Concerts.
As if that wasn’t enough, Yauch also directed several of the group’s music videos (using the name Nathanial Hörnblowér) and started Oscilloscope Laboratories, an independent film production and distribution company that brought us Oscar-nominated films like “Exit Through the Gift Shop” and “We Need To Talk about Kevin.”
Seldom has the music world seen such a well-rounded, revered and universally respected artist, but to mourn Adam Yauch strictly in that context feels incomplete and sells short someone so loved by those who knew him and admired by those who wish they did.
“He really served as a great example for myself and so many of what determination, faith, focus and humility coupled with a sense of humor can accomplish,” fellow Beastie Boy Mike D said in a statement. “The world is in need of many more like him.”
This week’s playlist is in honor of MCA and is a compilation of Beastie Boys songs featuring some of my favorite of Yauch’s lyrics.
• “Get It Together” — “Praying mantis on the court and I can’t be beat/ But yo ’Tip, what’s up with the boots on your feet?”
• “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” — “Born and bred Brooklyn, U.S.A./They call me Adam Yauch but I’m MCA/Like a lemon to a lime, a lime to a lemon/I sip the def ale with all the fly women.”
• “Sure Shot” — “I want to say a little something that’s long overdue/The disrespect to women has to be through/To all the mothers and sisters and the wives and friends/I want to offer my love and respect to the end.”
• “Oh Word?” — “What the ponytail? I don’t eat snail/I’ll steal your keys and then I’ll check your mail.”
• “Three MCs and One DJ” — “All top secret and classified/I grab a hold of the mic and let the words glide/It’s all hypnotic and sanctified/I never wanna let a bad day slip by.”
• “Slow and Low” — “I do not sing but I make a def song/You could live your whole life and I hope you live long/On ‘The Gong Show,’ we won’t get gonged/We’re the Beastie Boys, not Cheech and Chong.”
• “Shake Your Rump” — “So like a pimp, I’m pimping/I got a boat to eat shrimp in/Nothing wrong with my leg, I’m just B-Boy limpin.’”
• “Intergalatic” — “If you try to knock me, you’ll get mocked/I’ll stir fry you in my wok/Your knees’ll start shaking and your fingers pop/Like a pinch on the neck of Mr. Spock.”