Adam Yauch – Growing Up In Public (Part One)

16 May

“They call me Adam Yauch but I’m MCA” – note tongue placed firmly in cheek

Like quite a lot of people out there I was saddened, if not a bit shocked, to hear of the death of Beastie Boy MCA – known to his parents (who are both still alive) as Adam Yauch – at the age of forty-seven. Although I wasn’t lucky enough to have seen them live I do have quite a few of their albums (all, oddly, except their mega-selling breakthrough  License to Ill – though I do have a couple of singles from it – and their final Hot Sauce Committee Vol. 2) as well as various 7″s, 12″s… and rather a lot of cheeky downloads (*cough*).

I’m not going to feign deep personal distress here, I never personally knew any of the Beastie Boys nor have any distant blood connection to Mr Yauch, although it is always very sad when anyone – famous, talented or otherwise –  is cut down by the dreaded c-word in their mid-forties. I believe he had been ill since 2008, but you always imagine that if the damn thing doesn’t get you in the first couple of years then the threat isn’t. I have known friends, family, family friends and family of friends who have been victims of cancer, most of whom did not survive three months after being diagnosed. But sympathy to Yauch’s family (he had a young daughter) as to Adam Horovitz and Michael Diamond is most certainly due…

By all accounts the man seems to have been a genuinely nice bloke, as can be seen from the thousands of R.I.P. tweets and tributes flooding cyberspace, from the expected roll call of transatlantic rappers (Chuck D, Ice T, Eric B, Redman, Busta Rhymes, Eminem, Rev. Run from RUN DMC, Nas, LL Cool J, Dan le Sac and Scroobius Pip, Goldie Lookin’ Chain etc) through genuine 80s popstars – (Boy George, Gary Kemp, Duran Duran), local “homies” (Moby, various New York politicos), authentic luminaries (the Dalai Lama, Thom Yorke) and the downright unexpected (Jeremy Vine, Bombay Bicycle Club, The Hives, Gwyneth Paltrow, Molly-Ringwald-out-of-Pretty-In-Pink etc). Also seems most people who had worked with  MCA – photographers, djs, other bands at festivals etc – seem to have held him in high regard. Sadly, certain people – presumably caught up in the tragedy of it all – could have phrased their tributes a little better…

As the mags, blogs and newspapers have all reminded us, the Beastie Boys penetrated (oo-err) public consciousness in 1986 with their (cliché alert! cliché alert!) game changing debut “License To Ill”, with which Rick Rubin’s Def Jam label was able to cross over to the White America so beloved of the Manic Street Preachers. Noisy rock guitars melded to solid beats fronted by three young punks (in the American sense of the word – as in juvenile oiks and rabble rousers – although in an earlier incarnation the Beastie Boys HAD actually been a Black Flag – inspired hardcore punk band) who seem to have wandered out of Animal House, Budweiser cans in hand. An inflatable phallus accompanied them on tour, and their penchant for wearing VW logos from chains around their necks in the same way that Flavor Flav sported his oversized “what-time-is-it” clock lead to tabloid outrage as young men up and down the UK set upon Golfs, Polos and other motors to emulate their fratboy idols.

To me their (cliché alert!) sophomore hit single “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” was an exhilarating mix of  guitar riffs, beats, rhymes (like a lemon to a lime, a lime to a lemon, sticks in my mind… although that’s not a rhyme, of course) and… well… shouting. And when I bought it it was THE B-SIDE of  “(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party)”, the only single in my entire vinyl collection to contain two sets of brackets in the title. “Time To Get Ill” was the other song on the 12″. What a set.

When I first heard the Beastie Boys I had just finished school and moved to university, or, as many Americans are prone to calling it: to “school”. Whether the band’s supposedly loutish baseball behatted members in the Fight For Your Right video were meant to have been still in secondary education or – as I – dipping their toes in the water of further education was never quite made clear to me, but although I was hardly American fratboy material myself, as any fresher (or “freshman” – and these lads were certainly fresh in the hip-hop sense of the word) knows, copious imbibing of beer was certainly the order of the day for Ad-Rock, Mike D and MCA as it was for myself. But not the Budweiser they drank. Cos that’s gnat’s piss. Anyway, their blend of rock, rap and goonery struck a chord with American youth and before long it “License To Ill” was the first number one rap album on the US Billboard charts, boosted by still-infant MTV back when MTV was a music video channel (hence the name – duh!) and not wall-to-wall programmes on teenage pregnancies and the like. Additionally the fact they were white, sadly, was a bonus.

I remember hearing Brass Monkey and Paul Revere (not UK singles!) being played in the Haçienda on my visits there and before long the 3 MCs had made a stack of money. Later, of course, it was revealed that these raucous Beastie creatures were just caricatures (Ad-Rock’s old man was a successful playwright, let us not forget) and the juvenile sexism and drink / drugs bragging on the record was said to be just play-acting, but something of the band’s old hardcore punk attitude was still part of the hip hop mix. then they took a bit of time off, learned to play their instruments a bit better and acquaint themselves a little better with recording studios and “crate-digging”, which lead to Paul’s Boutique, the album many consider to be their masterpiece.

But just like all those cult films beloved by hipsters that did bugger all at the box office, when compared to its predecessor, Paul’s Boutique stiffed. Or at least the record company considered it had, as it failed to crack the Billboard Top 10. Yet its fantastic cornucopia of beats from a variety of different genres – “Paul’s Boutique had all the best beats” claimed Public Enemy’s Chuck D – and despite its relative commercial failure, the album was certified double platinum in the USA, albeit in 2009! I could waffle an entire day away on the multiple multi-layered joys of “Paul’s Boutique”, on how it changed hip hop, on sampling legislation before and after, on how the shop never really existed, on how it was a hymn to the band’s beloved NYC (not their last), on how they got kicked off Def Jam, but does it so much better you can save me the fingerwork and go there instead.

So before this all becomes old hat I’ll wrap up part one of this MCA (he had the raspy voice, in case you didn’t realise) tribute / Beastie Boys retrospective “ting” and leave the rest of the story – Sabotage, Buddhism, basketball, Grand Royal, Nathanial Hornblower, Ocilloscope Labs etc – for a Part Two (with bootleg links, mad videos and stuff), but leave you with these gems to take away. As the man said: “No, I didn’t retire, I’ll snatch you up with the needle nose pliers”.


Beastie Boys – Licensed to Ill (original unreleased 15 track version)

Beastie Boys – New York State of Mind (Green Lantern mixtape)

Beastie Boys – Dub The Boutique 

Beastie Boys – Gratitude

2 Responses to “Adam Yauch – Growing Up In Public (Part One)”

  1. Stevo Music Man at 5:29 pm #

    This is a well thought out piece, makes mine pale in comparison – very interesting read

    • weloveallthat at 11:10 am #

      Thanks!! I’ll check yours out too, and get working on Part Two!

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