In what has become a depressing recent trend, the music world lost another creative force Friday with the passing of Adam Yauch at the age of 47.
Yauch was best known as MCA, one of the founding members of the revolutionary rap group The Beastie Boys. Along with Michael “Mike D” Diamond and Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz, The Beastie Boys challenged preconceived notions of who could succeed in hip hop and were a critical and commercial success throughout their career. In 1987 Licensed to Ill became the first rap album to debut at number 1 on the Billboard 200 chart and the group has sold over 40 million albums worldwide. In April of 2012, the Beastie Boys became the third rap group/performer to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of fame, following Run-D.M.C. and Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. Sadly, Yauch was too ill to attend the ceremony.
While I’ve always liked The Beastie Boys, I don’t know that I could truthfully call myself a big fan. For me they are one of those groups that falls off my radar, until I hear one of their songs and I am reminded of how much I enjoy them. But my knowledge of the group’s catalog is fairly superficial; I know all their hits, but am not as familiar with their songs that were not released as singles. I was surprised, however, to discover that I actually do own a number of Beastie Boys cds so perhaps once upon a time I was actually more into them then I remember. But though they may not have been in heavy rotation on my iPod, I don’t recall ever hearing “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party),” “She’s Crafty,” “Intergalactic,” “Sabotage,” “Brass Monkey” or my personal favorite “No Sleep Til Brooklyn” with a smile coming to my face. They really were a great group and it is easy to see how they influenced others in the hip hop community like LL Cool J and Eminem.
However, while I like and appreciate the music of The Beastie Boys, Yauch’s bigger legacy to me in his work in the movie industry. Yauch’s influence was not limited just to the realm of music; in 2008 he and David Fenkel founded Oscilloscope Pictures and began making a name for themselves as the distributor of independent films. Their company helped many interesting and unusual films like Meek’s Cutoff, We Need to Talk About Kevin, The Messenger, Bellflower, Howl, Burma VJ and Exit Through the Gift Shop find their way from the film festivals to the cinema and to a much larger audience. I’ve seen and enjoyed many of these films and Exit Through the Gift Shop was one of my favorite films of 2010.
Though I see a lot of mainstream big box office films, thanks to the free screenings I attend, my first love is really independent films. I spend a lot of time at our local art house cinema watching movies that 99% of my friends have never even heard of, let alone watched. There is just something about films and filmmakers who are creating the types of films that they want to, regardless of commercial success. These movies are more likely to take chances and push the envelope; they will try interesting things that other films will shy away from. I don’t always agree with or enjoy the choices they make – there are plenty of independent films that I don’t enjoy or don’t even necessarily understand – but I would rather watch something that experiments with something new and misses the mark than a film that is content to play it safe. It’s not always the case, but appealing to largest common denominator is more likely to result in films that are boring and predictable. I’d rather my films have a little bit of edge to them. So I appreciate the efforts of those like Yauch who help nurture and advance the efforts of independent filmmakers.
Adam Yauch’s death leaves a giant hole in both the film and music industries. There is no telling what else creatively he could have accomplished if cancer had not taken him so soon. As the tributes to him continue to pour in, it is clear that he was respected across many arenas and genres which is fitting for the hard to categorize Beastie Boys. The New York Mets, in a nod to the Brooklyn born Yauch, all used Beastie Boys songs for their at bat music Friday night, while Coldplay played a weirdly melodic version of “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party)” at their Hollywood Bowl show.
The Red Hot Chili Peppers also did a tribute during their show Friday night:
Rest in peace, MCA. You will be missed.