Spod On Adam Yauch: 'He Was The Real Situation'
Spod (aka Sydney musician Brent Griffin) pays tribute to the Beastie Boys’ Adam “MCA” Yauch, who inspired a whole generation of disenfranchised Australian teens. Yauch passed away on May 4, aged 47.
When I woke up on Saturday morning, before breathing or opening my eyes, I rolled over and checked my phone like every other dickhead in this day and age, and my automated computer news advisor was informing me that Adam “MCA” Yauch was dead. So I trot off to Twitter and Facebook and see everyone else posting videos, stories and the like, so I add my little bit of noise to the mess. I get up, jump in the shower, thinking about the Beastie Boys, my childhood, and everything in between and start bawling my eyes out. A full grown man, standing in the shower, crying his face off over a complete stranger. In between thinking about how crying feels like laughing, feeling like a complete idiot and hoping my girlfriend doesn’t hear me, I started thinking about why I was so wrecked by the news.
Like many kids pre-internet, my friends Dax, Dan and I were like 2 Tom Hanks and a Volleyball stranded in the cultural island of the north- western suburbs of Sydney. Through various means we had all stumbled on this weird thing called “rap music”, much to the chagrin of the Cold Chiselin’ deadshits of the West Pennant Hills area. No way to validate what it meant to other people, no comparing if there were other kids loving it too, just us and whatever cassette tapes we could copy off that big kid who lived in the weird part of our neighbourhood. I now can’t recall how I even knew him or any other details other than his tape collection and that he had a dubbing boombox. We were obsessed with Run DMC, and had heard about the Beastie Boys, these wild and scary freaks from New York who had a huge inflatable dick that “shot white stuff” all over their audiences, sprayed beer everywhere and rapped about naughty stuff.
On a regular trip to North Rocks shops with my mum, I’d scour Le Disc for the distant hope I’d find some new rap album, then go to the K Mart “HITZ” rack that faced the front entrance showing all the “new & hot” albums of the time. On the top right, I spotted the tail of the plane with the glorious red diamond logo that I’d immediately start drawing on my pencil-case. I pissbolted straight to it and got to work on my mum, promising all kinds of chores I’d never fulfill. After I won that battle, I got to work obsessing on the artwork in the car. That silver crashed plane, total bad dude shit. Then looking at these big kids in the gatefold of the vinyl in front of a huge steel globe that HAD AUSTRALIA ON IT! OH MY FUCKING GOD, THEY MUST KNOW ABOUT AUSTRALIA!! That moment honestly blew my mind, I didn’t think anyone actually outside of Australia knew about Australia, let alone rad dudes like this.
I get it home, and I’m pretty sure Dan and Dax, my best mates and only rap friends, both came over, which became something of a ritual with hip-hop purchases of the time. The excitement and energy that came out of that record was like an electrical party storm. They took what was amazing about rap music, balanced the future and the past, made it ridiculous and hilarious and inadvertently aimed it straight at my suburban Australian heart. I couldn’t believe it, it was like someone showing you this amazing scary world full of power and magic you can’t begin to understand, then showing that you can actually come in and party in there with these dudes dressed like us. Shit, they probably even skated! Looking at that album cover today still gives me the same deep burn of excitement and wonder in the pit of my stomach today.
Whenever we played “Who’s Your Favorite Beastie Boy”, Daniel would choose MCA, and I think Dax and I would scramble for Adrock or Mike D, depending on the day. I’d always wonder why you’d choose the “old man”. As a kid, MCA was hard to grasp. A shaggy “man” who looks like he jacks cars, cuts cheese with a flick knife and makes pizzas in his spare time, and it wasn’t till Paul’s Boutique, Check Your Head and a hefty tuft of my own pubes showed me that MCA/Nathaniel Hornblower/Adam Yauch was the real situation, and the captain of the SS Beastie. Still can’t grow a stubble like his, though.
Paul’s Boutique did for an early teen what Licensed to Ill did to a pre-teen, it was a guide book to good times and good taste. It also lifted the veil off the history of music when you’re at that age you think you can only like one kind of anything at any one time. It also showed me it’s totally fine to like James Brown, Bob Dylan, The Beatles, Public Enemy, Loggins and Messina, The Eagles, Led Zeppelin and The Ramones all at once. It’s less direct and runs much deeper than Licensed to Ill, which was a huge shock to a kid wanting ‘Fight For Your Right’ and ‘No Sleep Till Brooklyn’ part two, but realising that moving on is growing up, and they had actually developed a voice instead of this funny brat act they did so well. Then they dropped Check Your Head. Just as shocking as the two preceding albums in its honest display of where they were at, but still totally Beastie. These three albums set up a career of doing whatever they like, and doing the shit out of it.
The tour for ‘Check Your Head’ was the Beasties first to Australia, and my third hip-hop show after being too chicken to try to see Ice T at Kinselas, Tone Loc walking off stage at the Hordern as Collette got pelted in the head with water bottles and Public Enemy destroying on their Fear of a Black Planet tour. The Beasties were in full burn at the relatively tiny Selinas, ripping through all of their classics and playing a bunch of live jams with a full band including an insane Money Mark flipping off the speaker stacks, with Yauch on fuzzed-out bass, which I thought was the coolest thing ever. We all put on our shittiest Vans in case we got rolled, and I had my arms firmly planted on the stage as they blazed through their set stoned as fuck, trampling my fingers several times. If it bruised I was totally going to get the outline tattooed … Kids, eh.
It’s weird when someone famous, someone detached from your personal life and has no idea of your existence dies. Someone who has always been there as a huge inspiration through the bulk of your life and shaped one of the building blocks for a significant slice, but is just a distant idol. This is the first time it’s really happened to me. It’s like someone kicks the leg out from your table that you’ve been stacking your ideas and beliefs on and they all fall in a heap onto the floor. It’s a blunt divider between my childhood and mortality, and while it’s as far away from the pain of when a loved one dies, and seems ridiculous when I even think of comparing it in ANY remote way, it’s still on the same field, waving from the other side. I guess I’m just searching for some reason as to why this makes me think about my dad so much.
“I didn’t think anyone actually outside of Australia knew about Australia, let alone rad dudes like this.”
The Beastie Boys and MCA were the perfect introduction to being able to create everything from the ridiculous and controversial to the credible and thoughtful – and it all just worked, because they were serious about what they were making whilst having fun. They were also the window that millions of little dumb shits like me used to see into a larger world of music and art that had no way of finding at that point in their life on their own.
It’s impossible to separate Adam Yauch from the Beastie Boys, so on Saturday they were both taken away from us. But Adam achieved some astonishing things since he was “beer sippin, breath stinkin’, sniffin’ glue”. From his humanitarian work through to his passion for film, starting Oscilloscope Laboratories and his sad absence at their [induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame – he used his position to always reach higher and do more. I know he fought early on with resolving the guilt he felt about taking the piss out of Frat Brats and hated that they became that in the eyes of the media for a while, but it was obvious to anyone who gave a shit as to what they were doing, and to truly mock something, sometimes you just have to become it, and then to make it awesome.
The night before his death, I Googled “why does Mike D look so weird” and instead found and read a creepy and gross fan fiction and watched We Need to Talk About Kevin, which was produced by Adam’s Oscilloscope Laboratories film production company. I guess most nights would have a good smattering of Adam Yauch’s legacy, but I’m glad it was that night.