Once upon a time when I was a young college student, I was seriously obsessed with the Beastie Boys. That obsession has not really passed, and if you know me in real life and recall my very recent major-league freakout over my health food store run-in with Mike D, you know I ain’t lyin.’ Back in the day, one of my friends in college had an internship with Nasty Little Man, the Beasties’ PR firm, and she used to call me on the sly at one of my first jobs whenever MCA was in the house, usually preparing for Tibetan Freedom Concert-ish related activities.
“The bomb,” my friend would covertly whisper into the phone. That was our code phrase meaning: Yauch is present. Yauch was known for being the most generous with interns among the PR office regulars when it came ordering food for delivery, making sure they were included in concert plans, and acknowledging their contributions on projects.
She knew that I was a HUGE Beastie Boys fan. So huge that I used to make special pilgrimages to the comic book store near the UCLA campus to buy copies of Grand Royal magazine when they were fresh off the presses. I was such a huge Beastie Boys fan that I bought all the ingredients for Noel Yauch’s frugal frittata recipe and made it. Such a huge Beastie Boys fan that my own college roommate and I obtained the phone number of Ricky Powell and used to prank call him (to his delight) before I ever moved to New York. When I finally did arrive in New York, one of my first destinations on a city exploration was 59 Chrystie Street. I used to wander the East Village past the X-Large store when it used to be on Avenue A.
What made the Beastie Boys so endearing, and still does, is that they’re in on their own joke. They’re the smartest kids in the class, playing the part of the class clown. I became very interested in the work of the Milarepa Foundation when I was a student and had been surprised, but pleased, to learn that it had been created by none other than the Beasties’ tough-talking MCA.
Adam Yauch cared so much about the ongoing plight of the people of Tibet, who have little control over the Chinese government’s destruction of their ecosystem and in some instances, persecution of their population,that he threw himself whole-heartedly into organizing the Tibetan Freedom Concerts to raise awareness. More recently, he created Osciolloscope Films, distributing films you may have heard of (like “We Need to Talk About Kevin“) and some you may not have heard of (including “If A Tree Falls,” a documentary made about the plight of my friend, environmental activist Daniel McGowan). He matured during the course of his musical career from a foul-mouthed rapping yahoo to a highly proactive, socially responsible intellectual. It has always impressed me that the Beastie Boys have used their fame and success so carefully to support and encourage other people, and I can recall distinctly thinking when the first Tibetan Freedom Concert was organized how admirable it was of him to put such enormous organizational effort into a cause about which he cared so greatly. His statement as an artist was that you can always do something to help someone else, to spread their message, to enable opportunities for them.
It simply doesn’t seem real that Adam has left this life. The smart-mouthed 19-year-old in me is simply in shock. When Yauch was first diagnosed with cancer, I had just recently lost a very close friend to cancer and it seemed unthinkable that another man, so young, would be starting his battle with the disease. My heart goes out to Adam’s wife and beautiful daughter, and his parents, who were always humorously involved in Grand Royal shenanigans. I like to think that true to Buddhist beliefs, Adam will pass into the next life peacefully… but it’s hard to imagine a new existence for him that would be more zen than the one he is leaving behind.