Adam Yauch’s death is a massive bummer. Partially because it was cancer, something that has been wreaking havoc on my life, month after month; and just hearing about his cancer diagnosis, it didn’t sound dire, it really didn’t. (My guess is that it was too close to the lymph nodes? But what do I know.) Cancer sucks. It’s not an automatic death sentence, but it definitely is a reminder of the absolute game of chance that rules everybody’s life. Cancer can strike, kill, or be dealt with and how your body responds to it… it’s just a roll of the dice. Which is really hard.
There’s a tendency to talk about disease like “oh, they did X and Y. This is how they sinned, they deserved it.” You talk about it that way because it’s comforting, because then you won’t get a disease. It’s a spell to protect you for the future, but when it comes to cancer, nothing rational applies. All the kale in the world may help, or it may not.
I think you could argue that the Beastie Boys was the undeniable band of my generation, and to know that they won’t be Beastie Grumpy Old Men hits me in the heart. MCA always seemed like the older brother, reminding me of my cousins who had the wisdom and slightly scary affect of age, who were undeniably men with scruff, men who had sex.
I spent three weeks in Stockholm as a teenager, and I made my parents tote a copy of Hello Nasty abroad with them when they met up with me in the last week. I used Yauch’s Buddhism as a lure - “Mom, he’s Buddhist like you and he raps about it! Don’t you want me to be listening to this music?” I had to hang out with an Swedish semi-relative of mine, and we got through that mutual teenage awkwardness when he taped a Beastie Boys interview for me, and we watched it together. The Beastie Boys all made fun of the Swedish interviewer. I laughed a little bit harder than Marcus.
When I interviewed Zoe Kazan for The Exploding Girl, I got to go to the Oscilloscope offices. It was thrilling. I saw some Beasties prizes, Moon Men and Grammys, I thought about when the Beasties used their gigantic platform to talk about respecting women and how exciting that recognition was. I saw an older, still super-cute Adam Horowitz, and he looked like my dude and I was like, sweet. (Ironically, Adam Horowitz and Kathleen Hanna got married for health insurance, which is a situation I understand.) Apparently my VHS of the best of the Beastie Boys videos imprinted on me at a young age.
But I got to talk to The Exploding Girl’s director, Bradley Rust Grey, in Adam Yauch’s office. There were mandalas on the walls. Tokens of the fact that he was a serious Buddhist. The energy in the room was a good place. I felt safe. It reminded me of my mom’s math classroom in high school, where she had put quotes by Rumi and about mindfulness on the walls.
The Beastie Boys defined cool for me when I was a teenager. When they liked something, it was probably worthy. I listened to Ben Lee because of them, and I liked it. They were good tastemakers, and I think part of the reason I veered towards cultural journalism was because I wanted to share that same thrill of discovery of something new, some great way of looking at the world through art or film or whatever.
What Adam Yauch did with Oscilloscope wasn’t unexpected, considering what good taste the Beasties had. But he started a film company around 2008 - when jumping into the fray was pitting yourself as Joan of Arc against the armies - and did a good job of buying up great documentaries and challenging films (The Messenger is wonderful, Oren Moverman is a genius) and some of them even got Oscar nominations. Contextually, studios were killing their indie divisions at the same time and movies would play film festivals and just go off into oblivion. Oscilloscope was very necessary. It still is very necessary. It’s a barometer of a bunch of engaged people with fantastic taste, which is a very good part of Adam Yauch’s legacy.