For more than a generation, the groundbreaking Brooklyn act Beastie Boys crossed racial barriers, invented novel mixes of hard core, metal and rap, and were instrumental in raising awareness about political issues like that of Tibet’s lack of freedom. Adam Yauch, in particular, took a personal interest in the plight of his fellow Buddhists and was a key part of the organization and successful execution of a series of concerts and political rallies in the late 90s that attracted a who’s who of popular music. The Tibetan Freedom Concerts probably did more to attract attention to the tactical brutality and categorical repression employed by their Chinese overlords than anyone this side of the Dalai Lama, who had a significant personal impact upon Yauch.
Their serious side certainly belied the lighthearted devil-may-care lyrics found in generational anthems like “No Sleep Til Brooklyn,” “Fight For Your Right” and “Girls.” Yauch’s emotional balance was perhaps best on display soon after being diagnosed with cancer three years ago, when he described his experience at a Tibetan nunnery called Jamyang Choling: “They did a Puja (religious ceremony) for me to help me get well. One nun said to me, ‘We do prayers and then you are better.’ So I’ve got that going for me, which is nice.” You have to hand it to a guy who’s able to quote Carl Spackler in the face of cancer…perhaps that grounded perspective was the embodiment of his Prajñā.
What seems almost certain, however, is that expecting the Beastie Boys to continue without MCA is as unimaginable as Zeppelin without John Bonham. And that, while sad for their legions of fans, seems to delineate the larger significance of Yauch’s passing, really and truly…it’s the end of an era.