Growing Up and Out (of Time) in Public: Thoughts on Adam Yauch
Between time, Nutrasweet, and ECT, I don’t remember any of the Gopher Gas boys’ names. It is 1986 or early 1987. Gopher Gas is a small gas/grocery station two blocks up from the east side of Green Lake, and the fellows who congregate around Gopher Gas are not going anywhere, in cultural parlance. I am supposed to be going somewhere; I am supposed to be going to college in the fall of 1987. But I took a year off between high school and college partially because of a housing crunch at college and partially because I am a husk.
The Gopher Gas boys practiced petty crime and talked about bigger things. One fellow warmly invited me and everyone else over to his living room one night, and while I hadn’t seen hardcore pornography before, the other boys may have. I always felt they belonged to each other more than I belonged anywhere.
Licensed To Ill was there of course. The Beastie Boys were us, just magnified. Brighter, wittier, and of course richer. They rapped of nasty, obnoxious things and I secretly gasped at some of the violence but I never told that to the boys, because we were were supposed to own all that, feel the tape in the boombox as an extension of ourselves.
I have not thought much of the Beastie Boys in recent years and so I was surprised to find how much of my life had been caught up in them. New York Thrash is their early hardcore, energetic obnoxiousness I enjoyed but put aside amidst a lot of similar-sounding stuff. “Rock Hard” and “She’s On It,” the next conceptual leap, except that the next conceptual leap was actually “Cooky Puss,” which I discovered later, but compensated for my lateness by annoying the living shit out of everyone in college with it.
Licensed To Ill begat, after a long time and a label dispute, Paul’s Boutique, and the band was no novelty act, no one-shot popper. A friend of mine once called them the Frank Sinatra of our generation, and I still have no idea what he meant by that, unless he meant cultural ubiquity and admiration.
I have no idea what happened to the Gopher Gas boys. I have my doubts. I can confidently say that Adam Yauch, aka MCA, who died of cancer on May 4, rose to the challenge of living life. Aside from his band’s flabbergasting album-after-album development, he took up Buddhism, and worked for the freedom of Tibet. He apologized for the nastiness on the early records. He grew up.
I hope he found some peace as he lay dying. Knowing nothing personally of long, lingering deaths, I imagine it as a conundrum of confusion and anger and pain and tears and chemicals. I can’t know. I feel distraught for his wife, his daughter, and his family. But it is true that I can’t know.
He was a man who stood up, got up, and got out. He got closer to the light because he pushed himself closer to the light. I don’t believe in an afterlife. But he showed a way and it was a much better way than a lot of people can show. I hope he found some love in his leaving.