16 05/05/2012 entertainment Celebrity

He Never Rocked The Mic With The Pantyhose.

Oh, MCA… 

I knew the man was sick with cancer – everyone knew that. The Beastie Boys had to cancel a summer venue here in Montreal the summer of 2009, when he was newly diagnosed and needed to seek treatment right away. I thought all I’d read about his health in the years that followed was fairly… positive. Until the recent news of him having to miss the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction last month – that sounded rather bad to me – but I never imagined the end would come this quickly. Le sigh.
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Forty-seven seems entirely too soon for someone to die.
I’d seen The Beastie Boys in 2007 at Metropolis – everyone was dressed in semi-Mad Men attire for this gala, and because it was a club and not an arena venue, my friend and I just found a spot near the stage to boogie on down, until we (almost) couldn’t get back up again. We were so close in proximity to the group, our spit could have landed on them. Me and my five-months-pregnant belly danced so hard, I’m pretty sure the reason Ava Scarlett is so funky is largely due to the fact that she was there with me – we danced together, she and I. That was one of the best concert nights of my life.
Back in the day, their first album, License to Ill became almost anthem-like on school yards everywhere. Everyone wanted to fight for their right to party, and the young boys jumped all over each other in mock-mosh-pit style, and we drank in all the new video images after school on TV. Suddenly it was time to get ill, and all we really want is GIRLS. Apparently there’d be no sleep til Brooklyn either. One only needed to start a wave by whining, “Nooooow, here’s a little story I’ve got to tell…” and everyone would get busy bobbing from side to side. Thems were good times. 
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Perfect fools.
My friend Melanie and I would ride the bus home, with our heads pressed together sharing earphones, slurping up all their lyrical stylings, and then we’d bounce the rest of the walk home, rapping all the way. Just like lots of other kids. The Beastie Boys quickly helped bridge the gap between rap and popular music. I felt downright relieved that I could outwardly enjoy this genre of music – outside in public, I mean – in my school of mostly white kids. Those middle school/early high school years (tough for everyone) had my anxiety peaking like crazy, as I contemplated my negritude amongst the beautiful girls around me who had blonde hair, blue eyes, and tiny ski-jump noses. I didn’t want to like rap music then. Or at least, I didn’t want to identify that way.
No.
For me, listening to rap music had to be limited to the safety of my neighbourhood, and even then, the massive boom-boxes blasting the block rocking beats were firmly affixed to the shoulders of young white males – my friend Paul’s, in particular, who skooled us all in the finer point of rap-love. A love that became deeply entrenched in me for the rest of my life, but one I felt needed to be enjoyed in secret. At least, until the Beastie Boys came along.
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I really needed the white kids to like them first. Those three middle-class, white Jewish boys from New York made it super-easy for everyone. Accessible. That first album had an almost frat-like appeal – they seemed like yahoos in their videos, and during interviews on the television circuit – I thought it was fun… but it was Paul’s Boutique that really hooked me. I cannot stress hard enough how the age of music videos shaped me (shaped us all, actually) but I the remember details of these mini-movies like a person remembers the details of the home they grew up in: they are permanently etched in my mind. I remember how I felt. I can almost taste my memories. My sister and I burned that music into our minds and spirits by pressing rewind.
And this is why Adam Yach’s passing is such a sad one for me. Of course, I didn’t know the man, but I’ve studied him in celluloid for the past twenty-five years, and I’ve watched and listened to him change, with time, and maturity, and marriage… I heard him become more peaceful as he grew into a man. I watched his hair go grey, kind of early, actually… but his low, rough voice never changed much – it’s unique and always identifiable. I loved his physical gangliness – arms and legs forever jangling, and his eyes would sometimes blink at a rapid staccato rate he busted a rhyme. They may have changed the message in their music (maturity is a good thing) but they never lost their edge. They just got better and better over the years.
 
It’s infinitely danceable for me – they possess a kind of funk (thanks to that excellent double bass he sometimes played), with hooks and samples lifted from all kinds of places… and of course they lyrics were always ballin’. Lots of texture. You know what kind of company you’re in when you casually ask “So are we gonna kick it?” and someone replies, “Gonna kick it root down…” You might be surprised to know how often I throw it out there, kinda like a test. I always gravitate towards the ones who know.
I still watch their hilarious videos with a face-splitting grin on my face, thinking “You statue-posing, karate-chopping stupids…” and my head bounces on my neck, and I laugh at their dumb antics (which are pure awesome) whether they
‘re wearing moustaches, or tuxedos, or space suits, or polyester suits with the ass-pads down the back. More cowbell, yes please. (Fifty points for you if you catch me.)
I don’t listen to entire albums the way I used to, but I hear their music daily, thanks to excellent radio. Every. Single. Day. I still dance while MCA rocks the Sure Shot

 

I played the flute in high school. I wish I owned one, just so I could play the hook they use here, and in Flute-loop, and in all the others. I close my eyes, and I know just where my fingers ought to go. True story: I met a flautist at a wedding of mutual friends once, and while chatting about music stuff, he picked up his pipe and played the Sure Shot hook for me, out of the blue. I may have fallen deeply in love with Luc Murphy in that moment of excellence… but alas, I was already married.
I might ever have embraced this funky side of me, had it not been for them. True dat. It was liberating for me. I’m not sure another group would have had the same effect on me at all.
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My love for all three MC’s (and one DJ) is endless, but my poor, poor Adam Yauch… their founding member, the gentle vegan with the gravelly-smooth voice wanted so much for Tibet to be free – he put his attention on a great cause, I think. His mind and soul seemed really… clean. I hope he wasn’t scared while facing the end of his life. I’m glad he doesn’t suffer any more. I’m so sad for his family.
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My heart still fees heavy today, but I’m gonna kick it root down all day.
PS – If you’re a fan, check out a documentary called Awesome; I F*cking Shot That which is basically a bunch of fan-shot concert footage, all spliced together. It’s pretty freaking fun – I loved it.
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  • Idas

    Tracey,
    you would passed A+.
    Tic Tack (easy peasy skateboard trick), your laugh sound must be beautiful (please record a sound bite or video :) , and lastly, you define truth-un-ego.
    xoxoxoxoxoxoxox
    i

  • Tracey

    Idas, you kill me. Thanks for the props, Lovely Woman. Le sigh. Your trips to Collingwood sound like fun – and Culture Club totally had their rightful place in the music world too… I don’t want to see anything happen to Boy George for a long, long time.
    PS – I wouldn’t have passed your litmus test (and I’m playing fair – no Googling) so tell me who you’re quoting, please? xox

  • Tracey

    I know JUST what you mean, Sara. It IS scary. And if such a good, good man with one of the cleanest souls alive can get The Cancer, then what hope do any of us have? That guy’s karma was totally correct. It just cements my spot in The Hot Place, as far as I can tell. (Heh.)

  • Idas

    Tracey,
    I like your root down litmus test.
    Mine could be whether or not you can or would be willing to try to tic tac, laugh so I can see your tonsils, or tell me something truthful that is not ego-based.
    I grew up in a heavy House/Reggae/Gino music highschool enviroment until I met Steve who introduced me to the boys when we started hanging out.
    I always thought it was funny that their music ended so abruptly like someone unplugged the tape player. It’s all I heard on the road to Collingwood with the United Snowboards of York fellows. That and the Culture Club tape someone bought for 2 bucks in a bin at 7-11 as a joke.
    Thank you for the post MCA deserved.
    Rolling Stone couldn’t write a better one.
    x
    i

  • Sara

    I knew you’d do something for MCA…and I’m glad I left it for you….:). Someone said he’s the first one of ‘our’ musicians who died of something natural…it’s scary. He was so talented, so big hearted. I’ve read so much about him this wekeend – what a class, class act!

  • Tracey

    I wasn’t rebellious AT ALL. Conformity – that’s what I liked (then) and yes of course, “blackness” is not a homogeneous thing… it’s far easier to look back on this at age 40, than living it was at age fourteen. That’s probably the same for every person alive though.
    I hope you’re gleaning lots and lots from your studies, girl – sounds interesting!!

  • DesiValentine

    Oh, I was a total mess at 14. Not confident at all! But since I lived in a small town and wasn’t particularly inclined toward alcohol abuse, Bic-pen-and-safety-pin tattoos, or playing mail-box baseball, my options for rebellion were limited. So, I blared Jazz music and then hip hop music, and then sort of adopted the Much Music version of Black American gangster as my person MO. (My poor mother.) I’ve only been studying race theory for a few months, but I gotta say our personal negritude is just that – even among the apparently homogeneous American Black culture there is such a diversity of ‘blackness’ that I think it’s in trying to identify with it that we lose track of the profound particularity inherent ourselves and each other. There is no way to ‘be Black’, there are only ways to be people. And MCA wrote that large!

  • Tracey

    Julie, I kick cancer in the taco. KAPOW!!

  • Tracey

    Yes, we must embrace it all. Especially the cowbell.

  • Tracey

    I was sad about Etta James’ passing too – she had a rough go of life. “At Last” was my sprinting-down-the-aisle song – no one ever played it for me to explain his feelings… I feel deprived, suddenly. *sad trombone*
    You sound like you were far more confident that I ever was, Desi – certainly at that time in my life, anyway. I was too busy twisting myself to be acceptable in any way, shape, or form when I was fourteen years old, and just didn’t have the chutzpah to own everything I wanted. I’m still contemplating my own state of negritude… it’s an ongoing thing for me that I’m sometimes conscious of, and sometimes not. The passing of MCA has me reminiscing about my younger self, and it’s… interesting. Painful. Awesome. Tricky.
    And my neck can’t stop bobbing because I’ve had them on “replay” All. Weekend. Long. ;)

  • Julie

    i was never a big fan, just knew who they were and the main songs but you can’t help but appreciate what they did for music and their place in history! but take all that away and a man in his 40′s died of cancer. SUCKSSSSS!!!!!

  • Julie

    “and made it unavoidable to me that being black and white in Canada (or anywhere else, really) has absolutely NOTHING to do with popularized American Black culture.”
    This is something the Beastie boys did for me as well. They allowed me to identify closer with my “white” side, while living so close to the American border. All I heard from my black relatives was the “one drop” theory. This music taught me that it’s ok to embrace both sides.
    Tracey….cowbells…awesomeness.

  • Amreen

    Been playing the Beastie Boys all day in memory of MCA. May he rest in peace.

  • DesiValentine

    It’s funny. When Etta James died, I was so sad for all of us whose boyfriends played At Last into the telephone when they couldn’t say the words, and slow dances and cautious hands and all that delicious terror. I was so sad that the woman who sang the soundtrack of falling in love was gone. But losing MCA was worse, in a way. I was the black kid in the all-white neighbourhood who shunned The Beastie Boys for Public Enemy, spit Chuck D lyrics and rolled my eyes at the (spectacular) Run DMC/Aerosmith collaboration. Instead of waiting for all my white friends to accept rap music, I made it a kind of personal mission statement. Like, “This is how different I am from all of you, what’re YOU gonna do about it?” But then, of course, The Beastie Boys turned out to be amazing. They redefined cross-over music, made a bunch of self-conscious teenagers into activists, made jazz-style musical innovations in hip hop a cross-cultural miracle, and made it unavoidable to me that being black and white in Canada (or anywhere else, really) has absolutely NOTHING to do with popularized American Black culture. I hope his journey was as peaceful and fearless as he seemed to be, too. I am so grateful for his time here.

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