Adam Yauch and the Adolescent Sublime

Beastie Boys Rapper MCA Made His Mark in Film

Grown Up: Adam Horowitz (left), Mike Diamond and Adam Yauch perform at Wembley Stadium in 2007.
Getty Images
Grown Up: Adam Horowitz (left), Mike Diamond and Adam Yauch perform at Wembley Stadium in 2007.

By Eitan Kensky

Published May 06, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Of all the Beastie Boys, I had the least attachment to Adam Yauch. It’s important to say this at the beginning because it’s impossible to talk about the Beastie Boys as individuals without talking about the group, and it’s impossible to talk about them as a band — to talk about their music — without being personal. More than any other group, their greatness is defined through affection: You love the Beastie Boys, or you don’t. You love listening to Mike Diamond (“Mike D”), Adam Horowitz (“Ad-Rock”) and Yauch (“MCA”) rhyme about their lives, or you don’t. There is no neutral.

Social Conscience: Adam Yauch, who died May 4 at age 47, played the Beastie Boys’ ‘straight man.’
Getty Images
Social Conscience: Adam Yauch, who died May 4 at age 47, played the Beastie Boys’ ‘straight man.’

For fans like me, the Beastie Boys are inseparable from the times in our lives when we listened to them most. As a teenager starting a non-Jewish high school after years in day school, I spent hours trying to divine crypto-Jewish messages in their music. I’m half embarrassed to admit it, but the first MCA lyric that came to mind when I heard about his May 4 death wasn’t one of his great expressions of social consciousness, like “I want to say a little something that’s long overdue/ The disrespect to women has got to be through,” or his public apology in 1999 for the band’s early misogyny. That came later, when I had to think about Yauch and what he meant. The first thing I thought of was this line from “Get on the Mic”: “Mike … don’t be so selfish/ Get on the mic ‘cause you know you eat shellfish.” In what universe other than a Jewish one does that taunt make sense? They were already megastars when the song was released in 1989; were they really still worried about Jewish dietary laws?

Talking to other people about Adam Yauch, I realized that this experience is common. Other fans have other memories of other songs, but the memories are always personal: the time you spent goofing off and memorizing “Paul Revere” with a best friend; the older, much cooler kid you conned into talking to you because you both liked the Beastie Boys; the older, much cooler music writer I conned into talking to me yesterday because we both were trying to express how losing Adam Yauch made us feel.

Early on, their work was called “juvenile.” The better word is “adolescent.” Beastie Boys albums are miniature coming of age stories — stories of learning about the world and how to treat other people, but always fun, always about what it means to be young. It only made them richer that each song had three voices, three close friends who were finding the world together, finishing each other’s rhymes, cutting in and cutting the others down to size. You can’t imagine them apart.

As a lyricist, MCA didn’t speak to me as strongly as Mike D and Ad-Rock did. He seemed detached from the revelry, either as the band’s conscience, or playing the role of straight man. That role was necessary, though at 14 years old I didn’t understand it yet. Where I connected with Adam Yauch as an individual was in film. Yauch’s production company, Oscilloscope Laboratories, has released some of the most brilliant movies of recent years, like “Wendy and Lucy,” “The Messenger” and “Exit Through the Gift Shop.” He made his own documentary, the entertaining “Gunnin’ for That #1 Spot,” about a basketball tournament in Harlem’s Rucker Park. He was committed to supporting inventive, challenging, independent cinema at a time when almost no one else was.

As great as those movies are, they don’t compare to the Beastie Boys videos that Yauch directed under the name Nathaniel Hornblower. I’m not sure whether music videos are art; they are essentially commercials for an album, and most of them are interested only in style. The best video directors, like Spike Jonze and Michel Gondry, go on to make feature films and their videos are seen as the way they supported themselves before they became artists.

But Yauch’s Beastie Boys videos are something else. “Intergalactic” and “Body Movin’” are visual expressions of all the band’s madcap energies. “Body Movin’” is particularly strong, a parody of 1960’s spy movies that becomes so much more.

Harold Bloom once listed the ending of the Marx Brothers’ “Duck Soup” as one of the most sublime moments in 20th-century American art. That’s how I feel about the video for “Body Movin’.” Why is Mike D dressed in a revolutionary war costume? I can’t tell you (nor, for that matter, why he switches between the Whigs and the Tories). Why does a bird make a plane explode? Again, I can’t explain. The components of the video are nonsensical, silly, and almost laughably ridiculous on their own, but together they rise into something magnificent. Draw a parallel to the band, if you will.

Wherever Mike D and Ad-Rock go next, I’ll be there. But they’ll never be the Beastie Boys again — that time in all of our lives is gone.

Watch ‘Body Movin’:


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.