Monday, May 07, 2012

I'm going to set it straight, this Watergate

Everyone else has their "the first time I heard them" story, occasioned by the sad death by cancer of Adam Yauch, so I'll tell mine.

I was in grade 8, an alienated geeky kid who liked the anger in "Fight For Your Right To Party" and understood it to be more political and punk than self-indulgent.  Rap and hip-hop didn't exist in my little part of Alberta, not until Run-DMC hooked up with Aerosmith - in fact I think there might have been one black family in my entire little city of 60,000.  I think I was discussing the lyrics with my best friend, similarly alienated and geeky, when one of the cool kids who also considered himself smart enough to guard taste sneered out something about juvenile and spoiled brats.  (The same guy thought Bob and Doug Mackenzie were juvenile and spoiled brats, and hey, those guys never went anywhere.)  So I pretty much didn't listen to them again until grad school.  There just wasn't anyone around who might also listen to them, and besides grunge was finally melting through the firewall created by Eagles cover bands and their cancon equivalents. 

But for the most part it wasn't until I got to grad school that I listened to them, specifically Ill Communication, and then it was just obvious: oh yeah, these guys grew up, and they're saying intelligent things and they also don't think being silly is something you stop doing.  And that changed my life, as it did, in the same way, the people linked to above.  They were optimistic and angry, instead of being nihilistic and angry like Janes Addiction, or detached and angry like Nirvana.  They were snarling brats who realized what they did made a difference, and their impact on modern music, I'm reminded, is that their basic decency made them somewhat square amongst their contemporaries but ultimately much deeper and more interesting. 

Because while Perry Farrell - a gifted lyricist - might write a truly haunting song about a three-day heroin-driven tantric threesome with his lover and his other lover who flew in from NYC for the occasion that ultimately, when you dig a little deeper, is as self-indulgent as anything written in the last two or three centuries:

the Beastie Boys can write the Generation X manifesto against the Baby Boomers:

Now, looking at those two mindsets, who would you rather hang out with?  Three guys who know the score and can also have fun with the fact that we've been royally fucked by history, or three people who spend the weekend nodding off during sex and thinking they're deep because they do smack?  I mean, not royally as fucked as the Tibetans, say, or ... billions of other people.  But still enough to make me angry and grow a crazy mustache.

De gustibus non disputandum est, as they say, and I've known and respected people who don't agree with my obvious choice.  But many of them were unhappy and ended up making my choice anyway.  When they haven't nodded off permanently, or remained self-absorbed long enough to turn into assholes.

Adam Yauch died of cancer at the young age of 48, leaving a 13 year old daughter and a loving partner.  There are a lot of ways I can identify with that, that makes me sad, not least because I had cancer once and I've also got a daughter in the same age range. 

But I'm glad we had him with us for a while, and even if its trite to say it, the man helped me understand the right way to grow up.  You may have to fight for your right to party, but the opening lines of Sure Shot, where the Beastie Boys announced that all this misogynist hip-hop shit was just dumb and it was time to grow up, and keep going, are optimism encapsulated.

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