Politicians and political operatives of all stripes took to Twitter to pay tribute to Adam “MCA” Yauch, one-third of the seminal hip hop trio the Beastie Boys, who lost his battle with cancer on Friday at age 47.
“Born and Bred in Brooklyn, U.S.A., they call him Adam Yauch, but he’s M.C.A. RIP Adam. #beastieboys #nosleeptillbrooklyn,” New York’s senior Senator, Chuck Schumer, tweeted.
“Sad day for so many New Yorkers & music fans everywhere. My heart & prayers go out to Adam Yauch’s family & everyone who loved him,” the state’s junior Senator, Kirsten Gillibrand, added.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg got into the act as well, praising his contributions to the city’s cultural scene.
Mitt Romney’s son, Matt, recalled going to see the Beastie Boys in 6th grade — his first rock concert. Top Romney adviser Jim Merrill said he was “listening to Beastie Boys ‘Check Your Head’ front to back. RIP Adam ‘MCA’ Yauch.” Meanwhile, in President Obama’s re-election team, campaign manager Jim Messina was “Mourning the passing of Adam Yauch. Thank you for a lifetime of great music. RIP MCA.”
Yauch’s 22-year old self would have probably been caught off guard by the praise.
The Beastie Boys began their career as a political punching bag, one of the first bands to catch the eye of Tipper Gore’s Parents Music Resource Center, a Senate committee of politically connected spouses who declared war on obscenity in music in the 1980s.
“There’s a band called the Beastie Boys,” PMRC director Jennifer Norwood said at a business symposium in 1987, according to a contemporary Los Angeles Times account. “They are very popular with junior high school students.” She went on to decry how their songs “talk about trusting crack, talk about angel dust, freebasing, sniffing glue.”
As Yauch and his bandmates became shorthand for obscenity in music, the young college dropout was pressed by interviewers about his lyrics. Like this memorable exchange in Playboy in 1987, where Yauch deadpanned “What’s Tipper Gore?” before explaining that mothers “don’t understand what we’re saying.” It continues:
“But what about all the drug references?” I ask. The networks have a strict policy against mentioning drugs in anything but a negative context. Johnny Carson can’t even joke about the band’s smoking dope.
Yauch pauses two beats and says, “There aren’t any references to drugs on the album.”
The references to being dusted — they’re not about angel dust?
Yauch pauses two beats and says, “No, that’s a reference to unemployment.”
There are no references to drugs on the album?
“No. Excuse me, man, there’s a knock on the door.”
Yauch’s saying there are no drug references on Licensed to Ill is like Hugh Hefner’s saying there are no nudes in PLAYBOY. To cite one example from Hold It, Now Hit It: “I’m in my car, I’m going far and dust is what I’m using.” Or from The New Style: “I rolled up the wooler and I watched Columbo.” A wooler, according to my street sources, is a joint with crack in it. The Beasties’ lyrical style is to brag and tell tall tales, so you cannot in fairness say they are advocating anything. But they are absolutely referring to drugs.
25 years later, the generation that listened to “Paul’s Boutique” on repeat is now running the country, and the genre that the Beastie Boys helped popularize dominates pop culture. Yauch and his bandmates proved a lot more substantial than their initial caricature as well, devoting themselves to a wide array of left-leaning political causes right up to and including the recent Occupy Wall Street protests. Yet another reminder that today’s national terrors are tomorrow’s national treasures.
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.