Although you may only have a connection with someone purely because you like their music, it will always hit you a bit when they die. I wasn't the world's biggest fan of the Beastie Boys, but I still liked them, and the death of Adam Yauch, aka MCA, at the early age of 47, is particularly saddening.
Since the news of his death appeared on Friday night, my twitter timeline and personal facebook page have been full of tributes and memories of him. The piece by Sasha Frere-Jones in the New Yorker is particularly touching, and it manages to paint a vivid picture of the guy as well as underline his cultural legacy.
When the Beastie Boys first emerged as an international act with their hit single 'Fight for the Right to Party' I was at school, and the hype surrounding them made them seem like the Sex Pistols a decade earlier. The Sun newspaper predictably hated them and tried to put the fear into the country's Volkswagen owners, suggesting these three bad boys from NYC were making kids steal VW badges. Crucially, the Beastie Boys were cool at my school not just because they sung about teen angst but because they were fans of hardcore punk and metal. So, while their 'white hip-hop' was essentially something very new and edgy, it managed to strike a chord with fans of bands like Anthrax and the Dead Kennedys whilst denting the upper reaches of the chart.
Their musical output is well documented and I have little to add except my own memories of my three live encounters with the band. First of all, Reading Festival 1992. They played a lively set on the action packed Sunday,
the day after Public Enemy had headlined with an amazing set and a few hours after a huge storm had caused a mud-bath and the abandonment of the second stage! They played mid-afternoon, after Pavement but before Teenage Fanclub, Mudhoney, Nick Cave and Nirvana and it all went by so fast. I remember finding the whole set on youtube a while back so feel free to have a search and sample it for yourself.
The second encounter was in Belfast in March 1995 in a soul-less hangar behind the King's Hall. Supported by Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, the Beasties brought the place to life and it didn't even matter that the acoustics meant it sounded the same if you faced the stage or the back wall!
Third, and perhaps the most memorable, was their Saturday night headline slot at Reading '98 when they played ABOVE the Prodigy, who MCA famously scolded for playing 'Smack My Bitch Up'. Sets by Lee Scratch Perry and Money Mark earlier in the day meant that it was very much a Beasties gig and they had requested the Prodigy omit that track. Apart from that little aside, the set was a mix of old favourites and the 'Hello Nasty' album. It turned out to be the most fun festival headline show I think I've seen.
Although it had been well publicised that Adam was ill for a long time, it's still hard to believe that all we have of the Beastie Boys now are memories.