Earlier this month, MCA from the Beastie Boys passed away after a fight against cancer. He was just a couple of years older than I am now, and it reminded me once again of how short life can be. I fear getting old more than I fear dying young, but that doesn’t mean early deaths aren’t hard.
I was in Cleveland when I learned of MCA’s passing, and the day after it happened I went to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for the first time. I was originally down on the idea, because of some groups that have been left out, but I realize that’s just silly. Rock and roll has always been a big part of my life, from the time that I heard the guitar solo on Styx’ Renegade back when I was ten years old. If this place is where the history of this artform is being preserved, then so be it. As I was looking at some of the artifacts on display, I felt like such a place is needed, in order to remind us of who has made this music and why.
And so it was that I came to the rounded hallway where all of the inductees’ signature are displayed, and then to the display for new inductees. That’s me on the left above, with the Beastie Boys’ exhibit. Pictures weren’t allowed inside the display, but rock and roll is about bending the rules, so I enlisted my daughter and we waited for an opportune moment. I don’t think I could have staged a better shot if they allowed me to.
There were already four pictures commemorating Rock hall inductees who had passed away, in the first few months of this year. Dick Clark was there, along with three others. MCA would have been the fifth picture on the wall, but they hadn’t had time yet to find a suitable picture. And Robin Gibb has passed away since then, bringing to six the number of Rock Hall members that have died in the first five months of this year. You can say that rock is dying right before our eyes. That’s a bit dramatic, but it hasn’t been the best of years so far.
I listened to the Beastie Boys in college, and haven’t stopped since. I’m glad they moved away from the juvenile stuff on Licensed to Ill, but kept the weird references in their lyrics. Nobody ever did what they could do, and that’s what made them unique. Their absence will be a big void, not the least of which is a 2009 Lollapalooza show that they pulled out of due to MCA’s condition. They had bigger issues to deal with than playing a concert in Chicago, but the release of a new disc last year made me think we might see them on stage somehow. But it was not meant to be.
I wrote this piece tonight because, as my daughter was listening to Radio Disney in the car this evening, I heard the opening bars of “Looking Down the Barrel of a Gun” in the background during some meaningless DJ chatter. There were no lyrics in what I heard, but it was if I was being reminded to get some thoughts about MCA and the Beastie Boys out to the wider world.
After leaving the Beastie Boys display, I came to a jukebox where you can put on some headphones and pick out any song by any of the Rock Hall artists. I did this for at least a half an hour with Beastie Boys tunes, and I would have liked to do it for even longer, but impatient children had other ideas. I didn’t know half as many rhymes as I thought I did, but it was fun anyway. And the band that provides that to its fans is rare, indeed.
NOTE: The title of this post comes from an MCA lyric toward the end of Root Down, which can be seen and heard here.