Sunday, November 27, 2016

Fight For Your Right (& Righting The Fight)

The cover from the Beastie Boys' Licensed to Ill album.  From Wikipedia, fair use claimed.

Greetings All:

"Be-CAUSE mutiny on the Bounty's what we're all about..."

With those opening lyrics to "Rhymin' and Stealin,'" the world (outside of the rap scene of New York City) was introduced to the sound that was the Beastie Boys.  This is the first song off of their insanely successful album, Licensed to Ill

It was 30 years ago this month (November 15, 1986 to be precise) that their album dropped.  To the music world, it was a the equivalent of a mega-ton bomb detonating.  It brought hip-hop into the mainstream and the single "(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (to Party)," became a mainstay video on MTV for months.  Sirius XM offered these comments on this anniversary.

The Beastie Boys were outrageous.  Three white, Jewish guys from (more or less) privileged backgrounds made their own path in the world of hip hop.  They had a bit of exposure in the movie Krush Groove.  However, I doubted anyone could have expected how this album would absolutely dominate both the hip hop and pop charts as it did.

Oh, and they were sexist assholes.  They were misogynist, unapologetic boozing frat boys without a pledge pin.

Speaking of fraternities, Back in 1987, Steve "Junior" Anderson, Dave Bettis and I admirably performed "(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (to Party)" this song during the Kappa Kappa Gamma's lip sync charity event at The Field House bar in Iowa City.  Ah college. 

I suppose it is only appropriate a magazine like Maxim did a compilation of their three decades of work.  Here's the link featuring some of their videos.

Then, like most people, they grew up, both musically and emotionally.  Eight years after Licensed To Ill, they released "Sure Shot," off of the Ill Communication CD.  Adam Yauch, a/k/a "MCA" rapped the following lines:

"I want to say a little something that's long overdue/ The disrespect to women has got to be through/ To all the mothers and sisters and the wives and friends/ I want to offer my love and respect to the end."

He, more than the other two members, Mike Diamond, a/k/a Mike D and Adam Horowitz, a/k/a King Ad Rock, went thru the most significant transition, embracing Buddhism.  Here's a link to a Rolling Stone article on his thoughts on his spiritual journey.

However, he was not the only Beastie to reject their (dare I say it) "ill-spent" youth.  Horowitz is married to Kathleen Hanna, lead singer of a number of feminist punk bands, including Bikini Kill and a feminist activist.  She's an interesting artist in her own right. (As I type this, my oldest daughter is checking out Bikini Kill's song, "Rebel Grrrl.")  Mike D has been married to Tamra Davis since 1993, a video producer and a vegetarian cooking show host.

I'd submit the following:  The boys made the transaction to men quite nicely.

Yet that did not cause their music creativity to suffer.  I'd argue it made them more creative and more effective musicians.  As Exhibit A to my argument, I'll admit into evidence "Sabotage."  At the Iowa game on Friday (a glorious victory, BTW) I was thrilled to hear this song blast out of the sound system every time Nebraska faced third down.  I suppose one could view this as a sign of "selling out" to the man.  I will yell from the top of the Old Capital building that the song stands on its own and can be appropriately applied in any number of settings.

This was the flagship song off of Ill Communication.  Directed by the legendary director, Spike Jonze, it's a video that plays homage to a motif of 1970's cop shows.  It earned heavy rotation on MTV. (Yes, dear readers, there was a time in the dark, pre-internet age when as Bowling For Soup sang, "...there was music still on MTV...)

The single release for "Sabotage," from Wikipedia, fair use claimed, full link here.

In fact, let's watch it again, shall we?  The song gained a bunch of traction and also showed the true musical chops of the guys.  Case in point, there's this little gem from Saturday Night Live of Elvis Costello with the Beastie Boys.  You may recall that Costello was told not to play a certain song a few years back.  Those of you who are music and pop culture fans will recall the story.  I don't want to give away the video, so please check it out if you would like.  I'll simply say this:  Sometimes history repeats itself in quite a cool way.

It is pretty amazing, at least to me, that a group who had "one hit wonder" written all over them developed this longevity.  Rolling Stone provided some perspective on the Beastie Boys' generational significance with this article.  

Thirty years is a long time and none of us are immortal.  Sadly, this fact was reinforced with the 2012 death of Yauch.  He passed on after a valiant battle with cancer.  Here's a story about his final years.  Years ago, I used to read Rolling Stone religiously.  Aside from reading a military-related themed article, I had not paid much attention to it in years.  Then, in the spring of 2012, I happened to be in a checkout line when I saw MCA on the cover.  This was shortly after his passing and bought it on instinct.  I was glad I did.

About a year later, The City of New York did a wonderful thing.  They named a park after him.  Here's a photo of the dedication with Yauch's family, Horowitz and I presume Hanna.  It's a moving photo.

The dedication of "Adam Yauch Park," Brooklyn,  May 3, 2013, fair use claimed, photo credit Daniel Zuchnik/Getty/via JTA

So it was upsetting to learn that a few weeks' back, this park was vandalized by Nazi symbols and a "Go Trump" message.  Here is the link to the story with a picture of the vandalism.

I should point out that it's more, much more, likely than not that the perpetrators of this hate crime were not true Trump supporters.  I have been heartened to have heard Bryan Lanza, Mr. Trump's spokesman issue the following statement:  "President-elect Trump has continued to denounce racism of any kind and he was elected because he will be a leader for every American." 

Still, the damage was done.  It prompted understandably outrage from many and a rally was held shortly after the incident.  One of the speakers was Horowitz.  You can hear his comments here.

I cannot help but see some sad irony in the vandalism at the park named for Yauch.  He began his career as a hell-raiser and then evolved into a student of Buddhism, of peace and non-violence.  I have no doubt his spirit has forgiven those who did this act.  He'd likely say to the perpetrators, "Put down the spray paint can friend, there's another path."

As I watched the video of Horowitz, his gray hair blowing in the wind, speaking at the anti-hate rally, he sounded like a thoughtful person.  The fact he was reading from prepared remarks stood in stark contrast to the kid on the mic, full of bravado.  It did not diminish from his message.  If anything, it enhanced it.  It was as if he wanted to get the message across correctly, to get it right.  As far as I am concerned, he did.

Thirty years ago, the Beastie Boys were about fighting for the right to get drunk and chase women.  Now, their message is one of tolerance and respect.  They have "righted" their fight.

And that's something we can all "rap" along to.


Be well my friends,

A note on the stories hyperlinked in this blog post.  It is presumed that as these stories were available on the web, sharing is authorized for the purpose of this blog.  I respectfully claim fair use for this limited purpose.  Thank you.

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