I should have listened. Instead I plugged away, mostly unaided, depending solely on my memory to do the heavy lifting for me. By the time I realized that your brain doesn't allocate new spaces for memory, instead holding fast to a finite number of slots and cannibalizing the inconsequential stuff like a yard sale, it was almost too late.
Now in my mid-20s, my past exists curiously. The things that seem like they should be big events -- my first prom, winning league in basketball Junior year, getting confirmed -- remain only in half remembrances, bolstered by years of TV and movie watching (Usher did lead us all in a choreographed dance...right?). Somehow I vividly remember tagging the rear of Russell's Ford Taurus with a large red Slurpee from the passenger side of my friend's Wrangler as the white Taurus, affectionately referred to as "the Shit Box" sped out of our local market's parking lot, marking a dramatic conclusion to an otherwise uneventful night.
What other currency for important life events can you count on beyond your own memory telling you what to hold on to? It is the only true arbiter of a life lived: that which we deem noteworthy enough to nail to the floorboards. With the passing of Adam Yauch, Beastie Boy MCA, I turned to my full Beastie discography for solace. Instead, I found a time warp.
- Standing in the Meyer's old basement -- the one with rows and rows of garments ensconced in their plastic shrouds, keeping them fresh for an occasion that was never to come, the one before insurance money from the fire turned it into a cozy subterranean rec room -- as Steve rhythmically shouted, "Girls!" I responded, "BUM bum, bum bum-BUH, buh-bum, buh-bum." He continued to rhyme as I set the backing beat, occasionally joining him on words that's ended in an "ay" sound. It was recorded for our radio show in front of our live audience: a rubber blowfish toy we named "Hootie" long before we understood casual irony and an out of season Reindeer named Rudy. We understood maybe 53% of the song.
- By 5th grade, we'd been to bowling birthday parties before, but never at night. Never with black lights, whose existence we'd become acquainted with thanks to a geology-based birthday party at a rock quarry. Never did we bowl with a DJ who took requests. So what did the little tykes rally to the booth to demand a spin? "No Sleep Til Brooklyn." Of course we took the sing-back chorus to its natural, bratty conclusion, ruining the dates of so many would-be macking 16-year-olds surrounding us. And the balls looked cool.
- "It's just a case," I rationalized to myself as Matt handed back Ill Communication, decidedly lacking the top part of its CD's jewel case. There was no way I could return it. Not again. Not after mistaking the purposeful analog, lo-fi recording whirrs and crackles on the album as a defect of the CD itself and demanding a new magical shiny disc. I raced home and listened to the album, finally realizing I was a tool. Now I was a tool with a busted CD. Immediately blasting "Get It Together" upon returning home helped. Q-Tip understood my plight.
- Turning off my Genesis and flipping the A/B switch over to "A," flipping to MTV to catch the desaturated goodness of "So Whatcha Want?" I chewed the watermelon Bubblicious until my dropped chin made such an action impossible. When the song was over, I checked the credits and cross-referenced the song title against the albums at my disposal (Licensed To Ill, Ill Communication). Nothing. I stormed into my mom's room demanding a ride to Sam Goody's as soon as possible. Thirty minutes later, the oversight was rectified. I sat on my basement rug, cross-legged, as "Jimmy James" washed over me.
- The mustaches.
- A lifetime of pain was over -- my braces were coming off after a grueling (and largely unnecessary) two-year stint gripped to my pearly whites. As a reward, I walked directly next store and purchased Hello Nasty. I proudly popped it into the CD player in my mom's new green Jeep Grand Cherokee. It was the first such shiny plastic disc that was entered in the space. I waited two months so the Beasties' could get the honor. I'm only catholic with car stereos.
- The four of us return to the luxury box with the exact same shirts. Bright blue, with a wire-framed "BEASTIE BOYS" across the chest. On the back, some schematic-style drawings of Ad Rock, Mike D, and MCA stuffed like sardines in a can; Hello Nasty's memorable album cover. A Tribe Called Quest had just finished their "last show ever" at Continental Airlines Arena in East Rutherford, NJ on this June day in 1998. Its significance will be registered some time in the future.
The Beastie Boys come on just as I'm polishing off some mediocre (but free!) buffalo wings. I wipe my fingers on my pants and rush to the front of the box towards the open glass partition. A cloud of smoke flows into the box, causing a friend with asthma to run to the back, inhaler in hand, to enjoy the concert from a comfortable distance. In turn, my dad closes the glass, in order to save my friend's experience. It first made me feel cut off from everyone else. When "Sabotage" kicked in and the three small, isolated mosh pits took 45 seconds to turn the floor into two giant factions, the separation left me relieved. I had never seen people move like that. I haven't since. With the rising of the house lights, I completed my first-ever concert. Two of my three friends have done the same.
- Sitting in my freshman dorm, a humanities textbook wedged between my chest and my laptop. I put down my headphones, finally understanding Paul's Boutique. I closed the book. The vital humanities lesson is learned. Still do okay on the next day's test.
- Popping the Beastie Boys Video Anthology Disc 2 out and substituting it with Disc 1...again. It was only 11. Lord knows how many more games of beer pong could be fit in before dawn. End one game hitting both cups as "Gratitude" plays. Perfect.
- Jay-Z takes the stage at All Points West, filling in for the Beastie Boys. It seems that MCA has cancer, so they're going to go off the road for a year or so until he gets better and the group puts out The Hot Sauce Committee Vol. 1 (of two). In a get well bid, Jay-Z starts the show with a tribute as the crowd goes absolutely batshit. The fact that two-thirds of the audience probably lives in Brooklyn surely helps.
- Taking the elevator up to the offices of Oscilloscope Laboratories to conduct my first-ever journalistic interview with Evan Glodell, the writer/director of Bellflower. In my haze of anxiousness, I completely forget MCA founded the distribution company until I get to their floor. I gawk endlessly at the the abundant Beastie memorabilia while young men -- uniformly dressed in nice pants, black shoes, black belts, white, tucked-in collared shirts with accented skinny ties. minus expressions -- sat around blankly. The interview went well. Feel urge to apply to Oscilloscope with a cover letter that would only read, "I would appreciate this location a lot more than anyone on your current staff."
- I check my email to check in with my soon-to-be roommate. I reach for my phone to call the manager of the Brooklyn apartment we are about to move into at the start of the month about a definitive move-in day when TweetDeck loads. Catch the internet mid explosion: MCA died. My jaw drops. I attempt to rationalize how a man who battled cancer for three consecutive years can die while still gaining the adjectives "so suddenly" and "unexpectedly." Hear the drool "plop" against the laptop's keyboard; realize my mouth has been agape for the last minute and a half. Stumble on the video for "Fight For Your Right."
- Whoooooaaa. The new Sony Trinitron comes to life. I lay on my stomach, my grey Michael Jordan t-shirt scratching against the light brown living room carpet, not needing to get up and flip a knob to change the channel. Not on this TV. Not forever further after this point. I turn the channels over and over with the ease of flipping the world's most greased up light switch. After swinging by Nickelodeon, I fall in MTV. "Good," my eight-year-old self thinks, "finally a station that's up to par."
The scene revolves around a bunch of nerds sitting on a couch. They would like to throw a party in this seemingly spartan apartment as the boy's parents leave, but there is trepidation. "I hope no bad people show up," he says, meekly. Desperately. Dumbly. Immediately three guys show up on screen, set against a vibrant red background, screaming bloody murder. The guy in the middle, the one wearing the Fonzie leather jacket? He's bashing some...bread?...against his head. Repeatedly.
I scrunch my lower half upward, dragging my elbows deep into the carpet, adding red highlights to my white skin as my back arches ever straighter. My chin drops ever so slightly. Then the matronly older women from before gets a liquid pie in the face. I kink my head to the side like a dog. Who are these guys?
Counting Crows and Live never made it past their one breakthrough album. Red Hot Chili Peppers have slowly faded like an ever-burning candle clinging desperately to any wick left. Weezer released "Make Believe" without also issuing an apology. Wu-Tang Clan dissolved right along side ODB. KoRn and Limp Bizkit...well...you know. Even Pearl Jam, a band I picked up heavily in the early 2000s, worked pretty damn hard to alienate themselves from people just like me. And it worked.
Only the Beastie Boys were able to connect the gap from my first inklings of music to my advanced iTunes gorging stage of today. Only the Beastie Boys garnered my respect enough to go out and buy every major release they have put out. Only the Beastie Boys can be goofy, carefree, thoughtful, kind, advocates for Tibet and women's health, basketball fans, label owners, magazine editors, full-on musicians, wise guys, introverted, and still be incredibly cool while doing it all. Only the Beastie Boys could turn adapt from a decent thrash band into making anthemic hip-hop songs with heavy rock guitar loops before picking the instruments up again and creating one of the most memorable songs of a generation. Only the Beastie Boys juggle the titles of innovators and classicists, whose rhymes -- as MCA reminded -- age like fine wine. Only the Beastie Boys can grow from boys to men, all the while doing exactly what they want.
Only the Beastie Boys could help guide me from Elementary school to adulthood. Rest in Peace, MCA. I couldn't have gotten here without you.
Image courtesy of the 'Gratitude' music video shown above