Packed Like Sardines in a Tin

by justindburton on May 15, 2012

Since the death of Adam Yauch a week and a half ago, a number of excellent tributes and reflections have been written about the Beastie Boy. Hua Hsu, writing for Grantland, sharply captures the difficulty many Beastie Boys and hip hop fans faced in wrapping their heads around Yauch’s death. It wasn’t shocking, as we all knew Yauch had been battling cancer. And while he certainly died young, MCA enjoyed a music career that stretched over four different decades, so while we may all think about what the Beastie Boys could have produced in the coming years, we still have a lot of music to enjoy. Hsu nicely captures the paradox of a group of bad boys turning into humdrum adults and the hints at why we may process his death differently than the untimely passing of other pop stars.

When Adam Yauch passed away on Friday after a two-year battle with cancer, it seemed that everyone around me took the loss personally. Not in the sense that we usually mourn death-too-soon by wondering what could have been, if only as occasion to reflect on our own mortality. There was something different about the Beastie Boys, and the pensive, mild-mannered Yauch in particular. Some of my friends worked with Yauch (MCA), Mike Diamond (Mike D), and Adam Horovitz (Ad-Rock) on side projects, went on tour with them, played basketball with them. Others never got closer than that cherished CD ofIll Communication that survived high school, college, Napster, various apartments, and now adulthood. But the death of Yauch — and, one supposes, the end of the group — struck all these communities of fans in an unusually heartfelt way.1 There was something that felt proximate about them. As their fame accumulated, they only came to seem more down-to-earth. They were a version of growing older that didn’t seem so bad.

Our friends at the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame have submitted a feature on Yauch that reflects on his career and also offered a rundown of ten Beastie greats a month ago to mark the group’s Rock Hall induction.

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