Adam Yauch (1964-2012)

It’s a weird phenomenon to mourn the passing of someone you never knew. Or perhaps I should say met, rather than knew, because when it comes to artists whose work is important to you there’s always that feeling that you at least know them a little - know a part of them anyway. When the news started to spread on Friday about the death of Adam Yauch from cancer I felt keenly something like loss. I’ve been a Beastie Boys fan since the mid 90s, so there was a sense of contact there, but Yauch was such an inspiring human being in a lot of ways beyond just the music. Humility and passivity are in short supply in hip-hop. Actually those qualities are rare in the world at large, but rap is not a good place to start looking. Which is just one of many reasons that Yauch, Horowitz and Diamond stood apart from the pack. From crude beginnings they grew into thoughtful, principled artists who nevertheless avoided the trap of taking themselves too seriously.

One thing that the Beasties came to represent to me was the possibility of change and growth. Raw and purile in the beginning, they evolved both their style and what they stood for throughout a long career, and had the grace to admit to their failings. As lifelong goofballs with a political conscience they also stood as license not to limit yourself be it musically, intellectually or in any other sphere of life. To my mind their 2004 album To The Five Boroughs remains the finest artistic response to the events of September 11, 2001.

When Yauch was diagnosed with cancer in 2009 it came as a surprise. He was young and seemed healthy even in the video in which he gave fans the news. And even though an album got delayed and there had been no shows in quite a while I don’t think it really ever sunk in that he was sick - after all, he was still directing completely insane half-hour music videos. One message that really hit home with me on Friday said simply ‘I don’t think I can live in a world where a Beastie Boy can die’

A smart, kind, funny, basketball fan. A father. An activist, Swiss-impersonator, vegan, Buddhist, and incredibly talented artist. It feels like a lot to lose all at once.


Adam Wood @adam