May 4 falls on this week. It is a date that has been half-arbitrarily attributed to the “Star Wars” franchise due to the turn of phrase presented by saying it out loud. “May the Fourth Be With You.” But the day will never be anything other than “We were lucky to be graced by Adam Yauch’s presence on Earth if only for a tragically short window of time” Day.
The late Yauch, known to most by way of his Beastie Boys stage name, passed five years ago this week and he is someone I have thought about often. As the popular culture zeitgeist goes, there are few others who have emerged in the past three decades who embrace and advocate for love for art, humanity and irreverence as wholly and humbly as he did. I can think of few influences who contributed to my “do good/don’t be a dick/support the arts” outlook more than the Beastie Boys, and it always felt like Yauch was at the heart of that.
For someone who is as cause-oriented as I am while also maintaining an appreciation for the absurd and creating art, he was a towering giant. Yauch — and the Beastie Boys — made exceptional music, and his video work was essential in getting me to pay attention to and become involved with the medium.
And, as an advocate for the liberation of Tibet and the popularization of that cause throughout the ’90s, he showed his fans that it was possible to simultaneously care about big things while also maintaining a sense of humor.
On the anniversary of Yauch’s passing, an acquaintance, Clint Gordon, offered another perspective that resonated as strongly for me. “For me it was about the transition in values shown over the course of their career,” he said. “They grew, matured, apologized, made amends for past transgressions and became a force for tangible and spiritual good in the world. I’m glad I was lucky enough to see it.”
Which is something that, beyond being so impactful to me coming up, is something we need now more than ever before. I had already thought of Yauch a great deal in this context — you know, where does that time go? — but it has especially been the case over the past year or so when tensions have been rising both here and abroad. These collective realities crashed together moderately recently when the Brooklyn-based park named for him was vandalized with anti-Semitic graffiti.
I said as much when he passed, but again, five years later I feel it important to posthumously thank Yauch. Thanks for the music and inspiration; thanks for making caring cool, especially during a time of the popularization of ramped-up cynicism and sardonic irony; thanks for sharing all of the things he shared. I am not one for celebrity worship, but I got choked up when I heard that he was no longer with us. This is a rare impact for today’s modern celebrity to impart, but I truly believe that I am a better person for his having lived, having created.
And, more than ever, in this moment, we need more people like Yauch informing dialogue, encouraging artistic consumption, and advocating for curiosity and empathy. Contextualized by the feelings 2016, and now 2017, put in our heads and hearts, thinking back on him, and our having lost him, is especially bittersweet. Though at the same time, it helps to underscore my appreciation for everything he gave.
Thank you, MCA. May you rest in peace.
Alex Steed has written about and engaged in politics since he was a teenager. He’s an owner-partner of a Portland-based content production company and lives with his family, dogs and garden in Cornish.