Wednesday, June 06, 2012
Special to the Clarion Content
from esteemed guest columnist: Al G. O. Escritor
Warning piece includes PG-13 language...
For the first time the other night, Johnny Ryall made me feel sad instead of joyously celebratory.
I am still trying to contextualize the death of Beastie Boy Adam Yauk.
I say contextualize because I don't think I will ever just get it and put it behind me. Our understanding of death has a time lag that drags well out behind our own relative age.
I remember my parents telling me that John Lennon had died. I didn't really know what that meant. I still had four grandparents and my first dog. Death hadn't really brushed up against me yet.
What does it mean when a great musician dies?
Not much when you're nine.
In high school I used to tease my friend Wheeze, a bassist and a huge Led Zeppelin fan, I would come into the cafeteria for lunch at least once a week and announce that I had just heard Jimmy Page had perished in some horrible mishap, car, plane, train accident, poisoning, lightning strike, et al. Wheeze's reactions ran the gamut over time from horror, to faux horror, to distaste, to boredom.
I don't think either of us really understood then what it means to lose a great musician permanently. You have to see "Almost Famous" a few times first. You have to read some Chuck Klosterman talking to, with and about musicians. You have to get f*cked up a few times and think about your relative place in the universe.
I had the Beastie's "Paul's Boutique" on cassette tape. It was revolutionary, powerful.1 The music was revolutionary for its time because it had so many samples, mad stuff of a length and variety that could never be duplicated in today's copyright happy environment. The drop that is the first twenty seconds of "Car Thief" was like nothing our suburban Jersey minds had every heard.
I even actually played "Paul's Boutique" to my little brother and sister, who were eight and six at that time. I have a distinct memory of having driven them somewhere in our parents Dodge Caravan and we were waiting outside somewhere to pick up our other sister. I switched off my mother's classical WQXR and popped in the tape. I have never brought this recollection up to them, so I have no idea what if any impression it made. To me it was seminal.
But I wasn't thinking about that moment a few years later watching The Beastie Boys at the Free Tibet Festival in Golden Gate Park. I was there with some 200,000 of my closest friends. I remember it being a beautiful warm, mild day for San Francisco in the Summer.
The two day long event was amazing. It included everyone: from Rage Against the Machine and the Red Hot Chili Peppers to the Foo Fighters and A Tribe Called Quest. Fortunately, Golden Gate Park's splendid, lush, plant life and stately architectural features were behind fenced off areas. Because, during the Beastie Boys set, there appeared the biggest mosh pit I have ever seen.
This mosh pit or mini riot, depending on your perspective, involved easily 1,000 people charging around kicking the sh*t of each other in a swarming vortex that had to be 100 yards deep by the width of the stage.
During Heart Attack Man, as the crowd from behind us surged, we were jostled every closer to the mosh pit. People would literally suddenly want to be done and they would run out of the mosh pit pitch, sprinting past us, often battered, bruised, discolored and panting. It was a concert experience unlike any other before or since.
It was not long before, while living in San Francisco, that I had received with great sadness the news of Jerry Garcia's death. It had come like a bolt from the blue. Wait, what? Jerry's dead? I am still in single digits in Dead shows was one of the first things that went through my head. At the time I had two stickers on my American made clunker, a Dead head's Steal Your Face and the Beastie Boys.
Jerry was dead and I am still trying to contextualize it. I have never seen the Grateful Dead again. Neither has anybody else. My Dead shows still number in the single digits.
I did see the Beasties again, years later in Madison Square Garden from the sump comforts and safety of a luxury box. They were just as cool and perhaps even cooler than I remembered them. My buddy and I went over how epically legendary and revolutionary they were for us in an era where there were no songs we knew more daringly anti-parent than "No Sleep Til Brooklyn" and "Fight for your Right." We pointed out the Beasties had toured with freaking Madonna. We reviewed how even in the era after college when we were the uber-cool club kids rolling to NYC hot spots like, "Match," "The Limelight" and "The Wetlands" we rocked Paul's Boutique and Ill Communication.2
As the horizon gets shorter and the days blow by faster, I don't know if I would have gone to that Beatles re-union tour. I do know I sure wouldn't have minded having a chance to... and the Grateful Dead would still be touring today if Jerry's body could have held up to it.
But the conclusion I want you to take away from this tour down memory lane isn't maudlin.
Rest-in-Peace Adam Yauch.
Am I crushed that I will never see the Beasties again?
But the message?
I have a friend, uber-professional, buttoned down, works at one of the local business schools. She tells the story of being a twenty-one year old undergrad at UNC-Chapel Hill, and seeing none other than Dave Matthews with about ninety other people in the Cat's Cradle.
By the time I saw Dave Matthews, he was playing amphitheaters.3
The message is get your ass out there and see some live music. Now. Check out some up-and-coming local bands. Is the word of mouth good? Is there an act from out of town coming through one of our many fantastic music clubs that people are raving about?
See them while you can.
Adam Yauk, I am glad I saw you while I could.
I know one day I will again jam out to Johnny Ryall.
1The Sergeant Pepper's of hip-hop.
2It didn't matter to us that they started as a punk band. We were stoked Kate Schellenbach was sampled on Shadrach. The Beasties and their label Grand Royal had introduced us to Luscious Jackson, whom we adored.
3Interestingly enough, he also played that huge Free Tibet show in Golden Gate Park.