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Time for Livin’

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Adam Yauch Beastie Boys RIP

Practically everyone with 140 characters to spare has already said their piece on the death of the Beastie Boys’ Adam Yauch. Though only 48 hours have passed since the news broke, it already seems like an eternity since many far more eloquent and thoughtful than I made their longer-form goodbyes public, signing off to one of the greats with reflections on the group and the man that I could only dream of duplicating:

The always reliable Jeff Weiss, “For our generation, the Beastie Boys were forever 22, the turnstile-hopping, egg-wielding, seltzer-spraying punks… Little did they know that they were also religious searchers, music video visionaries, and street art scholars. Decades before Kanye, they were pioneers of sophisticated ignorance.”

Sasha Frere-Jones’ New Yorker postscript, “And this is the Yauch people remember: a man who could say he was sorry and not feel lessened by it; a man living within the principles of Buddhism and committed to broadening awareness of the political situation in Tibet; and a genuinely quiet person who had become more likely to make a joke at his own expense than anyone else’s.”

And Pitchfork‘s Mark Richardson, calling Yauch, “a relatable blueprint for growing up, in both his art and his life.”

Those are just a few of my favorites.

It seems pointless to go deep in revisiting much of the band’s history or Yauch’s personal triumphs as, again, others have already taken care of that, and done a damn fine job of it, too. They had the first chart-topping hip hop album ever, they were a key proponent in the popularization of the genre as a “reputable” art-form, their Grand Royal imprint was a cornerstone of the ’90s, their music videos were revolutionary, and their music remains tirelessly relevant. They’re one of my favorite musical acts of all time, but I never saw them live. Now I never will.

A brief period of time has passed since another group of Rock and Roll Hall of Famers, R.E.M., said their collective goodbye to fans, breaking up after about 31 years of active duty together. The Beastie Boys outlasted them, and by my account they left an imprint on pop music that overshadows the group of Athens-rockers in the process. Now that the Beastie Boys belong to history though, I’m struggling to muster any emotion that puts the emphasis back on me — what about my memories and my loss, as a fan?! — and I’m left with a feeling that I’m not sure I would have predicted after learning that the group had (unceremoniously, of course) broken up. The truth is though, as hours continue to pad the distance between the news and the present moment, “shattered,” “shocked,” and “heartbroken” are three reactions that I can’t claim to be honest, and I’ve hardly felt “sad” in response to the news. Nope, I’m not crushed because of a key cultural proponent’s passing. I’m glad.

From The New York Times‘ timeline of events leading up to Yauch’s death,

Mr. Yauch’s mother said he died at 9 a.m. on Friday at New York-Presbyterian Hospital in Manhattan with his parents, his in-laws, his wife, Dechen Wangdu, and his 13-year-old daughter, Tenzin Losel Yauch, at his bedside. He had been admitted to the hospital on April 14 after a three-year battle with cancer of the salivary gland. He was conscious until the end… Mrs. Yauch said had been undergoing chemotherapy this spring, but his health deteriorated rapidly over the last two weeks. ‘It all just seemed to happen overnight,’ she said.

Of course it’s terrible that Yauch’s leaving behind a loving family and a globe full of friends, and was cut down well before His Time was supposed to come. But what if he had survived? What if he wasn’t so lucky with the cancer this time, and treatment was unable to combat its assault, allowing it to metastasize further, and potentially prompting some grotesque removal of flesh and bone. Or worse: the loss of his spirit. What if he “survived” and was left a shell of a person that the world has come to love, the cancer slowly separating the body from the man, crippling his family with the burden of seeing their loved one slowly disappear over a seemingly endless period of soul-crushing despair? Fantasy is a wonderful thing, and it’s pleasant to think of what could be and what might have been, but reality is often far more gruesome than anything we can conceive of.

Is it better to burn out than to fade away? How about a third option? How about doing it better than most have ever done before, and will likely do again? How about boasting a resume of such near-unparalleled longevity and depth that not a single soul can claim that your accomplishments would be anything less than impossible to match? How about embracing the role as humanitarian and philosophical bee-e-a-ess-tee-i-e in changing the face of global culture? How about a life that was neither too short nor too long, but one just long enough to help alter the world and leave behind a soundtrack to help us each embrace whatever the future may hold. Is Adam Yauch’s passing unfortunate? Unarguably so. But am I glad, no — thankful, that he lived as long as he did in the first place? With all my heart.