If you are of a certain age (not gonna say it) and your impression of the Beastie Boys ends with "(You Gotta) Fight for the Right (to Party)”, “Sabotage”, or even “Intergalactic”, you might not have been keeping with the evolution of the Beastie Boys from hip-hop punks in the early 80’s to elder statesmen of the Hip-Hop world, converts to Buddhism, and defenders of the Tibetan cause. Adam Yauch, also known as MCA, was one of the co-founders of Beastie Boys.
Born to a Catholic dad and a Jewish mother, MCA eventually found his spiritual home after meeting His Holiness the Dalai Lama in the 1990’s. This is how he expressed his own spiritual yearnings:
The feeling I get from the rinpoches and His Holiness [the Dalai Lama] and Tibetan people in general. The people that I've met are really centered in the heart; they're coming from a real clear, compassionate place. And most of the teachings that I've read about almost seem set up to distract the other side of your brain in order to give your heart center a chance to open up. In terms of what I understand, Buddhism is like a manual to achieve enlightenment—
there are these five things and these six things within the first thing, and all these little subdivisions. And despite all of that right-brain information, it's very heart-centered. At least that's the feeling I get from the Tibetans. Also the teachings of Tibetan Buddhism have been passed down for a long time now. They have that system pretty well figured out.
MCA’s passing away was mourned by none other than His Holiness the Dalai Lama:
Adam had helped us raise awareness on the plight of the Tibetan people by organizing various freedom Tibet concerts and he will be remembered by his holiness and the Tibetan people.
Much will be said in the next few days about Beastie Boys’ place in Hip Hop.
It is worth remembering that Adam Yauch used one of the bigger recognitions for the band, that of receiving the Video Vanguard award at the 1998 MTV Music Video Awards, to make a deeply passionate and political statement about American attitudes towards Islam and Middle East. Here are his words:
“That’s another thing that America really needs to think about is our racism, racism that comes from the United States towards the Muslim people and towards Arabic people and that’s something that has to stop and the United States has to start respecting people from the Middle East in order to find a solution to the problems that have been building up over many years, so I thank everyone for your patience, and letting me speak my mind.”
Here is the video:
[Go to about the sixth minute]
Here is to all artists who tap into something deep and spiritual in their art, and use their platform to speak truth to power. Rest in peace, MCA.
Pictures of the Beastie Boys are from The Guardian.
Picture of the MTV Awards are from here.