teisipäev, mai 08, 2012

book of the dead

Heaven looks a lot like New Jersey
"I have some sad news." "What?" "Mart Laar had a stroke last night." "He did? Is he alive?" She nodded. "He's in the hospital."

And has been ever since. My wife is the bearer of bad news. I've gotten used to it. "Michael Jackson died." "Oh, really?" "The Polish president's plane crashed." "Jesus." "Bon Jovi died of a heart attack." "That's weird. Last time I saw him, he was in pretty good shape." I spent half of that morning adjusting myself to a world without Bon Jovi, only to learn later that it was a hoax when a dated photo of the rocker surfaced holding a sign, "Heaven looks a lot like New Jersey."

I've gotten used to digesting bad news. I just sort of let it bang around my head like a pinball for a while. Then it dissipates or hides itself somewhere in the folds of my brain. I forget about it. Sometimes though it nags at me. It won't go away. After the 9/11 attacks, it took me a good week until I had a regular morning. When a childhood friend committed suicide, it took about three gray days of living his last moments vicariously in my imagination before I told myself it was his choice and I had to move on. But when I received news of Adam Yauch's death this week, it chilled me to my core.

A lot of this resonance is contextual. Yauch, as rapper MCA of the Beastie Boys, emerged from the barren, broken cultural landscape of the 1980s, a sort of Mad Max-like universe of passe musical trends and hairstyles. He was the scuzzy, uncouth youth with a two-day old growth on his chin, a "beard like a billy goat." His life apparently consisted of drinking "brass monkey" (a blend of orange juice and malt liquor), girls, skipping school, smoking reefer and playing video games. In short, he was like pretty much every person's older brother on the block.

When he experienced some kind of spiritual awakening in the early 1990s, the audience was perplexed. The inside sleeve of their 1992 album Check Your Head was a psychedelic pastiche of faces and objects. I would sit in my room and stare at it. All of a sudden, 13-year-old kids everywhere had to learn how to pronounce, "Namaste." (Is it 'nam-ast'? 'Nam-asty?') The Beastie Boys turned post-everything junk culture on its head. They sifted through the garbage, found precious relics and cleaned them off, restoring their meaning. By the time Ill Communication came out in 1994, we became used to samples of Buddhist monks chanting. One track on the album was "Bodhisattva Vow." Can you imagine, millions of American youths listening to a song called "Bodhisattva Vow"?

The West was no stranger to dabbling in Eastern philosophies but their local messengers were less convincing. At that time, America Gigolo actor Richard Gere was better known for awful rumors involving rodents than any search for enlightenment.Yet here you had a gentleman who wanted to call the Beastie Boys' first record Don't Be a Faggot! organizing Tibetan freedom concerts. And the people followed. One of the most active student groups on my college campus was Students for a Free Tibet. Ask yourself, would any of those people had been there if it hadn't been for Yauch's very public awakening? Would Estonian rocker-turned-activist Roy Strider be out there in the hills of Nepal surveying the hills of Tibet from afar?

I saw Yauch speak once. It was not what I had expected. While he was passionate about music and religion, he came across as aloof, even shy in a public speaking role. He was prematurely gray, of slight build. I had the impression that all the fighting he did for his right to party in his youth had worn him thin. Or maybe it was the vegan diet. People loved him though. At the end he came out and held his two-year-old daughter and waved to the crowd and smiled and everybody cooed. I recall I saw the late Senator Paul Wellstone speak around that time. He was passionate. Now they are both gone. One died of cancer, the other in a plane crash. Stupid deaths for inspiring people.

On its face, fate seems ridiculous. These are alternate futures that were not supposed to happen. It reminds me of a "choose your own adventure" book where you wind up facing almost certain doom at the end of one chapter and have the option to go back to an earlier chapter and start all over again. But we don't have that option. These past few days I have found myself pondering Yauch's untimely demise, and his spirituality, even more. It bugs me and it won't go away. Did he really believe in that Tibetan Buddhism stuff? I wonder. Can one really trust in the universe when it continues to bombard us with such awful news?

16 kommentaari:

Spawnie ütles ...

Unfortunately, you cannot argue with fate when your number comes up.
I suppose the belief in the afterlife makes it a little bit easier to accept for those who are left behind.
My personal belief is that everything happens for a reason, and as a consequence, no matter how cruel and random it may seem.

Kristopher ütles ...

Definitely a Steve Jobs "they lied to me about the seriousness of their illness" moment for me. Had another such moment with Levon Helm recently, though he was over 70. Last I heard of Yauch was the 2009 announcement that he had what seemed like an inconvenience.

Can't pretend to a deep cultural connection, I only understood the environment that produced the Beasties years later -- in 1999 in East Village, saw garage bands at places like the Continental. Hung out in Park Slope a lot with a half-Jewish kid living in a brownstone with West Africans all around. Before that I knew nothing about NYC.

Did listen to Paul's Boutique in freshman year (1991), which prepared me for Check Your Head, when they went back to instruments, thus qualifying them as a "real band" in my eyes at the time. My friend in college had a video of their early stuff, some prank calls, also footage of them in their hardcore punk phase, which he didn't allow anyone to watch, said it was too embarrassing.

I vote for the theory is that the early days and their MC personas were just an elaborate joke that went too far, they didn't live the lifestyle, except for maybe some 40s and bonghits. What's interesting is that in the middle of some of their most obnoxious, affected interviews, they will talk about the Dead in reverent, serious terms. That seems really rare in NY. Certifies them as avant-garde bohemians.

WHo knows how serious these bohemians (like Dylan in his born-again phase) are about anything. But most people are too negative about death. People hear that someone with end-stage cancer turns to a vegan diet or radical diet - like Bob in Europe in 1980 - and a lot of people figure it's a last-ditch effort to cure the condition, but I suspect for these guys it might be actually more to clear the mind for the journey. Death is definitely not the end. At the very least, it's an infinitely long fade-to-black and an interesting journey. There was nothing to fear before you were born, and it's the same after death. I have no doubt about that. Jobs also "worked on the art of dying" at the end, just as hard as he worked on inventing the Mac - I think his sister wrote that. Letting go is not the worst, the worst to be left behind by the ones who leave.

Marko ütles ...

I think these things affect us at certain times of our lives. In my youth it was the sinking of MS Estonia and the death of Kurt Cobain. I had just entered my puberty and the world seemed to be such an amazing place and then those two things happened within six months of each other and it really turned my worldview upside-down. Something changed in me for good and above all I stopped taking things for granted. We only live once and I think it's important to remind of that to ourselves once in a while in order to reach our full potential and to live our lives to the fullest.

LPR ütles ...

Did you like his music?

Giustino ütles ...

Yes, I did. Their albums were really dense and enjoyable. Some parts were really good, others made you cringe. But it was all different. You never knew what was going to come at you ... I think Hello Nasty had 22 tracks on it.

Giustino ütles ...

Letting go is not the worst, the worst to be left behind by the ones who leave.

There's also the way you go. Being consumed by a great white shark, not so good. Heart attack in sleep, seems okay.

LPR ütles ...

They were were probably the first white boys trying to make rap palatable to the metalheads. Linkin Park, Limp Bizkit and the whole lot of others have taken it from there and had a good run with it.

Currently it seems, if you don't rap in the middle of the song, you don't have a song. In the early 90s all this was cutting edge.

I like that kind of music too (Linkin Park in concert were amazing) but I cannot shake the feeling that all these white boys trying to mimic blacks look pathetic. To a certain extent, all these Eminems and their ilk, they appear somehow fake. Are they trying to poke fun of the black culture? All these gestures and moves ... It definately is not their culture.

Giustino ütles ...

I think you are thinking of their debut album, but the others were more like sound collages. There would be a hip hop song, a hardcore song, some kind of funky Meters-inspired jams, some bossa nova, audio samples from Atari games, lyrics about Kenny Rogers ... It was like they took our collective cultural memories and put it on tape. In that way they sort of "stepped outside the box" and looked in and described what they saw; while Eminem and the gentlemen you mentioned are very much "inside the box."

Christine ütles ...


"There's also the way you go. Being consumed by a great white shark, not so good."

Especially if the shark gets you in a big, deep, dark green, bathtub... : )

Giustino ütles ...

Seeing Jaws 3 as a little kid will do that to you ...

LPR ütles ...

... or being read "Where the Wild Things Are" before bedtime. :-)

On that note, I cannot think of any morbid movies or books when growing up in the bad old CCCP.

All I remember being worried when Sipsik got cold and became sick ...

Maybe totalitarialism had its sunny side to it after all? (Never thought I would ever, ever say that)

I also recall when I was an "October Child" in the first grade singing the song that had a following line in it: "Big Lenin took us children on his lap and gently patted our heads ..."

To this day it gives me shivers to to see little kids in America putting their hands over their hearts and dutifully reciting the Pledge of Allegiance ... "One nation, under God, undivisible ... "

It harmonizes eerily well with the lines from the Soviet anthem:
"Friendship of nations for ever united Great Russia ..."

Another time, another place ... same sh ... minus the God part.

jerry ütles ...

Really... the Beastie Boys? Good grief. For a guy that is as intelligent and well rounded (sort of) as you... the friggin Beastie Boys? *sigh

Giustino ütles ...

Here's a good explanation of why this bugged me so much -- for the older folks:


LPR ütles ...

Marchel Duchamp's gravestone has an epitaph: "D'ailleurs, c'est toujours les autres qui meurent"

(transl. "Besides, it's always other people who die.")

There's something about Death that is so ironic. So unlike birth. Cannot imagine an ironic birth.

... unless ... maybe my own.

jerry ütles ...

"Older folks"... hahaha...

OK: Here's what I come away with in the article: "His death also undid the illusion that so long as the Beastie Boys remained around, the members of their generation -- Generation X -- could still lay claim to a piece of their own youth as being alive and kicking."

Illusion? Seriously, who has that illusion? Rockers of every generation have died prematurely along the way, from Buddy Holly to Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendricks to Michael Jackson and Kurt Cobain to name a very few. Just because one of your generation took a dirt nap doesn't mean a thing. You wont understand this for another 25 years when they'll really start dropping like flies.

Giustino ütles ...

Illusion? Seriously, who has that illusion? Rockers of every generation have died prematurely along the way, from Buddy Holly to Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendricks to Michael Jackson and Kurt Cobain to name a very few. Just because one of your generation took a dirt nap doesn't mean a thing. You wont understand this for another 25 years when they'll really start dropping like flies.

All those people died from self-inflicted causes, be it drugs and alcohol or suicide. This guy died of cancer. Most of us expect that older people will die, and we also expect that people who use drugs can/will die. But we don't usually expect that somebody in the prime of his life who leads a healthy lifestyle is going to get some rare form of cancer and lose.