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Late rapper Adam (MCA) Yauch talks Tibetan causes, role in Beastie Boys, more

By Brian McCollum: The death today of the Beastie Boys’ Adam (MCA) Yauch followed a three-year battle with cancer and a series of intense modern treatments.

But in his quest for healing, Yauch had also sought help from traditional Tibetan specialists — part of his deep, ongoing immersion in Buddhism and his particular affection for Tibetan culture.

Years earlier, in summer 1998, the Free Press spoke with Yauch as he was busy bringing his Tibetan cause to the mainstream: He and the Beasties had staged the annual Tibetan Freedom Concert since ’96, helping turn the Free Tibet movement into one of the most prominent awareness campaigns in a rock decade popularly defined by its apathy.

The Tibet cause had become — and would remain — one of Yauch’s driving life missions. That August, on the heels of the top-selling comeback album “Hello Nasty,” the Beasties were headed this way for a Palace concert, and “Free Tibet” — a documentary about the inaugural Tibetan Freedom Concert — was headed to Royal Oak for its U.S. premiere.

The below story, originally published in the Free Press on Aug. 18, 1998, here features an extended, previously unpublished version of Yauch’s interview with music writer Brian McCollum.

Yauch spoke about his passion for Tibet, his reflections on the Beastie Boys’ career, and his hopes for the group’s future.

Originally published Aug. 18, 1998.

He’s the oldest Beastie Boy (33), the best-rapping Beastie Boy and the Buddhist Beastie Boy.

Three years ago, Adam Yauch merged his celebrity clout and growing interest in Tibet’s spiritual culture by kicking off the Tibetan Freedom Concert. It was designed to draw attention to the small country’s nonviolent struggle against persecution by the ruling Chinese.

The concert has become pop music’s biggest annual live event. Next year it may go international or feature multiple dates. The inaugural show, staged in San Francisco, featured such acts as the Smashing Pumpkins, Red Hot Chili Peppers and the Beasties. And Yauch, media-savvy after a decade immersed in pop culture, was wise enough to keep a camera crew on hand.

“Free Tibet,” by first-time director Sara Pirozek, is a crisply paced, often-stirring blend of concert and behind-the-scenes footage.

The Palace plays host tonight to the Beasties; Royal Oak is home on Wednesday to the film’s first national screening. Proceeds from Wednesday’s tickets go to the nonprofit Milarepa Fund, a Tibetan activist group. Soft-spoken Yauch talked Monday about the band and the film project.

We’ve now had three years to watch the Tibetan Freedom Concerts come together. But 1996 seems like a different era already. Did you sense then that this was something that needed preserving on film?
There was discussion about to what extent to do it. We did, at one point, want to do it as a larger production, as a kind of feature thing, 35-millimeter cameras there and the whole nine, but it really just seemed too expensive. Then there was some talk of doing it in a much smaller way, just doing it with video cameras as a BBC-like one-hour, documentary thing. And we went somewhere in between — had a bunch of people we knew, cinematographers, walking around with 16-millimeter cameras, then pieced it together afterwards and went somewhere in between.

The thing that’s kind of interesting about it, like you were mentioning, is that it was a different time when that happened. Most people in America, or young people, were just starting to find out about the Tibet movement. So it’s a time capsule. It’s interesting to look back and see that moment.

Just as a concert film — as a chronicle of music in 1996 — are you happy with the result there? Does it do that job?
Yeah, one of the reasons it took us so long to find distribution for it, is that it definitely walks a fine line between being a concert film and being a documentary about Tibet, and a documentary about the actual making of the concert and the event itself. It’s actually a pretty elegant piece in how it walks that line.

I would think it’s amazing for you to see what’s happened in three years, the awareness that’s been directed to the cause, the way young people have jumped onto it with pretty genuine passion. Would you have guessed that the concert, the movement, would grow like this?
In a way, yeah. I would think that it’s going to continue to grow. It seems to me like an issue that’s going to affect all of our lives so much, just because the Tibetan struggle is based on the principles of non-violence. It’s really setting a precedent for how to resolve conflicts. If we let the Tibet situation fall apart and allow Tibetan culture to be wiped out, then it’s going to be a symbol of what we see for a long time.

President Clinton seemed to make at least a gesture toward the Tibetan cause while in China. Was it satisfactory to you?
Well it’s kind of hard to know what was said behind closed doors. I think publicly Clinton made the kind of bare minimum gesture that he could get away with, and mentioning it in lieu of all the attention that’s being brought to it and how much American youth obviously cares about this.

Your activism is as much a part of your public persona as your music. Where’s the balance for you?
I’m happy doing both together. Being able to play music, and using the attention it’s generated to do something positive, both make the other more significant to me. Maybe what I’ve learned over the years, especially being exposed to Buddhism, is that doing stuff that benefits other people is the only real fulfillment in life. Other things are fulfilling on a real temporary level. Being able to play music is great — I love playing music — but if it has no meaning to it, it’s pointless. To play music and have it generate something positive, that’s a really fulfilling thing.

Does that mean you look back on early Beasties stuff and see nothing fulfilling in it? Or was it about something else?
Maybe it was fulfilling on a temporary basis. It was part of the process of learning. I don’t necessarily regret things in terms of wishing they never happened, because I figure whatever has happened in my life has brought me to wherever I’m at. So there’s no reason to spend too much energy regretting that stuff. I can recalculate off the past, as far as what I want to do at this point. I think we’ve all learned a lot through the course of doing this.

Mike (Diamond) and Adam (Horovitz) seem to genuinely support you in the Tibet cause.
Yeah, I think when most people find out about the specifics of what’s going on in the Tibetan cause, what they’ve undergone and the stark contrast of the nonviolent resistance of the Tibetans against the brutal oppression of the Chinese government, I think it’s pretty hard not to feel that you want that to end.

I think we all try to be pretty supportive of what each of us wants to do within the group. I think both Adam and Mike feel psyched to be part of something that’s benefitting somebody else, specifically the Tibetan stuff. They feel really psyched about that, and in a lot of ways that stuff is coming from all three of us, even if it’s me taking the initiative and the time to pull it together. It’s something all of us feel comfortable moving ahead with.

If could wake up one morning, and have things be the way you want, what would that scenario be?
Well, firstly I’d hope that the Tibetan people were satisfied with what the outcome was, that they felt comfortable. But I guess what that would take would be Tibetan being its own nation, being completely free. The Dalai Lama at this point is pushing for negotiations, and he’s gone so far to offer that Tibet continue to be a part of China, as long as they could have their own rule and culture. Ultimately what most Tibetans want is complete freedom.

Will it happen in our lifetimes?
It’s not that farfetched to think that it will happen in our lifetime. We saw the Berlin Wall come down, we saw radical change in South Africa, we’ve seen huge changes in Ireland, and I don’t think it’s that far-fetched to think that we will see the end of Chinese rule in Tibet.

On to the tour: Are things clicking on the road with (new DJ) Mix Master Mike?
Mmm-hmm. Yeah, Mike’s been amazing. He’s such an incredible DJ, it definitely adds a whole other element to the show. Most of what Mike is doing is pretty unrehearsed, we’re not always sure what he’s going to do. He’s got crates and crates of beats, throws in different beats at different times and kind of surprises us.

So he keeps you on your toes …
Indeed! (Laughs)

Do you guys wind up scratching your heads, trying to figure out where your next line fits?
Yeah, that’s what’s cool about it — sometimes things work out where they’re amazing, and sometimes we just fall flat on our face. But it’s fun to know that it’s going on live. Makes it more exciting that way.

Are you surprised “Hello Nasty” has done so well — No. 1 for three weeks, a million-plus copies sold?
No, I’m not amazed about those things either way anymore. I’ve given up on that. (Laughs) If I expect it to do really well, it doesn’t. Or if I expect it not to do well, it does, so I just stopped throwing my expectations out there, and just see what it does.

Do you see yourself staying active and engaged in your role of Beastie Boy as we head into the next decade here?
The interesting thing is that the “role of a Beastie Boy”‘ is something that’s continued to evolve over the years. I think after we did “Licensed to Ill” (1986), we took a bit of time off. I felt really fed up with the whole thing, with what that represented, what the band represented. In a lot of ways, I felt like I didn’t want to be a part of it anymore.

Because of the way our deal worked out, we weren’t going to be able to even record anything on our own outside of that, because we left Def Jam and tried to find another deal, so it was only way we could really continue on. So we got back together and started working on music and I wasn’t too psyched about it. But as we started working together, me and Mike and Adam remembered our friendship, and where the whole thing started out. The group started to evolve a bit from there. And it continued to evolve.

I’ve realized what the band represents is pretty much what the three of us are interested in. I can easily seeing that continuing to evolve.

You know, they’re some of my best friends in the world. I really trust those guys. So I can easily see it turning into … whatever. I don’t see it as a limiting thing, I see it as becoming whatever it is that the three of us are into. And so long as the three of us have our mindsets in a similar place, we’ll be doing it forever.

It’s a nice position, having created that freedom for yourselves.
I love playing music. I think I’ve been misportrayed in some of the media lately as being just focused on the philanthropic stuff and not being too into music. I mean, I love playing music. I grew up listening to music and playing music and, in a lot of ways, it’s the most important thing to me. But if I’m able to tie that into doing something that benefits other people, that’s what really is important. (Source :  (Freep Archive)

Published Date: Friday, May 4th, 2012 | 11:36 AM

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