Five Years Ago: Beastie Boys’ Adam ‘MCA’ Yauch Dies, but His Legacy Lives On
Oscilloscope Laboratories, an independent film company co-founded by Yauch after he directed several of the group’s music videos, has remained vibrant. A park in Brooklyn Heights where MCA’s father taught him to ride a bike now bears his name. Students earn college credit in a studio space he helped build. His charity work still resonates.
At the same time, critical estimation of his old group has continued to rise since Yauch succumbed after a nearly three-year battle with salivary gland cancer at the age of 47. By then, he’d already been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame along with co-founding bandmates Michael “Mike D” Diamond and Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz, though Yauch was too ill to attend.
The Beastie Boys promptly announced that the group was over, even as album sales saw an increase of a whopping 1,235 percent over just the first two days after Yauch passed. “Adam started the band, so it’s done,” Horowitz told the Daily Beast. “I certainly knew that the Beastie Boys weren’t going to be the same thing forever, but I certainly hoped that we would just stop doing it for a while, Adam would make movies, and we’d just be friends for a while. So, I don’t know what I’m supposed to do.”
It quickly became clear that Adam Yauch would remain part of the cultural landscape. The campaign to rename a New York park in MCA’s honor began less than three weeks following his death. A year later, during an emotional ceremony, Palmetto Playground in Brooklyn Heights was officially christened Adam Yauch Park.
Oscilloscope also acquired Reality in the weeks following Yauch’s death, eventually earning the runner-up award at the Cannes Film Festival. “Adam embedded a philosophy in the company we will always have,” co-president David Laub told the New York Times.
They’ve since been associated with a series of well-received movies. Notable Oscilloscope successes include the documentary 2012’s Samsara (a $2.7 million hit), the LCD Soundsystem concert documentary Shut Up and Play the Hits (which debuted in one-night-only showings at more than 160 theaters, setting a new company standard), 2014’s The Wonders (another runner-up at Cannes), 2015’s critically acclaimed The Fits, and the current box-office surprise Kedi.
Horowitz eventually created his own second act in the business, as well, working as an actor (perhaps most memorably in Noah Baumbach’s While We’re Young) and film composer (beginning with the 2014 documentary No No). Meanwhile, Mike D moved to Malibu, where he took up surfing. He later launched a radio show called the “Echo Chamber” for Apple Music’s Beats 1 and dabbled in handbag design.
“I don’t think about Yauch in the form of his death. I think about him in the form of his life,” Diamond told Rolling Stone. “He was like my closest older brother. There’s just so much that we lived through together. Even with the radio show, if I’m pushing a little outside of where I’m comfortable, I get this voice of approval in my head from Yauch, saying, ‘Yeah, you gotta do it.'”
In 2015, long-time Beastie Boys manager John Silva arranged a deal with New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts that allowed students in the music program access to Oscilloscope Laboratories. About 250 students from around the globe now learn about studio production and engineering at the West Village studio Yauch built in 2002 with Mark Edwards and Matt Marinelli. “He had so much he wanted to share, and part of that is at Oscilloscope,” MCA’s widow Dechen Yauch told the Village Voice. “To give it such a constructive purpose gives it life.”
South by Southwest announced the creation of the the Adam Yauch Hörnblowér Award earlier this year, to be presented annually to a filmmaker “whose work strives to be wholly its own, without regard for norms or desire to conform.” That certainly fit as a description for Yauch, a rapper who also practiced Buddhism. He founded the Milarepa Fund, a non-profit dedicated to supporting Tibetans, in 1994. Two years later, the group produced the inaugural Tibetan Freedom Concert in San Francisco, which reportedly raised more than $800,000 for organizations aiding Tibetan exiles.
Unfortunately, Adam Yauch Park later returned to the news when it was defaced in 2016 with swastikas and a pro-Donald Trump message. An “anti-hate rally,” organized by government officials and community leaders, was later held there. “Spray-painting swastikas on a children’s playground is a messed-up thing to do,” an emotional Horovitz said during the rally. “And for many of us, it has special meaning, because this park is named for Adam Yauch – who was my friend and bandmate for over 30 years. But he was also someone who taught non-violence in his music, in his life, to all of us and to me.”
By then, plans had already been announced for a musical – dubbed Licensed to Ill, after the Beastie Boys’ groundbreaking 1986 debut – in which Simon Maeder and Adam El Hagar were to tell the story of Mike D, MCA and Ad-Rock’s rise to fame, incorporating live music and DJs.
Where you won’t see Yauch’s legacy play out: Advertisements. MCA’s will expressly prohibits the commercial use of the Beastie Boys’ music – and his surviving bandmates have been consistent in honoring that request, dragging several companies into court.
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