The AP update chimed on my iPhone while I was teaching. It simply read, “Breaking News: Beastie Boys vocalist Adam Yauch Dead.” I barely stopped my class discussion long enough to glance at my phone to read the words without comprehending them. I continued the class. After a few seconds, it dawned on me. MCA of the Beastie Boys had died.
I barely remember a time in my life that the Beasties were not present. I was nine years old when Mike Dubuque brought his boombox to school with a copy of Licensed to Ill in the tapedeck. The first song I heard was “She’s Crafty” and I thought it was amazing. “So Whatchoo Want?” came out at the start of my high school career. I saw them at Lollapalooza back in 1994 — a high school graduation celebration among my friends; I danced my ass off to “Hey Ladies!” and took a fist to the face during “Sabotage” with great satisfaction. Hello Nasty came out when I was at the most successful point in my own music career. Being in New York at the time, a Tommy Boy Records radio marketing guy played me an advanced copy of it. I bought To The 5 Boroughs shortly before I bought my first home. It seemed that the Beastie Boys were always there and always would be there, and now they aren’t. The death of one is the death of the whole, in this particular instance.
People die, and celebrities are people. But I haven’t been this rattled by a celebrity death in a long time. The thing is, I have never counted myself as a die-hard Beastie Boys fan. I’ve enjoyed their music, their stage show, their antics, and their political awareness, but I have never really considered myself a “true fan” — just a guy who grew up shaking his ass to “Paul Revere.” So why have I been listening to Paul’s Boutique over and over again for the last two weeks?
I’ve seen the best minds of my generation destroyed by domestication, full-stomachs and banality. Generation X was touted as the Paradoxical Revolutionaries: iconoclastic and retrospective at the same time, non-conformists through conformity. I became a teacher because of an interview I read with Ian MacKaye where he stated that a firecracker on top of a fist does nothing, a firecracker in the fist will blow the whole hand apart. I wanted to blow hands apart. We were going to blow apart the system inherited from a generation of fat, overpaid, self-centered pigs and lay waste to it. The Boomers invented computers to celebrate their own greatness in a space-race pissing contest. We deconstructed the computer’s purpose and put it into our homes. Fuck you, Boomers. The computer is ours now — and we’re going to fill it with porn and masturbate to it.
The next generation assisted in putting our computers into our pockets. Thanks, Millennials.
Generation X slowed down. The marketing stopped. A new generation stepped forward and the focus of the media moved away from us and towards them. We’ve passed the mic. “Beavis and Butthead” became the insipid “Jersey Shore.” “My So-Called Life” became the over-cute “New Girl.” Our vision of a world of paradoxical conforming non-conformity melted away into total conformity. Generation X burnt out. We swapped our flannel for Ben Sherman shirts. Our philly cheese steaks became paleo diets. Most of us traded our guitars and drum kits for mortgage payments. Some of us are still at it, blowing up fists where we can. A part of me hopes that I do it in my classroom everyday, but I do it wearing my Ben Sherman shirts.
We grew up, and we scoff at those of us who didn’t. Admit it.
Generation X is done. Our heroes die. Adam Yauch is out.
It’s the Millennial Generation’s turn at the plate whether we like it or not. They don’t understand rebellion, nor do they want it. They want success because they feel they deserve it because they are Millennials. They rarely hold our frustrations and our cynicism, and disregard our attempted deconstruction of society as a distraction from their own future accomplishments. They will surpass us in this world and will be remembered as one of America’s greatest generations when they redefine the deconstructed system that we gave up: they created social networks, sped up worldwide communication and they will make it faster and more productive over and over again.
We are sandwiched between the retired Boomers — the largest and wealthiest generation America has known — and the young and, for the most part, driven Millennials. Generation X now sits in the middle, angry and ignored, despite providing giving the world Nirvana and Reality Bites. [Editor’s note: as a Gen X’er who still doesn’t give a shit, allow me to say I do not give a shit.]
But there is one thing that the Millennials will just never understand: the beauty of paradoxical revolutionaries. Millennials will listen to the intentionally clownish and easily dismissed music of LMFAO on their Generation X-designed MP3 player (Fuck you, labels!) telling them to “Party Rock” to such a hyperbolic extent that it surpasses absurdity and is stripped of any pretense to rebellion. Millennials will attempt to reconstruct our world for the better, but will never relish in the ecstasy of watching the old world burn away. Everything is rightfully being given to them because they are young, while everything is being taken away from Generation X one piece at a time because we are relics.
Maybe I’m jealous, maybe I’m mourning.
They will know and appreciate the music of the Beastie Boys, but they will never understand the great paradoxical revolution of three iconoclastic Jewish guys from Brooklyn who can pass the mic with equal parts irony and venom and 100 percent skill. And I doubt they will feel this way when they lose one of the guys from LMFAO.