The first time I remember seeing my father sad was when Roy Orbison died. Until that point I had seen my father in the throes of numerous emotions but a sincere, genuine sadness was never one of them. It was hard to take seriously for a number of reasons. A) a sad father was something so unfamiliar to me that when he came downstairs and asked that we observe a moment of silence I figured he was being jokingly dramatic. B) I didn’t really know who Roy Orbison was and C) my father didn’t know Roy Orbison. When his records were played, they were played loudly and I immediately developed an affinity for his warbled falsetto but his death didn’t mean that someone would be coming around to remove his music from our house. To me, mourning seemed, I guess, unnecessary. My father didn’t lose a friend that he shared common memories with and in a sense he didn’t even really LOSE one of his favorite musicians. He may never again be able to make music, but its not as if Roy Orbison handed my father a list of all the great songs he would one day write and died before fulfilling his promise. I didn’t understand what the big deal was. Just put his record on and bring him back to life. Easy.
When Kurt Cobain died I was shocked for the simple fact that he did it himself. I loved Nirvana but more than that I loved being alive, so the idea that someone who coerced me through their music to actually FEEL alive would now go away without considering me? That made angrier than it did sad. I was 14, so being self important was second nature but so was being confused. Again, I knew I could still listen to his music whenever I wanted, but no one I had read or listened to or cared about or knew or even knew OF had ever killed themselves and it always seemed to me that pulling the trigger on a gun aimed at yourself defied certain laws of self-preservation or physics or something. Like M.C. Eschers hand drawing a hand, or Jerry the mouse picking himself up by his own tail in order that Tom run right under him and into a wall. His death didn’t sadden me as much as it did usher in the realization that the ethereal world of music was anchored in a very real collection of moments, just like the ones I had, and those moments existed independently of anything I ever may have gotten out of a song. Until that point, music had just been a bunch of sounds being pushed out of this huge black box sitting on the dresser in my room that were- if I was lucky- attracted to certain thoughts I was having and given a form in the meaning that actualized inside of me. The lyrics came from a person and the riff from an instrument in a studio somewhere but once that tape stopped, those people disappeared. They were there to entertain us and could arrive and vanish at my discretion. Whenever I needed a distraction or an incentive or a mood I would take their voice out of the little plastic case and summon it. They got a lot of money and all the happiness in the world and I got a CD or a tape and that’s how it worked for a 14 year old suburban kid. Until I heard Kurt Loder report the news. Cobains death changed everything for me. It got my attention. It made me aware that music wasn’t for me, it was for the people making it and all I could ever do was hope that somehow I could make a connection to the ones that did. It showed me that there was a depth to music that I never thought to consider, one that housed demons of unparalleled strengths. I couldn’t believe how much of the music experience I had been missing out on by failing to realize that. That gunshot startled me awake.
When Dimebag was killed, it was the first time that a musicians passing could actually be considered “close to home”. Aside from Pantera being the first band I ever “headbanged” to (Darien Lake with Sepultura and Biohazard, 1994) people I knew actually knew him. They drank and partied and talked with him. As children, like me, they saw him as a legend and got closer as he moved from “legend” to “friend” and then back to “legend” just because of the kind of friend he was to those he knew. All of a sudden that was gone. To say that that news was tragic is a vast understatement. It was a game changer for anyone who took the stage. There was no feeling safe anymore. There was no trusting people who “loved” you or what you did. It made the world as I knew it slip further out of my own control and instantly shifted the paradigm back where it was before I had learned of Cobain. On that day and forevermore, music was ONLY about the people who listened to it. They had your fate as a musician in their hands. You may disagree completely and say that it HAS to be about the musician or else its soulless and I agree, it must start from there but I firmly believe it must end somewhere else. That somewhere else is in the hands of the listener and what they do with it and with you is none of your business and it is hopelessly out of your reach. If you think I’m wrong, budding musicians, write a record and don’t record it. Don’t tour on it. Just keep it to yourself knowing that at least its yours. Your “career” as a musician will be over before it started. What matters most is how carefully you preserve that understanding while you make your art. Some chose to pander to it with a surgeons precision, others ignore it completely but every musician and artist and director knows that it is there, the proverbial elephant in the room. It is the level of consideration of the audience that establishes the tiered and often biased scale of “cred” we assign to those who we give our short and rapidly dwindling attention span to. Now, I didn’t know him personally so I will not use this paragraph as an excuse to co-opt others grief and regress into a 14 year olds sense of self importance, but I will say this- I miss the riffs that man could have one day written. I understood on that day why my father felt as if he “lost” Roy Orbison. Just think about how important Dimes riffs would be today in a “heavy music” scene dictated by synthesizer breakdowns and makeup.
That brings me to the reason I sat down to write today at all. Adam Yauch passed away of cancer last Friday. I was in Vienna when I found out and my first reaction was “yea, cancer will do that. what a shame”. But as more outlets started posting the story and my twitter feed became clogged with old videos or memories that people had of first hearing License To Ill or Pauls Boutique, the sadness went from something I knew I should feel but for some reason couldn’t to a very palpable
sense of loss. When I say I “couldn’t feel” sadness its not because I am impartial to death, but my understanding of it as ruthless, unprejudiced and inevitable fails to allow much room for surprise. He was sick with a terminal disease. Death will come. It was the hearing of THAT news that really shocked me. But as the night went on and I got closer to our set time, I began thinking harder and with more clarity about why I was there at all, about to perform on the other side of the world with a band like ETID and soon something unmistakably set in as “gone”. The world had experienced a real loss, like someone was telling you something important and never finishing the sentence. The breath was spent before the last number of the sequence could be revealed. The Beastie Boys were an enormous part of my growing up and because of that, they are an enormous part of who I am today. Nothing can take that away from me, not even cancer. It had been years since I thought about the excitement of getting one of their CD’s for my birthday or how every weekend of every winter was spent in my friends car driving 45 minutes to snowboard with their music blaring on the ride there and back. Why did it take MCA’s death to get me to cherish my childhood once again? Why have I come so far from that unexplainable, almost spiritual sense of relief and love and envy that I felt when I saw the video for “So What’cha Want” to where I am now where mainstream music can barely move me at all? Did their music do to the world what it did to me? Did it make you want to do nothing but love your friends and give you a confidence you never had as you timed your steps through the halls of your high school with the beat that played in your headphones? The Beastie Boys made music fun and they made me smile but not because they were solicitous of a child my age, but because they were inventive and consistent and you got the idea that they were friends. They were a crew you wanted to be a part of- rowdy, creative, sincere and forever. Every time you got on your skateboard with a Beastie Boys tape in the boombox you were staring in your own video. Fuck, I’m a white kid from an affluent suburb of buffalo NY and it made me wish I could RAP. They had been lodged in my subconscious as the representation of an ideal I had become too jaded to acknowledge anymore and the news of his death jarred it loose. Music can be for everyone. The musician and the fan are not mutually exclusive. You can create exactly what you want because you are not an island, there will always be someone to revel in the human experience of your art like I basked in theirs. The lyrics were so clever and the music was so inspiring that all I ever wanted to do was write in way that made people read it and go “oh! I get it. cool” and play music with my friends and I just wanted to have fun and give myself over to excitement and stay possessed by awe and live life as loudly as I could and I wanted to sweat and sing and make people laugh and remind them that its ok to look stupid sometimes and its ok to be proud and young and weird and as our intro played everything suddenly focused and I realized something I hadn’t before. that’s exactly what I was doing. A stone was taken out of the music worlds foundation, but what was built around it is too big to fall. Thank you MCA. Rest in Peace.