A person whom I hold as a dear friend, Adam Yauch 1964-2012, of the hip hop group the Beastie Boys passed away on May 4, 2012 due to cancer. Known as MCA to Beastie Boy fans across the globe, he was one of the people , including Mike Diamond and Adam Horovitz, who were instrumental in helping me become a photographer when they gave me the privilege to photograph them for my first magazine cover in November of 2004. The photos in this post come from that cover story in People In Groove Magazine which was published in February 2005.
Adam Yauch ; self-taught Kung-fu master, filmmaker, poet, philanthropist as expressed in the Tibetan Freedom concert series and co-creator of the Milarepa Fund, a musician, was an all around artistic critical thinker. MCA became inspired by the art work of the American expressionist painter Leroy Neiman, the ember which sparked his idea for the Beastie Boys Video, “Shadrach” .
In the summer of 1992, I had the privilege to sit down and have lunch with Adam in Milan, Italy and we spoke at length about the video project. The Beastie Boys were on a small venue and amphitheater tour across Europe in support of their 1992 release , “Check Your Head” it was the band’s third studio album and they were working hard on this tour with band and crew crammed into the same tour bus. The stories from the “Check Your Head” tour were hilarious and numerous but I will save them for another time. This particular day, the rest of the band and crew were headed out on a long over night drive to their next tour dates with Beastie Boy tour manager Bill Rahmy. Yauch, had decided to stay behind to spend the day in Milan and then he would travel to Switzerland to visit his family. Therefore, it is true, Adam Yauch does have Swiss family roots!
MCA took an art book of Leroy Neiman’s to the indie animation company Klasky Csupo in Los Angeles and they facilitated the colorful animation idea Yauch wanted for the video which was an actual moving fine art painting of film imagery . Having a unique artistic vision, which never was congruent with anything having to do with the status quo, MCA went into detail that day how “Shadrach” was shot on film and hand colored, frame by frame, in homage to Leroy Neiman. Every concept of how the film project would be executed originated with Yauch’s passion to make the video how he visualized it in accordance with his band mates.
The film footage of the band was shot at the Palomino Club in North Hollywood, California. MCA, Mike D and AdRoc were performing the song, live, on stage in front of an audience, with Wendell Fite known as DJ Hurricane spinning records. The concert footage was converted by the actual application of color onto the film itself, which made the film footage of the band appear to be animated. Visual transitions from a concert reality of the Beastie Boys on stage performing then morphed into animated images of the band and then transitioning to a surreal fiercely toothed bear, to a winged lion emerging from the sea, with moments of subjective artistic imagery intwined . Each frame was like a painting with in itself. “Shadrach” was a master piece of fine art and was the first video of its kind to be played on MTV. All of these concepts were spawned from the imagination of Adam Yauch.
Adam explained “Shadrach” was a monumental challenge, an ambitious film project. The experience on this film motivated Yauch to have all future Beastie Boy videos made in an independent environment, he wanted production to be controlled by the band themselves. A Beastie Boy precedence was set in the music industry and it was the very same conviction which laid the future foundation for his independent film and production studio Oscilloscope Studios.
It is not everyday one may say a creative genre of filmmaking is born by way of a hip hop band during the end of the 20th century. However, Adam Yauch, together with Mike Diamond and Adam Horovitz, did for music video and filmmaking what George Braque and Pablo Picasso did when they created the art genre of Cubism. the Beastie Boys put unique story lines with strong visuals into movement and used ‘flowin’ prose’, smokin’ grooves, rockin’ beats and humor spear-launched at the establishment to do so. No one had been successful enough to convey a visual message and have such a profound effect on so many people in the music video world like the Beasties Boys. They poked fun at society’s sanctioned hypocrisy in terms of proper social conduct, The Beasties liked to ‘stick it to the man’ in a non threatening way by means of creative expression, wild imagination, humor and a lot of costumes, wigs and removable facial hair. MCA’s knowledge of art, his strong belief in his directorial concepts started with “Shadrach” and the beginning of the Beastie Boys visual statement which changed the world’s perception of hip hop music videos .
This post is in tribute to the opportunities, respect and friendship given to me by the Beastie Boys and Adam Yauch. I send my sincere condolences to Dechen Wangdu his beautiful wife and his lovely daughter Tenzin Losel Yauch and their entire family. It is so hard to let the thought of him go because of everything he and the band did for me but I wish MCA a peaceful journey into the light.