I’ve been listening to Paul’s Boutique for the last few days while I’ve been driving around town running errands (going to the bank, to the p.o., taking the dogs to the park), and while I can recite most of the song lyrics by heart, and I can dance in my car seat and pretend I’m still hip, the fact is, I’m feeling unremarkably middle-aged. I’m also feeling a great loss. Beastie Boy Adam Yauch’s untimely death from cancer a few days ago is terribly sad for those of us who have been big fans of the Beastie Boys. His passing represents not just the loss of a musical icon but also, in my case, the loss of who I used to be. I did not expect his death to become the tipping point to my midlife crisis.
I listened to the Beastie Boys in the 80's when I was in high school and college. But in the mid nineties, when I was in my late twenties, the Beasties provided a significant sound track to my changing life. Ironically, their music-- with rhymes about partying, drinking Brass Monkey, smoking weed, mixing Bass Ale with Guiness Stout, and so on-- helped me become less of a party girl. Their raucousness made me feel like I could still dance that lifestyle without actually participating in it. They added other words to my life, too, about how darkness was not the opposite of light, but the absence of it. And of course, Yauch, aka MCA, rhymed his intentions and his respect with his Bodhisattva Vow. I appreciated that kind of humility and still do.
Yauch was always my favorite Beastie. He was not just my musical hero, but a spiritual icon, too. Someone whose path into Buddhism coincided with my own spiritual explorations. I was listening to Ill Communication at the same time I was testing out a belief in a higher power, becoming comfortable with prayer, reading books by the Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, attending talks with the Dalai Lama, and letting go of a lifestyle that had me on the edge of extinction by the age of twenty-seven. Yauch made all of that O.K. He was the spiritual anchor of the Beastie Boys, just as, before him, George Harrison—another favorite of mine—had been for the Beatles.
Back then, when I was still coming out of the fog and learning to live without getting blottoed on a regular basis, I was irrationally hopeful that the Beastie Boys might surprise me on my door step, which of course sounds insane because it is. In my experiments with prayer, I decided to pray for their sudden appearance in my life—which is embarrassing to admit since it exposes my complete lack of spiritual understanding at the time, and my elementary belief in a Santa Claus god. But that’s another story. I had no connection to the Beasties personally and they had no idea I existed. I had giant crush on MCA and a blind hope (read: delusion) that somehow, one day, our paths would cross. Then he'd fall in love with me.
Fast forward several years. I was in my mid-thirties, dating a sound engineer who’s worked the monitors for the likes of David Bowie, Nine Inch Nails, Radiohead, Beck and many others, including, for a very brief time, the Beasties Boys. My good fortune is that I got to tag along to many of the shows. So when the Beasties were preparing to go on tour, I couldn’t believe my luck. Not only would I get to see a few shows with my boyfriend, but I might actually meet the Beastie Boys at some point, maybe bump into them backstage at the craft services table where MCA and I would be reaching for the bowl of M&M's at the same time! Life was sweet.
Then Mike D wrecked his bike, broke his collarbone and the tour was cancelled. My boyfriend never worked with them again. Eventually we broke up. By then, I was no longer desperate to meet MCA as I'd once been since I'd moved on to pursue other interests. Yet, I learned from this near brush with the Beasties what I needed to: that the world was smaller and more accessible than I'd ever imagined, and that amazing things are possible with time.
Now, all these years later, I'm remembering that old crush and all the feelings that went with it. If Generation X spans the years of 1964 through 1980-- and no one can agree on years, exactly-- then Yauch was born at the beginning of that curve, and has become among the first of our generation to die. His death has been a wake-up call for me. Now that I'm in the midst of (dare I say it) perimenopause and spent the month of February with the windows open to cool the hot flashes that have become an affront to my sense of self, I am feeling very far away from the girl who used to have a wild crush on MCA. I'm not sure I even recognize her as part of myself anymore, though I don't want to forget her, especially her better qualities. Back then, I wore crazy outfits and I had a closet full of get-ups that my housemates raided at Halloween to make costumes out of what were my every day clothes; I had an insatiable love of music and a reckless pursuit of art. There was also the part of me that did not want to full-time job (and still doesn't); that did not want to live in the suburbs; that always wanted pink hair and a pierced nose; and did not want to grow up and become dull. It’s not too late, but somehow I’ve become very serious. It doesn't help that my partner, a Baby Boomer, now has conversations about his prostate at the dinner table with friends. Nor am I feeling any younger after a shopping spree with my mother when I bought a week’s worth of comfortable underwear. Last night, I washed the dog after she rolled in fox scat, and then I made a kale salad for dinner. I love my dog; I also love kale. I didn’t want to be anywhere else. There’s nothing wrong with that, but, let’s face it, eating kale, washing the dog, wearing comfy undies—none of this is the stuff you boast about when you want to bust a rhyme.
Recently, my partner and I returned home after traveling for a week in Arizona. Coming home from vacation always blindsides me with the realization that this is where I live, this is what my life has become. For the last few of days, I've been in a "Wait! What?" state of mind, which just adds fodder to my mid-life crisis.
Before we left Arizona, we stopped in an old mining-town-turned-art-colony. We were drinking iced tea, looking out over the valley when a young woman stopped to ask Lee about the image of a firefly silk screened on his t-shirt. “Is that--?” she paused for a moment, then mentioned the name of a band. “Are you a fan?” she asked, eager, it seemed to me, to connect with a kindred spirit. Lee shrugged.
“We’re not that hip,” I replied. In fact, we’re so un-hip that I’ve already forgotten the name of the band that she thought Lee’s t-shirt was promoting. I’m sad about this. Sad that Lee sometimes turns down the music when I turn it up; that a good night’s sleep is what’s important to me now; that sugar messes with my mood and popcorn keeps me up at night. Sad that in my forty-five years, I haven’t accomplished a smidgeon of what I hoped I would’ve by now. And I’m sad that I have to think about mortality sooner than I want to. MCA's passing is the loss of some part of me that would prefer to ignore maturity and death.
Two of my friends are suffering from cancer now. One is in her seventies, the other is only forty-four. Other close friends have passed prematurely in the last three years— from a motorcycle accident or from cancer. The only other person I know who has been similarly affected by Yauch’s untimely death is my friend’s fourteen-year-old son, Phinn. Maybe, also, my eighteen-year-old nephew who thanked me profusely for giving him a stack of Beastie Boy cds after one weekend visit.
But I am—by numbers—a middle-aged woman who drives my dogs to and from the park every day and enjoys a good night's sleep. My dogs, when they ride in the car, hang their heads out the window and take in life at full speed, gulping at the air because they cannot get enough. Last evening, as I sat at a stop light waiting for the signal to change, another middle-aged woman pulled up in a SUV next to me. She leaned out her window and talked to my dog, Byrdie. Meanwhile, the Beastie Boys were blaring from my cd player: “Yeah, that’s right. I’m the Egg Man. Driving around, King of the town, always got my window rolled down.” Who knows what she was thinking. She was smiling, though, and while I imagine she was she smiling at my dog, I'd like to think she was also enjoying the music.