When I was 16, I bought a terrible car. Even at an age when I had little to no experience as a driver, that was abundantly clear. It looked like hell — from the terrible color and design to the terrible dents and scratches I put into the body through a mix of inexperience and bravado — and, somehow, it drove even worse. But it was cheap, and it got me from Point A to Point B, and it represented a small slice of freedom. As anyone who grew up outside the limits of a city can attest, even a terrible pile of mismatched rusted parts sitting on four terrible tires could feel like pure, unadulterated liberty because it meant you could finally come and go as you pleased. It may have taken you a while to get where you were going, and you may have looked a hot mess while you were doing it, but you were finally doing it on your own terms. Like an adult. Sort of.
I drove that terrible car everywhere. I took it to school, and concerts, and parties. Sometimes I took it nowhere in particular. I would fill it up with gas and I would just drive until I got lost, then I would keep driving until I found my bearings again. (NOTE: Gas was less expensive back then because those were the good old days, but we also had it hard and that’s how we liked it, and so on and so forth.) I would smoke cigarettes rapid fire, because that was the type of superficially rebellious thing I did as a teenager, and my car was the only place I could do it without worrying about my parents or their friends catching me. I kissed girls in the front seat, and I tried to do a lot more in the backseat, and, yeah, I probably drove it after a beer or two too many more times than I’d like to admit. It was a terrible car and I made some terrible decisions inside it, but it was mine.
Because the car was terrible, it had a tape deck instead of a CD player. My music collection had mostly shifted to CDs by that point, so my first course of action upon buying the car was picking up an adapter that allowed me to connect my Discman to the car’s terrible sound system. Unfortunately, a combination of bumpy roads (SKIPPING! REMEMBER?!) and the prohibitive cost of batteries (did I mention the cigarette lighter didn’t work?) made that option less than ideal. I finally broke down one day, drove to the mall, and purchased two tapes that had been released years earlier: Licensed to Ill and Ill Communication.
Here is a very simple, somewhat sexist explanation of how music works: Boys pick up instruments to get with girls, and girls get with guys who picked up instruments because music makes you feel things.
I’m not usually one to get too upset over the death of someone I never knew personally. I have lost people very close to me under very sad circumstances, so shedding tears over someone who never knew I existed feels like a waste of important bodily fluids to me. That’s not to say everyone should feel that way. Grieve how your body tells you to grieve, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. But despite my self-proclaimed tough exterior in these situations, the death of Adam Yauch has left me kind of swimming, and I’m not exactly sure why. I have suspicions, don’t get me wrong. Part of me wonders if it was just a shock. I mean, I knew he was sick. We all did. But I didn’t know he was that sick. Sure, he skipped the group’s Rock And Roll Hall of Fame induction, but that could have been chalked up to a number of reasons: maybe he didn’t want to miss a doctor’s appointment, or maybe traveling had become a hassle, or maybe he had gotten so wrapped up in the various social causes he had been devoting his life to that a dumb piece of metal honoring the rhyming couplets he wrote years earlier seemed trivial to him. I hadn’t heard anything to the contrary — and, in hindsight, maybe that’s how he wanted it — so when the news of his death hit, it hit like sledgehammer.
It’s more likely, however, that his death is getting to me because the music he and the rest of the group created made me feel things. Not the same things that make girls want to get with guys who picked up instruments, but important things nonetheless. I listened to the two tapes I bought that day until I wore them out. I fought for my right to party almost every weekend (often unsuccessfully), I told people that I was getting more action than my man John Woo (false), I wondered exactly what kind of party made someone want to stick their dick in the mashed potatoes (and why the hell someone brought mashed potatoes to a party in the first place), and I didn’t sleep til Brooklyn (or whatever the middle class suburban equivalent of Brooklyn is. Denny’s, maybe?). I drove everywhere in my terrible car listening to the music Adam Yauch helped create, and, in the process, I grew up.
That terrible car breathed its last terrible breath not long after I left for college. It should have been euthanized much earlier. It was leaking oil, and shaking violently even at reasonable speeds, and it had started emitting a little trail of blueish-gray smoke from under the hood that made it look like I was hiding a genie’s lamp inside the engine. One day it just stopped. I’ve stopped smoking since then, too. (And, really, who was I fooling anyway trying to mask half a dozen Parliament Lights with a weapons grade quantity of Polo Sport?) Now I’m a grown-up who has grown-up concerns like a bad job market and student loan payments. But I still have the memories of trading verses of “Sabotage” with my friends on the way to Wendy’s and trying to sneak kisses to the very soothing and romantic tones of “Brass Monkey,” and every time I hear either of those two albums, those memories appear in full form as though my brain has encased them in amber.
I used to hate hearing old people talk about the music from their youth. “Led Zepplin sucked” is something I specifically remember saying once like a total shithead. But now I am getting older, and I am starting to understand. More than movies or television or even photographs, music attaches to memories because it plays in the background while you do other things. In doing so, it becomes a part of those things. That’s why it makes people wax nostalgic about bands that no longer exist and do things like write 1200 sentimental words about a terrible car they owned for all of 18 months. The Beastie Boys’ music will be forever intertwined with that small chunk of my life when I was making mistakes by the handful and having a blast doing it. Those days, that car, and now, in all likelihood, the Beastie Boys, are all gone. But they’ll never be forgotten.