Friday, May 4, 2012

Adam Yauch, MCA, and Gratitude

This was a rough day. As a confirmed Deadhead, much harder than the day Jerry Garcia died.

Let's back up. I grew up in the Bronx. In all honesty, I wasn't into hip-hop when it came out. I was into rock. Rap and break-dancing seemed to evolve from the disco crowd. My first albums were AC/DC, Van Halen, and Iron Maiden. When the Beastie Boys came out, my family had moved down to Florida. It seemed like all the homophobic jocks were into that stuff, while the serious hip-hop crews were into Rob Base.

Then I got to college. Paul's Boutique, then Check Your Head. They told a story, of urban grit balanced with insanely positive vibes, rhymes that came out of dropping acid skiing or in subways and maintaining equilibrium. Anthems about bums, car thieves, playboys and con artists, street punks who had everything but then chose to evolve into introspective urban poets.

I wore both of those out on cassette AND CD. After graduation, Ill Communication came out. By then, I had gotten more interested in meditation. The final tracks on the new album had a curious combo, "Bodhisattva Vow", and "Shambala". Center art by Alex Grey. This is interesting.... the message was, you can be spiritual AND cool. You can be proud of where you're coming from, not know where you're going, but have a wholesome goal in mind. "Hello Nasty" documented a more experimental direction, but after 9/11 hit, the Boys came back with "To the Five Boroughs", literally a love letter to our beloved New York, grieving the loss of life and towers but celebrating the diversity that fuels immortal resilience.

I memorized Bodhisattva Vow, not knowing what it really meant. In 1995, I found myself going from Xinjiang into Tibet, watching in awe and confusion as Tibetans made the pilgrimage on foot, bowing every third step on the way to the Jokhang Temple. Armed convoys miles long passed them, leaving clouds of dust behind. They kept walking, kept bowing. And I thought, yes, I can see why Adam got knocked into this consciousness. I took formal refuge vows as a Buddhist after returning from that trip. I didn't become Buddhist because of Adam, or because of any song. But Adam made it okay to be proud to be Buddhist, to study the vow, to make a public declaration-- "hey, while all you rappers shoot at each other and degrade women, I'm putting it down that I'm taking the Dharma seriously." No one stepped to that. No one could.

Here he is, in 1998, speaking out against violence and Islamophobia. 1998! More prophetic words could not have been spoken. Here he is, a rapper born Jewish, defending the dignity of Muslims and Arabs, warning us not to pursue violent paths. Rappers these days talk about themselves, their money, and each other. None can step to Adam.

Adam, damn, we are going to miss you. Adam, thank you so much for being you. I keep thinking of "Year and a day", the creepy line "Seen a glimpse from ahead and I don't think it's gonna last." Not true. You are an immortal. You will live in us, in the steps we take. And in times of doubt, we can think on the Dharma, and the Enlightened Ones who graduated samsara. For me, you will always be one of the people who inspires me to give thanks for this world as a place to learn.

Thank you.