Arts Desk

What I Learned From Adam Yauch and Beastie Boys

I had to discover the transformative Beastie Boys of Paul's Boutique and Check Your Head later. Like a lot of people my age, my first real introduction came by way of Hello Nasty, the Beasties' sprawling and flawed and captivating fifth studio album. I turned 13 in 1998, the year of Hello Nasty's release, and in Montgomery County, "Intergalactic" was the bar mitzvah jam of the summer.

That was also the year of the Tibetan Freedom Concert at RFK Stadium, an event that's mostly remembered for being disrupted by lightning. It was my first concert; in the moment, what made the biggest impression was seeing Michael Stipe perform in a skirt.

Adam Yauch, who has died at 47, was a Buddhist, and the Beasties' involvement in the Free Tibet movement stemmed from a visit Yauch made to Nepal during which he encountered a group of Tibetan refugees. From 1996 to 2003, their Tibet benefits drew hundreds of thousands of fans and raised millions of dollars for the cause—one that remains unfinished.

The contradictions of moshing for peace weren't apparent to me at the time; I wasn't interested in anyone's reasons for being there. After that concert, I wore my green Tibetan Freedom Concert T-shirt as a badge of middle-schooler pride: I was there. And for a while, I didn't shut up about Tibet, either. The first lesson I took from Yauch was that music has power, even if it's only the power to mobilize people.

Funny thing is, I don't remember a thing about Beastie Boys' set at the Tibetan Freedom Concert. It's completely gone from my mind. I do remember that a few months after the concert, one of my pals invoked Tibet during his bar mitzvah speech. At the party a few hours later, we all danced to "Intergalactic."

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