I grew up, strange and bookish, in rural Iowa. By and large I’m so grateful for this. But saying that rural Iowa is wonderful (it is) is not the same thing as saying that rural Iowa is an always easy place to grow up, especially if you are strange and bookish. You feel alienated, and you feel (and are) far away from other alienated people. There are not many of you.
But a good part of growing up strange and bookish in rural Iowa, in the eighties and nineties, was that you could spend a lot of time listening to the Beastie Boys. For me, the Beastie Boys are the sound of a rural childhood–of my walkman while I took my dog for interminable Iowa afternoon walks, the sound of a friend’s radio driving through open Iowa fields to a basketball game an hour away. The sound of the moment when it’s less weird and lonely at the high school dance, streamers and “Sabotage” filling the Iowa high school gym.
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The Beastie Boys have always sounded to me like the sound of being okay. It will be okay. You might be lonely, but you are not alone. (Also, probably, you are dancing.)
Which is all to say: the death of Adam Youch today hit me surprisingly hard.
Twitter is full right now of people saying things like (this is David Malitz, from the Washington Post): “Seriously, who didn’t like the Beastie Boys? No matter the room, put on the Beasties and *everyone’s* happy. Very few like that.”
That strikes me as exactly right, and for whatever small tribute it’s worth I just need to say that that quality was so incredibly, incredibly desperately important for the rural weird youth of the twentieth century’s last decades. There was a lot of strange stuff to listen to, and that was great, but the Beastie Boys was the strange stuff that everybody listened to. No social fissure, and there were many, seemed too deep for the Beastie Boys to suture.
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For me, as a weird rural girl, the Beastie Boys did this magic thing that both expressed my strangeness and made it less troubling to be strange. If most of the broad reach of the Beastie Boys is the music itself, the other part, surely, the thing that makes them so universally appealing, is the sound of people embracing their strageness, their alienation, and making it into anthemic badassery. Whatever pained and awkward kids they were, or we were, did not have to be forgotten or apologized for. The awkwardness could just kick ass.
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