Some time between Paul's Boutique and Check Your Head, I was on a family outing at some Long Island beach location, and my Uncle Jack asked me, out of the blue, "Glenn, are you familiar with a...rap group called the Beastly Boys?"
"Um, yes, I am. It's 'Beastie,' though, not 'Beastly.'"
"Oh." He scowled slightly. My uncle Jack is a gentle fellow, reliably droll and almost invariably understated, but he's never been big on pop culture, and most of its products, on those occasions when he gets wind of them, tend to rate very low on his personal approval meter. I remember when he sold his Long Island summer house to Foghat (another story), his saying to me, "I generally don't like these rock people, but the Foghat fellows were real gentlemen." Anyway.
"Why do you ask, Jack?"
"Well, it's funny, you know, an old friend of mine, Noel Yauch, his boy Adam is a member of that group."
"MCA? No kidding."
"MCA. That's Adam's 'rap' name."
Jack shook his head a little.
"I'm not saying you'd like their music Jack, but they are pretty clever rhymers. Drop references to Japanese baseball players and all."
Jack was slightly more impressed.
"Well, the funny thing is, you know, Noel does a pretty good business—he just put in an extension and a bay window at our place, in fact—and he was telling me that Adam, as it happens, put more into his 401K last year than Noel actually made."
"Well, that's rock and roll, Jack."
This exchange strangely haunted my uncle for years after that. Once, he told me, he had a dream that the Brooklyn Historical Society hosted me as a speaker, for a lecture on gangsta rap.
A few years after that, I had the occasion to do a phone interview with Adam Yauch. It was somewhere between the "Body Movin'" video and the formation of his film company Oscilloscope Laboratories. "I don't know about that," he laughed when I got to the 401K part of the story of my uncle's bemusement. This kind of demural, I understand by reading accounts from people who knew him well, was typical of a genuine modesty, an earnest desire not to make too much of a big deal of himself even as he kept up made musical art, made film art, made the film art of others accessible, and mischievously took the piss out of show business as he had been doing with his buddies since the very beginning. I'm old enough to remember how so many people didn't get the joke, the absolute hysteria engendered by License To Ill, all of it. His grace under pressure was frequently evident if you cared to look at it. His exceptional, connecting, generous sensibility is evident in many ways, and in many objects; right now, as I listen to Ill, I'm thinking about the Blu-ray disc release of Kelly Reichardt's Meek's Cutoff, with its liner essay by punk rock pioneer Richard Hell—an inspired choice and a completely natural one, but not a choice that someone with less deep background in the arts than Yauch would sign off on.
There's an awful lot more to be said about the man. He will be missed in so many ways.
White Castle fries only come in one size.