I was saddened to hear of the death of Adam "MCA" Yauch of the Beastie Boys yesterday. I'm only a casual fan of the band--I have the greatest hits album and that's about it--but they've been a viable creative force for my entire adult life, and I guess I kind of thought they'd be around forever.
But of course that's not true for any of us.
People with more knowledge of the band will be writing about MCA's musical accomplishments, so I just want to say 3 things.
1.)He seemed like a really decent human being. I'm sorry he's dead.
2.) He did not "lose his battle" with cancer. I fucking hate that expression. Nobody "loses their battle" with coronary blockages, for example. I understand that cancer is terrifying, and that we lean on this battle metaphor as a way of telling ourselves that if we get it, we can survive if only we "fight" hard enough. Which is total self-serving delusional bullshit that is incredibly disrespectful to the people who die of this awful disease. Cancer is something that happens. Some people recover from it. Some people don't. This has a lot more to do with the cancer than with the person it's inside of. I know people will still use this every time someone dies, but I just really wish people would cut it the fuck out.
3.)I read in one piece about how, a few years back, Adam Yauch asked fans to mediate with him envisioning a lightning storm destroying cancer or something like that. "Mind over matter," he said. Now, this comes dangerously close to heresy in One Nation Under Oprah, but I'm just gonna say it: your thoughts do not have the power to shape the world around you. If prayer or mediation or positive thinking help you to feel better, that is awesome for you. But you can't shape the world--even the world of the rogue cells trying to eat your body--with your thoughts.
I know some people will see this as hopelessly negative, but I have a beef with the whole positive thinking mind over matter thing: it implies that when something bad does happen, it's basically your fault, because you were negative and the law of attraction drew this hardship to you, or you didn't pray right, or hard enough, or you didn't do enough to stop reality with your mind. Now that is some seriously negative shit. Not only do you have to suffer through something awful, you can also count on people blaming you for it because if you only believe right, or hard enough, you can be rich and healthy like Reverend Run.
It's the same kind of magical thinking that drives the battle metaphor--aha, we can think, smugly, that person got cancer because they, unlike me, didn't perform the necessary rituals to keep it away! Or they died because they didn't clap for Tinkerbell loudly enough! But I clap really loud because I believe in fairies, and so I won't get sick, or if I do, Tinkerbell will wave her magic wand and make me better!
No. Adam Yauch was a good person who did not deserve his illness. Like so many other people. Goodness and positivity will not protect you from cancer or any of the other terrible misfortunes life can bestow on you. Nor will they guarantee you any of the wonders that life can bestow on you.
Life is chaotic and beautiful and wonderful and awful and unfair. Smartass punk rock kids making prank calls to Carvel can become hip hop elder statesmen. Music can bring us untold joy. And sometimes terrible things happen for no reason at all.