I’m too picky.
I know that a lot of single women use that as an excuse for their relationship status, but in my case it’s a universally accepted fact affirmed by my friends and family. In fact, when I left for college, my father bestowed to me a keychain reading “Picky Picky Picky.” I’m not sure if that was an affirmation of my discerning nature or just his way of attempting to ensure I’d stay a virgin throughout my undergraduate years, but the gesture remains.
As I’ve been reading all the tributes to Beastie Boy Adam Yauch (MCA), who passed away Friday at the age of 47, it hit me: No matter how old I get, all I really want is still to marry a guy just like MCA.
Yauch was the first Beastie Boy I ever crushed on. It wasn’t that he was the most physically attractive — that would be Adam Horovitz (Ad-Rock), obviously — or even the funniest (that title goes to Mike Diamond AKA Mike D, in my book), but my preteen heart belonged to MCA because he was so obviously the spiritual center. The wise one, the reflective one, the wonk. All I wanted was an enlightened guy to alternate between spitting rhymes in my ear and talking international politics.
The thing about being too picky is that it becomes an easy excuse to be blind to potential. I never want a guy who’s in the process of getting his shit together; I want a guy who already has it all figured out. As the head Beastie in charge, MCA always seemed leaps ahead of the game. He wasn’t finding the path; he was divining it. He’s a large reason why the Beastie Boys spent their entire career as one of the most innovative acts in all of music, particularly leading the way in hip hop. From the group’s authoritatively whiny delivery to its aggressively affable aesthetic and humorous but avant garde music videos, many of which Yauch helmed as his auteur alter ego Nathanial Hörnblowèr, the Beastie Boys spent almost 30 years ahead of the curve by setting the curve.
Before I truly discovered the Beastie Boys, beyond butchered performances of “Sabotage” and “Fight for Your Right” on “Say What? Karaoke,” I always knew MCA’s name because he was the guy behind the Tibetan Freedom Concert. I fancied myself an informed youngster — I listened to R.E.M., U2 and Sting, which in my brain meant that I was erudite and politically aware — and I knew that Yauch was the cute guy I always saw on MTV News talking about the Dalai Lama.
Growing up in a largely white world, it was hard not to have crushes on white guys; they were all who were around. What felt so safe about MCA, why I liked him so much, was because he was the white guy who knew how to function around black people. His bandmates were white but they were on a predominately black record label. The Beastie Boys wrote and performed black music but added white elements. They respected hip-hop culture by adding to it and never pretending to be anything they weren’t. The Beastie Boys never attempted to ape or out-black their peers in order to gain acceptance. Yauch and co. were cultural appreciators, not appropriators. Until MCA and Zack Morris, I felt like my only options were to date a white guy who’d have to learn to deal with my blackness or to date a white guy who was with me in the hopes that it would boost his rep and turn him “black,” in every stereotypical sense of the word.
As I fell under the Beasties’ spell, I learned some unsavory truths. Apparently Yauch wasn’t always my progressive poster boy dreamboat. He sang backup while his best friend crooned about wanting girls around to dance around and do household chores.
Internally, that was not the Adam Yauch with whom I fell in love. He’d since been reborn. Even though I always viewed his physicality through “Licensed to Ill” glasses — the result of toddling around to “Fight for Your Right” — by the time I was envisioning our crunchy granola future together, MCA had already repented on wax for his past rhetorical transgressions.
The Beasties all rejected the prejudices and cheap laughs their younger selves specialized in, with Ad-Rock even apologizing in print. They owned their ugly past and actually moved forward. Rather than mansplain or simply say they’re sorry while simultaneously failing to admit any wrongdoing, the Beasties — innovators in an art form that’s still largely anti-gay and anti-woman — took responsibility for what they said and tried to influence others to be more aware of their own impact and true to form, they did it more than a full decade before Dan Savage told anyone to.
In spite of that maturity, to me something always rang perennially young about the Beastie Boys. While their tastes and talents continued to evolve, Mike D, MCA and Ad-Rock were preserved in my brain’s amber, eternally those 20somethings with the messy hair and snotty swagger. My favorite track off last year’s underrated “Hot Sauce Committee Part Two” was “Funky Donkey,” largely because it reminded me of the Boys’ youthful spirit while also illuminating their astonishing growth. It also doesn’t hurt that the track has MCA’s husky growl all over it.
Even though I knew that MCA was battling cancer, even though I know that eventually we’re all going to spin off this mortal coil, I never really thought any of the Beasties would die*. Certainly not at only 47 years old.
But MCA aged and now he’s gone. And with him is a little piece of this young token’s dream to marry a politically astute boy with rhythm and enough street cred that he didn’t need mine.
Some of my friends have a theory about my pickiness; that I’m just waiting for all the guys I know to grow up. While it’s true that I’m eager for the boys I know to pull a Beastie and mature, I don’t think I should or will become any less picky when that happens. The reminder to me in the wake of MCA’s death is to be open to recognizing possibility in all its forms, especially in people. At 24, I’m a work in progress. It’s not fair to expect more than that from my peers. If I met 24-year-old MCA, he’d bear little resemblance to the Adam Yauch who piqued my prepubescent attention circa “Hello Nasty” and would have even less in common with the man who just lost a long battle with cancer.
The point is not for me to go grab the next White Castle scarfing, whippit huffing guy I see. The odds that he’s the next Yauch are nonexistent. But rather, MCA’s evolution is aspirational, a reminder that the best of us are always growing, learning and evaluating. That’s the true tragedy of losing Yauch at age 47; I can only imagine how much wiser he would’ve been at 57, 67, 77 and beyond. The fact that not only the music industry and Hollywood but the wide world will no longer have MCA’s innovation is just a shame. The least we can all do is try to follow the example he left behind.
For me that means staying picky and still trying to find a guy who reminds me of Adam Yauch — the great Boy who wasn’t yet who he’d become.
*I have this problem a lot.