"Isn't it sad?" our waitress said, pulling a forlorn expression. "We all really liked him."
As if he were a regular customer.
Saturday, on the Red Line, a kid -- maybe 16, 17, as old as I was when I first heard the Beasties -- was blaring "Pass the Mic" through his earbuds. Across the aisle, I could hear Adam Yauch barking, "My name is MCA, and I still do what I please!" The kid saw me listening, pointed to his ears, smiled, then pulled the same forlorn expression.
Sadness after the news Friday that Yauch, 47, died after a three-long year battle with throat cancer, cut across all kinds of demographics, just as the Beastie Boys' hip-hop managed to do.
Adam "MCA" Yauch, a founding member of the groundbreaking Brooklyn punk band-turned-rap trio with Michael "Mike D" Diamond and Adam "Ad-Rock" Horovitz, was "the benevolent Beastie" -- a fierce and angry young voice in the beginning, but one who matured, became a filmmaker (launching his own Oscilloscope Pictures) and committed himself to social change. A Buddhist, Yauch used his fame to raise awareness for the Tibetan independence movement (organizing several Tibetan Freedom Concerts in the late '90s) and created a nonprofit to support the cause (the Milarepa Fund).
The Beastie Boys were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame just weeks ago, but Yauch was not in attendance. During the ceremony in Cleveland, Diamond and Horovitz read a letter from Yauch. "For anyone who has been touched by our band, who our music has meant something to, this induction is as much ours as it is yours," it said.
Yauch announced his illness via an online video in 2009. The Beastie Boys had just scheduled a raft of new concerts -- including a headlining slot at Lollapalooza that year in Chicago -- but, appearing at a console next to Horovitz, Yauch said, "I have something really heavy-duty to say. We're going to have to cancel a bunch of our shows and push back our record release, because recently I started feeling this lump in my throat."
Still, they managed to complete a long-delayed album, "Hot Sauce Committee, Pt. 2," released last year.
But Yauch was hospitalized April 14 in New York City, and his condition deteriorated rapidly. His wife, Dechen Wangdu, and 13-year-old daughter, Tenzin, were at his bedside Friday when he died.
"He was a very courageous person. He fought a long battle with cancer. He was hopeful to the very end," Frances Yauch, his mother, told The New York Times. "He was a terrific guy and had a brief but really wonderful life."
Tributes have poured in from fellow rappers -- Q-Tip (Yauch "showed us the ropes"), Sean "Diddy" Combs ("A true pioneer and a creative force who paved the way for so many of us"), Eminem ("I think it's obvious to anyone how big an influence the Beastie Boys were on me and so many others") and more -- but also from pop stars and rockers. Red Hot Chili Peppers singer Anthony Kiedis wore a homemade "MCA" T-shirt during a Friday night concert, telling the crowd, "We lost a good man today. ... Adam was for real," and Coldplay, if you can imagine, performed "(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party)" during their Friday concert.
He was even saluted at the ballpark. The New York Mets honored Yauch on Friday night by blaring Beastie Boys songs each time one of their hitters walked to the plate.
Many of Yauch's obituaries read as if they're eulogizing the trio as a whole, though Horovitz and Diamond have not yet indicated how, or if, they plan to carry on under the Beasties name.