The music and film industries are mourning the passing of Adam Yauch, one of the Beastie Boys who built a second career for himself producing indie movies for his own shingle, Oscilloscope Laboratories. But Yauch left enough of a mark on television worth remembering as well.
Beastie Boys had such a tremendous impact on rock and hip-hop music for a number of reasons, from their controversial lyrics to a truly unique sound. But what also elevated them was their mastery of an art form that emerged when the group did: the music video, which rose to prominence in the 1980s. If you aren’t a member of the generation that came of age during that decade, you may not get Yauch’s impact.
There’s maybe only a handful of acts that could truly be said to have left a legacy on MTV, and Beastie Boys are one of them. Again and again, they backed their hit singles with memorable music videos, many of which Yauch himself directed. He approached the task with real creative integrity, demonstrating a fevered imagination that proved the Beasties saw music videos as more than an exercise in mere promotion.
Yauch’s MTV output stood out amid a sea of videos that rarely deviated from selling sex appeal by relying more on humor and kooky special effects that typically overshadowed the handsome trio performing in them. Think back to hits that sprang from his warped sensibility like “Shadrach” (1989) and “So What’cha Want” (1992). They exuded a shambling, self-effacing quality befitting its director, who went so far as to create a wacky alter ego, Nathaniel Hornblower, who was occasionally credited on screen as if he were a real entity. Yauch didn’t take himself seriously, nor did he want you to take him seriously, either.
Regardless, MTV remained rife with narcissism and pretentiousness for as long as music videos were the channel’s stock in trade. But Yauch never changed either as evidence by the last Beasties clip he directed, a short film in support of the group’s 2011 single, “Make Some Noise.” None of the group’s members appeared in the video but they were depicted by Seth Rogen, Danny McBride and Elijah Wood decked out in the same garb the Beasties wore in their very first video, “Fight for Your Right to Party.” It’s a fitting gesture that underscored the refereshing absence of vanity Yauch brought to the medium and their music.