Posted Friday, May 4, 2012, at 3:10 PM
Shortly after TMZ and Rolling Stone broke the news of Adam Yauch's death, a couple of my wonkier friends tweeted about how he'd gotten them into politics. Yes, politics. For people of a certain age, the Yauch-spearheaded Tibetan Freedom Concerts were the first wholly non-ironic mass political events. There was generic "please vote for Democrats" activism (Rock the Vote), pro-choice activism (every L7 album) and AIDS awareness activism, coupled sometimes with a two-minutes-hate against somebody who strayed from the line.
The Tibetan Freedom Concerts were a bit bolder than that. They became punchlines, eventually, but they started as expressly political events intended to sign up new recruits to a human rights cause that the government (then the glorious Clinton-Gingrich cohabitation) didn't want to touch.
This is activism that won't really happen again. It was non-partisan; it was naive. In 2000, Yauch was the most vocal Beastie supporter of Ralph Nader's presidential campaign. After Nader spoiled the election for Al Gore,* this sort of "both parties oppress human rights equally" argument went out of favor. The Tibetan Freedom Concerts petered out in 2001, and when the Beasties returned in 2003, it was with one of the era's lamer anti-Bush songs, "In A World Gone Mad."
First the 'War On Terror' now war on Iraq
We're reaching a point where we can't turn back
Let's lose the guns and let's lose the bombs
And stop the corporate contributions that their built upon
Well I'll be sleeping on your speeches 'til I start to snore
'Cause I won't carry guns for an oil war
As-Salamu alaikum, wa alaikum assalam
Peace to the Middle East peace to Islam
Now don't get us wrong 'cause we love America
But that's no reason to get hysterica
They're layin' on the syrup thick
We ain't waffles we ain't havin' it
And so on. I think Yauch made up for this affront by distributing the excellent movie The Messenger, about the soldiers who informed families of their loved ones' deaths. And the concert-for-a-cause model, which he'd resurrected, is still with us.
*go ahead, flame me. This isn't really worth disputing