September 28, 2012 – Williamsburg, Brooklyn – New York

It’s been a few months since Adam ‘MCA’ Yauch passed away.  Admittedly, it’s a bit hard to explain the mourning of someone you’ve never met.  In this case, I feel like I know what I need to know, and I feel the way I feel. It makes me sad to come to grips with the void that is left.  We don’t really know the musicians, artists, athletes, and celebrities we come to admire.  That being said, when someone shares their art and ideas with you, it’s an undeniable loss when that person ceases to make new art.

Summer of 2012:  As a painter and working artist, I often render images of athletes who have come to represent my childhood, my admiration for the game, and the aesthetic of the sport they play.  This was never more true, than when I painted Hall of Famer Rod Carew in watercolor.  Carew was an icon of 1980s baseball, who amassed more than three-thousand hits, and employed an unorthodox approach to swinging the bat.  The Beastie Boys must have been paying attention, as they cleverly incorporated lyrics that paid tribute to the wiry slap hitter in their song Sure Shot – one of my favorites. Beastie Boys – ‘Sure Shot’

As I stood in a long line in the Baltimore Convention Center, I had an epiphany.  I was there to have Rod Carew sign my painting. It depicted him sitting cross-legged, in uniform, on a 1977 issue of Time magazine.  It had always been a favorite image of mine.  While I stood there, I thought – “Wouldn’t it be great to ask Carew if he knew about being mentioned in the song?”, better yet, “Wouldn’t it be great to ask Carew to write the Beastie Boys lyrics on the painting!?”.  At that point, I was quite excited, as I really started to warm to the idea. Would he do it?  Would he tell me to ‘get lost’?  When I approached him, and asked “Would you sign ‘I’ve got mad hits’ – Rod Carew”?, he smiled, and said “You too?”.  Evidently, someone had recently handed him an album cover to tag.  Graciously, he signed the painting, and inscribed the lyrics, unwittingly altering my approach to art-making and seeking out new experiences. I quickly snapped a photo of the ‘finished’ painting, and I realized that I was really on to something special.  It was then that I decided that I needed to find the Beastie Boys.

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September 2012:  I started by scouring the Internet.  Mike D and AdRock had to come out to play eventually. After all, they are artists.  Don’t artists need to make art?  After striking out a few times, I suddenly found an announcement that Mike D would be DJ-ing a food-tasting event in Brooklyn, NY.  Although New York is about three hours away, and I had no idea where I would end up, I began to make my plans.

I made a day of it: Brooklyn Book Festival, meeting a former student for a drink, and then I hoofed over to the Brooklyn Flea grounds in Willamsburg.   After the flea market, they’d be transforming the space into a small foodie festival.  My interest was solely to meet Mike D, and show him my Rod Carew painting.

As I approached the fenced-in area, I began to worry that they wouldn’t let me in with my large portfolio folder. This is post-9-11 New York, surely they will be skeptical of any strange package or bag.  My worries were allayed, as I entered without issue or delay. I made my way to the lone figure setting up equipment under the DJ tent.

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I quickly realized that everyone else that was there was in attendance for a food-tasting.  No one else showed any interest that Mike D was going to be there.  That’s when I noticed a lady wearing all black, holding a clipboard, with a headset coming towards me.  “Can I help you, sir?”.  “No”, I said.  I’m just waiting for the DJ.  Then I noticed that the guy setting up the equipment under the tent, wasn’t just a guy setting up the equipment. It was Mike D, himself.  The woman in black asked, “Are you friends with the DJ?”.  I said “No, not really”, and I figured she was going to tell me to split.  Instead, she said, “I’m sure when he’s done, he’ll come over this way.  You should just stand here until he’s done”.  I was stunned. Could it really be this easy?  Mike started to play some tunes, and the vibe shifted. I relaxed and enjoyed the music, and the backdrop of Manhattan Island.  It was then that I realized that there were about ten people standing around me. They appeared to be very interested in Mike D’s presence, too. I recognized one of the people as the guy who celebrated Adam Yauch a couple of weeks after he passed.  He wore a hat with the words ‘MCA Day’ emblazoned on the front. I had seen him in some clips that documented an impromptu Adam Yauch vigil in Union Square,NYC. It was Mike Kearney from Massachusetts.  I don’t remember who spoke first, but I eventually expressed my thanks and disappointment that I hadn’t been able to attend the event in May.  I had heard about it only the day after it happened.

So there we were, shoulder to shoulder, waiting patiently for Mike D to finish his set.  I pulled out the painting, and heard “Hey, I’ve seen that! I know that painting!”.  Once again the vibe changed. The small group, began to talk about the painting, and encouraged me to show Mike D.  After only about thirty minutes, the set was over.  We assumed, incorrectly, that Mike would head for the ‘green room’ tent, and make us wait a bit longer.  Instead, he walked right over to us.  “What’s up, guys?”.

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I don’t remember our exact replies, but we were all excited and poised to get our chance to interact.  I showed Mike the painting, and said “I painted this image of Rod Carew. When I met him, I asked him to write your lyrics on it – your words.”  Mike said “What! and he was cool with that!? Ha!”.  He laughed, and agreed to sign the painting himself.  Success!  I had driven to New York with such a specific goal. It was incredible to know that it had all come together.  Mike D shook our hands, posed for some pictures, heard a spiel from Mike Kearney about MCA Day, and drifted over to the food tables.  The rest of us stood there, together, swapping Beastie Boys stories and exchanging contact information.  These new friends: Tom Shaw, Mike Kearney, Nicole Waters-Minervino, Michelle Lawlor, Tracie Samuels, and Anthony Minervino would figure prominently into my immediate future.  Together, we would continue to celebrate Adam Yauch and the Beastie Boys, from many different corners of the country.  Together, we planned and implemented MCA Day in Brooklyn the following May.  It’s really something when you can pinpoint a moment when you were able to start new friendships and remember an experience with such clarity.

I’ll think about this often, as it was the start of my Hip-Hop project, and it was the catalyst for an exciting string of meetings with my musical heroes. – AJK