Month: May 2012 (Page 1 of 2)

Reporter’s Notebook

One last entry for the 2011-12 academic year.

Monday I covered a baseball sectional championship game for a christian school that we normally don’t cover. Part of that is because this is the first year the school, GCA, has fielded a baseball team. I’m really not sure why we don’t cover them in basketball all season, but that’s not my decision.

Anyway…it was quite the accomplishment for them to make the sectional final in their first year, obviously. It is worth noting, though, that they played in a four-team sectional and beat the state school for the deaf to reach the final. Not the toughest path in the world, but a big deal anyway.

I’m not sure if it has something to d with the Indy 500 or maybe it’s just tradition, but there are usually no sectional baseball games on the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, but there are games played on Memorial Day morning. So I rolled onto the field at 9:45 for a 10 am game. The teams were milling about, parents were filling the stands, and music was blaring on the PA. I climbed the steps to the press box to get the lineups and when I opened the door, was asked rather brusquely, “Can I help you?” by one of the men in there.

“Um, do you have the lineups yet?”

“Well, no, why do you need them?”

“I’m a reporter. I’m covering the game.”

“Oh, I see.” Long pause. “Well, we don’t have them yet. The umpires aren’t even here yet. You’re kind of early, you know.”

This 15 minutes before first pitch is scheduled.

“OK, well don’t worry about it. I can get them as the players come to bat.”

I guess they’re not used to newspapers covering games played at this field and then surprised when a reporter shows up a few minutes before the game starts so we can get lineups, grab a seat, etc. I was glad I had put sunscreen on because I clearly wasn’t welcome to sit by the guys running the official scorebook. I’ll admit I laughed a little when, 30 seconds later, the umpires walked to home plate and summoned the coaches over to exchange lineup cards. I was soooo early!

I knew from watching warmups that GCA might be in some trouble. It’s not that the team they were playing was great – they weren’t ranked and hadn’t even received votes in the most recent state poll – but rather that GCA was kicking the ball all over the place in infield practice. They went quietly, 1-2-3, in the top of the first and when the pitcher climbed the mound, even his easy warmup tosses were sailing over the catcher’s head.

He didn’t do terribly. He only gave up four runs in the first and one in the second. And then the wheels fell off…

Fifteen batters went to the plate in the third. Four of those batters got hits. Two were hit by pitches. Six were walked. There were three stolen bases. One error. Four wild pitches. Eleven runs scored for the inning. Mercy rule here we come!

The next inning and a half crawled by until we reached the magic 4.5 inning mark when the game ended 16-0.

Normally when I cover a team, I can read previous stories to get some context, develop some questions to ask, etc. In this case I had nothing to work with, so I kind of dreaded talking to the coach. I was put at ease, though, when I saw him speak to his players after the game. Despite getting crushed, they all laughed and smiled and held their heads high.

When I spoke with him, he was great. I focused on the importance of reaching the sectional final, what the first year of baseball meant for the school, etc. I learned that most of the players on the team hadn’t played baseball in 3-4 years. Another, one of two seniors on the team, hadn’t played in eight years. He was one of the leading scorers in the state in basketball last season and is likely headed to a smaller D1 school to hoop next year. He just came out to support the younger guys who were playing. Cool stuff.

The hardest part of writing about a blowout is finding things to write about that don’t have to do with the result. Here I had some interesting stories and good quotes and was able to turn it into a “the future is bright” type piece instead of focusing on a 16-run loss. I don’t know if it was a great story, but it was fun to write.

And I got paid to watch baseball on Memorial Day. That’s not bad.

Football is only three months away…

Back In Time

As I mentioned earlier, Friday was field trip day for M. with the bonus of having me tag along as a driver/chaperone. We were going to Conner Prairie, one of those old time re-creation towns that is on the site of one of the first white settlements in Central Indiana. It’s also five minutes from our house and I had never been there in almost nine years living here. Hey, we’ve been busy!

I was dreading the trip a little, mostly because I imagined a carload of screaming first-graders making the drive to-and-from Conner Prairie a nightmare. There were enough parents, though, that only one of M.’s classmates rode with us, and she is a friend who has been to our house before and knows me, so there was no uncomfortable, shy quiet from her. They giggled and sang the whole way there.

We had over three hours to explore the site. There’s a lot to see, but on a day when the temperature was well into the 90s, that was a long time. We were free to go wherever we wanted, so we often joined into groups of 4-6 girls and their chaperones and wandered together. The girls were excited to see the schoolhouse, the hospital, the pottery store, and the hotel. The telegraph station was a big hit. Any time we came across a horse or cow there were squeals of delight. The baby animals in the barn were a huge hit, although the extremely pregnant mama sheep was kind of gross with her misshapen belly.

One girl in the group tried to get her picture taken with a rooster. He responded by pecking her leg and drawing blood. A mom who was close to the incident said, “Those roosters do NOT like having their pictures taken!” Indeed.

I enjoyed the Civil War section, although the girls weren’t very interested in my half-assed explanation for why there was a Civil War. Probably for the best, as there was a group of African-American students around us then and the conversation could have been extremely awkward had the girls started asking questions.

Did I mention it was hot? The drinking fountains were very popular. By about 1:15 all the girls were running out of energy and only the 10 minutes scheduled for the playground at the end of the tour kept them going. But even that turned into a bust as a trip to the bathroom kept our group from getting to the playground long enough to play every long. But they weren’t too disappointed to be herded back towards the cars and vans for the trip back to school.

I’ve avoided these school trips for the most part, always having the excuse of a baby or younger sister at home to get me out of them. I’m pretty sure that excuse is disappearing though, and this was the first of many, many volunteer opportunities for me at St. P’s. I hope they all go as smoothly as this one did.

Tourney Time

We’ve reached the manic, two-week period of spring in which all the high school sports cram their playoffs into the final days of the school year. Which means many chances for me to work. In theory.

This week I grabbed the plum assignment, the 4A softball sectional in which four of our teams were playing. Wednesday I was to cover both semifinals, including the #2 ranked team in the state (CG, one of our schools) and then the championship game on Thursday. The plan was for me to write a lengthy story for Friday’s paper not about just the final, but also CG’s quest for another state championship.

And then they went out and got beat Wednesday. Whoops. In the other semifinal, the team I was covering, FCHS, had a two-run lead going into the 7th and promptly gave up seven runs to lose. So I went from writing the feature story for the Friday sports page to losing my assignment for tonight since we had no teams in the final.

That disappointment aside, it was an entertaining night at the park on Wednesday. CG is a wonderfully balanced team that has great pitching, perhaps the best defense in the state, and a terrific offensive attack that features lots of speed and gap hitters. They were limited to a single run on five hits Wednesday, by far their lows for the season. The starting pitcher, who was 18-0 coming in, had a rough night, but still gave up just three runs. Most nights that’s enough for CG to win. CG was the host team, so there was a nervousness in the air as the innings passed and they were unable to score.

It’s not like they lost to a bad team. The winner is ranked #20 in the state, but CG had beat them 18-6 earlier this season. A big upset no matter how you look at it.

In the nightcap FCHS took on the #15 team in the state, NP. NP scored two runs in the first and left the bases loaded. It was looking like a quick game that would be run-ruled after 5. But FCHS pushed a run across in their half of the first, held NP through the next two, then took the lead in the bottom of the third. The teams went back-and-forth through the sixth, when NP scored two in the top of the inning and FCHS three in the bottom to take a 7-5 lead into the final frame. Which is when the roof caved in.

The top of the seventh began around 9:00. My deadline for writing about two games was at 10:15. That half inning took 25 minutes. Fortunately FCHS went quickly in the bottom of the inning and I ran out to my car without doing any interviews to crank out the story. I submitted at 10:14. It’s been a long time since I’ve cut it that close.

Adding insult to injury, the two non-4A schools we cover both lost Wednesday as well. So we went from having a state title contender in 4A and a top 10 team in 1A to nobody left playing in about four hours.

Baseball sectionals began last night, too, and there’s a chance I’ll cover a game on Memorial Day. But the way things have gone this week, I’m not going to count on it.

The Original, And Best, Disco Diva

I wanted to write something about the passing of Donna Summer. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized her music never really qualified as “mine.” Sure, I heard her songs a million times growing up, but her peak – 1976-79 – came before I was reposnible for the music that I listened to. I heard tons of Donna Summer songs because I had young parents who listened to pop music, especially disco.

So while her passing is sad, I feel like my mom, who would have been 60, would have reacted more strongly. Perhaps a little like I responded to Adam Yauch’s death two weeks ago.

He’s not my mom’s age, but Joe Posnanski is a couple years older than me, and thus fell into Donna’s era more directly. Of course he wrote a brilliant piece about her death and his childhood. Go read it.

More than anything, I listened to Last Dance. I don’t remember hearing that song as a child … I mean, I know heard it many, many times because I still know all the words but I don’t remember any specific time I heard it. I connect no particular moment to it (even though I know it was on the Freaky Friday soundtrack). But there is something I connect to it, a time, a vague, indeterminate feeling. I didn’t ask to be a child of disco. I didn’t not ask to grow up in an AM radio time and place where Elton John lip synching on American Bandstand felt like the cutting edge of music. I didn’t choose to hear Last Dance again and again and again rather than, say, Darkness of the Edge of Town or Elvis Costello or The Clash or whoever might have been cooler.

Also, rest in peace Robin Gibb.

Brush With Greatness

I have a few friends who are masters of the random celebrity encounter. They have no problem either approaching or breaking the ice with a famous person and have many stories about running into Quincy Jones, Milton Berle, Dave Matthews, or Lawrence Taylor, to name a few.

On the other hand, in those rare situations when I see a celebrity, I tend to sneak glances, elbowing and whispering to the people next to me, and keep my distance. So while I’ve seen plenty of celebrities, I don’t have any good stories about running into one and having a conversation.

That’s still mostly true, but I came closer than I’ve ever come to breaking that string on Saturday.

One of S’s cousins got married downtown Saturday. After the ceremony we headed to the Hilton to meet up with some other family members to pass the time before the reception. On the way there I joked with S. that we might see LeBron James, since the Heat were in town for their series with the Pacers.

We hung in the lobby for a few minutes then I left to find a restroom. A few minutes later my sister-in-law’s boyfriend popped into the restroom and said, “The Heat are out here!” I briskly walked back to the lobby. There were a couple tall guys in Heat workout gear heading to the elevators, but none of them were guys I recognized. I looked back towards the entrance and saw a very tall man with enormouse ears. Any basketball fan my age would immediately recognize him as Juwan Howard, who I forgot was even still playing.

At least I saw one player I knew, I thought. Shame I didn’t see LeBron or D-Wade or Mario Chalmers.

We made our way down to the bar and once seated, I noticed Erik Spoelstra, the Heat coach, standing at a booth a few feet away. I looked around on the off-chance some players were hanging around too, but didn’t see any. I pointed Spoelstra out to everyone in our group and explained who he was, how long he had been the coach, etc.

I had a voice mail to check so I walked back out to the lobby. I stepped through the bar door and two feet away from me there’s LeBron and some other players! I already had my phone to my ear, so I tried to be casual and not let my eyes bug out or act like I was calling people I knew to say, “I’m standing by LeBron!”

About 12 feet away, at the other main entrance door, I saw another player quietly walk in alone. He was wearing a hoodie pulled over his head, but I caught a glimpse of his face and had to do something I’d never done before.

“MARIO!” He turned and looked my way.
“ROCK CHALK!” and I held out a fist.

He pointed his fist at me, said “Rock Chalk,” back and continued down the hall. It was Mario Chalmers, the man responsible for the greatest moment in the history of basketball and probably all sports ever!

I had suddenly become a giddy 12-year-old, excited to have a brief encounter with someone I’ve watched on TV for years.1

A few minutes later Dwyane Wade arrived and took a quick picture with some people who had been waiting for him. I kicked myself for not being ready to grab Mario for a picture.

Eventually Spoelsra left the bar and the man he had been talking to finally slid out of the booth. It was legendary coach Pat Riley. As he walked by I gave him a slight nod, which I don’t know if he even saw. My father-in-law, though, who has no shyness or qualms about approaching people, slid over and asked him how long he had been in Miami. “Seventeen years,” was his terse response.

And then the excitement was over. I thought I saw a couple people at the bar who might have been covering the series for national media outlets, but no big names; just random reporters who I’ve seen at some point over the years but couldn’t remember their names.

A pretty fun way to waste the two hours between the wedding and the reception!

  1. The people who received my many texts Saturday afternoon can vouch for this. 

The Big Six Year Old

Mid-May is always a big time for C.. Most years her birthday falls right around the end of her school year, which turns our already exciteable daughter into an extra-charged bndle of energy.

That’s really the case this week. She turns six today. Tomorrow she “graduates” from kindergarten.1 Following graduation is St. E’s annual year-end bicycle parade. It’s all about C. this week.

In addition to the normal birthday night dinner, we always let our girls choose a dinner out the week of their birthday. C. has simple culinary tastes and selected Steak & Shake for her night out. We had a lovely meal there Wednesday night topped off by obligatory shakes after (C. went with the Strawberry-Banana special).

C. has come a long way this year. She was not super excited about having homework each night, something new to her kindergarten class. Last fall there were some tense nights as we tried to get our most energetic and least focused daughter to calm down and get through her work. Eventually she got better, though, and for the last month or so she’s not only been excited about homework, but often wants to knock out a couple nights’ worth of work in a single night.

She’s making progress reading and able to tackle simple books with just a little help. Her printing needs some work, but we are finding little notes all over the house with backwards letters and phonetic guesses at words. Sometimes they look like secret codes or some ancient language from which our alphabet evolved.

As good as this year has been for her academically, in some ways it’s been a struggle in terms of her behavior. She’s still our most emotional child, and has a hard time not overreacting to things. We’re trying to help her, but it’s tough on everyone and we admit we don’t always handle her meltdowns in the best fashion.

Her class of 12 had only one other girl in it, and she’s picked up a lot of boy behavior. That fits her; we often call her the girliest tomboy ever. But there’s some weirdness to her speech and humor that you can tell comes from being around so many boys. At her class’ Mother’s Tea earlier this month, one of the other moms told S. that her son told her that C. wasn’t like the most girls. “She’s fun!”2 She’s right in there in all the boys’ games holding her own.

Yet for all that boyish weirdness, she still wears dresses almost every day, fixes her hair, gets into the makeup, wants her nails painted, plays with her dolls and does all the other girly-girl stuff. She’s an enigma, a study in contrasts, a walking, talking wild mood swing.

Last year on her birthday I wrote that C. was our “most” daughter. That’s still true. Neither of her sisters makes me laugh more than C.. Neither of them pushes me as much as C.. Neither of them is as loving as C.. Neither of them is as fearless as C..

  1. I’m not knocking kindergarten graduations. Rather, I put it in quotes because, as her big sister did, C. will go through kindergarten again next year at St. P’s. 
  2. Things I do not want to hear in ten years for $500, Alex. 

R’s – Righting The Ship

A sweep in Texas! Let the long beleagured Royals Nation rejoice!1 Because winning two road games against the best team in baseball in May always means good things for the rest of the season, right?

Sarcasm aside, the brief Texas series was fun, and came at a great time following the news that Danny Duffy is the latest Royals pitcher to rip his elbow apart. Bruce Chen was fantastic Monday night while Vin Mazzaro was decent and Tim Collins absolutely filthy Tuesday. Jarrod Dyson is getting on base a lot, and scoring when he does. Mike Moustakas is ripping the ball. Francouer might be coming alive, Escobar got some big hits, and Hosmer finally got a couple to drop in.

The Texas sweep, combined with winning two-of-three in Chicago over the weekend, doesn’t wipe out the 12-game losing streak of April. But it does remind us of how fickle baseball is. If the Royals had just gone .500 during that losing streak, today they’d be 21-14 and in first place in the AL Central. This still isn’t a first place club, not with a rotation that features two replacements for starters on the DL and Luke Hochevar taking up another slot. This mini-hot streak, though, has put some life back into the season, which the team, and fans, sorely needed.

Horrible news on Duffy. The good news is he’s still young, most pitchers come back just fine from Tommy John surgery, and if he has to miss a year, it might as well be now before the contention window opens. And let’s be honest: most Royals fans figured he, Mike Montgomery, Jake Odorrizi, etc. would end up blowing an elbow or shoulder eventually. Such is life as a Royals fan.

Speaking of Odorrizi, he and the amazing Wil Myers were called up to Omaha today. With the injuries and inconsistency that plagues the big league rotation, Odorrizi just might be in KC before the season is over. And it’s great seeing Myers reclaim his spot as one of the best hitting prospects in the game. It’s not completely ridiculous to imagine a lineup with him, Moose, Hos, Gordon, Butler, and Perez filling six of the nine lineup spots next year.

And I must give props: Chris Getz has not been completely horrible this year. It’s early and I’m not climbing on any bandwagons or anything. I’ve lobbied hard for Getz to be run out of town, so it’s only fair I credit him with getting some nice hits in key situations.

  1. I hate the phrase “X” Nation, where X refers to a team, city, school, etc. Yet I used it. 

iPad Vs. Macbook: The Verdict

I’ve been (almost) exclusively on the iPad + keyboard combo for nearly two weeks now. How’s it going? I’m glad you asked.

A couple years back, in the midst of the nine or ten month netbook craze, I picked up a cheap MSI netbook. I tried to use it for work, but it was just too damn small. The keyboard was cramped and applications written for screens that were at least 12″ were nightmares to use on the 9″ screen. The screen was dim and, despite its size, was also heavier than the keyboard and was prone to tipping over. After a few months of struggling with its limitations, I sold it and went back to using a full-sized laptop.

That experience was in the back of my mind as I began this experiment. Sure, the iPad can do a lot of great things, but would its limitations prevent me from using it full-time?

At least so far, the answer is no. And I believe the big difference is how iOS applications are built to take advantage of the device’s screen.

On the netbook, there was never enough real estate. I was always squinting, struggling to resize windows so I could get all the information I needed. And while I feel I’m pretty adaptive to different keyboards, the keys on it were so crowded and so small that I could never get comfortable with it. Perhaps that’s the key word in what I was looking for: comfort. Can I see what I need to see? Can my fingers do what comes naturally on a keyboard or are they getting tied up and slowing me down?

On the iPad vision isn’t a problem. Text is bigger, bolder, and brighter than on the netbook. Applications are designed to fill every pixel of screen space, and thus are perfectly proportioned for easy readability. The keyboard on my Zaggfolio isn’t full-sized, but it is big enough that my fingers have room to move. Unlike the netbook, there is space between the keys, so even if you don’t hit a key squarely, you still have a margin for error.

For fun stuff, there are plenty of ways to get things done on the iPad. My concern was could I do the tasks necessary to file a story.
As with the Mac, I’m a bit of a text editor whore on the iPad. I have a folder full of text apps, and honestly, I don’t have a favorite yet. Some are better for when I write for the blog, in which I use a language called Markdown. Others are better for writing that doesn’t need to be converted to HTML, and I’ll probably use those more when I use the iPad for work. Depending on how you look at it, that’s either a blessing or a curse. I have many options for different needs. But there also isn’t one, go-to app that does everything I want. But for $1-5 an app, it doesn’t break the bank to experiment.

It’s taken some work, but I’ve moved the spreadsheets I used for stats on the Mac over to Numbers for iOS. This is where we run into the one area I’m concerned about when it comes time to cover an event on the iPad. On the Mac, I can tile windows, having a spreadsheet underneath two text windows while I put together my box score and story. That’s not possible in iOS. It’s going to take some adjustment to get used to that, and I imagine there will come a night when I’m pushing deadline and get frustrated by constantly having to switch between applications.

Which brings up the iPad’s biggest shortcoming. While iOS supports ‘multitasking’, it does so in a clunky manner that can best be described as quasi-multitasking. Or half-assed multitasking, maybe. Other mobile operating systems have come up with better ways to flip between apps you’re using, so I can hope that the engineers at Apple are working on something for the next major release of iOS. I can work with the current method but I would love something that was faster, easier, and more intuitive. Adding support for the Command-Tab shortcut from the Mac OS would be ideal.

Another area where iOS needs work is on how it supports external keyboards. It’s great that you can connet to any Bluetooth keyboard and get to work. But not all the shortcuts from the Mac OS will work in iOS. For someone like me that uses a lot of shortcuts, that slows me down as I hunt for the manual way to recreate what I used to do with a couple keystrokes. I would expect that keyboard support will get more robust as iOS evolves, but I also imagine some things that we’re used to on a Mac will never work on iOS.

That’s the great lesson from all of this. Any time you switch computer devices, you’re going to have to make adjustments. Whether you’re switching from a desktop to laptop, Vista to Windows 7, PC to Mac, etc., you’re going to have to learn some new tricks. That’s even more pronounced on the iPad. It will take patience and a lot of trial-and-error to get a new system that you are comfortable with.

For my needs, the iPad works as a MacBook replacement. I can still store gigabytes of data on the family computer and just take what is essential on my iPad. I can create text files, post to my blog, peruse newsfeeds, read and respond to email, and browse the web as I’ve done on the Mac for years. Adding an external keyboard makes all of this so much easier, adding some of the utility of a traditional laptop. While I have run into some difficulties, none of them have prevented me from doing what I want and need to do. And I’ve tried to remind myself that there are trade-offs in this experiment. I’m giving up some functions I was used to but gaining things like extreme portability, insane battery life, lower replacement cost, and a whole new area of use.

After several weeks of use I’m comfortable having only an iPad for my main computing device. Friday night I covered a softball game and had no trouble filing my story afterwards. I hope the process is as smooth in the fall when I go back to using my spreadsheets to build football box scores.

I even had a reverse confusion moment when helping my wife on her MacBook. I was trying to launch an application, and rather than use the trackpad to click on the app’s icon, I reached up and tapped the screen. I did it three times before I realized why it wasn’t responding. It seems as though the muscle memory changes are sticking.

The next time you are in the market for a computer, I can recommend the iPad to just about anyone who doesn’t have to do intense photo editing, design, or video editing. Park your old computer on a desk with an external hard drive to hold all your music, movies, and pictures and then turn it over to the kids for hours of Monkeyquest and Club Penguin fun. Get yourself an iPad and an external keyboard and you’ll never look back.

Convenient Historical Perspectives

Tuesday was primary election day in Indiana. The state continued its shift to the far right, selecting several candidates for the general election who have narrow views of both US history and how our nation should be governed going forward.

I’m fascinated by how many politicians run around saying that they want to return our government to the ideals that the Founding Fathers had in mind. Why are so many voters so dumb as to believe the Founders had a monolithic view of government? There were a shitload of Founders, and they didn’t all agree on everything. The constitutional process was contentious and many of those involved in creating our government left with bad feelings about the final result. Yet to hear some folks today, the Founders were all on the same page and their 18th Century view of the world is unquestionably the best way to govern in the 21st Century.

Tuesday, long-time Indiana senator Dick Lugar was trounced in the Republican primary by a candidate who toes the Tea Party line and has said he will refuse to ever compromise with senators who hold differing views. The nominee, Richard Mourdock, said that Lugar – a genuinely decent man who spent his entire career carving out a place in the Senate where all views were aired and respected even if eventually voted against – and his style are to blame for all that ills America. So the “constitutionalist” is saying that a man who represented Indiana in a manner that most Founding Fathers would likely approve of, regardless of their ideology, is the one who has caused the problems while narrow-minded, obstructionists like Mourdock are the ones who will cure what ails our country.

Our country is in trouble because members of both parties, in all branches of government, have refused to make tough choices and ask America to make sacrifices for generations. Republicans see spending cuts/tax reductions as the only way to get the economy back on track, and are intent on gutting every part of government except for Defense. Democrats have pushed forward new spending programs while refusing to take honest, long-overdue assessments of existing programs that could result in significant changes in benefits and budget savings.

To get this nation back on track, it will not take conservative or liberal policies, or even some wishy-washy centrist solution. It will take members of both parties, in all offices, talking honestly and openly about what things we need to change to move forward. There will be new taxes, whether the Republicans like it or not. There will be fundamental changes to the old school entitlement programs, whether Democrats like it or not. And to get there without completely wrecking the economy in the process, it will take open-minded, contentious debate, not digging their heels in and refusing to move away from narrow views. Politicians must take political risks and actually be honest with Americans for a change, instead of blaming the other side and insisting that their plan is the only way to fix things. And we’re all going to have to give something up. Wall Street and Main Street. The 1% and the 99%. Majority and minorities. Cities, suburbs, and farms.

Richard Mourdock is right that fixing our country will involve honoring what the Founding Fathers did when they built the foundations for our government. Where he’s wrong, though, is in his imagined belief that the Founders were a singular entity with one view of the world and how government should work. He’s forgetting that the Founders were many, had different perspectives, and believed in the power of debate and compromise. The “miracle” of American government that has allowed this nation to survive civil and global war, economic catastrophe, and political turmoil, is their compromises to ensure that all segments of the country were represented in government. Something the Tea Partiers seem to forget.


We spent most of Friday preparing for a couple social engagements, so I wasn’t able to write anything immediately after learning about the passing of Adam “MCA” Yauch. Here are some semi-related thoughts.

Since I didn’t know MCA, I can’t really write about him as an individual. Rather, I must write about him as one of the Beastie Boys. It’s impossible to determine with exact certainty what the Beastie Boys’ full impact on music was. Were they the most important hip-hop group ever? Second? Fifth? Who knows. I think the best way of characterizing their contribution is that they kicked the door that RUN-DMC had opened off its hinges. LL Cool J, Public Enemy, Eric B & Rakim, and countless other artists of the late 80s may have still had mainstream success. But without the Beasties forcing hip-hop into the mainstream, who knows how long it would have taken hip-hop to ascend from a niche loved only in New York.

Every white rapper/rap group has to answer questions of authenticity. The black music community, seeing rock & roll taken from them a generation earlier, were fiercely protective of hip-hop. The only white MC’s who didn’t have to answer those questions were the Beastie Boys. Part of it was because they were goofy, didn’t pretend to be “black”, and were viewed at first as gimmick artists. They were operating in an area where no black artist was working, thus they weren’t perceived as a threat. It also helped that they were on Def Jam, the biggest label in the game in the late 80s. But a big part of it is that they were always authentic to themselves, rather than trying to portray themselves as products of the black community. Because they were always carving out a path that was uniquely theirs, the critics, the protectors of hip-hop, the other artists never questioned the Beasties’ motives.

The Beastie Boys were a remarkable group. They recorded music for 30 years. While their introduction to the world was as foul-mouthed, drunken hooligans, they quickly reinvented themselves and created some of the most amazing collages of sound ever heard. They operated on their own terms, breaking from Def Jam and taking control of their releases when other bands would have happily ridden the hype wagon. They took breaks when they wanted. They zigged to computer-built sound collages then zagged to playing their own instruments. They made remarkable videos when investing them with time, money, humor, and artistic value was rare. There were never rumors that they were on the verge of breaking up. They not only respected those around them, but also seemed to always respect each other.

The most sobering thing about MCA’s death are the conditions of it. He didn’t die in a car or plane accident (Buddy Holly). He didn’t OD or drink himself to death (Shannon Hoon). He didn’t go for a swim and never come back (Jeff Buckley). He neither took his own life nor was the victim of a shooting (Kurt Cobain, Biggie, Tupac). He got cancer and died, like thousands of other people each day. His passing is a reminder to our generation that we’re all getting older, and such demises are no longer unexpected or shocking.

The Beastie Boys were an important part of my youth. I was interested in hip-hop but reluctant to explore it too deeply until they came along. Just as they were becoming the biggest thing in music, we moved halfway across the country. Knowing all the lyrics to Licensed to Ill helped me find my footing in a school that was much more diverse and accepting of hip-hop than where I came from. It’s amazing the group continued as long as it did. They made two epic albums, and a collection of unforgettable songs. MCA was the political and spiritual center of the band. He played a huge role in carving out their visual image. My generation, and music, is better for his efforts.

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