Adam Yauch, Activism & Fake Mustaches

Five years ago, my husband and I were going through airport security for our first vacation since having kid #2 when my phone started dinging. The news that Adam Yauch had passed away was coming to me in an avalanche of texts and calls, and it absolutely gutted me.

I sobbed as I went through security, as I got on the plane to Mexico, and as the plane took off…My husband suggested that I write something to our friends and the team from the Tibetan Freedom Concerts before we lost internet connectivity at the border. So I wrote a note on my phone with fat fingers and blurry eyes and sent it off at 35,000 feet (see below).

I re-read it today after I was interviewed on the 5th anniversary of his passing. I had referenced it when I said (again) that the Beastie Boys, and especially Yauch, taught me to always have fun — to work hard, to take risks, to help make the world a better place, but that you must have fun while doing it…and maybe even wear a fake mustache or a mullet wig. (Yauch LOVED disguises.)

Yauch during the Sabotage video.

I still get weepy when asked about him and our work together, or when I look at my wedding pictures (he was my maid of honor) — because I realize all of the things that I won’t be able to thank him for…A friend told me that the sadness won’t ever go away. He is probably right, so I am going to try to use it as a reminder to keep on doing the work that we started for nonviolence in the funnest possible ways.

Good thing I live in New Orleans now, where getting a fake mustache and mullet wig is really easy.

From a color slide I took of Yauch in Tibet (1995) after we attended a religious festival that devolved into tsampa-throwing battle. Tsampa is a barely flour and a staple in the Tibetan diet. Throwing it in the air during a festival is a blessing…Throwing it in each other’s faces after the blessing is fun.

Yauch 5/4/12

It is an understatement to say that Adam Yauch changed all of our lives because he changed us so completely — through his music, his activism, and his friendship. Because his presence in our lives was so large, so shall be his absence. And also his legacy.

I find myself now remembering above everything else his tireless work for nonviolence & Tibet, and his amazing sense of humor. Those of us who were fortunate enough to work with him have likely never worked so hard nor laughed so much as we did when we were in his presence.

Yauch also changed what it meant to be an artist-activist. I admit that when I met him, I was skeptical of him and his interest in my work (I was a human rights activist studying & living with Tibetans in Nepal; he was the guy that sang “Fight For Your Right to Party”). But I quickly realized that he was an artist and an activist in the deepest sense of the words.

In the years that followed, he didn’t just produce and perform at our concerts for Tibet. He also went to conferences and organized workshops. He was deeply strategic — most of the time ;-), always passionate, and always welcoming. He believed in our team of inexperienced but determined 20-somethings, and our ability to do the impossible. And with that belief in us and in nonviolence, together we DID do the impossible. And what fun we had while changing the world!!

Yauch’s work for Tibet helped jumpstart and nurture an international youth movement for Tibet and nonviolence. The best example of which can be found in Students for a Free Tibet, our sister organization and partner during all of the Tibetan Freedom Concerts. That this organization and movement is stronger today than when the last Concert ended is a testament to Yauch’s vision, leadership, and belief in young people.

As sad as we all are at his passing, it seems to me that the best way to honor him is to continue his work.

To all of the people who worked on, came to, or were moved by the Tibetan Freedom Concerts, let’s keep up the work that we started there and remember his words:

“i know we can fix it and its not too late

I give respect to King and his nonviolent ways

I dream and i hope and i won’t forget

Someday i’m gonna visit on a free Tibet

Someday I’m gonna see us all joined as one”

…And let’s send lots of love, prayers, and laughter to Dechen, Losel, his parents, Mike, & Adam. We love you all!!

xo, erin