RIP Adam Yauch, Rapper, Basketball Fan, Filmmaker, Good Dude

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There were a great many admirable things about Adam Yauch: how he was good at his job, how resistant he was to complacency, how thoroughly his activism seemed an extension of his ideals and not an idle celebrity affectation. But the one that stands out, in the wake of his too-young passing, was how he grew up. It wasn't just that Yauch was the first and actually only hip-hop personage I can think of to sport gray hair, although there is that.

And while it's impossible to imagine any group of humans existing at a License to Illmaturity level for any extended period of time—Motley Crue, I guess, but then again: "humans"—the way in which the Beasties grew up as artists and humans in their decades in the spotlight was inspiring, even to someone who is far from the world's (or The Classical's) greatest Beasties' fan. All that early commercial success gave them the space in which to make albums at a leisurely pace, but the credit goes to them for the way in which they used that time and space to grow from loutish doofs into grown-ass men who were serious about their goofy, deceptively rigorous art.

Of the three, Yauch always seemed the most curious, and the most mature. The gray hair helped a little bit with that—the gravitas of the aging skate-punk is a weird but real thing—but Yauch kept himself young, at least creatively, by continuing to find new things to learn. This, instead of chasing trends in some sort of futile Maddona-n pursuit—the artistic equivalent of a midlife crisis'ed male buying one convertible after another in an attempt to forestall a retreating hairline—is how Yauch stayed fresh, in all the best and most positive meanings of that word. Because he refused to be bored, and because he seemed so immune to vanity, Yauch let himself become a filmmaker—first making music videos (and continuing to make them) and then cutting together the 2006 Beasties concert film Awesome; I Fuckin' Shot That (which I haven't seen) and finally making the actually very good high school basketball documentary Gunnin' For That Number One Spot in 2008.

Gunnin' is fairly frenetic in the way its shot, which, as Yauch told Salon back in '08, was by design:

I went into it with the idea that I was going to really play around with the footage, and did shoot it intentionally that way—shot with wide-angle lenses in certain positions, shot with over-cranked cameras in certain positions so we’d have slo-mo footage to work with. I was definitely interested to be able to go back and really explore what happened [from different angles] because a lot of times stuff happens in basketball that’s so fast. And the intention was always to really cut to music. Traditionally the way filmmaking is done is an editor and director cut together a scene, and you have your dialogue and an image and then the music is placed on afterward. Because I come from a background of doing music videos, I’m more accustomed to putting down a piece of music and then cutting over it, putting images over it.

It's not a perfect movie by any stretch—there are moments when the open throttle becomes a bit much, and the film might be better off if it had slowed down and just let the (fantastic) basketball happen, although there are also times when Yauch's super-stylized presentation adds real emphasis and effect. For a basketball fan, too, it's a pretty interesting watch today if only given the players that Yauch profiles, who include a poignantly babyfaced Kevin Love; then super-phenom Lance Stephenson, who already seems to be collapsing inward on himself somewhat; and an unbelievably, world-historically rambunctious Michael Beasley.

It's a film made by a real filmmaker with a real idea of what he was doing, and a palpable love of basketball. In this 2008 interview with The Guardian, Yauch discusses his relationship with basketball, which is less intense than you might expect, but also somehow perfect. He talks briefly about the two-on-two games that the Beasties (and keyboardist Money Mark Nishita) played backstage before shows on the hoop the group brought around on tour. He doesn't come off as terribly competitive, or even remotely eager to oversell whatever fortysomething basketball skills he has. The basketball was something he did to keep from getting bored, and so becoming boring; to keep himself engaged and moving. It's not a bad way to live at all.

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Even considering the documentaries, his biggest contribution to film has probably been setting up Oscilloscope Laboratories, which is a truly admirable production/distribution outfit - to wit, they're the ones who put out Kelly Reichardt's Wendy & Lucy and Meek's Cutoff.

Very sad.