MCA Is Dead, or The Genius Of Sabotage

Word went out Friday that Adam Yauch, of the persona “MCA” in the New York-based white hip-hop-rock trio Beastie Boys, had died after a three-year fight with cancer.

As I discussed in detail in this post and again in this one, I came of musical age in the alternative fever swamp of 1994, an incredible time of musical development and variety, both on the radio and on MTV (which at the time was still playing music videos as a primary service offering). The Beastie Boys were a big part of that, bringing the notoriety of hip-hop to the mainstream in a way that was palatable to rebellious suburban white kids who were more interested in pissing off their parents than idolizing gun-toting drug dealers.

I want to draw some attention to one of the iconic videos of that time, the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage.” Directed by Spike Jonze, the video matched the angry punk-funk-rock energy of the song with a campy pastiche of 70’s cop-shop images billed as a show called Sabotage. The band wigged their hair, put on sunglasses and acted out classic scenes of car chases, violent interrogations, disguises and chasing a target into a swimming pool.

A nice touch was the use of fictional fictional characters, where band members didn’t portray the characters directly but actors playing the characters (“Alasandro Alegre as the Chief…Fred Kelly as Bunny.”) MCA played two of them.

One of the funniest bits in the film was the cops stopping for donuts during the song’s tacit break.

The song (along with Sure Shot and Get It Together) was one of the crown jewels of the band’s 1994 album Ill Communication, easily one of the best records of the era. “Sabotage” is notable for exemplifying several key factors of the alternative breakthrough – the allusion to classic popular culture and past musical styles, the carefully-tweaked and intentional eschewing of production values and pedagogy in favor of lo-fi rawness and fusional music, the lack of self-consciousness, and the willingness to push the envelope. They were guys having fun making music, just like my early-teen band was, and it was easy to feed off of their vibe.

Apropos of nothing, the video formed a visual bookend with the summer blockbuster Pulp Fiction which also featured a campy retro kick.

Fifteen years after getting snubbed in five categories at the MTV Video Music Awards, “Sabotage” was the first winner in the new category of “Best Video (That Should Have Won A Moonman).”

RIP MCA. Thanks for the memories.

Now one more time, MCA come and rock the sure shot:



Filed under media, music

3 responses to “MCA Is Dead, or The Genius Of Sabotage

  1. Theophilus

    Great write-up, and good call on the donuts. I do think that BB had their best work behind them, but it’s still seriously sad that MCA is gone.

  2. djholtie

    They were totally snubbed at the music awards! Was there something more to the story?? Sabotage was the perfect song for them to sing at the show!!! def captured the mood at that time!

  3. djholtie,

    Check this out:

    “The video for “Sabotage” was nominated for Video of the Year, Best Group Video, Breakthrough Video, Best Direction in a Video, and Viewer’s Choice at the 1994 MTV Video Music Awards. However, it lost all five categories it was nominated in, losing Video of the Year, Best Group Video and Viewer’s Choice to Aerosmith’s “Cryin'”, and Breakthrough Video and Best Direction in a Video to R.E.M.’s “Everybody Hurts”.

    During R.E.M. lead singer Michael Stipe’s acceptance speech for the Best Direction award, Beastie Boys member MCA bum-rushed the stage in his “Nathaniel Hornblower” disguise, interrupting Stipe to protest the shutout of “Sabotage” from every category it was nominated in.”

    I’m not sure the full use of the term “bum-rushed” was necessary in an allegedly scholarly article, but it was a nice touch. I remember that VMAs but didn’t recall the stage rushing.

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