In the past week, the music world reacted to the sad news of Beastie Boy Adam Yauch’s death – the cancer that he had suffered from for two years finally overwhelming him. Better known as MCA, Yauch was one third of the rap group who, after initially being dismissed as a novelty band, quickly gained acceptance, before a run of groundbreaking material established them as hugely influential legends of the genre.
In that context, Yauch distinguished himself not just as an MC, but as the Beasties’ style manager – directing several of their videos under the pseudonym Nathanial Hörnblowér. His role as an artist who could fully integrate with his bandmates to produce the often complex collages that made up their songs, while specialising as the mastermind of their visual presentation, made him an indispensable member of the band. His filmmaking activities even led him to become a company founder, of independent production outfit Oscilloscope Laboratories. Yauch was the best of both worlds: a collaborator and a master of his own arena.
Three-piece groups, in particular, seem to have a special chemistry and dependence on one another, with each member being crucial to the successful operation of the business. Perhaps it stems from the early days: many bands start off with just three members mainly because of financial restraints. Being able to tour in one vehicle and use just one hotel room is both economical and crucial to forming strong bonds. Plus, there are no hangers-on – each member has to bring maximum effort to the party to flesh out the sound.
Four-piece the Stone Roses have also hit the headlines this week for personnel reasons, with news that drummer Reni may not be well enough to drum for the band during its upcoming reunion tour. Again, each member is crucial to the band’s sound and image, with Reni responsible for trend-setting the iconic hats that many of their fans will no doubt be wearing come gig time. The sticking point is that the Roses may carry out their tour with or without Reni – but it will surely not quite be the same if he declines his seat at the kit.
The initial line-up of a band always carries with it a special and unique energy that is rarely surpassed by later incarnations (though there are exceptions). Smart musicians know this, and ensure that group harmony is promoted above all else. Even though Chris Martin does the bulk of Coldplay’s songwriting, the band splits its publishing money four ways, sharing the proceeds of success equally and stopping jealousy and feuding in their tracks.
Carrying on after illness or death is possible: REM continued for many years after Bill Berry’s departure in the wake of – although not as successfully – and, while the Red Hot Chili Peppers has always had a revolving cast list on the guitars front, John Frusciante was allowed to rejoin the band in 1998 after a six-year break to work through problems with substance abuse (however, he left again in 2009). But on the basis of MCA’s crucial position in the band, it is hard to see how the Beasties will continue. If they choose not to, we should celebrate the legacy that Yauch leaves behind – and perhaps give the indispensable team members in our own working lives the recognition they deserve.
Image of MCA courtesy of Fabbio on Flickr