Bill McMullen Remembers Beastie Boy Adam Yauch – Looking for that Perfect Beat
Here’s a personal and sentimental remembrance by Bill McMullen, a long time and very good friend of Adam Yauch aka MCA of the Beastie Boys. McMullen was very close with the Beastie Boys and is largely responsible for their visual identity having designed many of their album covers (seen in the gallery above.) Scroll down to read what Bill McMullen wrote in memory of his friend:
It was a tough day, hearing about Adam Yauch’s passing. I feel very lucky to have known him, having met him through Cey Adams, my boss at the time, back in 1996. It was a dream come true for a Beastie Boys fan like myself – move to NYC, meet the band that had influenced me so much, and get to work on graphics for them. I spent a lot of time in their world, and in particular, working with Yauch. It was Yauch who christened me with the nickname ‘Billions McMillions’.
But I’m not writing to tell you about that. I’m writing to tell you about something I learned from Yauch one night, and I hope it resonates with some of the many creative individuals that read 12oz Prophet and happen to read this. Something Yauch gave me insight into that I try to remember every time I work on something creative.
It was fairly recently, back in 2008, during the recording of Hot Sauce Committee, Part I, which evolved into the album that eventually came out in 2011, Hot Sauce Committee, Part II. Yauch called and invited me to join him to see a screening of ‘TYSON’, the documentary film about boxer Mike Tyson. Iron Mike himself was going to be there, and the director, James Toback, was going to host a discussion afterward. We arrived a little early, sat near the front, and caught up. The band was deep in the songwriting/recording phase of that album. Yauch had his iPod with him – a second or third generation model he had owned for years, and one which he carried around during these periods, to listen to the band’s work-in-progress songs as he wandered around NYC or drove in his car.
He asked if I wanted to hear some of the new material. Of course I did. And no, I didn’t act very cool, geeking out knowing these songs had probably been recorded earlier in the week, maybe even earlier that day. As I donned the large, closed-ear headphones and Yauch guardedly picked a song with the iPod’s dial, Ice-T wandered in and sat in the row ahead of us, a few seats to the left. Yauch said “hello” and the two of them started talking, but I couldn’t hear them as I was immersed in some raw mixes of some very early versions of Beastie Boys songs.
Three songs played – a rough mix of the track ‘Too Many Rappers’ with Nas, two others which I don’t recall, and then the iPod went silent. I pulled off the headphones and turned to Adam, who immediately asked “Well?”
I answered “Those are sounding great!” or something like that, and then I mentioned the beat on the final track that I had heard.
His eyes widened a bit and went straight to the iPod, and he said “What? Is that on there? Oh… Wow. I didn’t want to play that…”
“Why? It sounded good! What’s the problem?” I asked.
“Ahhhh, well,” he smiled, “it’s not… done yet. It’s just a little… embarrassing, at the moment.”
And that was the moment I wanted to tell you about.
Something very simple, that Yauch probably forgot about immediately, but nonetheless something that has stuck with me ever since: Even Adam Yauch, one of the coolest, most creative, driven, detail-minded and successful creators that I have ever spent time with, was still not immune to the process, to the unsure pause that most of us feel as we try to create something and it doesn’t land exactly as we want it to. Even Yauch had to fight through the “embarrassing” levels to reach the finished state. It was a revelation to me: Beastie Boys songs didn’t always fly out of their mouths on the first take as the songs we all know. The song wasn’t how he wanted it yet, but that wasn’t going to stop them from working on it until they were happy.
I mean, this gets a big “duh,” right? “Hard work yields good results” is not a mysterious new concept. But my point is that it’s easy to forget that even the heaviest of professionals still go through it. It was an inspiring reminder. Even the most accomplished, those like Yauch, who make it look effortless, also need to polish and refine their ideas sometimes.
I often think back to that moment as I work on a project in its formative stages. I remind myself that the results I’m wanting will require more work, and that I have to avoid the trap of pulling the cake out of the oven before it’s baked just because I can’t visualize the icing yet. To stick with an idea even if it isn’t exactly right on the first attempt. Have you ever revisited old work, and realized it wasn’t as far-off from good as you felt it was when you stopped working on it? That’s the gap we all need to close.
Yeah, I know: it’s obvious, and It’s important to point out that it’s me that put the band on that ‘perfect’ pedestal – Yauch would likely laugh and say “C’maaaan….Of course we don’t get everything right in one try!” if he heard me talk about this. But I wanted to share that moment with you because maybe you’re like me: I don’t often think about the many revisions others do with their work, just as we all do with our own. We often only admire other’s end results, and wonder if we can ever do something as complete in ours.
Thank you, Adam, for the many years of friendship and inspiration, and for the many opportunities you gave me. And especially for allowing me to see that even the best aren’t always finished on the first pass. It’s helped me a lot with following through on my own work.