Ugly American: In Memory of MCA of The Beastie Boys: A True Story

Licensed to Ill by the Beastie Boys

UGLY AMERICAN: IN MEMORY OF MCA OF THE BEASTIE BOYS

A TRUE STORY

A memory inspired by the passing of MCA.

True Story: I once pissed off every one of my French neighbors in an apartment complex.

A year after it was released, I discovered Licensed To Ill. In the summer of 1987, I was fourteen years old and an American abroad. My family had moved to the suburbs of Paris, France a year prior. I had survived seventh and eighth grade but ninth grade loomed on the horizon that summer. I was nervous about navigating another culture where my ability to speak the language did not match my comprehension, a comprehension founded on French classes at my school and watching reruns of a dubbed version of The A-Team. Stuck in the awkward teenage phase, I avoided dressing like a tourist, of being judged yet another ugly American.

You would see them on the subway sporting fanny packs, shorts, and white sneakers, with a camera and a guidebook. But really, you heard them before you saw them. They were loud. They made direct eye-contact. They broke the rules. Trying to adapt to this new culture, my friends and I stood as far away as possible. We’d turn our jean-jacketed backs to them. We made it very clear: we were most definitely NOT TOURISTS.

I feel it is necessary to point out that there was no Internet back then. (Tragic, I know.) French Radio left much to be desired, since I had zero desire to sing about some taxi driver named Joe. My only option was to buy cassettes on a monthly trip to an American military base in Belgium. But what great luck that I chose this album based on the cover art of a fighter jet because the Beastie Boys’ music blew the top of my head off!

Thanks to MCA, Ad-Rock, and Mike D, I embraced my true inner ugly American. After rewinding seconds of tape over and over until I had sussed out all the words to “She’s Crafty”, I made the leap. I threw open the windows to my bedroom and blasted “Fight For Your Right” out into the apartment complex, as loud as my boombox would play, subjecting all of my French neighbors to some radical American rap. The Beastie Boys were so rad. Like totally raaad. And all five multi-story apartment buildings heard the entire album.

Today, while the world mourns the passing of MCA, an incredibly talented rapper, I remember him in my own way. I remember him in that moment when I threw open the windows to the same world, a strange world, and owned my American culture.

Because it was time for me to “Drrrrr-op!”

R.I.P. MCA.

*****

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