Adam Yauch, best known as “MCA” of rap pioneers Beastie Boys, was a major figure not only in popular music, but also in the city of New York, specifically the borough of Brooklyn where he grew up.
On Friday (May 3), the city of New York will recognize both Yauch’s legacy and his connection to Brooklyn by renaming Palmetto Playground on State Street, the street on which Yauch grew up in Brooklyn Heights, the Adam Yauch Playground. It was this playground, which has recently been restored, that Yauch learned to ride a bike and played basketball in when he was young. His family still resides in the area.
The dedication ceremony will take place Friday at 11 a.m. with fellow Beastie Boy Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz, Yauch’s parents and Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz expected to be in attendance. The Adam Yauch Playground unveiling comes one day before “MCA Day,” a free event at Brooklyn venue Littlefield to be held Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. (Last year’s MCA Day took place several weeks after Yauch’s death, in NYC’s Union Square, with Ad-Rock in attendance.)
The push to honor Yauch dates back a year ago, around his death on May 4, 2012, following a battle with throat cancer, says New York City Council member Stephen Levin, who represents the city’s 33rd District where the park is located.
“Not long after the passing of Mr. Yauch, there began to be a movement within the community to properly recognize his contributions to Brooklyn Heights and to the city as a whole,” Levin told Radio.com.
Initially, Squibb Park, now an access point to Brooklyn Bridge Park, was considered but the park was already named for Dr. Edward Robinson Squibb, the founder of Squibb Pharmaceuticals that later became part of Bristol-Myers Squibb. So as to not upset the family of Dr. Squibb, who established his first laboratory nearby, a different park was considered. The search zeroed in on Palmetto Playground.
“So we started to explore other options and this wonderful playground that’s on the street Adam grew up on, Palmetto, that idea kind of came to the forefront,” Levin said.
The park, located in the southwest tip of Brooklyn Heights, was a choice option not just because of its proximity to Yauch’s childhood home.
“That name, Palmetto, is not tied to any historical relatives to the playground itself; it’s a reference to the state of South Carolina [the Palmetto State],” Levin said. “It was something developed by former Parks Commissioner Henry Stern back in the ’90s where there were various aspects of Brooklyn Heights that correlated to the state of South Carolina.”
Once the location was chosen, it was all “smooth sailing,” says Levin, who added that there was immediate support from the New York City Parks Department and from the Brooklyn Heights community.
The decision to rename that particular playground might have been easy, but the decision to honor MCA with such a tribute was even easier.
“There’s no question that he represents in so many ways Brooklyn and New York, certainly for the generation I grew up in and others,” New York State Senator Daniel Squadron, who represents the area, told Radio.com. “The renaming of a playground that hopefully generations who really understand the feel and the importance that Yauch communicated to a wide audience, to the city and beyond, is really important.”
Sen. Squadron, a lifelong Beastie Boys fan, introduced a resolution last year honoring Yauch on the Senate floor. In the remembrance, Squadron’s resolution noted that the “Beastie Boys exemplified New York through a period in which grassroots creativity and a community of iconoclastic artists helped redefine and rejuvenate a city on the ropes, with iconic imagery from Brooklyn to Ludlow Street.”
The senator continues to have nothing but admiration for MCA and the Beasties’ work. “New York was coming off a really tough time,” he said of the time around which the group began gaining major popularity. “You really felt like they were talking to you.”
Like Councilmember Levin, Sen. Squadron recalls community support for honoring Yauch from the beginning. In particular, he recounted a run-in with a community member at a Brooklyn Heights street fair last year.
“He said, ‘Thank you for what you said about MCA. I’ve been from this neighborhood for a long time, and the fact that what the Beastie Boys stood for was acknowledged in that form meant something,’” Squadron said. “I think what was interesting about that was the extent to which in the neighborhood and in the city, even today, there’s something really personal about folks’ connection to his legacy and to the Beastie Boys.”
So is renaming a playground on which Yauch played as a child after the rapper a worthy tribute? According to Sen. Squadron, the real tribute is the band’s music.
“I think the best tribute is the music, the legacy, the way in which they really talked about a time in New York City that’s passed, because that legacy is so powerful and so meaningful,” he said. “I think everything else is an acknowledgment of that legacy.”
“We wanted to make sure there was a way to properly honor Adam,” Levin said. “I grew up a Beastie Boys fan, brother’s a Beastie Boys fan and their music meant a lot to me growing up and to a lot of people growing up. And it’s still relevant today; he did a lot of great work raising awareness for what’s going on in Tibet and really got that issue front and center in the 1990s and it remains front and center today. We as a country and as a city owe him a great debt of gratitude.”
Levin continued: “The Beastie Boys’ music is really a part of the fabric of our city and has really helped to define who we are as scrappy, tough, funny, witty, clever, smart and soulful. That’s a lot of who we are as a city and a lot of who we are as a borough in Brooklyn, and we wanted to honor that. We wanted to honor that contribution.”
– Kevin Rutherford, Radio.com