Tucked away in a quiet corner of Brooklyn, drenched in semi-permanent shade by a highway overpass, sits an unremarkable public park which appears no different from any other in the borough – with the singular exception of the sign hanging above each of its entrances. I stopped outside the northern gate, struck by the lack of ceremony. No statue. No explanation. Just a sign simply reading Adam Yauch Park.
Yesterday’s rebels often become tomorrow’s icons, which explains how a guy whose claim to fame was obnoxiously yelling “You’ve gotta fight for your right to party” now has a children’s playground named after him. Then again, the Beastie Boys always were about never growing up. Looking around this small park, it’s immediately clear just how humble Adam Yauch’s beginnings were. At the center is a fenced off playground in decent shape, surrounded by benches placed at odd angles against the on-ramp backdrop. A pair of basketball hoops are adjacent, neither of which has a net. This is the local Brooklyn neighborhood park where Yauch grew up, the one he played at, the one that ultimately led him famously to declare “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” by way of taking credit for a borough which at the time almost no one wanted anything to do with.
Somewhere along the line the Beastie Boys came to stand for something more. It wasn’t just that they’d become the elder statesmen of classic hip hop. It was that these self described “idiots” evolved to the point that they took on heady causes like Tibetan freedom and steered other artists toward doing the same, raising awareness on an issue that most Americans had no familiarity with. In the end the group’s influence was sufficiently self evident that when they became the rare hip hop artists inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2012, it felt inevitable.
Yauch died of cancer shortly after that Hall of Fame induction ceremony at age forty-seven. There was another, much less formal ceremony here at the park last year to honor its new name. One of the other Beasties showed up. So did Yauch’s mother. But that’s the only pomp that ever came of it. They could have overdone it, put up bronzed statues and gold plated playground equipment and turned the place into an overblown Beastie Boys shrine. But at a time when Brooklyn is increasingly coming into vogue and arguably in danger of being overrun by excess development, it’s more fitting that the humble old State Street Park is still pretty much the same as it always was, with the only change being the addition of the name of the most distinguished kid to have grown up playing in it.