One mark of an important artist is a spirit of rebellion, and rebellion is one thing that marked the work of Maurice Sendak. The children’s book author and illustrator, who died Tuesday at 83, gave the world such classics as “Where the Wild Things Are” and “Chicken Soup With Rice,” and made a mark by refusing to pander to cautious parents or sugar-coat stories for young readers. Sendak’s child protagonists griped, grumbled, and cavorted with terrible monsters, even if they eventually returned to the safety of home. His work was occasionally misunderstood; librarians censored his “In the Night Kitchen” to mask drawings of a young boy in the nude. But Sendak knew, as did his readers, that childhood is inhabited by terror, fear, and naked longing — and that darkness, however unsettling, is sometimes true.
Productive things can come of making people uncomfortable, which is what happened when the Beastie Boys descended, loudly and brashly, onto the music scene in the 1980s, shocking Tipper Gore and other parents who didn’t think their kids could comprehend a mix of impudence and satire. Co-founder Adam Yauch, who died of cancer last week at 47, played a key role in bridging the gap between urban hip-hop and disaffected white suburbia, and helped move an important piece of African-American culture to the mainstream. Like Sendak, Yauch evolved into a kind of establishment figure over time: He became a film and music impresario, as well as a philanthropic leader who worked for freedom for Tibet and relief for victims of violence. But even when their outside work turned serious, the Beastie Boys maintained the spirit of humor and subversion that helped made their songs so infectious. Yauch’s music, like Sendak’s stories, will live on.