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Money Mark, Beastie Boys Keyboardist, Has A Timeless Reminder

Money Mark, a still from the documentary <em>The Sound of Toys</em>.
Courtesy of the artist
Money Mark, a still from the documentary The Sound of Toys.

Mark Ramos Nishita, better known as Money Mark, is 61 and lives in LA surrounded by his massive collection of instruments – guitars and recording gear including more than 70 Casio keyboards. Nishita is sometimes called the "fourth Beastie Boy" for his songwriting and touring work with the group, including keyboard contributions you may recognize from Check Your Head and Ill Communication. Now, Nishita is the latest to contribute to the Morning Edition Song Project, during which we've been asking artists to record an original song from their experiences in the COVID era.

Nishita's dad is an electrical engineer and his mother came from a musical family – he's something of a perfect blend of the two, a musical scientist who loves to tinker. "The natural world has all the sounds," Nishita says. "The wind blowing through the bamboo, the waves hitting the sides of the rocks... I can make a drum almost out of anything."

That's the side of Mark that was made plain during the early days of the pandemic. Nearly each day for 80 days straight, Mark posted a minute-long Instagram video featuring some combination of musical sounds, which he called "Isolation Jams."

"That ritual, that routine, was really helpful in the lockdown." But later, Mark found himself all-consumed by the Black Lives Matter protests and his role in the fight for social justice.

"Being a person of color," he says, "I've always had this idea that I needed a strategy to get through life. It just became more refined."

Rachel Martin: What is the strategy?

"The strategy is to have the ultimate empathy for all things that are in the world, and to understand what love is and that what you emit into the world is so important."

That's the perfect segue into how the song came to be, right?

"Yes... so for this song, I used a Casio – one of the ones I used in the Isolation Jams last year, [which were created] of the moment. Right now, we're speaking right after [the Chauvin trial and the verdict], and I had to, really, create a piece that was for right now.

When we approached you about doing this, it was in the spirit of: "Maybe it's time for something lighter!" [Laughs] But you just can't change the world around you – just like you said, the Chauvin trial and the verdict... it was a much more serious song that you ended up putting together, because the moment demanded it.

"Yeah. The moment demanded it – we were all paying attention. We should all be paying attention. I included in the song some of the features of the Casio that are joyful – I mean, that machine, it's like a toy but it's a serious toy! It really is. So with the emotion and this keyboard that's like a toy, that's how the song happened."

You also told us that you were thinking about Martin Luther King Jr.

"The reason I was thinking of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is this idea of love, and how language is very limited. That's why we sing, because the melody can transform those words into other kinds of things. THe idea of love being powerful is corny for some people, but it's true ... and worth giving a chance to, and to really investigate it and research everything that revolves around it.

Our language is so limited – the words start to lose their meaning. What I like about the lyrics of this song is that you just lean on them, and so it's up to us to imbue them again with meaning. And so while they look simple on the page or when you hear them – love is power, love is everything – you are making us listen to them anew, in a way.

"That's how I'm feeling about the subject, too. There's people in all of our lives, they never will say 'I love you' to you. But you just know they're with you, that it does exist. And maybe it's because of this idea, that it's all action. It's a verb, it's a noun – it's everything, to me."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.

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