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Thursday, January 31, 2008

Who were The Monks? Because dudes *rocked* that tonsure haircut



I came across this video on the recommendation of a friend of a friend, and as quirky as it seems when you first click play, there's an urgency and an animal primacy to the music that belies the sweaters and the bobby socks of 1965.

I had never heard of The Monks before this video started rolling; a google search of the blogs and sites I read turned up one reference on Pitchfork, but P-fork writes about a lot of stuff that flies right over my head (in fact I am apparently a sort of anti-Pitchfork). So I had some learning to do.

The Monks were five G.I.s stationed in Germany in the '60s who started making music together, as many young men are wont to do when they are away from their women and stuck on base. At first their tunes were pretty standard covers of Chuck Berry, surf music, or original melodic pop a la The Beatles -- but then they started experimenting with feedback and the kinds of beats that sounded more like a prototype of punk than a clean cut quintet.

Originally called the Torquays, they soon wholeheartedly adopted the name of The Monks, and they even had "a look" that has not, to my knowledge, been back in fashion since, oh, 1457. The tonsure (as that stunning bit of shaved baldery is called), the cassock, the rosary. Hot.

But the music -- the music is intriguing to me, and has quite a cult following to this day, mostly through word of mouth and friends saying, "Man, you gotta hear these guys." And it's easy to see why - the tribal pulsating beats, the dadaist lyrics, the attitude -- they've may have more in common with Nirvana than other acts of their own era. Even where standard sounds of the time show through in their music, there's still an undercurrent of fresh inventiveness that delights me. Some of their music reminds me of what The Doors were just starting to do on the other side of the Atlantic.

The Monks recorded one album in November 1965 (Black Monk Time) and then essentially vanished (other than some reunion shows in '99 and one member who is now mayor of Turtle River, MN).

Their songs have been covered by everyone from the Dead Kennedys to Jon Spencer, the 5.6.7.8.s to Manchester Brit-band The Fall. There's currently a very interesting documentary project called Monks: The Transatlantic Feedback and if you like it even rawer, you can also buy their 1965 demo recordings, all through the Berlin-based label Play Loud! Definitely a fascinating and fun one to add to your collection.

Monk Chant - The Monks
We Do Wie Du - The Monks
Drunken Maria - The Monks

BUY: Black Monk Time

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6 Comments:

At February 01, 2008 6:40 AM, Anonymous Dynamic Meter said...

Wow, pretty cool. Perhaps The Monks were the Radiohead of their day, except not so mega-popular. I especially dig, the multiple-Monks playing the guitar on the floor.

 
At February 01, 2008 7:19 AM, Anonymous petepizza said...

Heather, this is weird- just yesterday David Fricke had a little feature on the Monks on the Rolling Stone blog (www. rollingstone.com/ rockdaily)

This band pretty much epitomizes the term "ahead of their time"

 
At February 01, 2008 9:05 AM, Anonymous andy said...

Heather--
this goes back a bit, but the guy who runs the "Of Mirror Eye" blog did a really big piece on the Monks about two years ago. You would probably dig his write up if it is still avaialbe.

 
At February 01, 2008 1:10 PM, Blogger CHW said...

This is so interesting. I grew up listening to the "other" Monks (UK punk band). Does anyone recall such tunes as "Drugs In My Pocket" or "Nice Legs, Shame About Her Face"? The "Bad Habits" album was one of my first, 1979 I think. Had no idea another Monks band existed, let alone preceded my favorites.

 
At February 02, 2008 5:12 AM, Blogger Ben said...

The video is funny to me. I went to a few discos in Germany in the 1990s and the folks there were stone freaks, all kinds of ass shakin' going on. The looks on the faces of the kids in this video is priceless, like some aliens just took over the stage or something. Great find.

 
At September 22, 2008 8:07 AM, Blogger arsi said...

Could you please upload the tracks again? I would really appreciaate it, I've been searching for these a while. Thanks!

 

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