First Time Is
When The First
Time Is Monk Time!)
fun for you?"
MARIA!!! WAS IT EVER!!!
a frequent visitor to the "Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame
Inductees Forum", a message board where any and all
types of rock music are discussed, fought over, and
generally hyped, I tend to dismiss those fans who
continually rant "I think this band is great!" or
"that group was the best ever!", as examples of their
own personal taste. As a lifelong fan of rock & roll
I've either heard the music of those artists and long
ago made up my mind whether such claims are worthwhile,
or, if I haven't actually heard them at least I know
of their existence and to which branch of the tree
of rock & roll those artists belong, along with a
basic understanding of their importance in the scheme
my interest was aroused by several recent forum posts
regarding The Monks, their 1966 album "Black Monk
Time", and the recent reunion of the band in New York
City after 32 years apart. The Monks? Who were The
Monks? Here was a band I had never heard anything
about before. Zip! Zilch! Nada! Nil! I made a mental
note to check this group out sometime in the future.
luck would have it, while browsing my local cd store
the following weekend, I found a copy of "Black Monk
Time". The original album cover was a simple and stark
design, completely black and displaying only the band's
name and album title. On first impression it instantly
reminded me of "The Beatles", the 1968 release better
known as "The White Album".
should mention here that The Beatles are my favorite
band and I consider myself quite obsessed with them,
having read numerous books about their history and
making my own pilgrimage to Liverpool and London to
see the sites for myself. Many of these books make
the claim that The Beatles were the first to release
an album with a completely blank cover, and while
technically true, I can't help but wonder if this
idea was not first used on The Monks "Black Monk Time",
preceeding The Beatles by two years!
back cover had a series of b&w pictures of the band
in various shots, some of them playing their instruments,
some of the group just fooling around, but one in
particular caught my eye. "WHAT IS WRONG WITH THAT
GUY'S HEAD? Why has he got a huge patch on the top
of his head shaved clean? What's that all about?!!".
got the better of me.
MONK TIME!" "IT'S MONK TIME!" "IT'S MONK TIME!"
have not been the same since!
have been changed!
since The Sex Pistols 1977 "Never Mind The Bollocks..."
has an album so utterly shaken my view of what rock
& roll was, and is, all about!!!! I could not believe
what I was hearing. Was this really 1966? Impossible!
This music was ten years, at the least, ahead of its
time. This album sounds like something that could
have been released in the late '70s or early '80s.
Hell!!! This album sounds like something that could
have been released today!!! Here was rock & roll like
I'd never heard it before. It was scary! It was wacky!
It sounded so fresh, so vital, and so full of energy.
And my God, what energy! Energy at times angry, sometimes
bordering on rage, but most of all this music screamed
big smile crossed my face, the kind of smile you get
when you discover a new pleasure that you've never
experienced before. Here was a long lost gem buried
in that mountain of Rock. Here was a forgotten treasure.
The Monks "Black Monk Time" may be THE BIGGEST SECRET
IN THE HISTORY OF ROCK & ROLL!!! But the word is now
out, and spreading quickly! (Hey, if a Cheesehead
from the Frozen Tundra of Green Bay, Wisconsin found
The Monks it won't be long until the rest of the world
the cd gave me another surprise. There, staring back
at me, was the group photo of The Monks, all dressed
in black, with white rope ties around their necks,
and EACH ONE WITH A BALD PATCH SHAVED OFF THE TOP
OF HIS HEAD!!! WHOA! I would later discover that such
a haircut is called a "tonsure", usually done as a
sign of entrance into a monastic state. Well, that
fit. Here was a group image that went far beyond The
Beatles moptops, or anybody else that I can recall
from 1966. A radical group "look" that was unequaled
thematically until perhaps the 1974 debut of KISS.
Again, The Monks were ahead of their time.
what really matters is the music.
HERE THEY ARE, THE ANTI-BEATLES!!!
find it interesting that both The Beatles and The
Monks honed their musical skills at some of the same
notorious nightclubs of Hamburg's Reeperbahn red-light
district. I have often wondered what The Beatles music
would have sounded like had they not surrendered to
becoming suit-and-tie wearing MopTops, and instead
kept to their Hamburg beat group roots as a pill-popping,
hard-drinking, band of black-leather-clad teddy boys.
Listening to The Monks "Black Monk Time" gave me a
small peek at what I've always imagined that "beat
music" might have been like. But any similarities
the nearest The Beatles could have come to The Monks
"sound" would have been if "I'm Down" had been played
like "Helter Skelter". The frantic beat and distortion
on "Black Monk Time" at times reminds me of The Stooges,
The Ramones, and The Sex Pistols. The sometime quirky
song arrangements bring to mind The B-52's and Devo,
while the ping-pong choruses are reminiscent of The
Cars. And yet, nothing I have heard before sounds
anything like The Monks! The Monks are unique! The
Monks "sound" is proto-Punk! New Wave is definitely
1966 The Beatles were adding more and more layers
of instrumentation to their already complex recording
technique. The Monks, calling themselves "anti-Beatles",
took a minimalistic approach to their music, stripping
away most of the melody and precision, and instead
replacing it with a heavy drum beat and massively
distorted rhythm. MY GOD! YOU WILL NOT BELIEVE THE
DISTORTION!!!! THIS CANNOT BE 1966! Heavy distortion
on the guitar and the bass. THE BASS!!! And why not
add a banjo too? WHAT?!! A BANJO??!! Yep, that's right!
In their search for a more primitive and simplistic
sound not only did The Monks strip down the drum sound
to an incredibly raw pulsating beat, but in an effort
to double that rhythm effect they added a banjo too!
IT'S INSANE!! WHO WOULD EVER HAVE THOUGHT OF THAT?!!
The Monks, that's who! It works BRILLIANTLY! It was
GENIUS! Finally, bubbling up, over, down, and underneath
this huge mass of distorted guitars, clacking banjo,
and thudding drums is a wonderfully frenetic organ.
Top it off with great sounding vocals and ,all in
all, I have rarely heard anything so fantastic as
The Monks "Black Monk Time"!
The Beatles were beginning to lead the rest of us
toward 1967's "Summer Of Love", expressing a utopian
message in 1965's "The Word" and escapism in 1966's
"Tomorrow Never Knows", The Monks set their sights
firmly upon reality. No peace, love, and understanding
from these guys, they were going to tell it like it
really was (and still is)! The Monks lyrics reverberate
with ANGER!!! These guys are pissed off!!! No further
proof is needed than the album's opening song, "Monk
Time", in which the band defiantly declares its stance,
"....you know, we don't like The Army, what Army?,
who cares what Army!, why do you kill all those kids
over there in Viet Nam?, mad Viet Cong!, my brother
died in Viet Nam!".
here is the strange thing, far from alienating you,
in some strange way The Monks wacky song interpretations
perfectly describe what a crazy world we all live
in, then and now. It's that unspoken recognition that
you feel, that "you too know what they know", that
this world may be insane but with the music of The
Monks this world can also be FUN!
realization will bring a smile to your face! (Either
that, or you've listened to The Monks "Cuckoo" one
too many times!)
some fun? Go out immediately and find The Monks "Black