Music in Black &
Year of the Monks
their pioneering heroes and rocks newest revolutionaries
was one of the few things the Monks had to look forward
to. Months dragged by, with commercial success still
eluding them. They werent making money off the
album, which Polydor said had not even paid for itself.
The Monks were neophytes, babes in the woods, when
it came to business procedures. They just wanted to
play, hoping that their management was taking care
of the legal end of things. Some of the band members
voiced vague discontentment with this state of affairs.
Gigging seven days a week gave them little time to
get a grip on the situation, though.
the incessant process of touring itself wore on everyones
nerves. Playing and sleeping in beer drenched venues
had lost its allure.
were getting a little bit burnt out," Eddie Shaw
said. "We were still playing the same places
after all that time. We asked when we were going to
play in America. They told us when we had a hit over
there. The problem was, they werent releasing
anything in the States."
Day and Larry Clark sniped at one another constantly.
Tension between Eddie Shaw and his wife, who didnt
want a musician for a husband, didnt help matters.
Nor did Roger Johnstons drug use, which caused
major mood swings in the drummer.
CD reissue of the album contains some other bonus
tracks. After "Complication" was released
as the first single, two more 45s were issued. These
singles did not appear on the LP, but rather were
recorded with the intent to breach the charts. The
two 45s show a noticeable change in direction for
the band. "We were under pressure to produce
something more like traditional pop," Gary Burger
said. "So we gave it a shot."
first single, "I Cant Get Over You"
b/w "Cuckoo," is one of the most bizarre
attempts at commercial music ever. The A side features
organist Larry Clark on his sole lead vocal. The song
is highly reminiscent of the Velvet Underground. It
would not appear out of place on that bands
eponymous third album. Close your eyes and you can
easily hear Lou Reeds nasally voice delivering
the lyrics. The Monks didnt have the penchant
for antiseptic pop like the aforementioned New York
quartet did, though. "I Cant Get Over You"
comes across as slightly anemic. The flipside is a
completely different matter, however.
Monks rhythmic attack is intact on "Cuckoo."
Its the lyrics and vocals that strike one as
eccentric. Burgers vocal opens the tune, swiping
a page out of some outlandish Beach Boys songbook.
He nails high notes that no male, unless hes
a castrato, should be able to hit. Next, the drummer
finally gets his chance to be in the spotlight. Johnstons
monotonal singing voice tells an odd story about somebody
stealing his pet cuckoo. During the bridge, fuzzed-out
guitars and booming drums remind the listener that,
yes, this is the Monks. Then, Burger reprises the
chorus, jarring the listener back to unreality.
after, the Monks toured Sweden. They played several
shows and made an appearance on national television.
One night they stayed in a hotel, or so they thought,
where they commenced to engage in the usual debauchery.
Women visited their rooms.
the morning, the hotels management appeared
highly disturbed. Empty liquor bottles and cigarette
butts littered the bands quarters. The Monks
behavior had shocked the man at the front desk and
he let them know it. Confused, the band questioned
him. He turned out to be an abbot, not a night clerk.
The Monks Swedish road manager had booked them
to stay in a monastery! He thought it would be great
PR, getting the Monks thrown out a religious orders
amused, the weary band returned to Germany and their
lives on the road. By this point, fames luster
were getting fed up," Eddie Shaw stated simply.
Age of Aquarius was supposedly dawning. Several of
the Monks tried the sacrament that epitomized the
so-called "Summer of Love." They found THC
was some minimal enjoyment of hashish during the last
year, but I cant say that it increased the sought
after dementia levels," Gary Burger said. "I
think it made me mellower and stimulated my urge to
sing Danny Boy soft, pretty and high in
a windblown wheatfield with a violin section at my
course, Eddie Shaws memory differed slightly.
Gary was in the wheatfields often. We all were. I
dont remember any violins. I only remember a
chorus of sexy nuns," he reminisced. "Maybe
they were prostitutes in disguise. Oh, God! Dont
print that. Someone will say I called nuns prostitutes.
Damnit, thats even worse. Dont say anything."
the hashish could be held accountable for the continued
softening of their sound. Once again, they entered
the studio in an another attempt to crack the pop
market. Certain members of the band were willing to
experiment with these contrived and watered down formulas.
Others found it a betrayal of the monkish ethic.
last single, "Love Can Tame The Wild," proved
the latter faction to be in the right. A mawkish song,
it has cliched lyrics that include taboo words like
"moonlight." The 45 is as uninspired as
the LP was revolutionary. The flipside, once again,
is a strange little number.
Went Down To The Sea" has psychedelic tinges
and an Eddie Shaw trumpet solo. The one point of interest
is Burgers girlish vocals as he delivers the
gender bending lines "and then he went down to
the sea/ and thought of the girl I used to be."
Wrestling with ones sexual identity does not
a song make, however. Over-beat is absent from both
songs, giving no clue as to who this band is or had
this point, dedication to the Monks image was
giving way to a desire not to be gawked at anymore.
Johnston was growing his hair out as were other members.
They were also wearing colorful clothing. Surprisingly,
the least likey rock n roller of them all, the chess
master Larry Clark, remained steadfast. He chided
the apostates for their lack of belief. Clark tried
to convince the fallen Monks that their once and future
vision could still come true. Unfortunately, his liturgies
fell on deaf ears.
Monk Time" and the subsequent singles were unreleased
in both the United Kingdom and the United States.
Polydor was unsure of the musics reception outside
of Germany. Further, one must question whether British
and American listeners of the era would have been
ready for such an assault on the senses.
was never put to the test. The Monks had a tour of
Vietnam and points east scheduled for 1967. After
this, there were vague plans to play the States. The
handwriting was on the wall, however.
war torn south east Asia made absolutely no sense
to Roger Johnston. The police action in Vietnam was
escalating. The band was making no money as it was,
never mind the possibility of becoming rock n roll
martyrs courtesy of the mad Viet Cong. Burger and
Johnston had both gotten married in the mean time.
Consequently, external pressure emanated from all
three wives against the tour. Addled by self-doubt,
Johnston fled back to America with his wife. He sent
Gary Burger a postcard, announcing his resignation.
The proposed tour collapsed.
out and shell shocked, the rock n roll soldiers dispersed.
Johnston was already in Texas. Burger caught a plane
to New York City. Clark and Shaw, along with his wife,
took a tramp steamer back to the States. Day was to
stay in Europe for another nine years, living a hermit
like existence in Germanys forests.
story doesnt end with the Monks departure from
Germany, though. Like the rest of humanity, they found
a semblance of normalcy and continue to struggle through
everyday life. Larry Clark went to college and worked
at IBM for over twenty years until his retirement.
Gary Burger lives in his home state of Minnesota,
where he runs an audio and video production company.
Burger produces records and in his spare time enjoys
hunting and fishing. Roger Johnston also lives in
Minnesota, where he works two jobs. Eddie Shaw runs
an independent publishing company that issues books
of fiction. He wrote an autobiography detailing his
days with the band, entitled appropriately enough
"Black Monk Time." Shaw still spreads the
Monks gospel, appearing at rock n roll conventions
and reading on National Public Radio. And Dave Day
. . . well, what would you expect from the original
rock n roll citizen? In a phone conversation, Day
was informed that this interviewer had recently seen
Link Wray perform."Link Wray! Are you serious?"
Day shouted. "Me and some of my friends still
play Rumble in our set sometimes! Hes
still playing? Thats great!"
went on to tell about four of the five Monks getting
together in February 1998 to record some new songs.
we sounded incredible. It was amazing. We look fine.
None of us are overweight. Hell, Id shave my
head and play with the guys in a heartbeat,"
he said. "Id love to play in New York City."
dreams that might be realized? Lets hope Days
enthusiasm is infectious. When the possibility of
playing live is broached with the other Monks, they
usually laugh nervously and change the subject. They
dont realize the grip that their music holds
on todays fans, who are wise to the hype that
accompanies every flavor-of-the-month act. The Monks
also seem unaware of the true depth of interest that
is slowly seeping to the surface. Theyve gotten
on with their lives and rock n roll is a young mans
game after all. But there are plans to release a CD
of early demos and other unreleased songs, with the
probability of the new material following in its wake.
Maybe theyre just hedging their bets, seeing
how things fare.
is a hardcore sect of Monks fanatics, upon whom the
group could depend upon to turn out for to a tour.
The music resonates with people who were born a decade
after the band brokeup. Most telling, perhaps, of
the musics staying power is an encounter Eddie
Shaw had two years ago.
ran into a guy in Carson City who had been a GI. Hed
gone out with a German girl and she took him to see
us in a club in Hamburg. When he found out Id
been in the Monks he said I saw you assholes.
What the fuck kind of music was that? I didnt
like it, but Ive never forgotten you,"
Shaw said, chuckling.
the future holds, the Monks legacy is secure.
They left an incredible document in the form of "Black
Monk Time." In retrospect, 1966 was rock n roll
musics zenith, a watershed of experimentation,
the promise of which has never been fulfilled. The
Yardbirds "Happenings Ten Years Time Ago,"
a nuclear meltdown and aural firestorm posing as a
pop song, has yet to be equaled. The Whos early
potential soon dissolved into Pete Townshends
ego-tripping in an attempt to give rock n roll "meaning"
when it already meant more than it ever would again.
Monks didnt break up until 1967, but they were
at their innovative peak the previous year. Modern
musics just now catching up. Bands like the
Beastie Boys and the Fall claim them as an influence.
Somehow that doesnt hold water. The Monks music
was truly one of a kind, forged in the sweaty dives
of a place and time that is long gone. The Monks
influences, be they Bill Haley, Ray Charles or the
Ventures, are alien to todays pop stars i.e.
theyre quaint figures in rock n rolls
musty history book. That locked up sound is impossible
to recreate, whether because of todays technology
or because now rock n roll is just a good career choice
devoid of its former passion and freshness.
only certainty is that there never will be the likes
of the Monks again. If gods ever did walk this earth,
they were five ex-American GIs playing over-beat music.
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