Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
The Monks are a rock n roll band, primarily active in Germany in the mid to late sixties. They reunited in 1999 and have continued to play concerts, although no new studio recordings have been made. The Monks stood out from the music of the time, and have had apparently very little influence on later music, despite their 'cult following'.
- Gary Burger: Lead guitar, lead vocals
- Larry Clark: Organ, vocals
- Dave Day: Rhythm guitar, vocals
- Eddie Shaw: Bass guitar, vocals
- Roger Johnston: Drums, vocals (died November 8, 2004)
The Formation of The Monks
All the members were American GIs stationed in Germany in the mid-sixties. They began playing together in 1964, calling themselves the Torquays. The Torquays differed little from countless other bands of the time: They covered Chuck Berry songs and played music inspired by the British Invasion bands. But the band experimented together musically - Gary Burger said:
"It probably took us a year to get the sound right. We experimented all the time. A lot of the experiments were total failures and some of the songs we worked on were terrible. But the ones we kept felt like they had something special to them. And they became more defined over time."
And upon their discharge from the army the band had an extremely distinctive musical style, and took up a distinctive name and image to go with it.
The Monks stage garb
At the beginning of 1965, Dave Day and Roger Johnston, on a whim, got their heads shaved into monks' tonsures. The rest of the band followed their lead, and to complete the image, the band took to wearing a uniform - all black, sometimes in cassocks, with nooses worn as neckties. Eddie Shaw later claimed in his band autobiography Black Monk Time that the nooses were symbolic of the metaphorical nooses that all humanity wear. His explanation of the symbolism is unclear and confusing, but regardless, dressed as black monks, The Monks undoubtedly made a shocking visual impression.
They received confused audience reactions at concerts: One attendee attempted to strangle Gary Burger at a show in Hamburg, presumably for perceived blasphemy.
The group's sound
The band abandoned many accepted musical norms of sixties rock n roll:
- They have very little emphasis on melody, and their songs are extremely rhythmic, rather than melodic. The rhythms are heavy and very repetitive, the drums supplying a rhythmic sound often described as 'tribal'. The drum kit was played without cymbals, leaving the beat as unembellished as possible.
- Song structures are minimal and repetitive, but do not tend to follow the standard verse-chorus-bridge patterns of a pop song.
- The band's lyrics are dadaist and playful, yet paranoid. They combine nursery rhyme style lyrics ("higgle-dy piggle-dy") with hate-filled war commentary ("Why do you kill all those kids over there in Vietnam? Mad Vietcong! My brother died in Vietnam"; "People kill, people will for you. People run, aint it fun for you. People go, to their deaths for you"), incomprehensibly surreal interjections ("James Bond, who was he?") and paranoia about girls and love ("I hate you with a passion baby! And you know why I hate you? It's because you make me hate you baby!").
- The vocal delivery is strangled, wailing and frantic, contrasted to deep chanting backing vocals which recall Gregorian chant.
- Gary Burger utilises a great deal of guitar feedback and dissonance (According to Eddie Shaw's Black Monk Time, the group invented the use of audio feedback for musical purposes).
- Dave Day replaced his guitar with a banjo upon which he played guitar chords. This sounds much more metallic, scratchy and wiry than a standard electric guitar.
Black Monk Time
Produced by Jimmy Bowien Recorded November 1965 in Koln, Germany; Released March 1966 by Polydor (Germany) album #249900; Singles from the album:
- Complication / Oh, How To Do Now
- I Can't Get Over You / Cuckoo
- Love Can Tame The Wilde / He Went Down To The Sea
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