Music in Black & White
The Year of the Monks

part 2

After being discharged from the Army, their image evolved. They dropped the first name, exchanging it for a new moniker, the Monks. Momentous changes were ensuing in their style, both musically and sartorially.

"We went into a barbershop on the spur of the moment and either me or Dave Day got our head shaved in a tonsure like a monk’s," the drummer, Roger Johnston recalled. "Then the rest of the guys did. I really don’t know why, but we did it."

There was initial reluctance on some of the members’ parts. It had taken them many months to grow their GI haircuts out to an acceptable length that was in keeping with a hip band’s image. Once shorn, though, the musicians realized they were no longer just a beat group.

The Monks dressed in black at all times, wearing ropes tied around their necks. Eddie Shaw explained the unusual reason behind this.

"I think we all live with ropes around our necks. Ours were plain and visible. It caused people to stare at us," he said. "The people with the painted silk ropes are the ones you have to watch, but even then, when they get smart, many of them trade theirs in for either an invisible one or a plain one. No matter what the ropes look like, they are all used for the same thing."

The image, in conjunction with the music’s ongoing mutation, startled German audiences and induced an anarchy of perception. The reaction ranged from enthusiastic paeans in some urban areas to outright hate in the rural regions. At a provincial show, a young man became enraged at what he took to be blasphemy; a mere beat group dressed as religious ascetics.

"I had a guy jump on stage one night and begin choking me," reminisced Burger. "He kept it up with diligence until he received the tuning-peg-end of my guitar in the chops. That pretty much settled the issue."

The band also assaulted the crowds sonically, demanding their complete and undivided attention. If the audience tried to interact socially with one another, the Monks turned the volume up to ear-splitting levels.

"We didn’t want anybody to do anything but listen to us," Roger Johnston said.

The results were electrifying. Phil Spector might have invented the legendary "Wall of Sound," but the Monks hammered out a "Steamroller of Sound."

A residency at Hamburg’s famed Top Ten Club solidified the band’s approach. The Monks gigged incessantly, playing six hours a night on the weekdays and eight or more hours a night on the weekend. They still played some of the standard beat material, but their originals became the core of the sets. The crowds were perplexed, to say the least.

"Some of them loved us. But others . . . well," Gary Burger said, pausing to laugh. "They didn’t have a clue what was going on. I think the image confused them as much as the music. We were a freak show to them."

He recalled the city’s rock n roll fans and their affect on the Monks.

"They’d been the first to recognize the Beatles. The Star Club and the Top Ten were where the Beatles really learned to play rock n roll. The same with us. Hamburg’s where we got our education. The fans made us work hard to entertain them. They knew their rock n roll, that’s for sure."

Even in jaded Hamburg, though, the Monks were a tad different than the usual rock n roll fare.

"The image was sometimes a little too strong, but we got used to it. We were generally safe on the streets, even in the worst parts of Hamburg at four in the morning," Eddie Shaw said. "We looked too serious and officious to mess with. Strangers were generally confused by us because our actions didn’t reflect the dress. It was strangely androgynous and almost artificial looking. Some people told us we didn’t look real. Walking through a crowded nightclub, I could feel people touching my head to see if everything was indeed real."

He elaborated on the audience’s reaction to their strange garb and coiffures.

"If a certain person had enough courage they would walk up and ask if they could touch our heads. Girls would draw back their hands and squeal. The whores of Hamburg considered us kinky. They loved us," Shaw said.

By this point, the band members had been in Germany for some time, beginning with their years of service in the Army.

"We’d been in Germany for so long that some of us even dreamt in the language," Shaw related.

On their off hours, the group sometimes suffered from boredom and loneliness. As young men far from home are wont to do, they indulged in sex and carousing. There were always willing groupies and plenty of beer and liquor. Larry Clark, however, proved to be an exception when it came to the intake of alcohol. A teetotaler, Clark told of the one time he did indulge in spirits.

"I just didn’t like the taste. I drank too much one night and decided to never repeat that experience," he said.

Roger Johnston reminisced about the band’s pursuits offstage.

"We all drank. Especially me and Gary and Dave. Eddie was married, so he didn’t hang out with us as much," Johnston said. "But Larry didn’t party. He was off on his Harley or playing chess somewhere. Everybody except for Eddie chased girls, though."

Unfortunately, there was some friction between two members of the band. The tension went back to their days as the Torquays. For a short time, an English girl had sang with the group. As is usual in these situations, one of the musicians had sex with her. Then, another one did. The two members involved in this triad were Dave Day and Larry Clark. The girl left the Torquays shortly thereafter, but the damage had been done. Consequently, Day and Clark sometimes went out of their way to subtly harass one another.

Drugs, in the form of speed, entered the Monks’ world during their tenure in Hamburg.

"I’d be tired, playing all night and drinking late to unwind when we got off," Roger Johnston reminisced. "Oma would give me a pill to pep me up, so I could play a show the next night."

Oma was an elderly German woman, who had also introduced the Beatles to speed a few years earlier. Johnston began to rely on the pills to help him get through the long grinding sets. Some of the Monks, barring Larry Clark, also took speed on occasion.

This indulgence and immersion in German culture had strange ramifications on the music, which would be apparent within a short time.


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