Music in Black & White
The Year of the Monks

part 3

By November of ‘65, the Monks were ready to enter the studio. They had already laid down some demos, but now their management secured them a recording contract with Polydor.

The album opened with their theme, "Monk Time." This song often caused tension when they played it live for off-duty American servicemen. In it, Burger waxes inarticulate vehemence, damning the conflict in southeast Asia. "Why do you kill all those kids in Vietnam/ Mad Vietcong!/My brother died in Vietnam." He invokes a pop cultural touchstone, James Bond. All to no avail. "Stop it/ stop it/ I don’t like it!" Burger howls. Nobody can figure out what the hell’s going on over there, least of all the super spy. The Monks are sitting this one out, but they have garnered one tarnished nugget of wisdom: "Pussy Galore’s coming down/ and we like it!" One must wonder if this is in reference to 007’s nemesis or the groupies that the band serviced on a regular basis.

The second song kicks off with a martial beat, summoning visions of SS troops massed on Russia’s borders. Young men’s militant voices demand everybody listening to "shut up/don’t cry!" Make us feel at home why don’t you, fellows. Clark’s organ moans and wails, making way for the scorched earth policy of guitar and bass. During the break, the Ukraine burns as Monkish hordes loot and pillage. Then, Burger’s back. His voice strains under the pressure of reaching for notes out of his range. Or maybe its just that the whiskey he was drinking throughout the recording sessions had charred his vocal cords, leaving lesions and third degree burns. The name of this tune is "Shut Up." A most sixties-type mantra, eh?

Nursery rhyme lyrics, suffering from delusions of schizoid simplicity, are next. Yes, we know "girls are girls/ and boys are boys," but does anybody have any idea what the hell the rest of the song is supposed to mean? Mail your answers care of this magazine and they’ll remain confidential. This reviewer often runs out of toilet paper and grabs whatever’s handy.

Then, Gary Burger shouts "Higgle-dy-Piggle-dy!" Chaos comes down like sniper’s bullets in Dallas, converging somewhere near heaven. Insistent, biting leads from the fingers of Gary Burger, puckering bass lines and staggered rhythms courtesy of the damn drummer make for a green fuzz of gunsmoke, which sticks in your brain like carbolic acid taffy.

Ah, then there’s the fifth track, which is really a black mass held incognito. The banjo snickers like a guillotine. Suddenly, Clark’s organ fills cathedrals in one’s head, driving Gary Burger into spastic exorcisms of contempt and infatuation. "I hate you with a passion, baby," he squeals. "But call me!" his demonic henchmen hollowly chant. "You know my hate’s everlasting, baby," Burger sputters. "But call me!" the sacrilegious congregation intones again. The keys perform precise lobotomies as bubonic bass lines spit and hiss. Burger’s feedback snarls like the grim reaper’s rusty scythe ripping through mildewed cowls. Congress should pass a law against Gary Burger. He should be banned from playing guitar until 2010. He’s armed and dangerous. Hopefully, by that year he’ll be hooked up to a dialysis machine, unable to wreak havoc on nerve endings ever again, the evil son of a bitch.

"Oh, How To Do Now" is next in this savage sideshow. Its a parade of pinheads and Siamese twins, escapees from Dr. Caligari’s cabinet. There’s so much fuzz in this song, you could make hair shirts for an entire convent of flagellants. Johnston’s drumming sticks toothpicks under your fingernails. Once again, enduring Gary Burger’s feedback discombobulates and self-immolates synapses. Eddie Shaw trades in his bass for a bazooka on this one. Or maybe its a Panzerfaust. And there’s a key change toward the end that doesn’t help matters one bit. The tension builds and Day’s banjo clicks like a pressure cooker rattling on the stove. How many times do they repeat the damn title? 50! But what hell does it mean? Finally, the Monks let you off the rack, just so they can take you into another funhouse.

Rock n roll has never gotten heavier than the Monks did on "Complication." Hooded night riders gallop through this tune. Clark’s organ caws like a crow above the skeletal scarecrow terror of lynchings. For pure white Christianity. Burger, some dreadful magi, issues orders. First, to his assassins as they penetrate the night and perpetrate mayhem, all for the glory of Allah. Thugees crouch in the bushes, waylaying unwary travelers. For Kali, the bloodlusting bitch and devourer of men’s souls. For the crimson god, Mars. War, baby, war! Death! Burn them hootches, Marines! Search and destroy, body counts, kill them VC! Wallow in it, boys! The way down is the way out!

Whew! The first seven songs on "Black Monk Time" make up the most intense experience a rock n roll connoisseur will ever encounter. Thankfully, the Monks sense of humor comes into play on a few of the remaining tracks.

The next song is some inbred idiot savant offspring of the Ikettes’ "I’m Blue (the Gong Gong Song)," which tells you that when these boys decided to steal something, it wasn’t a Willie Dixon tune that everybody knows they didn’t write (this is a hint for Led Zeppelin; nick something goofy and occult). Anyway, the song lurches like some love sick wino, raving and drooling and mewling all over the premises of the song structure. The bridge is a visit to an absinthe ward, where all the patients suffer from eternal kinetic katzenjammer syndrome. That long guttural word is German for "the squalling of cats in your head," used in reference to a hangover. "We Do, Wie Du" is a two week bender soaked in vodka. Shaw’s bass stumbles like the somnambulistic Frankenstein monster with Johnston’s drumming playing the part of Ygor. Of course, Burger is the mad scientist in this movie. Day rattles his chains down in the dungeon, demanding release.

"Drunken Maria" is a song about some boozy Spanish harlot. But the Monks are in Germany, damnit! Why are they doing this to me? Clark’s keys, well, have you ever heard that saying "Support mental health or I’ll kill you"? Thankfully, Shaw bails you out, depositing you in purgatory.

"Love Came Tumbling Down" like what, the clap? It’s got to be some incestuous ode to groupies and penicillin. Any other comments would be superfluous. Insights Messrs. Burger, Clark and co.?

"Blast Off" commences with, what else, the roar of engines. It’s early surf music played on a haunted spaceship as a galactic fleet burns off Orion’s shoulder. Clark’s ghostly keyboards send frantic SOS morsecode messages back to earth. Supposedly, space is a vacuum where sound doesn’t exist. Tell it to the Monks. Thunder rolls around the shores of the Milky Way as Lucifer’s host plummets from a schism in time into uncharted nether regions. The rip in the sky mends as the Sputnik organ bubbles from beneath the ocean.

The original album ended with "That’s My Girl." It’s reminiscent of the Who’s "Disguises." Why? Both of the singers can’t even recognize their own girlfriends. But only Gary Burger, supreme among rock n roll vocalists, can render the phrase "make love" so it sounds sleazy, like a piece of gum you’ve picked up out of the gutter to chew or a scab encrusted clitoris. Then there’s the break. It’s like the Brooklyn Bridge, buckling in high winds as tidal waves engulf New York. Finally, the moronic Burger realizes the girl in question is his!

Thankfully, the LP was recorded with analog technology on a four track machine. The instruments bleed together, creating dynamics that digital is sadly unable to achieve. The bare bones production on the album reflected what the band sounded like live. There was nothing on "Black Monk Time" they could not replicate on stage. "We sounded about the same on the album as we did live," Larry Clark said.

Gary Burger qualified this statement to a slight degree.

"We never played a song the exact same way twice. The structure was similar, but we’d really stretch out," he said. "And the recording process available really couldn’t capture the feedback right. It was really loud on stage. But yeah, we sounded similiar live and on the album."

One must keep in mind, too, this was an era when rock groups were beginning to overindulge themselves in the studio. Mono was giving way to stereo and four track recordings were considered a hindrance. Lush production and strings were the name of the game, with Love’s "Forever Changes" and the Pretty Things’ "Emotions" being representative works of the era. The Monks’ spartan sound stuck out like, well, a tonsure at a long haired love-in.

The album’s cover reflected the music’s stripped down minimalism. The word "monks" appeared on an all black cover, anticipating the Beatles’ famed "White Album" by over two full years.

Most remarkable, perhaps, is the fact that every song on the record is an original. What other group debuted with an album comprised wholly of originals in early 1966? Besides the bastardized "We Do Wie Du," there wasn't a cover in sight. By mid-67, Syd Barrett's Pink Floyd and the Jimi Hendrix Experience debuted with records made up totally of original compositions, but the Monks seem have been the first rock n roll unit to do so.

It was the music's uncompromising nature, though, that set it apart from its contemporaries. Whereas the Yardbirds graphic blues were mutating into psychedelia, the Monks music had no shadings. It was like an Orson Welles' movie set in post-war Europe i.e. stark and grim, shot in black-and-white. In 1966, the Yardbirds were referring to their music as "images in sound." If that holds true, then the Monks were producing music in black-and-white.

The original album has gone on to be one of the pricier pieces of rock n roll memorabilia. An original pressing of "Black Monk Time" has been rumored to fetch up to $1000 from some collectors. Finding one for less than $500 is rare.

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