This pre-Franorama World post was from my MySpace blog Sept. 30, 2008, 8:30 p.m. PDT:
While I’m on a music documentary kick this week … The one non-junk email in my box this morning was from the makers of one of the best documentaries I’ve seen — about a band close to my heart and a band I was fortunate enough to have seen (twice). And if you’ve never seen or heard these guys (like 99.99999% of the population), you’re in for a trip.
“monks: the transatlantic feedback” is coming (back) to the States for five weeks, starting on Halloween at the Anthology Film Archives in Manhattan. It will be shown in NYC Oct. 31-Nov. 6, the Northwest Film Forum in Seattle and the Hollywood Theatre in Portland, Ore., Nov. 7-13, the Charleston County (S.C.) Library Nov. 8, the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, Texas, Nov. 10-15, the Red Vic in San Francisco Nov. 14-17 (I’m so there), and the University of Southern Maine in Portland, Maine, Dec. 5. Hopefully, the DVD will be out after that, but you need to see it on a big screen if you can.
My pals The Remains called their new doc “America’s Lost Band,” but The Monks were really America’s lost band. (BTW: I dressed for the occasion when I was interviewed for The Remains’ film — in a Monks T-shirt.) Musically, The Sonics, out of Tacoma, might have been the first punk band, but spiritually, that honor probably goes to The Monks, who weren’t recognized until decades after the fact. They were five American GIs in the mid-’60s who formed a band and stayed in West Germany after their hitches were up and played pretty much the same club circuit as The Beatles and hundreds of other bands.
With the guidance of two young Germans, they were transformed from a goofy party band playing Chuck Berry covers to the damndest things you’ve ever seen or heard. While all the bands around them grew their hair long, they cut theirs short and shaved tonsures into their skulls. When all the other bands were wearing mod threads, they wore all black, with rope ties around their necks. When other bands were singing silly love songs, they were yelling about Vietnam (“Monk Time”) and singing songs such as “Complication” and “I Hate You.” They accidentally stumbled into feedback (recording “Monk Time”) about the time The Beatles accidentally stumbled on it (recording “I Feel Fine”). And who the hell ever heard of a rock banjo player? And the cover art of their one album, “black monk time,” predated the minimalism of The Beatles’ white album cover by two years. By 1967, it was all over — until the album became a treasured collector’s item. The album was reissued on CD in the early ’90s … and on the first Friday and Sunday of November 1999, the five Monks played their first shows in 32 years — their first shows ever in their home country — at the Westbeth Theatre in Manhattan as part of the Cavestomp! festival (and I was there for both).
Dietmar Post and Lucia Palacios first brought their intense, image-packed film to the States in January 2007, where I played hooky from work to see it at the German-American Film Festival at the Castro Theatre in SF. (The bassist, Eddie Shaw, and his wife, Sherrie, were on hand for the fun. Eddie and his first wife, Anita Klemke, wrote the band’s wild autobiography, “Black Monk Time,” in the early ’90s — I actually read the book and became a fan before I even heard a note of their music.) The film was a total trip — yet poignant at the same time, since drummer Roger Johnston died in November 2004, shortly after all the filming was finished. (And this February, we lost the heart of the band: the banjo man, Dave Day.) Anyway, I’m glad they got to enjoy their popularity and play in front of adoring masses while they were still all alive.
So … I still need to post about The Remains, and I will. But if you profess to love rock’n’roll, or music history, or were influenced by punk or garage at any point in your life, then you need to see these iconoclasts on the big screen. I now depart the soapbox for the bar of soap in the shower so I can get ready for work …