The winds came first … the neighbors tree falling came next, and when the haunted harmonica sounds of the wind blowing through my office door, (sounding like a Ennio Morricone soundtrack), started imitating an Armenian duduk, (the most beautiful sounding instrument on the face of the Earth), I knew I was going to find something sadder than usual in my morning New York Times.
Dave Havlicek, aka Dave Day, guitarist and banjo player for one of the most original, legendary and enigmatic bands ever to grace a stage, The Monks, died last Thursday, January 10th. Day, who was born and lived in Renton just outside Seattle, Washington, suffered a stroke or a heart attack on the previous Sunday morning which left him on life support for a short time before he passed.
Many years ago, way too many to actually acknowledge, I used to work at the original Onyx Café when it was next door to the Vista Theater in East Hollywood. One evening a customer gave me a home made cassette tape of a band I had only vaguely ever heard of named The Monks, the record Black Monk Time.
I put on the tape. What I remember most are two distinctive reactions: mine of total amazement and awe, how the hell did I miss this band (I’m a record geek for chrissakes!), and the reaction of another customer saying almost the same thing. But his “what the hell is this?” was followed by something like “do you have to play this crap now!”
The Monks were five American GIs stationed in Germany who billed themselves as the “Anti-Beatles”. They played it heavy, weren’t afraid of feedback or dissonance and Dave Day added to the mayhem and the whole crunching rhythmic sound by playing the hell out of the electric banjo. They shaved their heads into monks' tonsures, dressed in black monasterial robes, sometimes wearing nooses as neckties, mocked and rocked harder than any of their sixties counterparts while basically inventing what would become kraut rock, industrial, and punk music. Am I overstating their importance in rock music history? No! Their nihilistic deconstruction of Rock and Roll, owing in part to the Dada Movement of the ‘20s, predated Punk’s similar efforts by a good ten years or more. The Monks were easily 30 years ahead of mainstream rock’s time.
They had a few reunion shows that I know of and, unfortunately, I missed them all. In 1999 The Monks performed at the annual Cavestomp event in New York City, and once again in 2004 at the Rockaround Event in Las Vegas. Later that year, in November, original drummer Roger Johnston died of cancer. In 2006 the documentary “The Monks: The Transatlantic Feedback” premiered at the Chicago Underground Film Festival. The Monks appeared in London, Zurich, and Berlin with the latter show serving as the record release party for Silver Monk Time, a tribute record to the Monks featuring, The Fall, Faust, Silver Apples, Alan Vega, Mouse on Mars, the Raincoats, and Jon Spencer among others.
Julian Cope best described the Monks classic album Black Monk Time: “NO-ONE ever came up with a whole album of such dementia. The Monks' Black Monk Time is a gem born of isolation and the horrible deep-down knowledge that no-one is really listening to what your saying. And the Monks took full artistic advantage of their lucky/unlucky position …”