THE MONKS - LET'S START A BEAT
WHAT WE EXPECT FROM LIFE AND WHAT WE GET…
In lives built around trying to second-guess fate and the unexpected; lives subjected to a self-imposed aspiration for security that becomes a tyranny of regret, avoided opportunities and potential adventures, it is easy to miss out on so much. Easier, even, to forget that our lives are completely constructed from, and by, a relentless series of experiences and sensations cobbled together and left unconscious by the sides of our individual pathways in the hope that order, and simplicity, can overwhelm our sense of spontaneity and the resulting assemblage, that virtual and more substantial "happening", that becomes a life; a means of perceiving; a way of being that for each spirit living remains forever unique. For, contrary to popular opinion, the essence of our lives is largely unchallenged. Complication is an illusion borne of fear of the adventure unfurling its SELF on its own terms, for no reason. Just being. An existential and metaphysical romance with only one clear result. That our souls arrive alone and essentially leave alone, come (after death) what may.
It IS easy to forget so much. And goodness we try! Nevertheless, our lives, the creativity we exhibit or consume, are, quite absolutely made from experiences, and, as Blake so astutely observed, from a certain novelty of innocence too. This combination often slips under our cultural and personal radar(s) at the time it is taking place, invading our consciousness and physicality like nicotine from a transparent patch. More often than not we end up waiting years, or even decades, before the golden hindsight of retrospection reveals with shocking clarity the pattern, symmetry and joy of what felt like random emotions, chaos and panic. ( I use the word panic as including its original sense of "drowning in" rather than mere fear of embracing L-if-E.)
Before I might seem overly confident, let me confess right now that, despite occasional momeants of revelation, I too fall foul of this comedic error of assuming all that is happening to me is all that is happening to me, and that that is ALL that there is. That all that I believe I am seeing is all that is believable at any given time during my waking L-if-E. Ptah! No such luck. But linear measurements of time are a great healer. And, bless intro and retro-spection, and not a little hard-earned wisdom and taste, this Universe is kind. So kind in fact, that we can adjust and re-live the past through other people, through recorded documentation, through art, literature and music. Hallelujah! Which I certainly hope, brings me, my SELF and these rushes of words to this new momeant in time, where I am typing, aware of you, a reader, and history (astory) gives us both (all) another opportunity to knock down and erase our previous oversights and laziness. Even our fears of radical shifts in perception and expression. Ascetic. Aesthetic. Cells of a large interdependent organism. Monks. Music of Magritte frozen. Timelessness transfixed.
Monks. Thee monks. The monks. Live. Living. Fantastic. Ah t'were that easy to just encapsulate everything I feel and felt in a few choice and barren words. Fantastic all words, fanatical words. For I am a fan. Rarely, but happily. For, as just such a fan, of this phenomenon "the monks", I address and juggle this jigsaw of mind alongside you with one intent: To convince you of your impeccable taste should you already have purchased this CD, or to be the final lurching conviction of the necessity to purchase, should you be hesitant and need resolve.
Why? Why should that be, that one being wishes to help persuade another to make choices, choices set in the fabric of popular, and not so, culture. Choices requiring a new retrospective, retro-active, judgement and interpretation of that which seemed written in stone, sorted out and fixed like a black and white photographic image. The re-creation through a slice of creativity of about 70 minutes of co-ordinated contradictions. The graphic music and irresistible compulsion of monochrome kaleidoscopic traces that is " monk music". That which insists on being given its due reward, a priority position in the pantheon of tradition rending, innovative, naively unique and forever influential rock music.
How did we get to "the monks"? Why am I squeezed out from under my nice warm alternative rock by this twisted, loud, dada minimalist thud of protest and sensuality masquerading as a beat music combo? Monks. Spirit. Belief. Confession. Echoing cathedral engines in Vox boxes. I'll try and tell you exactly why as unspecifically as possible. By implication we shall know them.
I believe in music. Not just as the food of love, I remain ambivalent about how it works. I'm not sure it ever changed anything, yet I feel at times like it changes everything. I want it to. Because I desire change. Yet I don't want it to be able to either, because that might be too easy, and then we'd have totalitarian reprisals. So maybe, just maybe, music is a force. A means to make dreams explode and illuminate like 4th of July fireworks in New York. A mad method of acting out. A proverbial slap in the face of complacency, stasis, immovable objects and relationships ( same things) kicking out log jams of perception and, beaver like, deconstructing, constructing and nesting, re-ingesting and breeding a floating complex of discontent and protest. A petri dish of anti-gens, a vaccine against sleep, a war against waking up too much, too fast, food for thought. Music, whatever else it does, affects the brain directly, affects the body directly, affects one's sexuality pretty directly, records the mundane and the insane, the fabulous and the babble-ous with equanimity and without attachment. Music is a dissident, dispassionate observer filled with the passion born of the mystery of describing the mystery of being a mysterious being born on this funny planet in an apparently human(E) body at a particular moment in time and place. The most potent art, the most lastingly emotive music is, I truly believe, that which knowingly or intuitively describes precisely how it feels to be alive, thinking, trying to make sense of living in a particular environment and social situation or group at a very particular, dynamic moment in cultural history.
Why, now, "the monks"? Why should they trigger this outpouring? Because, illogically, impossibly, incandescently, and irrefutably "the monks", monk music, MONK MUSIC, by a means of divine intervention. Through genius, through a medium like a collective idiot savant, because it IS, as much as a redwood is. Somehow, random chance; cut-up experience; intuition; limitations of technique and equipment; group compromise; sexual tension; plus everything else one's six senses filter and adjust, catalyzed by hunger to express; opportunism; a disgust at post-war hypocrisy on all levels; at militarism and a desire to have alternatives to straight work; all these combined at a magickal and less than profitable moment in time (as it turned out!) to be recorded live and on tape under the icon chosen as metaphor and provocation by Eddie, Roger, Gary, Dave and Larry. "The monks". A baptism to inspire in the fire of black monk time.
I suspect that only the best of bands have the audacity and faith in themselves to turn to each other with supreme confidence saying "Let's start a beat." I know that the Velvet Underground did that, the Pretty Things too…even Throbbing Gristle. To my way of thinking, if you don't have an amicable arrangement with mother cut-up, with so-called random chance, synchronicity and immediacy, then you are primarily showbusiness, which although it sometimes includes novelty (and even, once in a while, risk taking) usually precludes those gigantic moonhopping strides that forever alter our doors, windows, windmills, and means of perception. The mind is a terribly wonder-full thing.
In this monkmusic, these dum dum bullets of songs so descriptive of the intersection of five displaced, upstart Americans I can hear fairground calliopes; early gospel rock and roll; military beats; ragtime; even, dare I say it, a little polka from the Hamburger holler; and a lot of savvy, sarcastic commentary and preciously cynical attitude. I hear a cheekiness that softens the edges of an aural apocalypse and it doesn't matter if the monks new or not these sounds were here, or if it was knowing or innocent that they somehow encapsulate the post-war occupied German environment so exactly. All these collisions and elements, in the end are merely the facets and sonic edges of the rough cut diamond that is larger than chic, closer to the source of an immense energy that, through hidden but enormous pressures, created this priceless moment in music, this crystalline clear, refracting gem that focus and displays an illumination that can never wear away, dull or lose its purity or intensity.
"the monks" strip away the decorative paraphanalia of the sixties post-Elvis song. Remove so much extraneous material until then considered essential to a well-crafted pop anthem with a ruthlessness not to be seen again until the intellectualised minimalism of New York, and the seminal explorations of early Industrial music in England years later. "Pretty Suzanne", "I Hate You"; "monktime"; "Higgle Dy Piggle Dy" sound so ultra-(post?)modern now, especially the atonal roarings of guitar in these live 1999 Cavestomp performances, that a thrill chill of a future leaking through from a past murkily invades the marrow of one's jaded bones and rejuvenates inspiration like a Keith Richard's transfusion. My God! Our brain blurts. Can you imagine what they'd have been like if they'd played in London in 1966-67 AND taken acid! How hugely popular they would have been! Oh how I wish!
All these songs are riffs. Riffs with the potential for infinite progressions and swirling improvisations. Riffs are the best non-aligned units for a single-minded and original research platform parading in the guise of a beat combo called "the monks". Sometimes to pretend to be a rock band is the best camouflage for any group of radicals to infiltrate the enemies territory. Monk songs are uniquely, carelessly modern precis of living. Sparse to the point of perverse. Taking the least to achieve the most. The soul of poetry. I keep trying to think of other metaphors to highlight the sheer beauty of how little is consciously used to affect so much. I was right before…dumdum bullets. These short sharp flying projectiles of music and slogans rip through all one's aesthetic armour and splinter and shatter into thousands of deconstructing, preconception-levelling-seizures of sheer sonic supremacy.
That we have these recordings. That the monks made music so pristine. That thanks to Jon Weiss and his crew of visionaries they played live again with such visible enthusiasm, enabling us to listen and re-evaluate with awe the accelerating relevance of their work. That 30 years could only distill the heady infusion to a perfect bouquet sipped to savour but always ending up with pulsing intoxication. That we have all this is really a blessing. Thank you monks.
Copyright genesis p-orridge nyc 2000