The Monks were one of the greatest rock ‘n’ roll bands ever. They came from nowhere—five G.I.s stationed in Germany about to muster out of the U.S. Army when Vietnam and the Beatles were both heating up—and they sounded like nobody else on their single album Black Monk Time and they faded away after only a few years, so shell-shocked that they had to struggle to remember how to be Americans again. Light In The Attic has just reissued Black Monk Time (with vital outtakes like “Pretty Suzanne”) and the pre-Monk Time demos. Founders Eddie Shaw and Gary Burger (who reveals the location of the lost last Monks session!) speak now about the Monk times. These interviews by Chris Ziegler. Read Part One of the interview (with Monks bassist Eddie Shaw) here.
Are you still the mayor of your town?
Gary Burger (vocals/guitar): I’m the mayor. I’ve been the mayor fifteen years in this fine little city of Turtle River and I originally ran on the ‘no progress’ platform and that’s still sucking ‘em in. No change at all. We don’t want new people moving in—we don’t want progress.
Do people call you up? ‘Gary, come over and fix my pipes!’
No, the mayor don’t do that kind of work. I’ve got a recording studio. I’m about to bring some boys in—I got a great drummer Len Curio from L.A. I got a terrific bassist from Minneapolis and a local keyboard player and myself and we’re gonna produce a Gary Burger album. Some of them are protest songs. Some are damn near a love song. It’s sort of eclectic and it worries me because I’m going to be yelling at money mongers and bankers. I wrote that damn song ten years ago!
Are you still yelling like you used to? Do you still have the voice?
Oh, man, that’s all I can do. I’ve always thought, ‘Hey, I should be a crooner,’ but no—that’s a mistake. I need to yell, I guess, before people will listen to me. And sometimes they turn me off even then. It’s a good way to get your frustrations out. Just go yell in a recording studio where nobody is hearing you but yourself—at least that day. And later on they can listen if they want. But I’m pretty excited about this new recording I’ve got 18 songs that are all original. I’m playing guitar on it too. 18 wont make the cut but we’ll see what happens. I’ve got my players here for five days. We don’t believe in taking two years or six months to do an album. It’s basically set the band up, get good sound and let ‘er rip.
Your German managers wanted you to be the hardest band in the world—do you think that actually came true?
At that time? Yeah. The audiences didn’t appreciate it very much and the bar owners hated it. They used to say, ‘What happened to my nice little band the Torquays? Now you guys are playing this crap and you’re running my customers out of the place. I loved you before and I hate you now.’ Pretty strong stuff for a band that’s counting on these businesses to make our living. We managed it for quite a while and it eventually petered out.
What kind of people were really connecting with you guys?
We had some people who would actually shave their heads and wear black. There were a few of those. They were dedicated and became our friends—they just saw something in the music and in us that struck a chord with them. We were probably the only band on the continent at the time that would shout, ‘Why’d you kill all those kids over there in Vietnam?’ I don’t think the English groups were doing that and the German groups certainly were not and there were people in the States that were doing it with the anti-war movement growing in the states. Dylan had some pretty damn pointed songs about it all. And Barry McGuire.
How much did your Army training influence the Monks?
The band was a pretty loose show. The Army didn’t have much to do with that, and as far as the look, it was the manager’s creation. It was still a rock ‘n roll band. People say what kind of music is it—punk? Naw, hell—I thought it was rock ‘n roll. Punk? What was that in ’66? If you called somebody punk that meant they were a shithead or a young dummy or something.
Do you feel like you laid the groundwork for the punk music that would happen later?
I don’t want to go that far, my friend. There’s a lot of people out there in the history of music who have made little steps in this direction or that direction and the Monks were just another step. I think what we did with our anti-war songs—we were one of the first ones, in Europe for sure, to do that. I’m very proud of that. When we went out to play or when we regrouped for these reunion concerts in the last few years, I couldn’t bring myself to sing or yell, ‘Why’d you kill all those kids over there in Vietnam?’ That’s ancient history. So I put in words like, ‘Why’d you kill all those kids in Iraq?’ Or Afghanistan? That makes sense. There’s always going to be a war—it just pisses me off that there’s always going to be a war. If there’s not one going on, just wait a week.
I know there’s a little tension about those lyrics.
Who said that? I don’t think I was ever uncomfortable with it—I think Eddie was. I always felt good about it. Even though I was an Army guy and I had connections with friends who were in the Army after we became the Monks, they didn’t want to go to Vietnam. They heard the stories. The Army is one big rumor pipeline inside it. You hear the stories of people who have been there and they didn’t want to go. But on the other hand I can relate to Eddie’s spookiness about doing those songs—he never did want to do that sort of thing. But I was pleased about it. I think it’s what the Monks had to do. If the Monks were truly going to have any impact in 1966, we better be saying something about the Vietnam War. When we go out now, we don’t do that. I’m talking about new wars and that still makes Eddie uncomfortable. Eddie is just not comfortable with any of this protest stuff. I guess I’m not afraid of repercussions. I’m not spooked by what the world might say about me. I’m an individual. I’m a leader, not a follower.
Eddie said in the book all the Monks songs were love songs—what do you think? Were the protest songs love songs?
Not the protest songs. But we get asked about ‘I Hate You’ which happens to be one of my favorites—I love to sing that song today. That’s a love song—‘I hate you but call me?’ Come on. How many relationships have we had in our lives where we’re like, ‘I don’t know if I like this person but I’d sure like to hear from them’?
What was the most romantic Monks moment?
That’s almost X-rated! Eddie said something that I always liked, and I don’t like too much of what he says, but I liked this—he said that when we were the Torquays we got the nice girls and after we became the Monks we got the bad girls.
Is that a step in the right direction?
Well, it was for the Monks—at least we were still getting girls!
What do you think the Monks’ message was?
I think if anything, songs like ‘Complication’ and ‘Monk Time’ raise the awareness to stand up and say something about the inequities going on in the world. War is number one. There’s so many areas—it would be about impossible to cover all the bases. Starvation, poverty—it just goes on and on. I think putting that message out with the original Monks was a good thing to do. And I think I’ve said it twice that I’m very proud of the Monks for having those two particular cuts on our albums these days. Without those two cuts, I think the Monks would have been a bubblegum punk band. ‘Shut Up,’ too—that’s another possible anti-war song. ‘The world is worried, the world is always worried’—let’s find a damn world where we’re not so damn worried about everything and we can just live our lives in peace and accomplish our personal goals. Not whether you do or not but at least have the chance to accomplish your personal goals.
Was it true that you guys got bags of fan mail?
Yeah, we would get fan mail. ‘Hey, we love you and we’re coming to see you and my name is Brigitte.’
What do you think the Monks experience did to you as a person?
I went in enthusiastic and came out sobered. I didn’t want to hear any more about the Monks after I came back to the States. I didn’t feel like an American. I missed Europe and I missed my friends and I missed the life. It took me years to really settle down again and become an American again. We weren’t German, we weren’t French, we weren’t Italian, we weren’t Swedish, we were Americans that became something else and we became something else because we lived there, spoke the language, ate that food, heard their newscasts—didn’t hear CNN, didn’t hear NBC, didn’t hear CBS news. We eventually lost a good share of our American identity because we were relating to people who were non-American. I don’t want to say we became German because that isn’t so. We just became more international in attitude. When I got back to the States I didn’t like it here. I got back here in ‘68 and around 1974 I sold everything that I had and I was single again and I did it to finance a trip to Germany and I went over that with the idea that I might stay here—but Germany had marched on without me for four or five years and it was already too late. It was a sobering experience but I came back and eventually ended up where I am now and built a new life, new career, new happiness and what’s kept me interested and excited during these times is to continue writing songs. I haven’t pressed anybody to try to shop them or go that direction but I’m about to change that that. I’m gonna move that next little album around, assuming it comes out good.
I found a quote where you’re talking about how in some ways you feel there is no place for people in the world who wanna be different and so they just get crushed. Do you still feel that way?
Sometimes, yeah. People who want to be different—well, who are different, who speak out or do things that are not part of the normal grain can be penalized. I’m not saying I am—I don’t believe that any more from my point of view. And I do believe that anybody who wants to make a statement through music or however—who are we to penalize anybody? We should be encouraging people to have discussion and have new ideas and be allowed to experiment and try them.
Is there any Monks music you’d like to still see come out? Any unreleased recordings?
There’s a couple more recordings that haven’t been released and probably never will be. We recorded them in the Top Ten Club in Hamburg. They’re sitting here on a shelf about ten feet away from me.
Are you kidding? Everybody is going to come after you for those!
Tell them I’ve got three big dogs and they’re all mean! I think the Monks have mutually agreed that it will just stay where it is—the world doesn’t need it. They’ll stay there.
Do you feel a sense of vindication now with these reissues?
Amazement was the first reaction—the second was that this was okay. The third is some satisfaction that the Monks still leave a wake and that’s pretty damn cool. There’s been thousands of groups that have worked just as hard as the Monks did or harder and haven’t managed to have that wake behind them. And the ship’s still moving. It is still satisfying, I’m just hoping to hell nobody wants to shoot me for being a Monk! The only time that I felt physically at potential risk was once in south Germany, a fella jumped on stage and started to choke the life out of me for being a Monk. But that was kind of a Nazi zone down there at the time and that was the only time.
What pushed him over the edge?
I don’t have a clue. It was just the way we looked, just the way we sounded. I don’t think he even understood what we were singing.
He was just inspired to engage with you?
Yes, he was. I hit him in the side of the face with my guitar neckpiece with all those little strings sticking out and he let go right quick and security got to him right quick. I was glad to be done with that show though—I can remember that!
Read Chris Ziegler’s interview with Monks bassist Eddie Shaw here.