presents... Interesting Motherfucker: (noun)
An individual exhibiting such uniqueness or individuality that he or she will cause a roomful of bar cronies to exclaim, "That's one interesting motherfucker!" Actual sexual relations with one's mother are not required.

Click here for more Interesting Motherfuckers.

By Wil Forbis

Dig it Daddy-o. You're at the Five Spot, New York city, 1956. Monk is banging out angular melodies on the piano while Trane soars high above him. Art Blakey pounds out synchronious, erratic beats on the drums. Off to your right is a white cat, high on something, arhythmically snapping his fingers in the air, a faraway look on his face. A young Negro doll saunters up to you and coyly whispers an invitation in your ear. Suddenly, a large dragon appears out of the men's room and emits and twenty foot blast of flame that vaporizes two club patrons and a waitress. People began screaming and then the zombies attack, hoards of them, clawing about for the taste of human flesh. But Monk keeps playing, dimly aware of what's happening around him, lost in the world of his music.

Did stuff like that really happen at clubs like the Five Spot in the 50's? Beats me, I wasn't even born yet. (I'm pretty sure I made up the part about dragons and zombies.) But there's no doubt that in the 40's and 50's, jazz clubs like the Five-Spot, Mintons, Max's Kansas City and the Blue Note were happening scenes. Jazz was in its prime. It had matured from dance hall swing but had yet to be turned into the safe soulless "jazz" glop that now provides background noise for call-waiting. It was an experimental and dynamic artform, always taking chances, always breaking new ground, a speedboat racing down the alligator infested Amazon, barely held on course by improvisational admirals like Miles Davis, Charlie 'Bird' Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and, of course, Thelonious Sphere Monk.

How did I, Wil Forbis, the whitest cracker around come to dig on Monk and that bebop subset of jazz he co-founded with other participants of the late night jams in jazz clubs in the forties? It's a funny story actually - I owe my discovery of Monk to my mother. My mom's given me a lot over the years - my seething "just below the surface" misogyny, my confident belief God will never let me be happy, my manic episodes of creative highs followed by crushing lows of artistic impotency*, my hated of broccoli - BUT she also left several Monk albums at my Dad's place. (I think it was in the divorce agreement - she got the kid, he got the Monk albums.) One summer there, near the age of 18 and fresh faced from two years of guitar playing and a love affair with heavy metal (that continues to this day I might add, lest you clowns accuse me of becoming "sophisticated") I picked up a couple albums, curious about this Monk cat I'd heard a bit about in the guitar mags. I placed said albums on the turntable and was blown away!

*Artistic impotency folks. I'm still packing WMDs when it comes to the bedroom.

Now jazz in and of itself is enough of a headtrip, especially for the uninitiated, but Monk's music was (and is) some kind of monster. Most jazz musicians of the forties made at least passing acknowledgment to the melodic jazz standards that came before them. But Monk sounded like a six-year-old kid frying on acid while trying to play his favorite clown music. You could hear the roots of his sound - stride piano and the blues - but it was clear he had gone in a direction at that point unseen in popular music. His compositions were unpredictable, unpararelled, and unprecedented!

Technically the music Monk played would be titled "Bebop." Bebop is the music style best knowing for coining the lyric, "Bebop a loo-bop, she's my baby!" but it was that and so much more. As forementioned, it was formed out of jams in the forties involving the jazz greats of the era. Charlie Parker's Bebop was a fast paced assault of dense notitude and stop time rhythm. Miles Davis was more laid back, like a slow ooze of honey (or flesh eating acid.) (Davis wouldn't really secure his place in jazz history till he started the "cool" jazz sound of the fifties.) Monk's bop contained the complex harmonies and crazed rhythms particular to the style but beyond that he was doing his own thing. His melodies leapt about the keyboard in wide intervals, his rhythms locked into syncopations only found by the most surgically precise dissections of the basic jazz groove, his improvisations dealt as much with empty space as they did with actual sounds. And yet despite all that, there was a certain childishness to his compositions. His question and answer motifs sounded like the singsong melodies your toddler brother or nephew might endlessly whistle before you stuffed him in a crate and sold him to the weird bachelor gentleman down the street.


Of course, like a lot of guys ahead of their time (myself for example), Monk struggled in obscurity for most of his early years. During his formative decade playing with cats like Art Blakey and Parker he garnered a cool reception from honkey critics who couldn't handle his way-out sound. Things went from bad to worse when, in 1951, he was nailed in a drug bust (and get this, this shit wasn't even his but belonged to another spacey cat, pianist Bud Powell!) and New York City took away his cabaret card, severely limiting his performance options. It wasn't until 1955 when he recorded an album of Duke Ellington covers for the Riverside label that he started to generate a buzz. A couple albums later he released "Brilliant Corners" which brought his songwriting front and center. From there he got his cabaret license back, did a residency at the Five Spot with John Coltrane and finally started getting the recognition he deserved. This led to the sixties wherein Monk landed a cover on Time magazine, got signed to Columbia records and finally established himself as a jazzman of note (though probably a dissonant note.) Keep in mind that at this point many of his Bop contemporizes had long since faded from view. (Parker was dead, Diz was still playing though his heyday was behind him, Miles Davis was the only one still creating fresh and new music.)

Throughout the years Monk's health had been decline (it's well discussed he may have suffered from a variety of mental illnesses - anything from schizophrenia to Tourette's) and in 1972 he removed himself from the public eye. During his final days he holed up in the house of infamous jazz patron Baroness Nica de Koenigswarter (Bird died in her apartment), eventually suffering a fatal stroke in 1982.

Of course an article such as this can only scratch the surface of the artistic legacy of Thelonious. If you want a good introduction to Monk the best thing would be if someone walked you up to him and said, "Thelonious, I'd like you to meet (your name here.)" But since he's been dead for more than two decades (and even in life he only hung out with cool cats, not dorks like you) that's not gonna happen, so I recommend the documentary "Straight, No Chaser," produced by jazz aficionado, Clint Eastwood. I've also heard good things about the biography of the same name though I haven't gotten around to reading it yet. (It's on my list right after The Real Bettie Page.)

But if you're not hip to all that "reading" nonsense (and who can blame you?) just pick up any one the great Monk albums (like the one I started with) and prepare to have your mind blown. It's sure to trip your hip groove all the way out of whack, daddy-o! And I ain't jiving you!

Man, all this jazz talk is wearing me out.

Acid Logic presents: The alternate history of Thelonious Monk.

Conventional wisdom argues that Thelonious was a slightly weird but essentially normal dude who had some wacky ideas about music. But conventional wisdom also said that pursuing a hedonistic lifestyle of massive drug use and non-stop sexual dalliances would eventually have negative effects on your life and we know what a load of batshit that turned out to be. That's why I did some extra research for this article as discovered a whole plethora of little known Monk factoids that I present for you in the handy timeline below.

1917 - A tiny baby is deposited on the doorstep of Mrs. Monk by a mysterious figure known only as Doctor X. He supplies a lifetime supply of Protein Water designed to stimulate young Thelonious' "alpha waves"; waves modern science has now shown are responsible for the development of kooky melodies.

1924 - Thelonious is bitten by a rabid dog wearing a green Mohawk. Thelonious goes into a coma for three days, then awakes in perfect health. He says he has seen the "way of the holy hamburger."

1928  - At age 11, Thelonious is visited by aliens who impart upon him the greatest advancement of their civilization: the minor second interval.

1947 - Thelonious marries his wife Nellie who has since been revealed to be a reincarnation of the Egyptian goddess Isis. Not bad for a kid from North Carolina.

1972 - Thelonious retires from playing music to become the United States leading secret agent against communism. Les than ten years later he disguises himself as Osama bin Laden and leads the Afghani rebels in a successful bid to remove Soviet Troops from their country.

1982 - Thelonious's mortal form dies. His spiritual presence ascends to heaven, vowing to return in the year 2007 when he will "destroy all of humanity." (The scriptures on this are a little vague so he may just be vowing to "destroy Sean Hannity.") 

Wil Forbis writes many strange and amusing things for a variety of top secret organizations like Entertainment Weekly.

View Wil's Acid Logic web log!

Meet some other Interesting Motherfuckers:

Ray Walston by John Saleeby
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Mitch Hedberg
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The last of the comedy greats!
Al Jafee
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Mad Magazine's cartoon master.
GG Allin
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David Allan Coe by Wil Forbis
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Bernie Casey by John Saleeby
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Bret Easton Ellis by Tom Waters
Peruse the critical overview and interview with the fiction superstar.
Phil Lynott by Wil Forbis
Thin Lizzy's frontman rose from the streets of Ireland to the heights of rock stardom and then descended into the pit of drug abuse.
Louis CK by Sean C Tarry
Marvel at this stand up's ability to phrase the opposite of every song.
Sho Kosugi by Wil Forbis
Fear the power of the Ninja! Fear it, Bitch!
Bill Hicks by Cody Wayne
The mind expanding comedian gets his due.
Warren Zevon by Xander Horlyk
A literary look at "a moralist in cynic's clothing."
Pam Grier by John Saleeby
Sweet Christmas! It's the queen of blaxploitation, Foxy Brown herself!
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When he created the elite police unit of "Dragnet," Jack Webb laid the first blow against the scourge of America: Hippies!
Doris Wishman by Wil Forbis
The prolific adult film maker, whose work includes the classic Chesty Morgan movies, is probed and prodded.
Dave Thomas by John Saleeby
Wendy's Dave Thomas was all about Biggie Fries, Frosties and love.
Spike Milligan by John Saleeby
Read up on the life of the British comedy scribe.
Toshiro Mifune by Wil Forbis
The Japanese actor who slashed his way through a thousand samurai movies.
Nina Hagen by Wil Forbis
The Wagnerian Banshee who created the blueprint for punk/funk/opera.

Bob and Tommy Stinson by John Saleeby
Get to know the real talents of eighties punk sensations, The Replacements.

Tom Savini by John Saleeby
The king of latex gore.

And there's even more on our main page!

Additional Monk Material:
The Wikipedia Bio:
From the name you trust (sort of.)

Gary Wittner :
A guy who plays Monk on guitar. Trippy stuff.

The Time magazine article on Monk
Reprinted by the good people at Monkzone.

Monk institute for Jazz

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