The first time I met Monk was around 1993. I was hanging out with the Hate Camp crew at Bench One on the Berkeley campus. Sort of noodling away on my guitar. We had all been jamming. But it was a temporary lull in the festivities. Monk sat down next to me and started wailing away on his guitar. He could play rock. He could play jazz. He could play different styles. He was playing sort of Steven Stills kind of stuff at this moment. Which I enjoyed. So I started playing along with him on my guitar. Monk suddenly stopped playing. Gave me a disdainful look. And said:
“I’m a solo act.”
Ha ha. That was Monk in a nutshell.
Monk was a very abrasive guy. He was always mouthing off at people. Monk was one of those guys that didn’t have any editing mechanism connected to his mouth. So he was always getting into conflicts with other people. Guys threatening to beat his ass. And etc. Monk came across as extremely arrogant and egotistical. So, like most people, I was put off by Monk at first. But after awhile you realized it was just an act to compensate for some deep-rooted insecurities. So I came to enjoy Monk as a classic type, the way one might enjoy watching an exaggerated caricature in a movie.
In 1995 I put on a record release party at the Ashkenaz to promote the Telegraph Street Music CD that I had recorded. And I invited about 20 Berkeley street musicians, including Monk, to play at the show. True to form, Monk got into a big altercation with one of the other musicians in the dressing room. The other guy got so pissed he smashed his guitar and stormed out of the club. So we were off to a roaring start. . . . . Most of the musicians, when they got on stage, said variations of “I’d like to thank Ace Backwords the great man for putting me on his CD.” And etc. Not Monk. Ha ha. When Monk took the stage he spent the first ten minutes haranguing me, going on and on about what an asshole I was. “Ace Backwords ruined my life by not publishing my poetry!!” And etc. The audience was packed with all my friends. So they all started heckling Monk. “SHUT UP AND START PLAYING SOME MUSIC!!” they shouted at him. Monk looked at the audience disdainfully and said: “Fuck you! I ain’t getting paid for this gig. I’ll do whatever the fuck I want.” When he finally shut up and played a song it was brilliant, of course. (Later I asked Monk why he did that. He said; “I just wanted to jerk your chain, Ace.” Ha ha)
Like a lot of musicians, Monk liked drugs. He liked to slam heroin, and smoke crack and meth, and drop acid, and drink alcohol. He liked it all. Monk was basically an unhappy and unsatisfied person. He had some kind of unresolved conflict at the center of his psyche. So he was always eager to alter his consciousness by any means necessary.
Some time around 2000 Monk came into a lot of money. His grandmother died and he inherited a half a million dollars. Or something like that. But the money didn’t change him much. He was constantly complaining and kvetching just like always.
Monk used some of his money to self-publish a novel. The main character was loosely based on himself. This poetry-rappin’, sax-blowin’ San Francisco street cat who was a genius artist and possibly the coolest person on the planet earth. Written under his pseudonym “Hank Deadwood,” ironically enough. Monk had a heavy identification with the whole Beat thing, the bohemian trip; Kerouac and Burroughs and hipsters shooting dope and creating artistic masterpieces and that whole dream.
The last time I saw Monk, he came down to Telegraph with his electric guitar and amp and started jamming in front of Cody’s Books. “I just shot some heroin,” Monk told me. Monk’s face would get strangely lop-sided when he did heroin. His face would finally relax into this sad-sack expression and he’d lose the tense and paranoid expression that was usually on his face. Some of his playing was brilliant that day. But there was some sloppiness, too. All the drugs were starting to wear him down.
Monk rented out a room at this notorious crackhouse hotel on McCarthur Blvd in Oakland. And I guess he must have done too much drugs. Because one day he ODed and slipped into a coma. The maid came into his room the next day to clean the room and found Monk lying on the floor. But it was too late by that point. He was a vegetable.
Danny went to visit him in the hospital. Monk was hooked up to all these machines. When Danny came back from the hospital he said: “Monk as we know him no longer exists.”