Gary Burger, lead singer of the seminal '60s rock band the Monks, died earlier today at the age of 72, following a prolonged battle with pancreatic cancer. Burger led the feedback-laden garage-rock sound of the Monks, a distinctive sounding -- and looking -- band who helped lay the musical groundwork for the harder edged punk sound that would eventually materialize a decade later.
Burger was elected mayor of Turtle River, Minnesota, in 2006, and in recent years, he delighted local fans with some truly scintillating live shows featuring raucous cuts from the Monks' landmark first and only studio album, Black Monk Time.
The Monks were as striking visually as they were musically, dressing in black robes and shaving their heads into the tonsure-style worn by actual monks. Back in 2009, City Pages' Andrea Swensson wrote a profile on the Monks and Gary Burger, and the legendary singer had this to say about their idiosyncratic hairstyles:
"We didn't like it that much, the haircut," Burger says, laughing. "You had to shave the thing almost every day, or else you'd get a stubble like a guy gets after a day of not shaving. So we all had electric razors--it was a funny sight, you'd see us all in our room shaving our heads."
But the Monks' instantly recognizable (and heavily marketed) style was only part of the allure of the band, and ultimately represented a mere fraction of what made them musically interesting and sonically adventurous. Their boisterous, occasionally abrasive sound was created to rouse the listener, and rouse us they did with their dissonant call to arms.
The Monks were originally called the Torquays, a group consisting of five GIs who had been shipped out to Germany in 1964. After they were discharged from the Army, the band stuck around Germany and played some of the legendary clubs where the Beatles initially made their mark.
In addition to recent reissues of Black Monk Time along with some of the band's early demos and singles, Burger also played a couple of rare but enthusiastically received live shows in town (at the 331 Club in January of 2012 and at Lee's Liquor Lounge later that same year), which ensures that his legacy will live on in the hearts of all who attended those memorable shows. Burger famously encouraged the crowd to boo him and his band while they were in the midst of their rambunctious set, which only added a hostile vitality and edge to songs that were already brimming with plenty of attitude.
Gary Burger and his spirited band of Monks left a definitive, untamed musical legacy, and their influence continues within the raw garage-rock sound that permeates so much of modern music today. Burger clearly had a lot of fun sharing his music with his fans, and that passion comes through loud and clear in the turbulent songs and indelible memories that he left behind for all of us. Safe travels, Gary. You will be missed.
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