A Letter from the Publisher.
When this week's cover artist first met this week's cover subject, neither quite knew what to make of the other. Painter Boris Chaliapin, son of the late, famed Russian basso, is somewhat more at home in the hot world of opera than in the cool domains of latter-day bop. In answer to requests, Jazz Pianist Thelonious Monk would mutter "All reet," greatly confusing Chaliapin. When he finally caught on, Chaliapin replied in Russian-accented retaliation: "All root."
During four sittings Thelonious had a disconcerting habit of dropping off to sleep. Chaliapin would yell at him, "Monk, Monk, wake up!", then prod him out of his armchair and walk him around the studio. Says he: "Monk's very strange - in the best sense of the word." As for Thelonious, it took him a week to learn to pronounce the painter's name. Having mastered it, he improvised a song that repeated "Chaliapin! Chaliapin!" over and over again, in the manner of "Hallelujah!"
Monk has not yet given this treatment to the name of TIME's music writer, but he may one day get around to a "Barry Farrell! Barry Farrell!" chorus. While preparing the cover story, Farrell found that you "can't really interview Monk." He had about 30 chats with him, spread over two or three months, mostly walking around outside the Five Spot, Monk's Manhattan base, or sitting in some dark bar at 2 a.m. - "just like Cosa Nostra."
Farrell considers himself "a jazz fan in a way I am not a fan of anything else," takes a night or two each week "to beat about the scene." But he thinks that for all its joy, jazz is surrounded by so much sadness that "to just say you love jazz is wrong."
One of the incidental benefits of jazz has always been to enrich the American idiom. A fairly recent jazz expression, used in this week's cover story, is "bag." meaning school, camp or category. In the occasionally special journalistic idiom we speak at work here at TIME, the expression may prove useful; we may yet end up referring to what is going on in the Democratic bag, the United Nations bag, the fashion, Pop art or symphonic bag. But one thing our cover story makes clear beyond doubt: there is no one else quite like Thelonious Monk in the jazz bag.
Bernhard M. Auer - Publisher
© TIME magazine 1964.
(photo of Barry Farrell by Ben Martin.)
The Loneliest Monk.
Everyone who came to meet his plane wore a fur hat, and the sight was too much for him to bear, "Man, we got to have those!" he told his sidemen, and for fear that the hat stores would be closed before they could get to downtown Helsinki, they fled from the welcome-to-Finland ceremonies as fast as decency permitted. And sure enough, when Thelonious Monk shambled out on the stage of the Kulituuritalo that night to the spirited applause of 2,500 young Finns, there on his head was a splendid creation in fake lamb's wool.
At every turn of his long life in jazz, Monk's hats have described him almost as well as the name his parents had the crystal vision to invent for him 43 years ago - Thelonious Sphere Monk. It sounds like an alchemist's formula or a yoga ritual, but during the many years when the owner merely strayed through life (absurd beneath a baseball cap), it was the perfect name for the legends dreamed up to account for his sad silence. "Thelonious Monk? He's a recluse, man!" In the mid-'40's, when Monk's reputation at last took hold in the jazz underground, his name and his mystic utterances ("It's always night or we wouldn't need light") made him seem like the ideal Dharma Bum to an audience of hipsters; anyone who wears a Chinese coolie hat and has a name like that must be cool.
Now Monk has arrived at the summit of serious recognition he deserved all along, and his name is spoken with the quiet reverence that jazz itself has come to demand. His music is discussed in composition courses at Juilliard, sophisticates find in it affinities with Webern, and French Critic Andre Hodeir hails him as the first jazzman to have "a feeling for specifically modern esthetic values." The complexity jazz has lately acquired has always been present in Monk's music, and there is hardly a jazz musician playing who is not in some way indebted to him. On his tours last year he bought a silk skullcap in Tokyo and a proper chapeau at Christian Dior's in Paris. When he comes home to New York next month with his Finnish lid, he will say with inner glee, "Yeah - I got it in Helsinki."
The spectacle of Monk at large in Europe last week was cheerful evidence, too, of how far jazz has come from its Deep South beginnings. In Amsterdam, Monk and his men were greeted by a sellout crowd of 2,000 in the Concertgebouw, and their Dusseldorf audience was so responsive that Monk gave the Germans his highest blessing, "These cats are with it!" The Swedes were even more hip: Monk played to a Stockholm audience that applauded some of his compositions on the first few bars, as if he were Frank Sinatra singing Night and Day, and Swedish television broadcast the whole concert live. Such European enthusiasm for a breed of cat many Americans still consider weird if not downright wicked, may seem something of a puzzle. But to many jazzmen touring Europe, it is one more proof that the limits of the art at home are more sociological than esthetic.
Though Monk's career has been painful and often thankless, it has also been a tortoise-and-hare race with flashier, more ingratiating men - many of whom got lost in narcotic fogs, died early in squalor and disgrace or abandoned their promise, to fall silent on their horns. Monk goes on. It is his high philosophy to be different, and having steadily ignored all advice and all the fads and vogues of jazz that made lesser musicians grow rich around him, he now reaps the rewards of his conviction gladly but without surprise. He has a dignified, three-album-a-year contract with Columbia Records, his quartet could get bookings 52 weeks a year, and his present tour of Europe is almost a sellout in 20 cities from Helsinki to Milan. In his first fat year, Monk earned $50,000, and on checks as well as autograph books he signs his grand name grandly, like a man drawing a bird.
Monk's lifework of 57 compositions is a diabolical and witty self-portrait, a string of stark snapshots of his life in New York. Changing meters, unique harmonics and oddly voiced chords create the effect of a desparate conversation in some other language, a fit of drunken laughter, a shout from a park at night. His melodies make mocking twins of naivete and cynicism, of ridicule and fond memory, Ruby, My Dear and Nutty are likeably simple, Off Minor and Trinkle Tinkle are so complex that among pianists only Monk and his protege, Bud Powell, have been able to improvise freely upon them.
Monk's inimitable piano style is such an integral part of the music he has written that few jazz pianists have had much luck with even the Monk tunes that have become part of the standard jazz repertory. Monk himself plays with deliberate incaution, attacking the piano as if it were a carillon's keyboard or a finely tuned set of 88 drums. The array of sounds he divines from his Baldwin grand are beyond the reach of academic pianists, he caresses a note with the tremble of a bejeweled finger, then stomps it into its grave with a crash of elbow and forearm aimed with astonishing accuracy at a chromatic tone cluster an octave long.
Monk's best showcase has always been a cafe on Manhattan's Lower East Side called the Five Spot, where he ended a highly successful seven month engagement in January. The ambiance of the Five Spot is perfect for Monk's mood - dark: a little dank, smoke soaked and blue. Night after night, Monk would play his compositions - the same tunes over and over again, with what appeared to be continuing fascination with all that they have to say.
Then he would rise from the piano to perform his Monkish dance. It is always the same. His feet stir in a soft shuffle, spinning him slowly in small circles. His head rolls back until hat brim meets collar, while with both hands he twists his goatee into a sharp black scabbard. His eyes are hooded with an abstract sleepiness, his lips are pursed in a meditative O. His cultists may crowd the room, but when he moves among them, no one risks speaking: he is absorbed in a fragile trance, and his three sidemen play on while he dances alone in the darkness. At the last cry of the saxophone, he dashes to the piano and his hands strike the keys in a cat's pounce. From the first startled chord, his music has the urgency of fire bells.
At the piano, Monk is clearly tending to business, but once away from it, people begin to wonder. Aside from his hat and the incessant shuffle of his feet, he looks like a perfectly normal neurotic. "Solid!" and "All reet!" are about all he will say in the gravelly sigh that serves as his voice, but his friends attribute great spiritual strength to him. Aware of his power over people, Monk is enormously selfish in the use of it. Passive, poutish moods sweep over him as he shuffles about, looking away, a member of the race of strangers.
Every day is a brand-new pharmaceutical event for Monk: alcohol, Dexedrine, sleeping potions, whatever is at hand, charge through his bloodstream in baffling combinations. Predictably, Monk is highly unpredictable. When gay, he is gentle and blithe to such a degree that he takes to dancing on the sidewalks, buying extravagant gifts for anyone who comes to mind, playing his heart out. One day last fall he swept into his brother's apartment to dance before a full-length mirror so he could admire his collard-leaf boutonniere; he left without a word. "Hey!" he will call out, "Butterflies faster than birds? Must be, 'cause with all the birds on the scene up in my neighborhood, there's this butterfly, and he flies any way he wanna. Yeah. Black and yellow butterfly. Pretty butterfly." At such times, he seems a very happy man.
At other times he appears merely mad. He has periods of acute disconnection in which he falls totally mute. He stays up for days on end, prowling around desperately in his rooms, troubling his friends, playing the piano as if jazz were a wearying curse. In Boston Monk once wandered around the airport until the police picked him up and took him to Grafton State Hospital for a week's observation. He was quickly released without strings, and though the experience persuaded him never to go out on the road alone again, he now tells it as a certification of his sanity. "I can't be crazy," he says with conviction. "'cause they had me in one of those places and they let me go."
Much of the confusion about the state of Monk's mind is simply the effect of Monkish humor. He has a great reputation in the jazz world as a master of the "put-on," a mildly cruel art invented by hipsters as a means of toying with squares. Monk is proud of his skill. "When anybody says something that's a drag," he says, "I just say something that's a bigger drag. Ain't nobody can beat me at it either. I've had plenty of practice." Lately, though, Monk has been more mannerly and conventional. He says he hates the "mad genius" legend he has lived with for 20 years - though he's beginning to wonder politely about the "genius" part.
Monk's speculations were greatly encouraged in December, when he crowned all his recent achievements with a significant trip uptown from the Five Spot to Philharmonic Hall. There he presided over a concert by a special ten-piece ensemble and his own quartet. The music was mainly Monk's own - nine compositions from the early I Mean You to Oska T which he wrote last summer under a title that is his own transcription of an Englishman's saying "Ask for T", ("And the T," says Thelonious, "is me.") The concert was the most successful jazz event of the season, and Monk greeted his triumph with grace and style. At the piano he turned to like a blacksmith at a cranky forge - foot flapping madly, a moan of exertion fleeing his lips. The music he made suggested that the better he is received by his audience the better he gets.
Happenings in Harlem.
For Monk, the pleasure of playing in Philharmonic Hall was mainly geographical. The hall was built three blocks from the home he has occupied for nearly 40 years, and Monk serenely regards the choice of the site as a favor to him from the city fathers, a personal convenience, along with the new bank and other refinements that urban renewal has brought to his old turf. The neighborhood, in Manhattan's West 60's, is called San Juan Hill. It is one of the oldest and most decent of the city's Negro ghettos. Monk's family settled there in 1924, coming north from Rocky Mount, N.C., where Thelonious was born.
He was a quiet, obedient child, but his name very quickly set him apart. "Nobody messed with Thelonious," he recalls, "but they used to call me 'Monkey' and you know what a drag that was." His father returned to the South alone to recover from a long illness, leaving Monk's mother, a sternly correct civil servant, to work hard to give her three children a genteel polish. At eleven, Thelonious began weekly piano lessons at 75¢ an hour.
It took Monk only a year to discover that the pianists he really admired were not in the books - such players as Duke Ellington, Fats Waller, James P. Johnson. By the time he was 14, Monk was playing jazz at hard-times "rent parties" up in Harlem. He soon began turning up every Wednesday for amateur night at the Apollo Theater, but won so often, that he was eventually barred from the show. He was playing stride piano - a single note on the first and third beats of the bar, a chord on the second and fourth. Unable to play with the rococo wizardry of Art Tatum or Teddy Wilson, though, he found a way of his own. His small hands and his unusual harmonic sense made his style unique.
Monk quit high school at 16 to go on tour with a divine healer - "we played and she healed." But within a year he was back in New York, playing the piano at Kelly's Stable on 52nd Street. The street was jumping in those days, and in advance of the vogue, Monk bought a zoot suit and grew a beard; his mood, for a change, was just right for the time. The jazz world was astir under the crushing weight of swing; the big dance bands had carried off the healthiest child of Negro music and starved it of its spirit until its parents no longer recognized it. In defiant self-defense, Negro players were developing something new - "something they can't play," Monk once called it - and at 19, Monk got into the heart of things by joining the house band at Minton's.
The New Sound.
All the best players of the time would drop by to sit in at Minton's. Saxophonist Charlie "Bird" Parker, Trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, Drummer Kenny Clarke and Guitarist Charlie Christian were all regulars and, in fitful collaboration with them, Monk presided at the birth of bop. His playing was a needling inspiration to the others. Rhythms scrambled forward at his touch, the oblique boldness of his harmonies forced the horn players into flights the likes of which had never been heard before. "The Monk runs deep," Bird would say, and with some reluctance Monk became "the High Priest of Bebop." The name of the new sound, Monk now says, was a slight misunderstanding of his invention; "I was calling it bipbop, but the others must have heard me wrong."
When bop drifted out of Harlem and into wider popularity after the war, Monk was already embarked on his long and lonely scuffle. Straight bop - which still determines the rhythm sense of most jazzmen - was only a passing phase for Monk. He was outside the mainstream, playing a lean dissonant, unresolved jazz that most players found perilously difficult to accompany. Many musicians resented him, and he quickly lost his grip on steady jobs. Alone in his room, where he had composed his earliest music - 'Round Midnight; Well, You Needn't; Ruby, My Dear - he worked or simply stared at the picture of Billie Holiday tacked to his ceiling. In 1947 he made his first recording under his own name and witnessed to his horror, a breathless publicity campaign that sounded as if the Abominable Snowman had been caged by Blue Note Records.
The same year, Monk married a neighborhood girl named Nellie Smith, who had served a long and affectionate apprenticeship lighting his cigarettes and washing his dishes. Monk had always been unusually devoted to his mother; Nellie simply moved into his room so he could stay home with mom. Thus, to his intense satisfaction he had two mothers. He still found jobs hard to come by, so Nellie went to work as a clerk to buy him clothes and cheer him up with pocket money.
A Drink at Least.
Things were terrible until 1951, when they got worse. Monk was arrested along with Bud Powell when a packet of heroin was found in their possession. Monk had always been "clean" but he refused to let Powell take the rap alone. "Every day I would plead with him." Nellie says, '"Thelonious, get yourself out of this trouble. You didn't do anything" But he'd just say "Nellie, I have to walk the streets when I get out. I can't talk,"' Monk held his silence and was given 60 days in jail.
As soon as he was released, the police cancelled his "cabaret card," a document required of all entertainers who appear in New York nightclubs. Losing the card cost Monk his slender livelihood, but he had a reputation as an oddball and the police were adamant. For six years Monk could not play in New York; though he made a few records and went out on the road now and then, he was all but silenced. "everybody was saying Thelonious was weird or locked up." Nellie recalls, "But they just talked that way because they'd never see him. He hated to be asked why he wasn't working, and he didn't want to see anybody unless he could buy them a drink at least. Besides, it hurts less to be passed over for jobs if you aren't around to hear the other's names called. It was a bad time. He even had to pay to get into Birdland."
Monk was the man who was not with it, and jazz was passing him by. Miles Davis had come on with his "impressionist" jazz style - a rubato blowing in spurts and swoons, free of any vibrato, cooler than ice. The Modern Jazz Quartet was playing a kind of introverted 17th century jazz behind inscrutable faces, and Dave Brubeck (TIME cover November 8, 1954) introduced polished sound that came with the complete approval of Darius Milhaud. Suddenly jazz - one of the loveliest and loneliest of sounds, the creation of sad and sensitive men - was awash with rondos and fugues. The hipsters began dressing like graduate students.
Money & Medicine.
Monk was sustained during much of this bleak time by his friend, mascot and champion, the Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter, 50. The baroness had abandoned the aseptic, punctual world of her family* for the formless life of New York's night people. In 1955 she acquired undeserved notoriety when Charlie Parker died in her apartment ("BOP KING DIES IN HEIRESS' FLAT") She had merely made an honest stab at saving his life with gifts of money and medicine in his last few days. From then on, though, Nica cut a wide swath in the jazz world. She is, after all, not a Count Basie or a Duke Ellington, but an honest-to-God Baroness, seeing her pull up in her Bentley with a purse crammed with Chivas Regal, the musicians took enormous pride in her friendship.
Monk was her immediate fascination, and Monk, who only has eyes for Nellie, cheerfully took her on as another mother. She gave him rides, rooms to compose and play in, and, in 1957, help in getting back the vital cabaret card. The baroness, along with Monk's gentle manager, a Queens high school teacher named Harry Colomby, collected medical evidence that Monk was not a junkie, along with character references by jazzmen and musical scholars. The cops gave in, and for the first time in years Monk began playing regularly in New York. The music he made at the Five Spot with Tenorman John Coltrane was the talk of jazz.
Monk was making a small but admired inroad into the "funk" and "soul" movements that had superseded the "cool." Funk was a deeper reach into Negro culture than jazz had taken before, a restatement of church music and African rhythms, but its motive was the same as bop's - finding something that white musicians had not taken over and, if possible, something they would sound wrong playing.
Then Monk lost his card again. Monk, the baroness, and Monk's present saxophonist were driving through Delaware for a week's work in Baltimore. Monk stopped at a motel for a drink of water, and when he lingered in his imposing manner, the manager called the police. Monk was back in the Bentley when the cops arrived, and he held fast to the steering wheel when they tried to pull him out - on the Monkish ground that he had done nothing to deserve their sttention. even though the baroness shrieked to watch out for his hands, the furious cops gave his knuckles such a beating that he bears the lumps to this day. The baroness took the rap for "some loose marijuana" found in the trunk, but after three years legal maneuvering she was acquitted. No narcotics charges were placed against Monk, but because of the scandal the police again picked up his card.
(*She is the daughter of the late British banker Nathaniel Charles Rothschild and the sister of the 3rd Baron Rothschild, but she takes her title from her marriage to Baron Jules de Koenigswarter, a hero of the French Resistance who is presently French Ambassador to Peru.)
You Tell 'Em.
Two years later, after further lobbying at Headquarters, Monk returned to the scene. Since then his luck has changed. Three years have passed without a whisper of trouble. Abroad, at least, he is approached as if he were a visiting professor (Interview on an Amsterdam radio station last week: "Who has had the greatest influence on your playing, Mr Monk?" "Well, me of course.") Most pleasing of all to Monk is a new quartet led by Soprano Saxophonist Steve Lacy that is dedicated solely to the propogation of Monk's music. In the past Monk has been the only voice of his music, he even has trouble finding sidemen.
His present accompanists - Rouse on tenor, Butch Warren 24, on bass, and Ben Riley, 30, on drums - have a good feeling for his music. Rouse is a hard-sound player who knows that his instrument suggests a human cry more than a bird song, and he plays as if he is speaking the truth. Warren's rich, loping bass is well suited to Monk's rhythms if not his harmonic ideals, he is like a pony in pasture who traces his mother's footsteps without stealing her grace. Riley has just joined the band, but he could be the man Monk is looking for. A great drummer, as the nonpareil Baby Dodds once observed "ought to make the other fellas feel like playing." Riley does exactly that, with a subtle, very musical use of the drums that forsakes thunder for thoughtfulness.
Monk's sidemen traditionally hang back, smiling and relaxed, and apart from an occasional Rouse solo, they seem content to let Monk lead. "That's right, Monk." they seem to be saying, "you tell 'em, baby." But Monk demands that musicians be themselves. "A man's a genius just for looking like himself," he will say "Play yourself!" With such injunctions in the air, the quartet's performances are uneven. Some nights all four play as though their very lives are at stake; some nights, wanting inspiration, all four sink without a bubble. But it is part of Monk's mystique never to fire anyone. He just waits, hoping to teach, trusting that a man who cannot learn will eventually sense the master's indifference and discreetly abandon ship.
Now that Monk is being heard regularly, he seems more alone that ever. Jazz has unhappily splintered into hostile camps, musically and racially. Lyrical and polished players are accused of "playing white," which means to pursue beauty before truth. The spirit and sound of each variety of jazz is carefully analyzed, isolated and pronounced a "bag." Players in the soul bag, the African bag and the freedom bag are all after various hard, aggressive and free sounds, and there are also those engaged in "action blowing," a kind of shrieking imitation of action painting.
Within each bag, imitation of the "daddy" spreads through the ranks like summer fires. Trumpeters try to play like Miles Davis. And hold their horns like Miles. And dress like Miles. Bassists imitate Charlie Mingus or Scott LeFaro: drummers, Max Roach or Elvin Jones. Sax players copy Sonny Rollins or John Coltrane, who is presently so much the vogue that the sound of his whole quartet is being echoed by half the jazz groups in the country.
Bud Powell, Red Garland, Bill Evans and Horace Silver all have had stronger influences than Monk's on jazz pianists. Monk's sound is so obviously his own that to imitate it would be as risky and embarrassing as affecting a Chinese accent to order chop suey. Besides, Monk is off in a bag all his own, and in the sleek, dry art that jazz threatens to become, that is the best thing about him.
A Curse in Four Beats.
In the gossipy world of jazz, Monk is also less discussed than many others. Occasionally he will say some splendid thing and the story will make the rounds, but there are personalities more actively bizarre than Monk's around. Rollins is a Rosicrucian who contemplates the East River, letting his telephone ring in his ear for hours while he studies birds from his window. Mingus is so obsessed with goblins from the white world that person to person he is as perverse as a roulette wheel; his analyst wrote the notes for his last record jacket. Coltrane is a health addict - doing push-ups, scrubbing his teeth, grinding up cabbages.
And Miles Davis, Miles broods in his beautiful town house, teaching his son to box so that he won't fear white men, raging at every corner of a world that made him wealthy, a world that is now, in Guinea and the Congo as well as in Alabama and New York, filled with proud little boys who call themselves Miles Davis. He is a man who needs to shout, but his anger is trapped in a hoarse whisper caused by an injury to his vocal chords. The frustration shows. Onstage, he storms inwardly, glaring at his audience, wincing at his trumpet, stabbing and and tugging at his ear. Often his solos degenerate into a curse blown again and again through his horn in four soft beats. But Miles can break hearts. Without attempting the strident showmanship of most trumpeters, he still creates a mood of terror supressed - a lurking and highly exciting impression that he may someday blow his brains out playing. No one, Dizzy Gillespie included, does it so well.
Racial woes are at the heart of much bad behaviour in jazz, and the racial question is largely a confusion between life and art. Negroes say whites cannot play, when they mean that whites have always taken more money out of jazz than their music warranted. Whites complain of "Crow Jim" when what they mean is that work is scarcer than ever - even for them. The fact is that most of the best jazz musicians are Negroes and there is very little work to go around on either side.
At bars and back tables in the 20 or so good jazz clubs in the country, talented, frustrated musicians - many of them historic figures in jazz - hang around in the hope of hearing their names called, like longshoremen at a midnight shape-up. Junkies who were good players a year ago swoop through the clubs in search of a touch, faces faintly dusty, feet itching, nodding, scratching. The simple jazz fans in the audience sit shivering in the cold fog of hostility the players blow down from the stand. A dig-we-must panic inhibits them from displaying any enthusiasm - which only further convinces the players that their music is lost on the wind.
An Oriental Garden.
Monk surveys these sad facts with some bitterness, "I don't have any musician friends," he says, "I was friends to a lot of musicians, but looks like they weren't friends to me." He sometimes makes quiet and kindly gestures - such as sending money to Bud Powell, caged in a tuberculosis sanitorium outside Paris - but his words are hard. "All you're supposed to do is lay down the sounds and let people pick up on them." he says, "If you ain't doing that, you just ain't a musician. Nothing more to it than that."
Now that his turn has come, Monk cuts a fine figure on the scene. Nellie spends a hysterical half-hour every evening getting him into his ensemble, and when he steps out the door he looks faintly like an Oriental garden - subtle colors echoing back and forth, prim suits and silk shirts glimmering discreetly. He spends hours standing around with his band, talking in his unpenetrable, oracular mode. "All ways know, always night, all ways know - and dig the way I say 'all ways'" he says, smiling mysteriously. When he is playing anywhere near New York, the baroness comes to drive him home, and they fly off in the Bentley, content in the knowledge that there is no one remotely like either one of them under the sun. They race against the lights for the hell of it, and when the car pulls up in Monk's block, he skips out and disappears into his old $39-a-month apartment. The baroness then drives home to Weehawken, where she lives in a luxurious bedroom oasis, surrounded by the reeking squalor her 32 cats have created in the other rooms.
Monk spends lazy days at home with Nellie - "layin dead." he calls it. Their two children Thelonious, 14, and Barbara, 10, are off in boarding schools, and Monk's slumbers go undisturbed. Nellie flies around through the narrow paths left between great piles of possessions, tending to his wants. Clothes are in the sink, boxes and packages are on the chairs; Monk's grand piano stands in the kitchen, the foundation for a tower of forgotten souvenirs, phone books, a typewriter, old magazines and groceries. From his bed Monk announces his wishes ("Nellie! Ice cream!"), and Nellie races to serve, she retaliates gently by calling him "Melodious Thunk" in quiet mutters over the sink.
Nellie and the few other people who have ever known Monk in the slightest all see a great inner logic to his life that dignifies everything he says and does. He never lies. He never shouts. He has no greed. He has no envy. His message, as Nellie interprets it to their children is noble and strong, "Be yourself," she tells them "Don't bother about what other people say, because you are you. The thing to be is just yourself." She also tells them that Monk is no one special, but the children have seen him asleep with his Japanese skullcap on his head, or with a cabbage leaf drooping from his lapel, and they know better. "I try to tell them different," Nellie says, "but of course I can't. After all, if Thelonious isn't special, then what is?"