Watch the New Video for Kid Congo & the Pink Monkey Birds' "Haunted Head"
We also sat down with the 53-year-old and he taught us about rock and roll.
Kid Congo & The Pink Monkey Birds' new video is for the title track of their new LP, Haunted Head on In The Red Records. Working again with "Rare As The Yeti" video Director, Cinematographer, and Editor, Rob Parrish, with Raul Zahir De Leon - Assistant Director and Cinematographer to create a daydream gone bonkers. The cast is a collection of Washington DC based artists, such as Ian Svenoinius, Victoria Gaitán, Alberto Gaitán , Ryan Hill, Baby Alcatraz and first sighting of new Pink Monkey Bird, Mark Cisneros.
At nine years old, Kid Congo Powers had strong opinions about what constituted rock and roll. At the age of 53, the rules remain the same. “You should make music that makes people excited.” It’s a simple enough rule that too may people either don’t know or choose to ignore. “They don’t even have to know about music they just know about…things.” When Kid says “things,” his hand shoots out and does a little flip. By “things” he mean the heart, the heat, the shadow of future libido that even a child dimly understands.
There are few figures in rock that have the impressive resume Kid Congo has. Maybe some super group bores from the ‘70s but, really, if they mattered, they wouldn’t be bores, would they? Kid’s history has been well documented over the years. From The Gun Club to The Cramps to Fur Bible (a short lived, the underrated even by Powers, straight up goth band with Sister of Mercy Patricia Morrison) to Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds (he played on my first purchased and favorite album, The Good Son) to Congo Norvelle to The Knoxville Girls to his current band, The Pink Monkey Birds, Kid has been a singular presence in every important scene were men wear sharp suits, the women have hair as black and huge as the night itself, and everybody does hard drugs until enough of them die and then they stop, but continue to look real, real fine.
When Kid Congo was a child, he danced in his crib to the records his older sisters played. "Who Wears Short Shorts", with its profound and formative opening aphorism of “man, dig that crazy chick” to the Doo Wop version of Blue Moon (as done by The Marcels but, real talk, true heads know Sha Na Na was the only good thing about Woodstock. When Kid heard they insulted the hippies from the stage, it only made him love them more. Doo Wop life.). Powers—then Brian Tristan—would watch his sisters and cousins get ready to go out and see regional rock band, Thee Midniters, a Los Angeles Chicano R&B influenced garage rock band who sang in English.
“Mexican Americans from California of our generation didn’t speak Spanish often," he explains. "Kiki (bassist for Pink Monkey Birds) is from Texas so he speaks Spanish. But El Vez, he doesn’t speak Spanish. Ritchie Valens, he didn’t speak Spanish. It’s all phonetic. That has probably changed but, my generation—growing up in the ‘60s parents wanted children to assimilate because they came here not speaking English and…it was a problem for them.”
Regardless of messy assimilationist politics and despite the obvious racism of the radio, Thee Midniters were it…and even if Kid didn’t exactly know what the teenagers were dressing up so hep for, what it exactly was, he knew it was something he wanted in on.
Eventually he’d see Thee Midniters, and that led to sneaking out of his house at 14 to take the bus to Sunset Boulevard to go to Rodney Bingenheimers’ English Disco (“It was crazy. There were so many 14 year olds. How did these kids all get into bars?”) and eventually joining the Gun Club and The Cramps and, you know, immaculately coifed history.
Photo by Nick Zinner
I asked him if being Latino in a very white scene was ever an issue and he told me that, like being gay, it was only an issue when he himself made it an issue.
“When you think of the Gun Club, The Cramps, even Nick Cave; it’s all so pro-sexuality," he says. "And yeah, so there were no limits. Early punk rock, the first wave was so incredibly gay. It wasn’t an issue because I was a glam rock kid…everybody was so sexually ambiguous. Straight guys were acting super effeminate just to get girls. David Bowie/Lou Reed culture even if they were straight; everybody was inventing this mythology of themselves as sexually free so I was out but it was never an issue. I became a gay activist later, but my musical life has never been about being gay. Early punk with these bands it was not only that being different was not only welcome it was required…so many gay people…Darby, The Screamers, everybody knew they were gay and who was fucking, but labels were taboo. Even calling yourself a punk was frowned on!”
His aforementioned political response was through music though, through his and Sally Norvell’s band, Congo Norvell, who used a dark cabaret sensibility to write driving songs about the ongoing A.I.D.S crisis. “At the time, Diamanda Galaswas writing this incredibly angry response that we loved, but she was already doing that, so we wanted to do a beautiful response. For all our lost friends.”
Congo Norvell would get embroiled with Priority Records and get fucked by them and then break up. There’s an album out there, never released, in the legal limbo of NWA’s former label. Which is a damned shame. Eventually, he formed The Pink Monkey Birds, who were to be a tribute to the NYC rock that he loved as a teenager; New York Dolls and no wave bands, but eventually “the band’s Too Much Junkie Business just became too much junkie business, so…” and the first incarnation broke up.
At loose ends, it took the sage advice of Kid’s friend, noted NYC DJ and perpetual Texas booster, Jonathan Toubin, to shake him out of his doldrums. Jonathan introduced Kid to Kiki Solis, Ron Miller, and Jesse Roberts, who would form the new tighter, more aggressive, Monkey Birds (now with Mark Cisneros). It didn’t hurt that Powers went back to—louche charms as front man aside—his greatest strength; playing guitar.
Photo by Nick Zinner
“He said, ‘what you need is a Texas rhythm section!’ And he was right. I’d avoided going back wards for so long but that, and seeing The Cramps on their last tour, was what I needed. I needed to stop worrying about breaking away or whatever and just be myself.”
Of course “just being yourself” works pretty well if you’re one of post-punk’s greatest guitarists and you have the fashion sense of Cruisin’ aristocracy, but he’s right. All the second incarnation of the Monkey Bird’s albums on In The Red have been collections of more than potent mean psych, high camp, and dance rock, staying true to Kid’s rule as a wise and wild nine year old, that actually makes people dance.
We live in a time when “poptavists” will argue strenuously that there is no underground or counterculture and to even hint that there is one is to engage in the very worst kind of elitism. And maybe they’re right. It’s not like I leave my room enough to know. But I, in my, hopefully fucking adorable, naivety, still believe in the sort of culture that Kid Congo thrives in and embodies; low brow and sophisticated, sexy and arch; rock and roll as a phantasmagoria to dive into and get all over your face. You know, someone you’d find exciting as long as you know about things.
Zachary Lipez is a writer in Brooklyn. He's on Twitter — @ZacharyLipez