Today (October 4, 2016) is the feast day of Saint Francis of Assisi — the 13th Century Catholic monastic venerated by Christians as well as non-Christians. It is also the 14th anniversary of the founding of MONKROCK. In fact, yesterday, on the eve of the feast, when many celebrate the Transitus of the Little Poor Man, we launched MONKROCK 3.0 — the third generation of our business and brand.
In 2002, I formed MONKROCK in Nashville, TN as a lifestyle company and brand community ala Urban Outfitters, Obey Clothing, and Sub Pop Records, merging my three pre-existing organizations — Little Francis & Clare of Nashvegas (an ecumenical new monastic community), Fashion Pop Entertainment (a record label / artist development company), and Rock N Roll Messiah (my personal artist imprint) — into one.
The goal was to unite two disruptive and subversive counter-cultures — punk rock and monasticism — synthesizing the ethic and ethos of punk (DIY self-sufficiency, no-compromise individualism, and anti-establishment rebellion) with monastic life (prayer and work) and its accompanying vows (poverty, chastity, and obedience). There have been monks-turned-punks and punks-turned-monks but never before have there been punk monks — those who make the human spirit holy by being true to themselves even when it requires them to be selfless, those who bridge the gap between the sacred and secular, and live for the things worth dying for.
For three years, after moving to Santa Monica, St. Louis, and back to Nashville, I developed the look and feel of the brand, resold various Catholica (rosaries, saint medals, prayer cards, etc.) from the Catholic bookstore I worked at, reissued and released my own albums on CD, printed buttons, propaganda and zines, and began selling our own brand of coffee. Strange fact: a local non-denominational pre-hipster church I helped reform (called The Anchor) was almost called MONKROCK.
In 2005, after relocating to St. Louis, we began manufacturing our own line of merchandise (t-shirts, hoodies, stickers, buttons, etc.), we launched our first online store, and we began traveling the country to Catholic conferences and music festivals. For nearly a decade we traveled over 200,000 miles and mingled with nearly 1 million people (not counting online). It was then, we took a more literal approach to our business and brand: forming an actual worldwide monastic community with an extensive rule of life, an expansive blog and social media campaigns, and fostered collaboration between various churches (Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, and Non-Denominational) and traditions (Roman, Byzantine, Celtic, Franciscan, Benedictine, etc.). In many ways, the work exceeded my expectations but in other ways, I felt it never got off the ground or took hold. I was a little burned out, disenchanted, and desperate for a change.
In October 2013, we relocated once again back to Nashville, with the renewed hope and nostalgia of rediscovering the initial spark of our peaceful but bold revolution, which resulted in a much-needed time of experimentation and reflection. Despite levels of success and the good we were able to accomplish over the years, there were many setbacks and opposition filled with seasons of great lack and uncertainty. For all the people we have inspired and empowered, there were always those we offended or confused. Many times I pondered if I betrayed the original ideal or if the original ideal was even right or good. There were failed attempts to revisit a pop culture model or create some kind of hybrid but only to see we had gone too far down this road to make it back or forge a new path. Of course, there were considerations of closing up shop or selling it, redefining MONKROCK into something others would want, or risk everything and start from scratch. After three years of uprooting and planting, rebuilding only to tear it all down, this is what I decided to do — simply begin again.
So what is MONKROCK 3.0? To be honest, I don’t know. It’s the beginning of something old and something new, something dreamed up and something yet to be discovered. I see MONKROCK as an aesthetic and icon of something that lives within the minds and hearts of people caught between the notion of being fully human and having a divine origin and purpose, living happily in this world but for something greater than the things money can buy, being something greater than we are are through loving others and becoming our true self. It’s part monk and part punk, part walking the path and part being the path itself.
So, in a certain sense, nothing has changed. MONKROCK is still a lifestyle company and brand community. MONKROCK still manufactures and sells its own products and propagates its manifesto via merchandise, art, and social media. MONKROCK is still based upon the ideal that everyday life can be a religious experience, the world is our monastery, and you don’t have to be a monk to live like one. I am grateful for all our customers and followers — some who have become faithful regulars and even close friends. Thank you for your business, your prayers, and your support. Every ending is a new beginning. So be mindful to the present moment, celebrate the mystery of unknowing, and (as always) Get into the Habit!
Founder and Owner of MONKROCK