MONK’S HOMEWORK, 1933

Have you saved your high school notebooks?  If you are like me, you disposed of them at the end of the school year with no particular regret — in fact, I sent my chemistry notes into a trash barrel with only feelings of relief.  I see now that we may have been hasty, incautious.

The owner of this remarkable piece of schoolwork is asking one million dollars — or Best Offer — for it here on eBay.  And an elaborate explanation of the circumstances affecting the fifteen-year old writer is offered at the bottom of the page.  This is one page of a ninety-six page notebook.  My transcription of this essay or draft of an essay may be imperfect, but the writer’s tone and content are perfectly clear.

Mr. Marks                                                                         Thelonious Monk

E 4-7                                                                                   February 9, 1933

My Favorite Magazine

     My favorite magazine is the “Boy’s Life” magazine.  I like it because it tells a great deal which interests boys.  Forinstance: it has a great deal of stories of boy’s life, it tells you a number of camps in which you can spend up [?] the summer, it has a part in the magazine which tells you what the boys are doing in the world to become great.

     It has a section in it which teaches you necessary things while camping.  Most boy scouts read them, and I think it is a good magazine to read.  

     It is published monthly by the Manhattan Scout Council.

All the hallmarks of Monk’s later musical style are explicit here: the repetition of simple phrases — but offered at a slight slant, the insistence, the use of simple language.  If you read this essay to the rhythms of a Monk piano solo it would make perfect chiming sense.  The portrait of an adolescent Monk absorbed in tales of camping is still rattling around in my head, but I may get used to it.

May your happiness increase.

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7 responses to “MONK’S HOMEWORK, 1933

  1. Complete sentences. I don’t see any spelling errors. Flowing cursive.

    I assume Monk didn’t go to Exeter or Choate.

    Sorry, my friend, you have captured perfectly how screwed up this great land of ours is.

  2. Monk went to Stuyvesant High School and in the elaborate commentary below, it suggests that music had taken over his attention (what a good thing!) and he was less interested in schooling — hence the somewhat underambitious essay for a fifteen year-old. But Richard, I don’t at all argue with your last sentence but I am curious about the logic that gets you there. Or should I presume I am being dense and the theorem 1-2-3 is obvious? May your valves be ever oiled.

  3. I actually do have many of mine, from grammar school through college…and beyond. I’m thinking they would most likely fall into the “best offer” category. LOL

  4. Michael! Don’t you know I come here to AVOID doing my marking!

  5. And no snide remarks on the lack of question mark on that previous comment!

  6. It’s all a matter of perspective and reframing. I looked at the essay and thought, “Well, here’s one I don’t have to grade!” I think there is a statute of limitations on posthumous grading, anyway.

  7. I have never questioned your choices (in music or in prose) . . . in the happy world, academic or otherwise, if you allow me my oddities of style (as you do) then only a boor would do otherwise in return.

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