Benedictine Monks of Santo Domingo de Silos


Panic is setting in at EMI records. Chant is slipping. The collection of Gregorian chants by the Benedictine monks of Santo Domingo de Silos, recorded on EMI’s classical label, Angel, which has sold more than one million copies since its spring release, is losing ground on the Billboard 200. Once as high as number three, it now appears stuck in the slow lane as new releases by the Stone Temple Pilots and Boston rush by.

“Jimmy Buffett!” comes a vicious scream from the EMI president’s office. “We’ve been passed by Jimmy Buffett! That’s the final insult! Janet!” he yells to his secretary. “Get everybody together! I will not be passed by some calypso camp act from Key West. Jesus Christ, I have monks, real monks!”

They gather in the conference room, the president and his VPs of radio, video, retail, and the press. The promotion executives are united in desperation. EMI hasn’t had a lasting hit artist since Sheena Easton got off the morning train to coo about her sugar walls. Seated by herself at the end of the table is EMI’s VP of classical music.

President: Who did we target Chant to in the first place?

Press VP: People who subscribe to the Utne Reader.

President: What in the hell is that? Sounds like a magazine for the 4-H club.

Radio VP: It’s for people who listen to NPR, eat Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, say things like “infrastructure.”

President: No wonder the album is dying! We’ll be up to our asses in debt if we continue to target those tree huggers. Get me real record buyers! Get me the 12- to 24-year-old demo glued to MTV all day long. We need a hit video. I want our monks in heavy rotation between Snoop Doggy Dogg and Ace of Base.

Classical VP: And just what track do you recommend for the video, sir? “Alleluia, beatus vir qui suffert”? Or perhaps you prefer “Ave mundi spes Maria”?

President: Oh, a real smart ass. Who invited her in here?

Retail VP: You did, sir.

President: I did? Well, tell her to shut up. Now listen, get me the biggest video director in the business. The guy who did all those Duran Duran videos.

Video VP: Julien Temple. Good choice, sir. He recently did a video for the new-age group Enigma. He filmed a bunch of artsy scenes in the countryside, slowed them down, and projected them backward. Watching it makes you want to throw up–like riding backward in a bus.

President: Do kids like to vomit?

Video VP: Apparently, sir. Enigma is a big hit.

President: Good, get him. But no new-age crap. Can’t he do something more bouncy, more fun?

Video VP: In fact, he made a whole movie starring Jeff Goldblum, Geena Davis, and Julie Brown called–

Classical VP: Oh, great. We can call the video Earth Monks Are Easy.

President: One more wisecrack and you’re out of here, Ms. Classical Music. Why do we have a classical-music division in 1994 anyway?

Radio VP: So we can license background music to the movies.

Video VP: Sir, I believe I have an idea. We can set up an interview with the monks and MTV news announcer Tabitha Soren. See, last year she interviewed President Clinton and asked him who his favorite artist was. He replied Thelonious Monk, and she promptly inquired, “Who’s the loneliest monk?” Well, we could station Tabitha in front of the monks’ austere monastery in Spain, have her stare into the camera and exclaim, “I’ve found them! I’ve found the loneliest monks!”

Press VP: Great idea! Kind of a cross between The Name of the Rose and Gidget! The gossip columnists will lap it up like thirsty poodles.

Classical VP: May I remind you that the monks do not grant interviews, are not interested in money, and express great remorse about the popularity of Chant and the tourists who continue to flood their village of 160 people.

Video VP: It doesn’t matter. Only MTV’s presence matters. Tabitha Soren prancing around Santo Domingo de Silos in a Betsey Johnson dress sends the message that it’s cool to, you know, like monks. Besides no one pays attention to the actual interviews, even if they could understand the giggly questions.

President: Yes, yes, yes. It’s brilliant. But what about radio? Chant has already been played on classical-music stations–am I right? Don’t answer. I damn well don’t care. It’s a no-brainer that the people who listen to classical music are the same deadbeats who buy the Chutney Reader.

Radio VP: That’s right, sir. Although some new adult contemporary stations–targeted to 38- to 39-year-old women who drive Nissan Altimas, read only the “Health & Fitness” section of Vogue, and buy three servings a week of Dieter’s Choice spinach lasagna, are playing Chant between cuts by Yanni, Rickie Lee Jones, and Kenny G.

President: No wonder Richard Marx is our biggest artist! Nobody knows how to promote an act anymore. I’ve got hit monks on my hands, and you’re promoting them to a jazz station! Pure, undiluted, unmitigated financial death–that’s what a jazz station is!

I want my monks on AOR stations between Alice in Chains and Pantera. I want high school kids in their split-level homes in Batavia listening to Chant through headphones. I want them going to school the next day telling their friends that listening to Chant is like being stoned on the best pot they’ve ever smoked. Can you do that for me?

Radio VP: Well, sir, if we get the monks on MTV, my job will be simple. Program directors at rock stations quiver like Chihuahuas when they hear a new song that might turn off people prone to buy 12-packs of Budweiser. But if a song is a hit on MTV, well, radio will play it like they’ve just been handed a guarantee from God.

Retail VP: That’s perfect! I can see it now: “You’ll love the Benedictine Monks of Santo Domingo de Silos–that’s a guarantee from God.” It will make a great banner across the front of Tower Records. We’ll design it like an ancient scroll. We’re really rocking now!

Classical VP: This meeting is pornographic! I’m leaving.

President: Send in my secretary Janet on your way out, would you sweetie? Tah-tah.

Janet: Whooah? What’s her problem? She just knocked all the chocolate monk figurines I was sending to rock critics off my desk.

President: Never mind. Now Janet, you’re 22 years old. Do you ever listen to classical music?

Janet: You mean like Tomita’s Firebird?

President: Exactly. Now, listen to these chants and tell us what you think. And be honest. Can you do that?

Janet: Yes, sir. Well, last week I was in this store called Star Magic, where they had all these crystals and jewelry and stuff, and I think this is what they were playing. So it kind of sounds like that, it sounds like incense.

President: It sounds like incense?

Janet: Actually, sir, my parents play a record like this all the time. It’s by a band called Tangerine Dream. Ever heard of them? But honestly, sir, I think it sucks.

President: Monks can’t suck.

All: Uh . . .

President: All right. Thanks, Janet. You can leave now.

Radio VP: Crystals. Incense. Tangerine Dream. We’re dead, sir.

Retail VP: Not so fast. Who says she represents all 22-year-olds? With the right promotion we can sell anything. Even monks.

President: Exactly! And remember, she works for a record company. What does she know about the real world? Now, get me this Julien Temple on the phone.