Isolation Drills: Kevin Monko

Like the majority of you, all of us in the Philadelphia area are staying at home, learning to adapt to our “new normal.” MAGNET is checking in with local musicians to see how and what they’re doing during this unprecedented time. Photos by Chris Sikich.

Monko: So, where was I when the world ended?

Oh yeah, I was busy reading texts and emails informing me that all of my work and income for the foreseeable future had been canceled, which was fantastic, in a sarcastic way.  I make a living as a freelance photographer. I do a lot of work for colleges and private schools, so spring is a always busy time for me. 

Music gigs dried up; we couldn’t even get together in a basement. I started seeing a lot of people doing live-music feeds, which can be great, but I didn’t wanna be one of the guys transmitting buzzy, glitchy stuff and going, “Hey is this working? Anybody there? Why does it look like I’m left-handed?” But I did start recording some live stuff and posting what worked. Random covers, original stuff, some requests, some “get well John Prine” songs that tragically failed to do the trick.

While I was spending some quality time with my wife and son, doing new things like learning to make cheese and disinfecting groceries, I decided to renew social interaction by inviting friends out onto their porches so I could photograph them from my car and have some conversation from 30 feet away. It was great, and I turned it into a project called Drive-By Porchraits. I posted an offer on some Facebook groups, invited people to book a time, I’d come photo them from inside my car, they could contribute to the project via Venmo or whatever. But if they were out of work or financially strapped, I’d do it for free, chalking it up to community service or whatever.

It was kind of a social experiment with the people who could subsidizing the people who couldn’t. And folks appreciated being able to participate in a community project while stuck at home at what most them felt was an historic event. I got a tremendous response, some media coverage, the community was super generous, and it’s helped keep the bills paid. It also helped keep my brain out of the cesspool of weirdness we’re flopping around in.

And who would have thought that in the presence of a common enemy like a pandemic, that in the past may have somehow managed to unite us, we’d become so much more at odds than ever? And why the fuck do we still need to fight for equal rights for any human being?

I mean things were already polarized, but this pandemic stuff seems to be over-amplifying everything. In any case, it’s getting harder to remember what used to stress me out or piss me off before these walls went up.

Anyway, I’ve recently been able to play a little music with some bandmates in my backyard, and one of my bands, MONKO, has a gig on September 12, outdoors on the grounds of the Scottish Rite in Collingswood.

I’m hoping that by January, we’ll be able to kick off Philly Loves Bowie Week with another band I co-founded, Candy Volcano, but that’s murky. We had some nice events planned for this year but, well, you know.

So that’s my year so far. I didn’t watch as much TV as I thought I might, aside from the calming stroke of The Great British Baking Show. I’m pretty sure my family still loves me and most of my friends will be there when we crawl out of our respective caves.

Stay well—or should I say stay negative—and don’t forget to vote.