Get SF Weekly Newsletters
Pin It

You Grab the Monkey; We'll Bring the Knife 

Monkey Knife Fight is everywhere, but what -- oh what -- does it mean?

Wednesday, Oct 23 2002
Say the words "Monkey Knife Fight" to anyone who lives in the Mission District, and you'll probably get one hell of a reaction. Prepare to be grabbed by your lapels and thrown a look of excitement and confusion, as if you somehow entered the person's dreams last night: "What is that?! Tell me! TELL ME!"

"Monkey Knife Fight" is everywhere in our little neighborhood: spray-painted via stencil on sidewalks, slapped up as miniposters on buildings, strewn in the form of stickers in bathrooms. And it's not just the Mission. There have been MKF sightings in SOMA, Noe Valley, the Inner Sunset, the Western Addition, and Alamo Square Park. Everyone's seen it, yet nobody seems to know what it is. No three words have ever inspired such bafflement and curiosity -- not even the infamous "Yuppie Eradication Project." To give you an idea how big this thing is, consider: Monkey Knife Fight has imitators. "Junky Wife Bite" is now appearing throughout the Mission, and "Worm Knife Fight" can be spotted in Noe Valley.

Naturally, we are compelled to investigate this holy grail of San Francisco mystery graffiti. We try the Internet first, and from a five-hour, caffeine-fueled Google search, we learn the following:

- A team named Monkey Knife Fight competed (poorly) in a recent trivia contest at Williams College in Massachusetts.

- A cartoonist from God knows where used to call himself "The artist formerly known as Monkey Knife Fight" but now calls himself "Anarchy in UTK." (Presumably, at some point long ago, he called himself "Monkey Knife Fight"; this apparent fact, however, could not be confirmed.)

- Monkey Knife Fight is not an uncommon name for a band. We confirm the existence of MKF bands from Boston, Mass.; Townsville, Australia; and Dunedin, New Zealand. We also discover leads pointing to possible bands in West Virginia and Connecticut. Strangely, nothing band-related points to San Francisco.

- Nodding Head Brewing in Philadelphia produces a beer called Monkey Knife Fight, which is apparently quite good.

- An actual monkey knife fight occurred on a yacht in international waters on Jan. 23, 2000, during The Simpsons, Episode No. BABF08, with Britney Spears as the guest voice. A monkey named Furious George was seriously injured. Britney Spears was unharmed.

- Monkey Fight, Monkey Dogfight, Monkey Race, Super Monkey Ball, Monkey Golf, and Monkey Tennis are Sega video games, and have nothing to do with Monkey Knife Fight.

For the first time ever, Google has failed us. Later that night, we hit the streets, dazed yet determined. We pay a visit to Bret at Leather Tongue Video. If you don't know Bret ... OK, scratch that. Everyone knows Bret, the most likable and unpretentious guy in the Mission. He's the pre-eminent word-on-the-street kind of dude. "Bret, I've got three words for you," we say, swaggering into the store like John Wayne. "Monkey Knife Fight." Bret gives us a cool smile. Holy shit, he knows what it means! He knows! It takes every ounce of energy to contain our excitement. But Bret's got to help a customer, so we're forced to wait.

We peruse the videos, and as fate would have it, our eyes are drawn to Terry Gilliam's Twelve Monkeys. The back of the box reads, "Between the past and the future, sanity and madness, dreams and reality, lies the mystery of the Twelve Monkeys ...." We feel a sudden chill. Bret disposes of his customer and turns his attention back to us. "It doesn't mean anything," he explains. "It's just these three girls who go around tagging everything with "Monkey Knife Fight.'"

We're incredulous.

"Nothing?" we ask incredulously. "You've met these people?"

"Yeah, three girls who were bored or something," he says. "They hang out at the 500 Club."

So we spend the entire weekend interrogating every living creature in or around the 500 Club. Everybody's intrigued; nobody knows a damn thing. At this point, things start to get strange. At the end of each night's work, we post signs. We need to talk to the chicks who are Monkey Knife Fight regarding an issue of vital civic importance. Email Mysteriously, each morning our signs are gone.

By Sunday evening, we're feeling more than a little delirious. We've expanded our street interrogations to the entire Mission, and we're not doing it very tactfully, either. It's with some horror that we realize our adventure has turned into that damn Twelve Monkeys film. We've become like that Bruce Willis character, half-crazed, drooling, lurking around the city, examining obscure graffiti while screaming, "Monkey Knife Fight! Monkey Knife Fight!" to a frightened and perplexed citizenry. Jesus. Couldn't we at least have become Brad Pitt? To top it all off, in a follow-up visit to Bret we're informed that he was wrong. The three girls were involved in a monkey-related venture, but not Monkey Knife Fight. Doh!

After a couple of days' rest, we start up again. We decide to visit some record shops, since the most popular theory is that it's a band. First stop: Amoeba Music. Wouldn't you know it, there's an MKF sticker right there on one of the computer terminals. I ask a clerk. She has no idea. I point to the sticker. She shrugs. She asks her co-workers, and they all do a little synchronized shrug. We visit Mission Records, Aquarius Records, and practically every other record shop in town, interrogating music experts of every color and creed. We fail to meet a single person who has actually seen this band. So, we're able to pretty much rule out the band possibility. But that doesn't solve the mystery.

We recruit some friends and follow any and every lead possible. We e-mail everyone under the sun. We call the S.F. Police's Graffiti Abatement Department. We ask DAVE of the infamous DAVE posters. We study the tactics of Chaka, from the Chaka campaign of 1990. We do a Lexis/Nexis search, which essentially covers every printed English word on the planet. We post an ad on Craigslist. We contact radio stations. A DJ from KUSF even makes an announcement on the air. Nothing, nothing, nothing.

Hunting around SOMA late one night, we reminisce about an unfortunate tagging incident from our college days. We were involved in Amnesty International, and each year we'd have a promotional concert called Jamnesty, which featured local bands and petitions and all that. We came up with a covert advertising campaign. A month before the event, we'd cover the campus with JAM stickers and posters and signs. Just JAM -- that's it. We'd get the campus all interested and excited and abuzz, and then a week before the event, we'd reveal the Jamnesty link. Except it didn't go that way. Somehow, a rumor got started that JAM was a secret signal to the pledges of a fraternity, Phi Beta something-or-other. Phi Beta gladly accepted responsibility, and in no time, the entire campus believed JAM was a frat thing. When our Jamnesty campaign was finally revealed, it was too late. The Phi Beta Fuckheads had stolen our thunder.

Which brings us back to Monkey Knife Fight. What's to stop some megacorporation like Nike or Wal-Mart or Philip Morris from seizing the campaign and calling it its own? We begin having recurring nightmares about such a doomsday scenario. In our dream, we're desperately trying to call a friend or family member or somebody. But every number we dial, all we hear is that haunting AOL Moviefone guy's voice. Over and over and over. Hello, and welcome to AOL Moviefone! If you would like to see the new Tom Cruise film, Monkey Knife Fight, press 1! The nightmares are so horrific and upsetting that we quit the venture entirely.

And then, out of nowhere, we get an ominous e-mail: "The first rule of Monkey Knife Fight is that you do not talk about Monkey Knife Fight." Wait a minute. That's a reference to the movie Fight Club ... a movie starring Brad Pitt! The same Brad Pitt who starred in Twelve Monkeys! Holy guacamole -- Brad Pitt's the culprit! Brad Pitt, the gorgeous Hollywood heartthrob! Brad Pitt, the darling husband of Jennifer Aniston! Brad Pitt, the blue-eyed hunk who made a million women moan in Thelma & Louise! Brad Pitt, right here in our very own neighborhood! What a fucking ASSHOLE!

We prepare a list of questions for the evil Brad Pitt:

- What does "Monkey Knife Fight" mean?

- Why are you doing this?

- Why did you choose the Mission? Is it because we're the best?

- Why "Monkey Knife Fight"? Why not "Platypus Tea Party" or "Vampire Booty Call"?

- Why Jennifer? She's really not that cute, you know.

We're on the Web, trying to find contact information for Brad, when our roommate Amy comes in. She sees the list of Brad questions and literally smacks us upside the head. "What the hell are you doing?!" she screams. "Brad Pitt's not tagging the Mission, you asshole! Face it -- you're never gonna solve your little 'Murky Life Fright,' or whatever the hell it's called. You've been beaten. It's over!"

She's right. It is over. Not only did her vicious backhand bring us back to reality, it also brought home the tragic irony of our pursuit. After all, the phrase "Monkey Knife Fight" is sometimes used to describe a senseless bloody battle. And that's exactly what we've waged. Heck, maybe that was the whole point.

It's with this realization that we come up with a theory. "Monkey Knife Fight" means NOTHING. It's just the work of some punk-ass street artist who needed something to do. It means nothing and everything, both at the same time. That's the beauty of it, the genius, really. We here at Dog Bites would like to stress that this is a theory, not fact. But that doesn't make it any less important. Most everything Einstein did was, and still is, theory. Some things in the universe are just damn hard to prove.

About The Author

Dan Siegler


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Popular Stories

  1. Most Popular Stories
  2. Stories You Missed
  1. Most Popular


  • clipping at Brava Theater Sept. 11
    Sub Pop recording artists 'clipping.' brought their brand of noise-driven experimental hip hop to the closing night of 2016's San Francisco Electronic Music Fest this past Sunday. The packed Brava Theater hosted an initially seated crowd that ended the night jumping and dancing against the front of the stage. The trio performed a set focused on their recently released Sci-Fi Horror concept album, 'Splendor & Misery', then delved into their dancier and more aggressive back catalogue, and recent single 'Wriggle'. Opening performances included local experimental electronic duo 'Tujurikkuja' and computer music artist 'Madalyn Merkey.'"