Moondog 1948.jpg
Background information
Birth nameLouis Thomas Hardin
Born(1916-05-26)May 26, 1916
Marysville, Kansas, U.S.
DiedSeptember 8, 1999(1999-09-08) (aged 83)
Münster, Germany
  • percussion
  • vocals
  • keyboards
Years active1932–1999

Louis Thomas Hardin (May 26, 1916 – September 8, 1999), known professionally as Moondog, was an American composer, performing musician, theoretician, poet, and inventor of several musical instruments. Largely self-taught as a composer, his work drew inspiration from jazz, classical, Latin,[1] and Native American music. His music, strongly rhythmic and contrapuntal, later influenced minimalist composers Steve Reich and Philip Glass.

Moondog was blind from the age of 16. He lived in New York City from the late 1940s until 1972; during this time he could often be found on 6th Avenue, between 52nd and 55th Streets, wearing a cloak and a horned helmet. He sometimes busked or sold music, but often just stood silently on the sidewalk. He was recognized as "the Viking of 6th Avenue" by thousands of passersby and residents who were not aware of his musical career.[2]

Biography and career

Early life

Born to an Episcopalian family in Marysville, Kansas, United States,[3] Hardin started playing a set of drums that he made from a cardboard box at the age of five. His family relocated to Wyoming and his father opened a trading post at Fort Bridger. He attended school in a couple of small towns. At one point, his father took him to an Arapaho Sun Dance where he sat on the lap of Chief Yellow Calf and played a tom-tom made from buffalo skin. He also played drums for the high school band in Hurley, Missouri.

On July 4, 1932, the 16-year-old Hardin found an object in a field which he did not realise was a dynamite cap. While he was handling it the explosive detonated in his face and permanently blinded him.[4][5][6] After learning the principles of music in several schools for blind young men across middle America, he taught himself the skills of ear training and composition. He studied with Burnet Tuthill at the Iowa School for the Blind.[3]

He then moved to Batesville, Arkansas, where he lived until 1942, when he obtained a scholarship to study in Memphis, Tennessee. Although he was largely self-taught in music, learning predominantly by ear, he learned some music theory from books in braille during his time in Memphis.

In 1943, Hardin moved to New York, where he met classical musicians including Leonard Bernstein and Arturo Toscanini, as well as jazz performers such as Charlie Parker and Benny Goodman, whose upbeat tempos and often humorous compositions would influence Hardin's later work. One of his early street posts was near the 52nd Street nightclub strip, and he was known to jazz musicians. By 1947, Hardin had adopted the name "Moondog" in honor of a dog "who used to howl at the moon more than any dog I knew of".[3]

New York City

From the late 1940s until 1972, Moondog lived as a street musician and poet in New York City, playing in midtown Manhattan, eventually settling on the corner of 53rd or 54th Street and 6th Avenue in Manhattan.[3] He was rarely if ever homeless, and maintained an apartment in upper Manhattan and had a country retreat in Candor, New York, to which he moved full-time in 1972.[7] He partially supported himself by selling copies of his poetry and his musical philosophy. In addition to his music and poetry, he was also known for the distinctive fanciful "Viking" cloak that he wore. Already bearded and long-haired, he added a Viking-style horned helmet to avoid the occasional comparisons of his appearance with that of Christ or a monk,[8] as he had rejected Christianity in his late teens. He developed a lifelong interest in Nordic mythology, and maintained an altar to Thor in his country home in Candor.[7]

In 1949, he traveled to a Blackfoot Sun Dance in Idaho[9] where he performed on percussion and flute, returning to the Native American music he first came in contact with as a child. It was this Native music, along with contemporary jazz and classical, mixed with the ambient sounds from his environment (city traffic, ocean waves, babies crying, etc.) that created the foundation of Moondog's music.

In 1954, he won a case in the New York State Supreme Court against disc jockey Alan Freed, who had branded his radio show, "The Moondog Rock and Roll Matinee", around the name "Moondog", using "Moondog's Symphony" (the first record that Moondog ever cut) as his "calling card".[3] Moondog believed he would not have won the case had it not been for the help of musicians such as Benny Goodman and Arturo Toscanini, who testified that he was a serious composer. Freed had to apologize and stop using the nickname "Moondog" on air, on the basis that Hardin was known by the name long before Freed began using it.[10][11]


Moondog tomb at the Central Cemetery in Münster, designed by Ernst Fuchs after the death mask

Along with his passion for Nordic culture, Moondog had an idealised view of Germany ("The Holy Land with the Holy River" — the Rhine), where he settled in 1974.[3]

Moondog revisited the United States briefly in 1989, for a tribute at the New Music America Festival in Brooklyn, in which festival director Yale Evelev asked him to conduct the Brooklyn Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra, stimulating a renewed interest in his music.

Eventually, a young German student[12] named Ilona Goebel (later known as Ilona Sommer) helped Moondog set up the primary holding company for his artistic endeavors[13] and hosted him, first in Oer-Erkenschwick, and later on in Münster in Westphalia. Moondog lived with Sommer's family and they spent time together in Münster. During that period, Moondog created hundreds of compositions which were transferred from Braille to sheet music by Sommer. Moondog spent the remainder of his life in Germany.

On 8 September 1999, he died in Münster from heart failure. He is buried at the Central Cemetery Münster. His tomb was designed by the artist Ernst Fuchs after the death mask.

He recorded many albums, and toured both in the U.S. and in Europe—France, Germany and Sweden.


Moondog's music took inspiration from street sounds, such as the subway or a foghorn. It was characterized by what he called "snaketime" and described as "a slithery rhythm, in times that are not ordinary [...] I'm not gonna die in 4/4 time".[11] Many of his works were highly contrapuntal, and he worked hard on counterpoint.

Moondog's work was praised by Artur Rodziński, the conductor of New York Philharmonic in the 1940s. He released a number of 78s, 45s and EPs of his music in the 1950s, including an unusual record of stories and songs for children with Julie Andrews and Martyn Green, in 1957, called Songs of Sense and Nonsense - Tell it Again, as well as several LPs on the Prestige, a jazz label. For ten years no new recordings were heard from Moondog until producer James William Guercio took him into the studio to record an album for Columbia Records in 1969. "Stamping Ground" from the Moondog album was included on the 1970 CBS sampler Fill Your Head with Rock.

A second album produced with Guercio, entitled Moondog 2, featured Moondog's daughter June (b. 1953) as a vocalist and contained song compositions in canons and rounds. The album did not make as large an impression in popular music as the first had. The two Columbia albums were re-released as a single CD in 1989.


The trimba, Moondog percussion instrument

Moondog also invented several musical instruments, including a small triangular-shaped harp known as the "oo", another which he named the "ooo-ya-tsu", and a triangular stringed instrument played with a bow that he called the "hüs" (after the Norwegian, "hus", meaning "house"). Perhaps his best known creation is the "trimba", a triangular percussion instrument that the composer invented in the late 1940s. The original Trimba is still played today by Moondog's friend Stefan Lakatos, a Swedish percussionist, to whom Moondog also explained the methods for building such an instrument.[3]


Moondog's music from the 1940s and 1950s is said[by whom?] to have been a strong influence on many early minimalist composers. Philip Glass has written that he and Steve Reich took Moondog's work "very seriously and understood and appreciated it much more than what we were exposed to at Juilliard".[14]

In July 1956 the British jazz composer and musician Kenny Graham recorded the album Moondog and Suncat Suites with a thirteen-piece band featuring such performers as pianist Stan Tracey and drummer Phil Seamen. "Moondog" featured Graham's arrangements of ten Moondog compositions, whereas "Suncat Suite" consisted of a sequence of six of Graham's own compositions inspired by Moondog. HMV issued the original LP album in 1957; Trunk Records reissued it on CD in 2010.

Moondog inspired other musicians with several songs dedicated to him. These include "Moondog" on Pentangle's 1968 album Sweet Child and "Spear for Moondog" (parts I and II) by jazz organist Jimmy McGriff on his 1968 Electric Funk album. Glam rock musician Marc Bolan and T. Rex referenced him in the song "Rabbit Fighter" with the line "Moondog's just a prophet to the end…". The English pop group Prefab Sprout included the song "Moondog" on their album Jordan: The Comeback released in 1990. Big Brother and the Holding Company featuring Janis Joplin covered his song "All Is Loneliness" on their 1967 self-titled album. The song was also covered by Antony and the Johnsons during their 2005 tour. Mr. Scruff's single "Get a Move On" from his album Keep It Unreal is structured around samples from "Bird's Lament". New York band The Insect Trust play a cover of Moondog's song "Be a Hobo" on their album Hoboken Saturday Night. The track "Stamping Ground", with its preamble of Moondog reciting one of his epigrams,[15] was featured on the sampler double album Fill Your Head with Rock (CBS, 1970). Canadian composer and producer Daniel Lanois included a track called "Moondog" on his album/video-documentary Here Is What Is.

Between 1970 and 1980, a blind bearded mystic called "Moondog" appeared as the title character in a four issue series of Underground comix written and illustrated by George Metzger.[16]

Since the early 1970s, a number of professional wrestlers have been named The Moondogs, taking inspiration from the artist.



  • "Snaketime Rhythms (5 Beat) / Snaketime Rhythms (7 Beat)" (1949), SMC
  • "Moondog's Symphony" (1949–1950), SMC
  • "Organ Rounds" (1949–1950), SMC
  • "Oboe Rounds" (1949–1950), SMC
  • "Surf Session" (c. 1953), SMC
  • "Caribea Sextet"/"Oo Debut" (1956), Moondog Records
  • "Stamping Ground Theme" (from the Kralingen Music Festival) (1970), CBS


  • 1953 Improvisations at a Jazz Concert, Brunswick
  • 1953 Moondog on the Streets of New York, Decca/Mars
  • 1953 Pastoral Suite / Surf Session, SMC
  • 1955 Moondog & His Honking Geese Playing Moondog's Music, Moondog Records


  • 1953 Moondog and His Friends, Epic
  • 1956 Snaketime Series (not the same as the 1954 LP), Moondog Records
  • 1956 Moondog, Prestige
  • 1956 More Moondog, Prestige
  • 1957 The Story of Moondog, Prestige
  • 1969 Moondog (not the same as the 1956 LP), Columbia
  • 1971 Moondog 2, Columbia (with insert: Round the World of Sound: Moondog Madrigals with scores)
  • 1977 Moondog in Europe, Kopf
  • 1978 H'art Songs, Kopf
  • 1978 Moondog: Instrumental Music by Louis Hardin, Musical Heritage Society
  • 1979 A New Sound of an Old Instrument, Kopf
  • 1981 Facets, Managarm
  • 1986 Bracelli, Kakaphone
  • 1992 Elpmas, Kopf
  • 1994 Sax Pax for a Sax with the London Saxophonic, Kopf/Atlantic
  • 1995 Big Band, Trimba
  • 2005 Bracelli und Moondog, Laska Records

With Julie Andrews and Martyn Green

  • 1957 Songs of Sense and Nonsense - Tell it Again, Angel/Capitol


  • 1991 More Moondog/The Story of Moondog, Original Jazz Classics (reissue of Prestige albums listed above)
  • 2001 Moondog/Moondog 2, Beat Goes On (reissue of the two Columbia albums issued above)
  • 2004 The Viking of Sixth Avenue, Honest Jon's
  • 2005 The German Years 1977–1999, ROOF Music
  • 2005 Un hommage à Moondog tribute album, trAce label
  • 2006 Rare Material, ROOF Music
  • 2007 The Viking Of 6th Avenue (disc inside biographical book), Process (ISBN 978-0-9760822-8-6). Reissue, Honest Jon, 2008
  • 2017 The Viking of Sixth Ave., Manimal

Various artist compilations

Performed by other musicians

  • 1957 Moondog and Suncat Suite by British jazz musician Kenny Graham features one side of interpretations of the work of Moondog
  • 1967 "All Is Loneliness" by Big Brother and the Holding Company, featuring Janis Joplin, on their self-titled first album
  • 1968 "Moon Dog" by Pentangle on Sweet Child
  • 1968 "Spear for Moondog (parts 1 and 2)" by jazz organist Jimmy McGriff on Electric Funk
  • 1970 "Be a Hobo" by The Insect Trust on Hoboken Saturday Night
  • 1978 Canons on the Keys by Paul Jordan, unreleased
  • 1983 Here's to John Wesley Hardin by R. Stevie Moore, unreleased
  • 1985 "Theme and Variations" performed by John Fahey on the album Rain Forests, Oceans and Other Themes[17]
  • 1990 Love Child Plays Moondog, EP, Forced Exposure
  • 1990 "Moondog" by Prefab Sprout on Jordan: The Comeback
  • 1993 "All is Loneliness" by Motorpsycho on Demon Box (album) and Roadwork Vol. 4: Intrepid Skronk
  • 1995 Alphorn of Plenty by Hans Kennel, Hat Art
  • 1997 "Synchrony Nr. 2" by Kronos Quartet
  • 1998 Trees Against the Sky compilation album, SHI-RA-Nui 360°
  • 1998 "Paris" by NRBQ, live, on You Gotta Be Loose and NRBQ: High Noon - A 50-Year Retrospective
  • 1999 "Get a Move On" (structured around samples from "Bird's Lament (In Memory of Charlie Parker)") by Mr. Scruff on Keep It Unreal
  • 2004 Bracelli und Moondog" CD Ensemble Bracelli, Germany w Stefan Lakatos. LASKA records
  • 2005 "All Is Loneliness" by Antony and the Johnsons, live
  • 2005 Sidewalk Dances by Joanna MacGregor & Britten Sinfonia, Sound Circus SC010
  • 2006 Moondog Sharp Harp by Xenia Narati, Ars Musici
  • 2007 "Paris" by Jens Lekman, live
  • 2009 "Rabbit Hop" by Hypnotic Brass Ensemble
  • 2009 "New Amsterdam" by Pink Martini on Splendor in the Grass
  • 2010 The Orastorios - Moondog rounds by Stefan Lakatos/Andreas Heuser, Makro
  • 2011 Making Moonshine - Moondog Songs by Moondog Fans by Various Artists, SL Records
  • 2011 Chaconne 1 & Viking 1 by R. Stevie Moore, unreleased
  • 2013 Seeds of Immortality" Spirit of Moondog w Stefan Lakatos. Moondog music for saxophones.
  • 2013 tRío lucas - homage to Moondog in the introduction of the song desintegración de la antimateria by tRío lucas
  • 2013 Moondog Mask by Hobocombo
  • 2014 Perpetual Motion (A Celebration of Moondog) by Sylvain Rifflet & Jon Irabagon
  • 2015 Beyond Horizons Moondog Piano/Percussion by Mariam Tonoyan and Stefan Lakatos and friends. CD records
  • 2015 Cabaret Contemporain Plays Moondog by Cabaret Contemporain
  • 2016 A Tribute To Moondog by Condor Gruppe (2016) on Condor Men Records – Format: Vinyl, LP, Mini-Album
  • 2017 New Sound by Ensemble Minisym (2017) on Association Bongo Joe Records (Genève) – Format : Vinyl, CD, LP
  • 2018 Moondog by Katia Labèque & Triple Sun
  • 2018 Erk-Moondog Ensemble Bracelli w Stefan Lakatos. CD records Germany
  • 2019 The Witch of Endor by Kreiz Breizh Akademi #7 "Hed" (Brittany, France)
  • 2019 Moondog Piano Trimba by Dominique Ponty and Stefan Lakatos, SHIIN Records CD (France)
  • 2019 Moondog - The Stockholm 1981 Recordings Moondog & Stefan Lakatos w friends. Vinyl LP brus&knaster KNASTER 048. Sweden


  1. ^ "That Mahatma-Like Figure You Saw in Dixon Monday, Was Our Old Pal Moon-Dog". Dixon Evening Telegraph. August 23, 1949. Retrieved November 8, 2021. Actually, [Moondog] confesses, Snake Time is a bit of warmed-up South American rumba, whence is derived some of the Indian melodies.
  2. ^ John Strausbaugh (October 28, 2007). "Sidewalk Hero, on the Horns of a Revival". The New York Times. Retrieved 2013-08-09.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Colin Larkin, ed. (1997). The Virgin Encyclopedia of Popular Music (Concise ed.). Virgin Books. pp. 869–870. ISBN 1-85227-745-9.
  4. ^ Thomas Heinrich (1916-05-26). "Moondog (Louis Hardin) Biography". Retrieved 2017-12-02.
  5. ^ Zachary Crockett. "The Genius of Moondog, New York's Homeless Composer". Archived from the original on 2 December 2017. Retrieved 2 December 2017.
  6. ^ "The marvellous life of Moondog". The Guardian. 17 November 2003.
  7. ^ a b Scotto, Robert. Moondog, The Viking of 6th Avenue: The Authorized Biography. Process Music edition (22 November 2007) ISBN 978-0-9760822-8-6
  8. ^ "Moondog interview- Perfect Sound Forever".
  9. ^ Scotto, R. M., Hardin, L., Reich, S., Glass, P., Gibson, J., Jordan, P., & Lakatos, S. (2007). Moondog, the Viking of 6th Avenue: The authorized biography. Los Angeles, Calif: Process. p. 45. ISBN 9780976082286.
  10. ^ "This Day in History". Archived from the original on 2010-02-11. Retrieved 2013-08-09.
  11. ^ a b "Interview with Robert Scotto at To the Best of Our Knowledge : The interview begins at 38:15, the Freed case is discussed from 49:00". Archived from the original on 2012-02-20. Retrieved 2013-08-09.
  12. ^ Webb, Corey (2007-11-10). "Webbspun Ideas: Moondog in New York". Retrieved 2013-08-09.
  13. ^ Dalachinsky, Steve (2008-02-06). "Outtakes". The Brooklyn Rail. Retrieved 2013-08-09.
  14. ^ Glass, P. (2008) Preface. In: Scotto, R. (2008). Moondog: The Viking of 6th Avenue. New York: Process.
  15. ^ Moondog is heard saying, "Machines were mice and men were lions once upon a time. But now that it's the opposite it's twice upon a time."
  16. ^ "Moondog".
  17. ^ "Rain Forests Oceans & Other Themes". AllMusic. Retrieved 2008-06-10.

Further reading


  • Anonymous (Mar 28, 1953). "Moondog May Be Next Hot Wax Artist". The Billboard: 20.
  • Shelton, Robert (Aug 17, 1963). "Old Music Taking On New Color". The New York Times: 11.
  • Borders, William (May 15, 1965). "Moondog Changes His Costume, But Keeps His Iconoclastic Life: Blind Poet-Musician Retains Viking Helmet and Begs on His Favorite Corner". The New York Times: 33.
  • Tracy, Phil (Dec 10, 1969). "Moondog: A Happy Story". National Catholic Reporter: 4.
  • Riepe, Adele (Jan 3, 1979). "Moondog Refines Music in Germany". The New York Times: C18.
  • Kozinn, Allan (Nov 16, 1989). "Moondog Returns From the Hippie Years". The New York Times: C24.
  • Heckman, Don (Nov 28, 1997). "Moondog's Alive and Back on U.S. Scene". Los Angeles Times.
  • Brandt, Wilfred (Sep 2014). "Street art : at one time Moondog was a tourist attraction in Manhattan ...". Smith Journal. 12: 102–104.


  • Scotto, Robert (2007). Moondog, the Viking of 6th Avenue : the authorized biography. Preface by Philip Glass. New York: Process.
  • Cornut, Amaury (2014). Moondog. Marseille: Le Mot et le Reste.

External links

  • Moondog's Corner
  • Moondog discography at Discogs
  • Moondog: the Man on the Street, WBAI;
  • Moondog's Artist Page on Spotify