|Birth name||Louis Thomas Hardin|
|Born||May 26, 1916|
Marysville, Kansas, U.S.
|Died||September 8, 1999 (aged 83)|
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, 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.
Born to an Episcopalian family in Marysville, Kansas, United States, 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. 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.
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".
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. 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. 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, 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.
In 1949, he traveled to a Blackfoot Sun Dance in Idaho 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". 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.
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 named Ilona Goebel (later known as Ilona Sommer) helped Moondog set up the primary holding company for his artistic endeavors 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.
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". 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.
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.
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".
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, 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.
Actually, [Moondog] confesses, Snake Time is a bit of warmed-up South American rumba, whence is derived some of the Indian melodies.