Louis Thomas Hardin (May 26, 1916 – September 8, 1999), also known as Moondog, was an American musician, composer, theoretician, poet and inventor of several musical instruments.
He was blind from the age of 16.
Hardin lived in New York City from the late 1940s until 1972,
and during this time he could often be found on 6th Avenue, between 52nd and 55th Streets, wearing a cloak and a horned helmet sometimes busking or selling music, but often just standing silently on the sidewalk. He was widely 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. Hardin played drums for the high school band in Hurley, Missouri before losing his sight at the age of 16 in a farm accident on July 4, 1932, involving a dynamite cap.
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.
In 1943, Hardin
moved to New York, where he met noted classical music luminaries such as Leonard Bernstein and Arturo Toscanini, as well as jazz performer-composers 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 famed 52nd
Street nightclub strip, and he was well-known to many jazz musicians and fans. 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".
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 not homeless, however, or at least not often: he maintained an apartment in upper Manhattan and had a country retreat in Candor, New York, to which he moved 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.
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, as well as several LPs on a number of notable jazz labels, 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. 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.
A second album produced with Guercio featured one of Moondog's daughters 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.
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. 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 endeavorsand 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.
LINK: BBC Radio Documentary: Moondog:
Sound of New York Nov. 2019