Moondog's life was no less extraordinary than his music, his clothes and his poetry.

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".

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 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

https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/w3cszz68

 

 

Moondog Monologue

Moondog the blind homeless musician who lived on the streets of New York in the 50s and 60s and who in his own unique way was a genius.

"No matter where i came from," I say,
"No matter where i go
To me, what matters is where I am on this day."

Let me identify myself now
Songsters both, and both clad in brown
The hermit thrush and i dwell far out of town.

Death, when you come to me, may you come to me swiftly
I would rather not linger
Not linger.

Driving with Herr Doktor one day, for the air,
He would circle the square before he taught me how to square the very same circle.

You were opportunist in the worst way
Therefore, I pray, let it pay for you to know me.

I do not dress as i do to attract attention
I attract attention because i dress as i do.

You, the vandal, plunder the village as you will.
The earthworm will pillage you, the vandal, when you are under.

I would bow down before just one –
One who bows before none.
I should know who that one might be who could do that to me
I am that one
And i bow down before me.

Since the hunter is the hunted, surely he knows what it is to lift an ecstatic dread
To some uncoming hunter's tread.

Such and such as the star that filters through the starry blue alone
A burning star turning in an orbit all of its own
Such and such as I.

Beasts were always trailblazing engineers
Modern engineering would do well to do as well today
As well as beasts have done.

If on this rock I stand alone
loneliness will turn heel, as he turns to stone.

Each today is yesterday's tomorrow, which is now
Now is all I have
Now is all I need
Now is all i want
Now.

Better I go, when you would that i stay, that I stay on,
Than stay, when you would that I would go
Better I go than stay.

Ebb and flow of the ocean
Love and hate of emotion
Nothing lasts, is my refrain
As the moon and my feelings wax and wane
I remain calm.

I would adjust everything until I fell
And will adjust nothing
Then, worming up pathway, i found with pleasure:
I was just something.

Standing at the door of my departure
I observe that your eyes belie all that you have said
For you are still in love with me.

Then, when recognition comes,
You will take my muse,
Take her to his bed of ease
Have his will, have his fill,
And strangle her.

My tiny butterfly butters my bread
My briny flutterby keeps me well-fed
Why should I mutter?

Stung by this last rebuff, i rebound.
On the way back, i hear me saying to myself:
"Swell in your shell".

One thing about life, be it said:
It feeds upon itself over and over
And of itself, is fed.

Should I love you as i love myself?
Suppose I hate myself.
I would be as free to hate you too

I am never quite educated, never quite so
but i am ever in the painful process of becoming so

You remember me and my song.
Only such immortality strikes creative sparks from my soul
Because of you.

Who could wear out their welcome there
When there is no welcome there to wear out?
"There is where it is: here on earth."

"I would advise you not to generalise, as a rule."
(A fool to be: i have just uttered a generalisation.
ah, me.)

Down is up, and so up is down
Because the world is round
There is no such thing as up or down.

This one wish is ever so near to my heart
but oh so far away from my tongue.

Sadness was so mixed with gladness
That she wept for joy
She was so sad
Tears filled her eyes but enhanced a smile on her face
She was so glad.

Think of all of the thoughts that I think
They are naught to me, compared to just one fleeting thought of you.

How could I fear for my last day,
When I am dying daily?
And have been since my first day?

Thus the clown wore cap and gown
For she lived for degrees while she died by degrees,
With a frown.

Voices of spring were in chorus
Each voice was singing a song
I could not sing me a chorus until I wrote me a song
I wrote my song and joined the throng

I besiege my liege still further
For my wooing is turning her majesty's royal head
And turning toward me

Though I climbed up the highest mountain in view
 – yet, contentment was not mine,
For beyond, a higher mountain still higher was looming.

Now is that painful moment of parting we dreaded,
Saying "goodbye" is plural indemnity, truly,
For having said "hello".