Monday, July 05, 2010

Unforgettable Part 3: Moondog

"Rhythmically I'm in the past.
Melodically and harmonically, I'm in the present or avant-garde"

A familiar face to many on the streets of New York for 30 years Louis Thomas Hardin was known to most as 'Moondog': musician, composer and poet. Born in Kansas in 1916, his interest in music began at an early age. When his missionary family relocated to Wyoming a few years later, Hardin's father brought him to an Araphao dance where he was exposed to Native American rhythms for the first time. Hardin then went on to play drums in high school.

A turning point came at the age of 16: a stick of dynamite that he had found on a railroad track exploded and blinded him in both eyes. He became more immersed in music and began to learn the principles of music. The vast majority of his musical education in aural training and composition was self taught. He also supplemented this with musical theory from braille books.

In 1943 he moved to New York where, for the first few weeks, he played on the street as a way of making money and gaining exposure. He became friendly with composers and musicians such as Charlie Parker, Leonard Bernstein and Benny Goodman. He continued to busk and sell copies of his poetry mostly on 53rd Street and 6th Avenue in order to support himself .

It was around this time that he began to wear distinctive clothing complete with a horned helmet which was inspired by Thor, the Norse God of Thunder. This lead to the nickname 'The Viking of 6th Avenue'. In an 1998 interview he mentioned that "When I first got to New York and I was attending rehearsals of the Philharmonic, they wrote me up as 'a man with the face of Christ.' I put up with that for a few years, getting compared with a monk or Christ, then I said 'that's enough, I don't want that connection. I must do something about my appearance to make it look un-Christian.' At that time, I was studying the Norse and I felt much closer to that than Christianity so I'd do something to make it look more Nordic. That's what was behind it.

Regarding his Viking garb he stated "I do not dress the way I do to attract attention, I attract attention because I dress the way I do."

In the late 1940's he adopted the name 'Moondog' after a hound "who used to howl at the moon more than any dog i knew". A visit to a Sun Dance in Idaho in 1949 put him back in touch with the Native American music he had heard as a child. The strong rhythms of Native music combined with classical and jazz influences and ambient sound became a distinguishing feature of his work. Throughout the 50's and 60's he worked with a number of symphonies, had his work performed by the likes of Janis Joplin and composed music for the Mother Goose album with Julie Andrews and Martin Green.

He also worked with some craftsmen to produce some custom instruments in a search for new sounds.The best known of these are the "Trimba", a triangular percussion instrument and a small triangular-shaped harp known as the "Oo", another which he named the "Ooo-ya-tsu",

Germany was Hardin's next point of call-he moved there in 1974 where he spent the remainder of his life and often described himself as a European in exile. A German named Ilona Goebel helped Hardin set up a primary holding company for his artistic pursuits. He briefly visited America in 1989 for a tribute organised by Philip Glass where Hardin would conduct the Brooklyn Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra.

Hardin died in September 1999 at the age of 83, leaving a large body of work and a rich musical legacy behind.

For More Info:

'Moondog, The Viking of 6th Avenue: The Authorized Biography'

1998 Interview with Perfect Sound Forever


BMD said...

Great post. What an interesting man. Would you believe I was just listening to Bird's Lament a few hours ago :p

Green of Eye, Sharp of Claw said...

@BMD: It's such a wonderful piece of music. I only wish there was more info out there on his compositional methods-that interview i linked to gave a taster but i'd love to know more!

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