The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website


More Moondog / The Story of Moondog jonny mugwump , May 5th, 2009 05:48

Louis Thomas Hardin, aka Moondog, aka The Viking of Sixth Avenue, enjoys something of a more unique biography than your average contemporary musician and composer. Blinded in a farming accident at the age of 16, Moondog spent many years eking out a hand-to-mouth existence on NYC street corners, living homeless, dressed in somewhat idiosyncratic garb (horned helmet, cape) with his wild but regal beard and mane of hair. He apparently adopted these sartorial accoutrements because he kept being mistaken for Jesus. But before you start imagining some beyond-eccentric street corner nut job, Moondog was a composer of complex simplicity who maintained a unique balance of freedom and sophistication. He built up a loyal clan of fans largely due to his patch being near the 52nd Street Nightclub, a famous Jazz joint. Among his admirers he could count Duke Ellington, Stravinsky, Charlie Parker, Dylan and Steve Reich, who attempted to dub him the Godfather of Minimalism. It was a title that the Viking politely but firmly refused.

You might know Moondog, though. The rather tedious Mr Scruff lifted 'Birds Lament' (from Moondog 1) for his world-famous 'Get A Move On' (which later went on to be used to sell nappies or matches or something) and that gives you a sense of the strange motion at work here. Hardin loved Native American music and Bach, and also invented various instruments during his career: the one that features here the most is the OO, a shimmering harp-like sound device that further adds to the feel of what could be described as a kind of urban shamanism.

Honest Jon's, that uniformly exceptional label, now present this beautifully remastered package which compiles two Prestige albums from 1956 and 1957, More Moondog and The Story of Moondog. These recordings represent Moondog in the raw; a small world away from the lush orchestrations of Moondog's 1 & 2, which were recorded at the tail end of the 60s.

Moondog learned to play drums on a cardboard box when he was five, and all of his work glistens with a strange rhythmic off-kilter heartbeat. This becomes the foundation for further percussion, chanting, saxophone (though that rarely appears on these early releases), occasional piano, tap-dancing, New York traffic, poetry, readings from the man himself and... tugboat horns. The music alone is remarkable by anybody's standards but all these environmental snippets, the overheard conversations and the life of Moondog's exterior surroundings transform the release into a surreal field recording- a shifting soundscape pivoting on the Viking's inherent lopsided aural perception of the world.

There are occasional solo piano and organ pieces and, my own favourite at the moment, the nine minute 'Moondog Monologue' where, accompanied by his OO, he meanders around themes of life, the universe and everything. But it seems pointless to single out individual tracks. Listen to this for what it is - a subtly shifting journey and a remarkable snapshot of a remarkable man and the people and the city around him.