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Robert Scotto Robert Scotto, Moondog, The Viking Of 6th Avenue, The Authorized Biography, Preface by Philip Glass, CD with 28 tracks included, Process Media, USA, 2007)
Mr. Scotto has generously put the outline of his biography at our disposal. Furthermore he allowed us to publish the complete text of chapter three: Snaketime (1943-1953).
The following brief biography comes from the record company ROOF and can only serve as a short outline of Moondog´s life for the time being.
Moreover there are numerous articles, obituaries, album reviews and particularly interviews with Moondog which partly contain quite useful and reliable information.
Once in a blue Moon(dog) ...September 8th last year saw the passing of one of the 20th C´s most respected musical icons. Louis T. Hardin better known as Moondog was a revered pioneer on the Avant-Garde/Minimalist scene, his revolutionary attitude towards composition and melody was lauded by such eminent notables as Philip Glass and Steve Reich, while his style and attitude drew comparisons to Harry Partch. His influence can be seen in the music of Stereolab and Moonshake among others.
Bonn 26th May 1916 in Maryville, Kansas, Moondog wrote all his music in braille having lost his sight in an accident involving a dynamite cap at the age of 17. He studied music at the Iowa School for the Blind and later at Memphis. He was mostly self-taught determining chord structures by ear and developing his skills and theory from books. Initially he was drawn to the percussion element of music citing that his first drum kit at the age of five was nothing more than a cardboard box. His father, a minister had once taken the young Louis to the Arapaho Sun Dance whereupon he met Chief Yellow Calf and played the buffalo skin tom-tom, and rhythmical device that would reappear in his later work.
Perhaps to some degree the legend of Moondog supersedes his music, if that is at all possible, for in 1943 he came to New York in order to be closer to the 20thC classical scene. The name Moondog didn´t occur until 1947, reflecting on how he came by the title he remembered fondly a dog he owned way back in Missouri:
"We used to howl at the moon."
Arriving with no contacts and only one month´s rent, for the next 30 years he became something of a cultural enigma. It was during this period of flirtation with the Big Apple that the Moondog legend began. Positioning himself on 54th Street and Avenue, later to be known as Moondog corner, he would entertain crowds playing his compositions on home made drums and some portable keyboards and reciting his own poetry. His eccentricity was furthered by the fact that sporting a long beard and a spear, he wore home made clothes consisting of a robe, a Vikings helmet and leather patchwork trousers again the influence of the Indians having effect. However this unusual form of dress was to lose him prestigious contracts in die future.
As the legend would have it, musicians from the Carnegie Hall spotted Moondog just across the way from where he entertained. Impressed by what they saw they persuaded the conductor Arthur Rodzinski to let him sit in on rehearsals. It was here that Hardin was to learn about orchestration and also to witness the debut performance as a conductor of Leonard Bernstein. Moondog´s debt to Rodzinski was reciprocated by his dedication of Symphony No 50.
He became something of a celebrity when columnist Walter Winchell wrote about him in the Times. Folkways musicologist Tony Schwartz would often make field recordings of street players, such involvement with Moondog led on to several offers being made the most notable being to do a recording of children´s songs with Julie Andrews.
By all accounts he was a genial man and noted for his humour, when asked by passers by as to where he come from he would reply:
"I would tell people I was born in Sasnak .... and when they would ask where it was, I would reply that it was a mysterious place. I left it for them to work out it was Kansas in reverse."
Legendary disc jockey Alan Freed was one of the first to pick up on the Moondog sound and found himself losing a lawsuit when he named his spot the Moondog show after the Moondog Symphony. However Freed was later to become the self styled originator of the term Rock´n´Roll.
His jazz influences were cultivated while on the streets, it was there that he met Benny Goodman and Charlie Parker, the latter remarking:
"You and I should make a record."
Sadly though this never happened for shortly afterwards Parker died unexpectedly. Moondog paid tribute to Parker later on with "Bird´s Lament".
By the early seventies still on the streets, it would be hard for most to imagine that this imposing street player had released albums on labels such as Mars, CBS and Prestige. The beat generation in the 60´s had welcomed Moondog with open arms seeing him as something of a rebellious icon. By this period he had performed a poetry reading with Allen Ginsberg, appeared on stage with Lenny Bruce, Tiny Tim and in films with William S. Boroughs. He was adept at making music for films and TV commercials, one of his pieces was used for the soundtrack for "Drive. She said" starring Jack Nicholson.
As for his views about music, be would only listen to his own stating that the work of others was full of "unspecified mistakes". He considered himseIf a classicist stating his aim was to create:
"The art of concealing art, maximum effect but with minimum means".
It is from this approach to his style of work that Philip Glass and Steve Reich hailed him as the originator of the concept of minimalism. However Moondog had his own opinion on the matter:
"Bach was doing minimal in his fugues. So what´s new?"
In 1974 be was offered a chance to play in Europe for a few months which as it turned out led him to relocating to Recklinghausen to live until his death. The suddenness of his departure led many to believe that be had died, at one even Paul Simon mourned his passing on his tv-show.
Of course Moondog hadn´t died in fact his so-called exile in Germany would lead to his most prolific period of his career. He met Ilona Goebel a music translator who gave up her job to work full time with Hardin putting onto paper what rnusic that was in his head, she eventually became his manager.
Moondog did however return to America in 1989. At the invitation of the New Music American Festival in Brooklyn, he shared the stage with Glass and Reich asked to conduct as part of the celebration of legends from the 40´s and 50´s. His conducting manner was unorthodox to say the least, taking his place at the side to play percussion. He later commented that:
"I see my relationship with them [orchestra] as being first among equals, so that there are forty conductors, each in charge of his own part."
This return to the Big Apple marked a newly rediscovered interest in his work seeing it performed all over the world in some of the greatest settings, some of his work was even choreographed.
For the first time in the U.K. the official releases of "Sax Pax for a sax", "A new sound for an old instrument", "Elpmas" and "Moondog In Europe".
"A new sound for an old instrument" is a series of thirteen short pieces concentrating on the use of the organ. At times delightfully breezy especially on "Mirage". However the furious calling that spreads through "Barn Dance" has a charm of its own.
"Elpmas" explores the sounds of swing and jazz, conceived as a protest song against the treatment of aborigines. It´s here that you hear the percussive rythms that have stayed with Moondog since his encounter with Chief Yellow Calf Suprisingly the work is punctuated by a vocal section on the opening suite.
"Moondog in Europe". Some may recognise the opening piece as being similar to the "Sugar Plum Fairy". Overall the work has a menacing viking feel to it, the coming of the boats "Heimdall Fanfare" and the mournfull violins with Romance in g.
"Sax Pax for the Sax." Of all the releases Sax Pax is probably the most immediately accessible. Featuring the London Saxophonic, Sax Pax is a tribute to the maker of the saxophone Antoine Joseph Sax celebrating the centennial of his death. The work features Peter Hamill on the chorus and Danny Thompson on the contra bass. The swing style sax´s on Paris are breath taking. "Bird´s Lament" features here, dedicated to the memory of Charlie Parker, while New Arnsterdam is Moondog´s love song for New York. "EEC Lied" has similarities to Grand Old Duke of York.
All available on the Kopf Label.