Saturday, November 10, 2007

Moondog in New York

Bochum, West Germany.
For 30 years he was a landmark for New Yorkers. Decked out in a bizzare mock-Viking outfit, a horned helmet on his head and a spear in his hand, he stood on the corner of 54th Street and Sixth Avenue, majestically ignoring the giggles and wisecracks, selling his poems and copies of his sheet music and playing what one critic called "delicate Coplandesque rhythms" on weird instruments of his own design. He called himself Moondog, after a dog he liked, and was unfailingly courteous and patient with the curious. Although handicapped by total blindness from an explosion when he was 16 years old, Moondog wasn't just another one of the crazies wandering aimlessly through the metropolis, but a dedicated nonconformist who insists he pursued his unorthodox street life for the sake of his music. Over the years he acquired a lot of friends, some of them with real clout in the music world, like Artur Rodzinski, conductor of the New York Philharmonic. However, repeated attempts to get him off the streets and into a more conventional mode of life foundered on Moondogs's fierce protection of his freedom.But Moondog, whose real name is Louis Hardin, isn't standing on street corners anymore. At the age of 62, in an uninspiring little town in West Germany, Moondog has found a home.A Composer's Paradise"I am living in a composer's paradise"

"I am living in a composer's paradise," he says to a visitor in a sound studio in Bochum, where his music is being recorded. "I am surrounded by musicians, I get my meals on time, I'm warm, and most of all I'm free for my music." He speaks like a man who has suddenly realized the joy of no longer having to cope with the very problems of existence.Sitting next to him, watching fondly and proudly, is the architect of his new life, a slight blond woman of 27, named Ilona Goebel. She and the musician met three years ago in a small town in the Ruhr valley.Moondog (Miss Goebel calls him by his given name Louis) came to Germany in 1974 under the auspices of one of his early New York admirers, the organist Paul Jordan. Mr. Hardin had been invited to conduct a concert of his works played by Mr. Jordan in Frankfurt, and has simply never returned to New York."I felt at home here, in the country where so many great composers have lived and worked," he said. "I went to Bonn to the house where Beethoven was born. I sat at the spinnet where he composed some of his great music and I felt I was in spiritual communication with him.When Ilona Goebel first saw him, Moondog was standing on a street corner in Recklinghausen, dressed in his familiar Viking cape and helmet, selling copies of his poems. The somewhat startled citizens thought he was an out-of-work actor costumed as an "alt Deutscher"

Read the full story in Moondog's Corner.


Sidewalk Hero, On the Horns Of a Revival

Plenty of chamber music festivals have featured works by Bach, Beethoven and Mozart. Or Charles Ives, Elliott Carter and Leon Kirchner.

But a festival that includes music by Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Ives, Carter and Kirchner, all playing second fiddle to the classical works of Moondog?

''Moondog Rising,'' which takes place on Friday and Saturday at Advent Lutheran Church in Manhattan, is surely the first. The Viking of Sixth Avenue, as he was known, would be proud.

From the late 1940s to the early '70s Moondog was as recognizable in the New York City landscape as the Empire State Building, and nearly as striking. A tall blind man with long hair and beard, wearing a handmade Viking helmet and primitive cloak, he regularly stationed himself at Sixth Avenue and 54th Street, which cops and cabbies knew as Moondog's Corner. Dispensing his poetry, politics, sheet music and recordings (some on boutique labels, some on majors), he was sought out over the years by beats, hippies and foreign tourists, but also by the media and celebrities, from Walter Winchell and ''Today'' to Marlon Brando, Muhammad Ali and Martin Scorsese.

''Everybody who was anybody met Moondog,'' Robert Scotto, author of ''Moondog,'' a biography published this month by Process Books, said recently. ''And everybody had his own Moondog.''

Even after he moved to Germany in 1974, where he remained until his death in 1999 at 83, he was remembered in New York as an emblematic street character, though not as a serious classical composer. As the British music critic Kenneth Ansell observed in the mid-'90s, while jazz greats like Count Basie and Charlie Parker admired Moondog's idiosyncratic forays into their world, ''the classical orthodoxy has not rushed to embrace him.''

Robin Boomer, a cellist and the organizer of Moondog Rising, said: ''Most of the people I know from the classical music world don't know Moondog at all. He hasn't made it into the canon.''

Part of the problem is that Moondog was so prolific and eclectic. Working in Braille, often composing under his cloak on the sidewalk, he wrote in an impressively wide range of styles: percussion-driven exotica (he made his own triangular drum-and-cymbal instrument, the trimba), avant-garde jazz, folkish madrigals, Bach-like neo-Baroque rounds and canons for chamber orchestra, symphonies for full orchestra, and a layered minimalism that influenced his young collaborators Steve Reich and Philip Glass. (They can be heard playing with Moondog in the 1960s on a sampler CD included in Mr. Scotto's book, for which Mr. Glass wrote the preface.)

Read the entire article in the New York Times

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