Friday, June 20, 2014

Moondog - Jazz Great

If you were alive and living in New York City during the late 1960’s then you are familiar with Moondog, the blind Viking poet who wandered up and down 6th Avenue (Avenue of the Americas) in the West 50’s. What many people don’t realize is that he had a name. Born Louis Thomas Hardin, Moondog was a presence felt not only by New Yorkers, but also by many of the stars and musicians who passed through the city.

Janis Joplin recorded one of his songs, “All Is Loneliness”, in 1970; and Charlie Parker, the legendary jazz musician, was the subject of his world renowned composition  “Bird’s Lament." Charlie Parker was known as “The Bird.” Moondog's  recording career spanned the years 1953-2005. He even cut an album with Julie Andrews. Much of this work was done while he was living in the streets.

Basically, Moondog, was born Louis Thomas Hardin on May 26, 1916. He is most remembered for standing around on 6th Avenue in the West 50’s from about 1948 until the early 1970’s. If you meet anyone who claims to have seen him after 1974, then they are not telling the truth. That was the year he moved to Germany, where he pursued his art and music in a more serious manner.

He was blind, and a composer, musician and poet. He is even credited with having invented a couple of musical instruments. When he came to New York; sometime around 1944; he decided that he was going to live on the streets as much as possible. He did have a few apartments over the years; and was quick to accept temporary shelter when offered; but mostly he really did live on the streets around 6th and 57th.

His clothes were a self-styled costume of what many believe was Odin, the Norse God. We used to refer to him simply as a Viking. In all the years I saw him I never once saw anyone harassing him. And New York is a tough town! Mostly we spoke to him hoping for a reply, or even a poem. He actually composed music on a braille pad of some kind.

I have no idea why I started thinking about him about a week ago. I even posted a little thing about him on my Facebook page. I got just one comment. You have to be kind of special to “get” a guy like Moondog. You have to color outside the lines a bit to understand his thinking.

I once made the deliberate decision to live in a rooming house with a toilet down the hall in a rundown section of Baltimore for $35 a week. I had $20,000 in my pocket and more in the bank. I just wanted to experience life in that way. To me it was art.

For Moondog the streets were both his canvas and a balnk soundtrack; both needing to be filled in. He passed away in 1999. It’s a good thing in a way. I don’t think he would have liked the 21st Century. Hell, I’m not even sure he ever accepted the 20th.

For everything you ever wanted to know about Moondog, start with Wikipedia and then expand your search to include You Tube. There are a couple of good articles there just underneath of the videos.

And here is a sample of his music, “Bird’s Lament”;

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