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Moondog was the pseudonym of Louis Thomas Hardin (May 26, 1916 – September 8, 1999), a blind American composer, musician, cosmologist, poet, and inventor of several musical instruments. Although these achievements would have been considered extraordinary for any blind person, Moondog further removed himself from society through his decision to make his home on the streets of New York for approximately twenty of the thirty years he spent in the city. The public began to appreciate the extent of Moondog's talents only in the final decades of Moondog's life, primarily because of his stubborn refusal to wear anything other than his own home-made clothes, all based on his own interpretation of the Norse god Thor. He was known for much of his life as "The Viking of 6th Avenue".

Early life

Born in to an Episcopalian family in Marysville, Kansasmarker, the young Louis Hardin started playing a set of drums that he made himself from a cardboard box at the age of five. His family relocated to Wyoming, opening a trading post at Fort Bridgermarker and Hardin attended school in a couple of small towns. At one point Hardin's father took him to an Arapaho Sun Dance where he sat on the lap of Chief Yellow Calf and played a tomtom made from buffalo skin. It was this exposure to Native American instruments and rhythms that would shape his music.

Hardin played drums in Hurley High Schoolmarker before losing his sight in a farm accident at the age of 16. After learning the principles of music in several schools for blind young men across middle America, he taught himself the skills of ear training and composition. Principally self-taught, he studied with Burnet Tuthill and at the Iowa School for the Blind.

Hardin moved to Batesville, Arkansasmarker. where he lived until 1942 when he got a scholarship to study in Memphis, though the majority of his musical training was self-taught by ear with some theory derived from books in braille. Hardin moved to New York in 1943 where he met noted classical music luminaries such as Leonard Bernstein and Toscanini, as well as legendary jazz performer-composers like Charlie Parker and Benny Goodman whose upbeat tempos and often humorous compositions would influence Hardin's work.

New York City

From the late 1940s until 1974, Moondog lived as a street musician and poet in New York City, busking mostly on 53rd Street and 6th Avenue in Manhattanmarker. In addition to his music and poetry, he was also known for the distinctive fancy "Viking" garb that he wore, which included a horned helmet. He partially supported himself by selling copies of his poetry and his musical philosophy. Because of his street post's proximity to the famed 52nd Street nightclub strip, he was well-known to many jazz musicians and fans.

In 1947 Hardin adopted the pen name "Moondog" in honor of a dog "who used to howl at the moon more than any dog I knew of." In 1949 he traveled to a Blackfoot Sun Dance in Idahomarker where he performed on percussion and flute, returning to the Native American music he first came in contact with as a child. It was this Native music, along with contemporary jazz and classical, mixed with the ambient sounds from his environment (city traffic, ocean waves, babies crying, etc.) that created the foundation of Moondog's music.

In 1954, he won a case in the New York State Supreme Court against disc jockey Alan Freed, who had branded his radio show, "The Moondog Rock and Roll Matinee", around the name "Moondog", using "Moondog's Symphony" (the first record that Moondog ever cut) as his "calling card". Being a homeless person, he believed he would not have won the case had it not been for the help of musicians such as Benny Goodman and Arturo Toscanini, who testified that he was a serious composer. Freed had to apologize and stop using the nickname "Moondog" on air, on the basis that Hardin was known by the name long before Freed began using it.


Moondog had an idealised view of Germany ("The Holy Land with the Holy River" — the Rhinemarker), where he settled in 1974.

Eventually, a young German student named Ilona Goebel helped Moondog set up the primary holding company for his artistic endeavors and hosted him, first in Oer-Erkenschwickmarker, and later on in Münstermarker in Westphalia, Germany, where he spent the remainder of his life.

Moondog visited America briefly in 1989, for a tribute in which Philip Glass asked him to conduct the Brooklyn Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra, at the New Music America Festival in Brooklynmarker, stimulating a renewed interest in his music.

He recorded many albums, and toured both in the U.S. and in Europe — France, Germany and Sweden.

Moondog's music

Moondog's music took its inspiration from street sounds, such as the subway or a foghorn. It tended to be relatively simple but characterized by what he called "snaketime" and described as "a slithery rhythm, in times that are not ordinary [...] I'm not gonna die in 4/4 time".

Moondog's work was early championed by Artur Rodziński, the conductor of New York Philharmonic in the 1940s. He released a number of 78s, 45s and EPs of his music in the 1950s, as well as several LPs on a number of notable jazz labels, including an unusual record of stories for children with actress Julie Andrews in 1957. For ten years no new recordings were heard from Moondog until producer James William Guercio took him into the studio to record an album for Columbia Records in 1969. The track "Stamping Ground", with its odd preamble of Moondog saying one of his epigrams, was featured on the sampler double album Fill Your Head with Rock (CBS, 1970). The melody from the track "Bird's Lament (In memory of Charlie Parker)" was later sampled by Mr. Scruff as the basis for his song "Get a Move On", which was then used in commercials for the Lincoln Navigator SUV.

A second album produced with Guercio featured one of Moondog's daughters as a vocalist and contained song compositions in canons and rounds. The album did not make as large an impression in popular music as the first had. The two CBS albums were re-released as a single CD in 1989.


The trimba, Moondog percussion instrument

In a search for new sounds, Moondog also invented several musical instruments, including a small triangular-shaped harp known as the "Oo", another which he named the "Ooo-ya-tsu", and (perhaps his most well-known) the "Trimba", a triangular percussion instrument that the composer invented in the late 40s. The original Trimba is still played today by Moondog's friend Stefan Lakatos, a Swedish percussionist, to whom Moondog also explained the methods for building such an instrument.


Moondog inspired other musicians — several tracks by other artists were dedicated to him. These include "Moondog" by Pentangle (from the 1968 album 'Sweet Child'), "Moondog" by DJ Scotch Egg (from the album Scotchhausen) and "Spear for Moondog" (parts I and II) by jazz/funk organist Jimmy McGriff (from his 1968 Electric Funk album). The Beatles were called Johnny and the Moondogs before they chose their more famous name. The English pop group Prefab Sprout included the song "Moondog" on their album Jordan: The Comeback released in 1990 as a tribute to Hardin. Big Brother and the Holding Company featuring Janis Joplin covered the song "All Is Loneliness" on their 1967 album Big Brother and the Holding Company. Ninja Tune recording artist Mr. Scruff released a single, "Get a Move On", which was structured around samples from "Bird's Lament". The song appeared on his album Keep It Unreal. A photo of Moondog can be seen on the wall of The Residents The Bunny Boy's Secret Room, along with numerous other composers The Residents seem to like. New York band The Insect Trust plays a cover of Moondog's song "Be a Hobo" on their album Hoboken Saturday Night. Moondog is portrayed briefly in a street scene in the beginning of Todd Haynes' 2007 film I'm Not There. The disc-jockey Alan Freed used Hardin's song "Moondog Symphony" as the signature tune of his show "The Moondog House" and billed himself as "The King of the Moondoggers". He did so without Hardin's permission though and had to stop using both after Hardin sued him.



  • "Snaketimes Rhythm" (1949-1950), SMC
  • "Moondog's Symphony" (1949-1950), SMC
  • "Organ Rounds" (1949-1950), SMC
  • "Oboe Rounds" (1949-1950), SMC
  • "Surf Session" (c. 1953), SMC
  • "Caribea Sextet"/"Oo Debut" (1956), Moondog Records
  • "Stamping Ground Theme" (from the Holland Pop Festival) (1970), CBS




  • More Moondog/The Story of Moondog (1991), Original Jazz Classics
  • Moondog/Moondog 2 (2001), Beat Goes On
  • The German Years 1977–1999 (2005), ROOF Music
  • Un hommage à Moondog tribute album (2005), trAce label
  • The Viking Of 6th Avenue (2005) Honest Jons
  • Rare Material (2006), ROOF Music

Various artist compilations

  • New York 19 (recorded and edited by Tony Schwartz) (1954), Folkways
  • Music in the Streets (recorded and edited by Tony Schwartz) (1954), Folkways
  • Rosey 4 Blocks (arrangement by Andy Forsythe (1958), Rosey
  • Fill Your Head With Rock (1970), CBS
  • The Big Lebowski motion picture soundtrack (1998), Mercury
  • Fsuk vol. 3: The Future Sound of the United Kingdom (1998), Fsuk
  • Miniatures 2 (2000), Cherry Red
  • DJ Kicks (2006), Henrik Schwarz K7 Records
  • Pineapple Express[Motion Picture Sound Track] (2008), Track 9. Birds Lament, Moondog & The London Saxophonic.

Moondog's music as performed by other musicians



  • Scotto, Robert. Moondog, The Viking of 6th Avenue: The Authorized Biography. Process Music edition (22 November 2007) ISBN 9780976082286 (preface by Philip Glass)

External links

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