Two of the most significant composers and musicians of the 20th century, Moondog and Miles Davis, were born 100 and 90 years ago tomorrow, May 26. Moondog was born in 1916 and Miles in 1926.
To commemorate the Moondog centennial here are a few photos of Moondog (1916-1999) made by Weegee (both single-named individualists) in Greenwich Village in the 1950s. (One or two of these are unpublished and rare.) And an amazing radio piece, “Moondog: the Man on the Street,” made by Gordon Spencer, broadcast in July, 1971, that features interviews made in 1961 and 1970 with Moondog and his music (from Archive.org). And we begin with a photo from PM.
PM, January 19, 1945, p. 13 (photo by John De Biase from article written by Natalie Davies, titled, “The Man with the ‘Face of Christ'”)
About two years before Louis Hardin became Moondog, he was attending daily rehearsals of the Philharmonic in Carnegie Hall (after befriending conductor Artur Rodzinski) and living in the top room of a brownstone on 56th Street, (between 8th and 9th Avenues). Hardin came to Manhattan in November 1943 after studying music in Iowa and Memphis. A fascinating profile of Hardin by Natalie Davis, published in PM on January 19, 1945 concludes:
Did he have any plans for the next years?
He squatted on the sleeping bag again and laughed. “I’m going to write music,” he replied. “I’m going to write my fool head off.”
Did he see many people? Did he have plenty of friends?
“Oh, yes. I meet people all the time.” He threw back his head again, and laughed. “I’m somewhat of a wolf. I know many women. But my life is lonely. I have to maintain a certain independence, and put everything into my music.”
We stood up to go, and he stood up too. As we walked down the flights of stairs we asked what his favorite piece of music was.
“Mozart’s G Minor Symphony,” he said immediately.
He paused on the steps. “It seems to me a perfect blend of the classic and romantic ideal.”
Did he wish sometimes that he had been born in ancient or medieval times where he could find romance?
“No,” he said earnestly. “You can be yourself in any age. You don’t have to follow the herd.”
In the liner notes to a 2005 CD, The Viking of Sixth Avenue, Moondog commented on the PM profile:
When I first got to New York they wrote me up as “a man with the face of Christ.” I put up with that for a few years, then I said I don’t want that connection, I must do something about my appearance to make it look un-Christian.” And so Moondog became a Nordic warrior; complete with spear and horned helmet: “the Viking of Sixth Avenue.”
Gordon Spencer of WBAI in New York presents a program about Louis Hardin, more popularly known as Moondog. From the 1940s up until 1974 Moondog made his living as a street musician and poet in New York City and was typically found near the jazz clubs on 52nd Street. Blind since an accident when he was 16 years old, Moondog was always recognizable in his Viking helmet playing a variety of instruments, some of his own design. In this program Moondog talks about his interests, his influences and his experiences. From archive.org.
A few links:
NY Times: “Sidewalk Hero, on the Horns of a Revival” – By John Strausbaugh, October 28, 2007.
NY Times: “Louis (Moondog) Hardin, 83, Musician, Dies” By Glenn Collins, September 12, 1999
NY Times: “Moondog Returns From the Hippie Years” – By Allan Kozinn, November 16, 1989.
WNYC: “Moondog – Adventures in Sound” – By Tony Schwartz, August 13, 1970.
Weegee Wednesday is an occasional series exploring, or just enjoying, the life and work of Weegee.