Though he has been recording since the 1950s and is cited as an influence by bands ranging from Big Brother and the Holding Company to Stereolab, few laymen are familiar with the complex, critically acclaimed work of the blind musician known only as Moondog.
Born Louis Hardin in Marysville, Kan., in 1916, Moondog grew up near Indian reservations, where he spent much of his youth. At age 16 he was blinded in a tragic blasting accident and was sent to the Iowa School for the Blind, where he first pursued music. In 1943 Moondog relocated to New York to be close to the 20th century classical music scene, performing his own blend of percussive music, poetry and spoken word on Sixth Avenue in Manhattan while dressed in Viking gear. A fixture of New York streetlife during the 1950s, Moondog hung around figures such as Marlon Brando, Tiny Tim, Lenny Bruce, William S. Burroughs, Allen Ginsburg, Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, Leonard Bernstein and Arturo Toscanini.
In the early part of the decade Moondog was "discovered" by Folkways musicologist Tony Schwartz, who made field recordings of prominent street musicians. This led to several recording sessions throughout the decade, including one with Julie Andrews. Performing on numerous instruments of his own devising, as well as traditional ones, Moondog composed more than 300 canons and madrigals, drawing from influences ranging from Bach to Native American chants. He also wrote books of poetry that have yet to be officially published.
In 1974 Moondog relocated to Germany, where he began collaborating with music translator Ilona Gobel, who has popularized his music recent years. For the next 20 years Moondog remained in Europe, where he often conducted his works when they were performed by symphony orchestras. In the mid-1990s Moondog made several rare appearances in the U.S. and in 1997 he recorded his first new American release since the early '70s, Sax Pax for a Sax, released by Atlantic Records. Recorded in England, Sax Pax for a Sax was performed by an all-saxophone orchestra, led by Moondog himself on percussion.