New York Times 1979 January 3
'Moondog' Refines Music in Germany
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."
No One Had the Nerve
"My ten-year-old brother wanted to invite him home for Christmas because he felt so sorry for him." Miss Goebel explained, "but no one in the family had the nerve to ask him. And then I saw a record of his music - orchestra pieces played by 45 musicians with many soloists and I bought it. When I first heard the music I was shaken! I couldn't believe that a man who could write music like that would have to live as he did. So then I invited him home."
Home is a small town, Oer-Erkenschwick, and Louis has been there ever since.
"Her family just adopted me," he says happily.
But Mr. Hardin didn't succumb to convention entirely without a fight.
"It took her a while to convince me," he says of Miss Goebel. "But she said I had tried it the old way for 30 years in New York and it never got me any place - why not try it the other way for a while." And so off came the helmet ("symbol of virility") and away with the spear ("defender of freedom") and the capes and pants and shirts, made out of square pieces of cloth. Today Mr. Hardin greets a visitor in hand-knit cap and sweater over fashionable jersey pants, although the beard and long hair, now neatly trimmed, remain.
Miss Goebel has given up her studies as a geologist and has become publisher, agent, producer and transcriber for the blind musician, who conceives his music in his head, writes it first in Braille and then dictates it with painstaking slowness to Miss Goebel.
"Louis and his music consume my life," she says simply.
Her dedication and efficiency have produced results. Although the Columbia record which first inspired her has sold 40.000 copies since its first release in 1969, Mr. Hardin's sheet music was hard to find, and other records, made in New York, were no longer available. Since Miss Goebel took over, a lot has happened.
There are two new recordings of Moondog's music now available in Europe, one of which has been released in America on the Heritage label. The publishing company, Managarm, which Miss Goebel founded two years ago, regularly produces and sells Moondog's music.
In 1976, the French state radio, led by a young music critic and disk jockey, Martin Meissonier, brought the musician to Paris to conduct and perform in a concert of his own works. Since then the radio station has often played tapes of his music. A third record is in preparation, and Mr. Hardin has an open contract with a newly formed company called Roof to produce at least two records a year.
His new life has added a few pounds to his tall figure and fleshed out the ascetic face some, but his music hasn't changed.
"I still write basically conventional, classical counterpoint," he explains. "I flatly refuse to have anything to do with electronics - don't like the sound."
But Mr. Hardin does digress a bit now and then from the strictly classical. Last year, he wrote a number of madrigal-like songs for a record that he calls "H'art songs" (Hardin songs) - intricate instrumentals superimposed against a simple repetitive melody with the engaging lyrics of his verses, familiar to many New Yorkers.
Inspired by Recollections
And he wrote 19 marches last year, inspired by the recollections of his childhood in the Middle West and his preacher-father who was an admirer of John Philip Sousa. He has titled one of the marches "Battery Park," a mark of his fascination with New York despite his new life in West Germany.
"New York City was my mother and father for 30 years." Moondog said. "I worked and slept on her streets and ate through the kind generosity of her people. I would like to go back someday - most of all I would like to have a concert of my music there." Ilona Goebel smiles - it's not in his immediate future, but she's working on it.