Editor's note: This week in part two of our piece on Louis Hardin, a musician known as Moondog, we explore the artist's time spent in Candor. Again we would like to thank Robert Scotto for the generous use of large portions of his soon-to-be published profile of Moondog.
by Michael Gulachok
Faced with the constant frustration of starting over again, rebuilding a small log dwelling each time he came back to Candor, Louis Hardin decided to erect a more permanent structure.
The initial "log cabin" had been constructed of huge logs, weighting several hundred pounds each. Hardin (Moondog) would drag the logs out of the woods to his clearing on Logue Hill by tying them with ropes and securing them to a leather band which fitted around his forehead. His sense of hearing was so acute, he had been blind since a childhood accident, that he could tell when someone was approaching and would send forth a hearty greeting.
Moondog constructed his shack to meet his needs, within the parameters of his skills. Designed of mud and logs, the structure was four feet high with a crawl-in opening and a beaten earth floor. There were none of the usual amenities - plumbing, running water, heat, electricity, and for several years it was little more that a crude shelter against the elements.
Gradually though, Moondog added some special touches: first, to the astonishment of the utility, he requestes a telephone, to be in touch with his New York "office". When the installer arrived at the site he found not only what amounted to a raised cave, but suspended over the doorway, unknown to the blind man, a bevy of black snakes living peacefully on the roof. Moondog did however get his phone.
Willa Percival, who traveled by his side to photograph him, described Moondog "building an addition to his cabin where he wintered howling wind down the mountain, lighting a fire on top the monument he erected, and with heavy clothes on inside the cabin by a wood fire his only heat."
Moondog liked to cook over the open fire. Eventually he acquired a pot-belly stove which he cooked inside of, with great success, according to eye-witnesses. His spirit of adventure never flagged, one Thanksgiving he and Bobby Ayers (a Candor resident and friend) roasted a large turkey this way, complete with stuffing and vegetables.
Bucky Moon, from "over the hill" became one of Moondog's deepest Candor friends until Moondog left for Europe. Bucky, a farmer, and another neighbor, Bob Dutton, helped Moondog finance and construct his first permanent building in 1962. The wooden, tar paper, insulated building, was 16x8 feet. It remains today as the bedroom of the lager house that evolved in the seventies. With its one door and one window, built-in-bunk bed, table and stove, for Moondog it represented opulence.
Yet the journey to the site, eight hours by bus to Owego, eight miles uphill to Logue Hill, was not without peril. One winter he almost died as he trekked through a blizzard, having no cab available and having missed the final turn. He was lost in the huge snow drifts and was found by Bucky Moon. Another winter Moon found him nearly dead from pneumonia in his cabin, having been to weak to start a fire.
When friends pitched in to help him build his dwelling and any other tasks, they were entertained with good music and memorable anecdotes.
The early 70s were to hold enormous excitement and potential for Moondog as he became a mysterious sort of media happening. Moondog's quieter 60s gave way to a strenuous burst of publicity. Through the period he gained a title of respect, the Viking of Sixth Avenue.
In the fall of 1972 Moondog set out for Candor. His grassroots promotional tour could not rescue "Moondog 2" from its fate, and he returned north and east to linger a little over a year, before embarking on another journey which, in a lifetime of giant steps, would prove to be the longest of them all.
Moondog lived on his Candor property for about sixteen months, becoming acquainted during this time with Thelma Burlar, known to all as "Teddy". As a painter she was drawn by Monndog's life and his work, to Moondog Teddy was an intelligent kindred spirit. Teddy, before she died in 1982, described the artist's paradise Logue hill had become.
In a January 1983 article in the Tioga Council on the Arts publication, Focus, writer Mike Gulachok said she described their relationship in this way: "Joining forces" with Moondog had been "a mutually gainful experience in learning and self-expression" which produced "a platonic professional" union and "a wonderful deep friendship".
This pastorale setting, however, was not without problems. According to Moondog she had complained of the groupies who assualted the delicately balanced peace. Moondog, having no truck with the idle and the curious often put these visitors to work, effectively thinning their numbers.
Teddy herself may have also been part of the problem, Moondog admitting that she may have come to resent the very isolation she had desired. "Gone were the days when I could sit and write for hours on end, only stopping to feed the fire or my mouth, or feed the dogs, or build on the house, or go on hikes with the dogs through the woods." Moondog had said.
Years later when Moondog knew he was not going to return to America, he sold the parcel of land on which the structures stood to Teddy for a thousand dollars. The remaining acerage had been sold a year earlier, in 1977. The building became her summer home until her death.
Far from the hectic pace of the City, or the passionate intensity of being on the road, life at Candor was quiet and fulfilling. New dwellings were erected, including his treasured "hemlock house" where he would sometimes write and sleep. It was here that he composed a piece for Teddy which was played at Harpur College, on her birthday, by a string quartet.
A kitchen was added and the foundation for a permanent stone house was laid.
Moondog, as always, added some creative wrinkles to life's more pedestrian experiences: roto-tilling a garden at night with strings a guidelines for the rows; swimming in a small pond carefully divided by ropes to indicate the various depths and points of ingress and egress.
Candor was wonderfully isolated and protective of its famous eccentric. Sid Mesibov of the Ithaca Journal heading out to find Moondog soon found himself immersed in "an excursion across a time barrier into a place usually identified with mountain folk wholly cut off from the past" (July 1975).
It was into this setting that Moondog introduced his summer concerts. Candor would be a cultural oasis. A bulldozed leveled a stage and rough cleared a meadow. On three Sunday afternoons innovative classical music was made. String quartets performed original pieces while he read his poetry. Edward Brewer give a harpsichord recital of music by the Baroque masters and Moondog. With over one hundred guests in attendance, one of his oldest dreams had come true.
But yet one dream was unanswered. Moondog yearned to travel to Europe, "Europe had too great a pull on me, historically, ethnically, artistically."
Paul Jordan, local musician and a SUNY Binghamton professor, assumed his place in course of events, finding Moondog an opportunity with a former student. A Frankfurt, German radio station, was specializing in avant-garde, and was able to schedule Moondog to be part of a concert on "unclassifiable music".
In January of 1974, with his fifty-eighth birthday approaching, Moondog left Candor.
Today Louis Hardin resides in West Germany, composing his unique fusion of jazz, American folk and European renaissance and baroque. He travels the continent by invitation performing his pieces to great critical acclaim and enthusiastic audiences.
Last October SUNY Binghamton music professor and St. Paul Episcopal Church of Owego organist Paul Jordan released a cassette entitled Buxtehude, Moondog & Co. It is available on Spectrum Tapes, Harriman, NY 10926.