New York Journal - American (1951)

Jack O'Brian

One of the most astounding members of the new school of modern "sounds in music is a fellow who toom the name of "Moondog" from the Indians, sleeps on a 6th ave. Roof, spends his "working hours" in the doorway of one store or another, refuses charitable donations, wears a diaper, affects a long, braided coiffure and beard, has invented a new musical instrument he has named the "Oo" and writes symphonies, which he calls "Euphonies."
Moondog is a 35-year old musician whose life is more or less itinerant. He is the son of a Midwestern minister, which accounts for none of his person eccentricities.
In Moondog's case, all this strange behavior takes on, after a few minutes conversation with him, a flavor of good sense. Good sense, we might add, applied only to Moondog. We daren't suggest every citizen buy himself a stock of diapers and set up light housekeeping in the doorway of a store down street.
To get that "diaper" situation quickly explained please note first that Moonbdog is totally blind. His lost his sight at 16 when a dynamite cap exploded near him. He was a sophomore at Hurley High School in Hurley, Mo., at the time, and thus ended his visual three R's. But his previous casual interst in music was converted into a fierce fixation.
His concentration now has resulted in presentation on radio and records of many of his compositions. They take the form usually of remarkable feats of both composition and performance. Most of the records have Moondog playing up to a dozen instruments, all of which he has mastered in his fervent pursuit of new sounds and rhythms.
The diapers are matters of convenience; actually they aren't diapers but a version of native Indian attire Moondog learned from the Indians when his father was a missionary.
"The Indians wore all sorts of clothing but it all had one thing in common," Moondog said. "Whatever it was, it started out in some version of a square. Wheter it was leggings, shoes, shorts or blanket, the square was the most useful. I simply learned it was easiest for me. I don't wear this stuff just to be a character. Being blind, it just solves problems."
Moondog's leather mocassins are squares bent around his feet. It was a cool 5 a.m. as we talked with him in a doorway on 6th ave. just south of 52nd st., and he wore a hooded blanket effect; a square, of course. In winter he wears two large squares of raccoon skins sewed together, with enough room to crawl into, the rest sewed tight all around into a sort of sleeping bag; during waking hours he simply climbs out and uses it as a warm fur cape.
His hours are upside down; he rarely encounters the sun, preferring to sleep through the day atop a building on 6th ave. nera 52nd st. If it rains, snows or is inclement in any form Moondog merely shifts to any convenient spot with a roof.
Evenings are for whatever interests him at the moment, generally something musical. By midnight he is ensconced in one of his several favorite doorways. His "regular" doorway is on 52nd st. between Broadway and 7th ave., but he changes frequently. He likes one near Broadway because the building has a janitor who arrives at 6 a.m., and who taps on the glass door of the storefront at 7 a.m.
Whereupon Moondiog packs his baggage - including several musical instruments of his own devising and one or two horns of accepted style - and goes "home" to his roof.
Moondog always asks permission of the store owners before he sets up his nocturnal al fresco shop. He said he leaves the doorways cleaner than when he arrives, sweeping them out with a brush he carries expressly for the purpose.
His doorway concerts - during which he plays the "Oo" and triangular drums of his own design and tone - give him lots of time to compose and try out his unusual rhythmic and tonal concepts. When he strikes something he wishes to keep in the act, he punches notes and harmonies in musical Braille on cards for future reference.
When all his notions are planned he takes them to one of the recording firms specializing in obscure, esoteric items. He records everything himself, using a multi-recording technique perfected via "tape" processes popularized by Les Paul on more commercial discs. They are played by a rapidly spreading cult of Moondog admirers including Al Collins and Art Ford of WNEW, and modern music aficionados generally.
It isn't bob, nor yet classical; something between. Tomorrow we'll tell you the rest of Moondogd's story. We found it fascinating.

Moondog's Euphonies Even Use Hollow Log

The time was 5 a.m., and the place, a doorway on 6th ave., between 51st and 52nd sts. The windows of the store entrance in which Moondog, a blind and talented itinerant, nightly displays his unusual virtuosity, gave the sidewalk concert a bizzare background: Bras and panties and dainty feminine decorations in number and variety to delight the screwiest college kid were being ignored by the small circle of the curious, interested and admiring passersby.
Sitting on his haunches like an Indian was the object of the curious crowd - Moondog.
Totally blind, dressed in an unique assortment of haberdashery ranging from a diaper-effect for pants, leather sandals, a cape and a little fox fur collar to protect his throat against the chill dawn breezes swirling up the avenue, Moondog was playing, with his right hand, a percussion instrument of his own devising, and with the other, an equally unusual stringed instrument, which he calls an "Oo".
The stringed instrument is an equilateral triangle with piano strings tuned to a seven-note scale with two augmented seconds. Moondog plays it with a clavis, a wooden affair not unlike a pharmacist's pestle. The music extracted is distant cousin to piano sounds and the style of Moondog's compositions is heavy and sad, both sementic and neo-Oriental in melody and weird in its rhythm.
The "drums" being manipulated with the dexterity of long use were once three mahogany boards, put together to Moondog's design by a cabinet maker. The wood was chosen for its resonance and its thickness selected personally for its tone. The drum actually is two triangular box-like items clamped together for convenience while playing, for variety in tone - like tuned tympani. One has a cymbal attached to provide a faint musically metallic effect.
Moondog got that exotic name from nearby Indians when he was a lad in Missouri, fascinated by their drum rhythms and strange music. His square name is Louis Thomas Hardin, given by his Episcopalian minister pop, but it has been mostly ignored since his small but solid success as a recording artist and composer in the extreme modern school. His avid admirers include half a dozen disc jockeys who play his compositions regularly, and even Benny Goodman and Dimitri Mitropoulos have added their classical okays.
Recognition has come as frequently from the serious side as from the more studious of the extreme "bop" cultists, which pleases Moondog considerably, for he yearns toward neither musical belief, preferring to set his leather sandals along a road of his own devising.
Moondogs plays an appalling variety of instruments of his own and more classically accepted design. He created his percussion pieces in triangular shape because square instruments, he said, warp; and Moondog lives outdoors all the time. He sleeps on a 6th ave. rooftop daytimes and performs in concert in doorways from 10 p.m. until dawn (in case you missed yesterday's column).
His al fresco concerts serve two purposes. First, they attract the curious as well as old admirers, who buy records; he does not accept charity. If a member of his audience refuses to accept a record, Moondog won't accept the cash. But it also gives him a chance to work out and then put down in Braille the larger musical compositions he calls "Euphonies."
"Euphony means a pleasant sound," Moondog pointed out, "and that's the effect I'm seeking."
His pleasant sounds are couched in definitely off-beat tones and rhythms. He experiments constantly with five-four beats, five-two and five-eight rhythms; and with seven-four, seven-two and seven-eight beats. His first larger composition, his "Euphony Number One", is in a five-four beat, and has been recorded with Moondog playing all the instruments, in the style made possible since tape recording solved the multiple-performance effects - as popularized by Les Paul's guitar records.
The instrumentation on his first euphony includes four violins, two string bass, one clarinet, three flutes, six baritone horns, 12 drums, five marracas, one gourd, one cymbal, one set of bells and (so help me) a hollow log.
It means more than 100 hours of studio time to put it on tape. Wish we had more space to tell about Moondog, but we'll continue from time to time with more biographical and musical grace notes on this strange and fascinating gent.