Section: American Monsters
Avant-garde geniuses of the USA
Original position in magazine: pp 58-66

Ed Pinsent

MOONDOG: May His Feet Keep Walking

[Obviously the following was written at a time when Moondog was still alive and his feet were still walking. Alas and alack, he is with us no more.]

Moondog: Big Band with the London Brass and London Saxophonia, Produced by John Harle
TRIMBA 01001-8 CD

A recent recording from that modern composer maverick, street person and all-round wonderful human being Moondog, aka Louis Hardin. Yes, Moondog is still alive, and yes, he continues to produce beautiful, life-affirming music of charming simplicity. His works still bear the influences of Big Band jazz, for example the syncopated rhythms, a steady bass drum pulse (usually played by Moondog himself) and water-tight charts for the horns; and he continues to display his fondness for turning one simple musical phrase into a Round. For this record Big Band he is admirably served by the talents of two London brass ensembles. They are led and produced by the estimable John Harle, a four-eyed well-dressed fellow who has tootled his soprano sax in many a context, be it versions of early music like John Dowland or arrangements of Gershwin for the classical-lite set. This production is also splendidly recorded, so you get the full blast of the brass whamming into your face as surely as if your whole body had been poured like warm milk into the bell of each golden instrument.
Everyone who hears Big Band enjoys an immediate sense of well-being and inner harmony; slam on the first track 'Blast Off' and just watch your spirits soar!
This item was crying out to be purchased after the rare event of seeing Moondog live (with the same ensembles and Harle, playing most of the same set) at the South Bank in London in Summer 1995. This was part of Elvis Costello's 'Meltdown' Festival. No matter your opinion of Costello (he seems to attract severe contempt) you must needs tip your trilby in his direction for pulling off this historic Moondog coup; apparently he has only played in London once before! Not a soul in the audience was left untouched by this performance; besides the power of the music, there were his touching remarks to the audience, revealing little glimpses of his life on the streets, his political views, his musical career, his loves. And his eccentricity: holding up a percussion instrument, he said, 'This is several hundred pecan shells, in an old sock!' John Harle helped him off-stage as we gave our standing ovation (for those who don't know, Moondog is blind), and Moondog acknowledged holding aloft his drumstick in salute, a beatific smile emerging from his white whiskery face. The waves of emotion affected us all. People in the audience were crying.
As you probably know, Moondog recorded albums for CBS in the late 1960s (although his career extends back into the 1950s). I have Moondog (UK CBS 63906) and Moondog 2 (US , KC 30897) on vinyl; I have no idea if these have been reissued. Before I went to the Meltdown performance I showed the sleeves of these to Darryl Cunningham, who exclaimed 'He Is Merlin!' Moondog 2 is a cycle of Round song compositions, performed with percussion and harpsichord; kind of like syncopated madrigals, as if John Dowland were a sideman for Dizzy Gillespie. There's a lovely printed book of lyrics with a great cover. 'The Wheel was Never Invented', declares one lyric - because the motion of the wheel was something man was already born with, in the movement of our hip and thigh bones. (Incidentally I've always associated this image with the photograph of Moondog on the cover of the Prestige album, recorded in 1956 and reissued as OJC-1741 in 1990; dotted lines indicating the motion of his feet.) This suggests to me something about why Moondog's work is so effective, perhaps for the same reason that the best architecture is that which proceeds from the same proportions of the human figure - it chimes in exactly with an inner vibration common to us all. It seems perfect, obvious.
One related oddity you may wish to investigate is Love Child plays Moondog 3 Track-EP (Forced Exposure FE-020), on which three youngsters - among them the great Alan Licht on guitar - pay tribute to Moondog. Borrowing three short round compositions from Moondog 2, they extend the sweet melodies into unexpected areas of psychedelic jamming and feedback, with layers of amateurish vocal, awkward drumming and guitar noise. Plus a great sleeve photo of Moondog in New York. Nice item!