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Louis T. Hardin
Moondog
September 8, 1999
Age 83 
 
Heart  Failure 
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OBITUARY 
       
 NY TIMES
        
 Louis (Moondog) Hardin, 83, Musician, Dies

          By GLENN COLLINS 

The gaunt, blind musician known as Moondog, who was celebrated among New Yorkers for two decades as a mysterious and extravagantly garbed street performer but who went on to win acclaim in Europe as an avant-garde composer, conducting orchestras before royalty, died Wednesday in a hospital in Munster, Germany. He was 83.

The cause was heart failure, said a friend, Ilona Sommer.

Day in and day out, the man who was originally named Louis T. Hardin was as taciturn and unchanging a landmark of the midtown Manhattan streetscape as the George M. Cohan statue in Duffy Square. From the late 1940s until the early 1970s, Hardin stood at attention like a sentinel on Avenue of the Americas around 54th Street.

No matter the weather, he invariably dressed in a homemade robe, sandals, a flowing cape and a horned Viking helmet, the tangible expression of what he referred to as his "Nordic philosophy." At his side he clutched a long spear of his own manufacture.

Most of the passers-by who dismissed him as "the Viking of Sixth Avenue," offering him contributions and buying copies of his music and poetry, were unaware that he had recorded his music on the CBS, Prestige, Epic, Angel and Mars labels. Hardin's jazz-accented compositions, generally scored for small wind and percussion ensembles, often achieved a flowing, tonal symphonic style. 

One of his songs, "All Is Loneliness," became a hit when recorded by Janis Joplin. He wrote music for radio and television commercials, and one of his compositions was used on the soundtrack for the 1972 movie "Drive, He Said," with Jack Nicholson. 

Along the way, Hardin wrote Bohemian broadsides against government regimentation, the world monetary system and organized religion. He was celebrated by Beat Generation poets and late-1960s flower children. His passionate unconventionality drew praise from some critics and led to  interviews on many television shows, including both "Today" and "The Tonight Show." 

Although many New Yorkers assumed that he had died after he vanished from his customary post in 1974, Hardin had actually been invited to perform his music in West Germany and decided to stay. 

"He led an extraordinary life for a blind man who came to New York with no contacts and a month's rent, and who lived on the streets of New York for 30 years," said Dr. Robert Scotto, a professor of English at Baruch College of the City University of New York. "Without question, he was the most famous street person of his time, a hero to a generation of hippies and flower children." Scotto has just completed a biography of Hardin, "Moondog: The Viking of Sixth Avenue," which has not been published. 

After his performances in Hamburg, Hardin again earned a living as a street performer, this time in Europe. He soon met Mrs. Sommer, whose father insisted on taking him into their home and supported Hardin in his later years. He composed in Braille, and she transcribed his music and acted as his publisher and business manager. According to Scotto, they had an intimate working relationship, but neither of them ever described it as more than that. 

In his later years, Hardin produced at least five albums in Europe, including a "sound saga" titled "The Creation," and regularly performed his compositions with chamber and symphony orchestras before glittering audiences in Paris, Stockholm and cities in Germany. 

Harding adopted the Moondog name in 1947, identifying himself, he said, with a former pet who howled at the moon.

He was born in Maryville, Kan., on May 26, 1916, the son of an Episcopal minister. He was blinded at the age of 16 when a dynamite blasting cap exploded in his hands. A year later, after studying stringed instruments, organ and harmony at the Iowa School for the Blind, he became obsessed with becoming a composer.

When he arrived in Manhattan in 1943, he established an outpost outside the stage entrance of Carnegie Hall and met some of the New York Philharmonic's musicians. They arranged a meeting with their conductor, Artur Rodzinski. Rodzinski was taken with Hardin and not only extended an open invitation to attend the orchestra's rehearsals, but also promised he would conduct an orchestral work if Hardin ever wrote one.

But because he was blind, he needed help in writing out the score. Hardin could not afford such assistance, so he made his living as a street musician, training himself to be a master of percussion improvisation. He was unable to compose a symphony until after Rodzinski left the Philharmonic in 1947.

In the mid-1950s, one of his 78-rpm recordings, "Moondog Symphony," was regularly played by Alan Freed, the pioneering rock-and-roll disk jockey. But it wasn't until the 1960s that Hardin had regular access to an orchestra and was able to make his first longer album for CBS,  "Moondog."  

In 1989, Hardin, acclaimed in Europe, was invited back to the United States to conduct the Brooklyn Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra.

Allan Kozinn, a critic for The New York Times, described Hardin's conducting style as unusual, explaining that he was "uncomfortable with being an authority figure, so he sits to the side of the orchestra and provides the beat on a bass drum or tympani."

Scotto said that Hardin told him that he married in 1943 and subsequently divorced. A second marriage, to Sazuko Whiteing, a musician, in the 1950s, ended in divorce in the early 1960s, Scotto said.

Scotto and Mrs. Sommer said they thought Hardin was survived by a younger brother, Creighton Hardin, of Kansas City; a daughter, June Hardin, and another daughter, whose name and whereabouts they did not know.  

In the end, Hardin finally yielded to Mrs. Sommer's coaxing and gave up his Viking outfits. He had refused to alter his dress code even when, as an aspiring composer, it provoked his eviction from the Philharmonic rehearsals.  

"But I still love horned helmets and swords and spears," he said in a 1989 interview. "I like to feel that I'm loyal to my past. I wouldn't want to be on the street anymore. But you know, that led to a lot of things."

 
 
 
       
 

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BIOGRAPHY
 
from: Music That  Means Something
MOONDOG
  
 Louis Hardin was born in Marysville, Kansas, May 26, 1916. His father was an 
 Episcopal minister. In 1933, he attended the Missouri School for the Blind at St. Louis 
 and it was around this time that he decided he wanted to be a composer. He finished 
 his schooling at the Iowa School for the Blind where he got his first formal training in 
 music and heard his first classical music. He left the Iowa School in 1936 and lived in 
 and around Batesville, Arkansas until 1942 when thanks to Virginia Sledge he won a 
 scholarship to study in Memphis. His patron was I. L. Meyers. In the autumn of 1943 he 
 went to New York and met Artur Rodzinski who let him attend the rehearsals of the 
 Philharmonic. There he met Leonard Bernstein who was the assistant conductor. Artur 
 later introduced Louis to Toscanini.  

 He started using the Moondog pen-name in 1947 in honour of a dog he had in Hurley, 
 Missouri, who used to howl at the moon more than any dog that Louis knew of. 

All-Music Guide
 
A mostly self-taught composer, Louis Hardin was born in Marysville, Kansas on May 26, 1916. 
 The family eventually moved to Wyoming, where his father, who had been an Episcopalian 
 minister, opened a trading post at Fort Bridger, and had two different ranches. Young Louis went  to school in a log cabin in Burnt Fork, Wyoming, and fished, hunted and trapped. Later, he rode a horse to school in Long Tree, a cattle community. He wrote that his first drum set " ..at the age of five, was a cardboard box". He also went with his father to an Arapho Sun Dance, where he sat on Chief Yellow Calf's lap and played the buffalo skin tomtom. Later, in 1949, he played tomtom and flute at a Sun Dance held by the Blackfoot in Idaho. The constant "tomtom" beat became incorporated in many of his later pieces, such as the complex canon for marimbas "Wind River Powwow: arapa-host, arapa-home, arapa-hope". He played drums in Hurley High School in 1929, and there he lost his sight in his early teens when a dynamite cap exploded. He studied music and finished high school at the Iowa School for the Blind, and in 1933 studied braille at the Missouri School for the Blind in St. Louis. "I write all my music in braille. When I write for orchestra, I do not write scores any more, but just write out parts, for the score is in my head and just writing out the parts cuts the time and cost in half ... anyhow, if my pieces were ever in demand, a score to each could be made from the parts. I call this process ' intracting ', as opposed to the opposite, having a score and 'extracting' parts from it. From the braille I dictate every slur, tie, expression mark." It is then written in pencil by another person, read back and corrected, then inked in by another person - " .. double trouble ". Hardin lived in Batesville, Arkansas until 1942 when he got a scholarship to study in Memphis. However, he mostly taught himself ear training and other musical skills and theory from books in braille. In the fall of 1943, he came to New York and met Artur Rodzinski, Leonard Bernstein, and then Toscanini. In a legendary story, Hardin made to kiss Toscanini's hand " ... whereupon he pulled it away, saying,' I am not a beautiful woman ' ". Hardin began using the name Moondog as a pen name since 1947 in honor of a dog "who used to howl at the moon more than any dog I knew of". His music, constructed of direct musical gestures and built mostly from pure modal themes expanded by sophisticated counterpuntal techniques, would now receive the avant-garde label of "minimal" or pattern music but this sound has characterized his music since the late 1940's, and is thus a precursor of this postmodern compositional style. In New York, Moondog began to meet legendary jazz performer- composers, such as Charlie Parker and Benny Goodman, and to incorporate jazz inflections as well as humorous philosophical couplets and environmental sounds into his recorded compositions - the early recordings on the Prestige label in 1956 - 57 contain brief pieces such as "Up Broadway / The impressions of Moondog as he passes Birdland and the Palladium up the great White Way ... (a) Broadway and 52nd St. The Jazz Corner of the World. A dog trot in 1/4 time ... (b) Broadway and 53rd St, the Afro-Cuban Corner of the World - A bumbo in 4/4 time ..." and a duet for the whistle of the ocean liner the Queen Elizabeth and a bamboo flute.  Moondog also sold his printed music and records as well as performed on the streets of Manhattan. His music truly expresses a universal vision with the best of American musical sensibilities. ~ "Blue" Gene Tyranny, All-Music Guide 
 
 
  
 
 

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http://www.moondogscorner.de/

 
 
 

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