“The Viking of Sixth Avenue” died on September 8 in Munster, Germany. Known as Moondog (the name adopted in 1947 from a former pet who howled at the moon), Louis T. Hardin was 83.
Living in New York City at the time, for years I would pass this monolithic person who would stand silent and motionless at the corner of 54th Street and Sixth Avenue. Dressed in homemade robes, sandals, a flowing cape, a horned Viking helmet and clutching a long spear, I merely dismissed him as just another street person. When I learned that Leonard Bernstein at Carnegie Hall was performing a piece by Moondog, I had no idea that this was the same “Viking of Sixth Avenue.” After interviews on “Today” and the “Tonight Show,” I realized Moondog really was one of America’s foremost avant-garde composers.
Moondog had a huge influence on me, as he did with many other musicians. Moondog wrote music for radio and television commercials, his music was used on the soundtrack for the 1972 movie “Drive, He Said” with Jack Nicholson and one of his songs, “All Is Loneliness,” was recorded by Janis Joplin. More recently, I introduced Moondog’s music to Paul Vasterling, choreographer of the Nashville Ballet, and a suite of tunes, taken from Moondog’s latest CD Sax for Pax, was used to create a ballet, “Moondog Suite.” Blind since age 16, Moondog would conduct his highly melodic chamber pieces using a bass drum or tympani, instead of an authoritarian baton.
Moondog’s fans crossed generations, from beatniks to hippies. Allen Freed, the rock ‘n’ roll disc jockey regularly played his “Moondog Symphony.” After Moondog moved to Germany in 1974, the corner of 54th and Sixth Avenue seemed empty. I have continued to think about Moondog whenever I am at that intersection and probably always will.