MOONDOG – a day in the life of a far out music mind

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6am sun hits a winter rooftop above a city half asleep. It illuminates the dusty windows of a wooden shed and creeps shyly inside. In the crisp morning air a man awakes. He sits inside himself for a few moments as the idea of a new day fades in. Out of the folds of his blankets he’s born into being. His body erects itself limb by limb and from above a long beard he yawns dragon plumes into the chill. Over patchwork pants and tunic he pulls a woolen blanket so it hangs diagonally like a diamond poncho. With a bend he slides into boxy, hand-cobbled shoes then stands upright again to crest his salt and pepper locks with a fur-lined Viking helmet. The man’s appearance is at once square and pointy, perfect symmetry thrown askew. He grabs a long spear, leather sacks and a small cart from his cramped quarters and steps into the world. He is Moondog.

After hitting the ground floor beads of sweat challenge the cold and bubble on his brow. With a confident wipe he awaits. The city is starting to stir. Its whirlpool sweeps circularly, compresses and explodes in every direction. New York City is its own universe and our friend absorbs the energy. He stands static just beyond his doorstep breathing in the surrounding (com)motion. Taxis honk along, pigeons coo on their speckled ledges and heels hit the pavement in a double time march. Moondog listens. His ears are open to all, bringing into unison an urban rhythm that mutates every moment. The equally brilliant colors accompanying the city’s cacophony don’t matter in the least to this Viking. He can’t see a thing. At seventeen he tried to liven up a Kansas afternoon by detonating a dynamite cap. Instead of bashing the boredom it blinded him. In this new world without sight he found true vision. Music became the ultimate vibrancy and this is the signal he shares on city streets.

With bundles and spear in tow our hero makes his way. He knows the streets but finds himself decoding the combinations of corners and chaos. Each intersection has its own sound and smell . The diner on the corner of 11th and Avenue B is pungent with pastrami and polka. The Baptist church on 14th & Broadway keeps the air alive with ecstatic votes for Jesus. Their fervor is matched by booing/cheering baseball fans in the bar one block up but with the added scent of stale beer. Once settled in a foreign doorway Moondog prepares his mystical music machines. The tools of his tuneful trade are unique. Most are instruments are of his invention. He reaches within a bundle to remove a triangular contraption called a Trimba, made of leather, wood and love for the greater transmission of his rhythmic blood. He places it on the ground and sits Indian style beginning to slowly tap the edge with a maraca. thump shake thump thump shake thump shake thump thump shake thump shake thump thump. A cymbal stuck to the Trimba’s side starts to radiate with the resonance of the drum’s afterglow. Moondog smiles slightly under his beard and keeps the rhythm steady. Soon the birds have flown away and circle in the sky above. The Sun hides behind a lone cloud. Mystery fills all around the sound. thump shake thump thump shake thump shake thump thump shake shake shake shake thump. A woman in a housecoat and curlers stops her busy stroll for a moment and gets locked into the exotic beat that pounds at her feet. Her eyes turn to spirals. Suddenly without warning Moondog jumps into double time -> thumpshakethumpthumpshakethumpshakethump. The woman jumps out of herself with a start, “Ahhhheeeehh.” She clutches her purse as the Viking opens his mouth to softly sing, “I see her in the midnight sky, my fairest of the fair. She’s dancing on a crescent moon and stars are in her hair.” The woman dashes away. He is swept away.

Bus wheels turning turn into cycling bars and measures. The growing pattern is precise yet far out like Eastern waves crashing punctually on a cosmic shore. Trimba rolls bubble into being and fill the air with hypnotism. Through the pulsing beat all else melts. Bricks become pure reflections of Moondog’s message. The traffic flows with the motion of the music as his hands blur into rippling waves. These sounds are NOW. Moondog’s darkness suddenly flips into negative and all is bright. Pale dust swirls about his feet and they are smaller. The sky is a blue so brilliant is shocks his heart. He is not Moondog but his younger self, 7-year-old Louis Hardin sitting on the lap of Arapaho Chief Yellow Calf. In his hand is a wooden mallet, its bulbous head wrapped in leather. Amongst the circle of teepees they sit together beating a tom tom. boom boom boom boom. The Chief guides Louis’ hand not like a gentle mother but like a man. This is serious, the translation of a blood beat. A message he must spread forever. Boom Boom Boom Boom. They strike the buffalo skin bringing into being ancient transmissions. Thunderbolts forged for tomorrow. BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM.

Without warning the ecstatic moment fades away. Little Louis’s arm stops frozen on the upswing. It fills with veins and age and is no longer held by the stoic chief. A cold force clasps Moondog and the world is dark once again. “Where you from bub?” challenges a beat cop in his gruff tone. “From beyond beyond. The here that’s no longer there and where you’ll never dare. A kingdom called Sasnak,” sings Moondog. “Sasnak?” spits the cop in a quizzical tone. If he had been able to see the word reflected in his shiny badge Kansas would clearly appear. “Well you better scoot your scum back to Sasnak or I’ll crack this arm.” Moondog gives a quick twist of his wrist and slips free. He calmly gathers the still glowing Trimba and whistles a melody that if translated into words would sparkle, “I send the city slithering in snaketime down the streets. I provide the 8/4 beat to which they shuffle their feet.” The cop stands dumb as Moondog strolls away.

With serenity he slides down the sidewalk, turning heads at every step but fully enveloped in the afterglow of his transcendence. He floats the blocks to his corner, 54th Street and 6th Avenue. Moondog is the Viking of 6th Avenue, a fixture known to police and pedestrians alike. You can nearly see his shadow on the cement even when his body isn’t here. Moon unpacks his wares: record albums, booklets, a turquoise arrowhead and a sign advertising “couplets for a couple of cents.” He pulls another special creation from his cart and starts to strike the harp-like Oo to the sound of the city. Armies march down the Avenue of the Americas, off to capture the castle. Little do they know the walls of the keep are always an eternity away. They will trod onward until their dreams collapse under their own heavy feet. Moondog offers this message clear but most only momentarily slow at his sight. The sidewalk scurry sweeps around him in every direction. A man comes close and speaks. This voice is warm and familiar. It is that of Arnold Schopkin, first chair clarinetist of the New York Philharmonic. Moondog has an open invitation to their rehearsals. He is well thought of within the creative circle and thrives in the reassurance of their respect. The friendly musician requests a couplet and the Viking poetically responds, “The greatest earthly monarch has a body and a soul. His royal name is Seasky and he rules from pole to pole.” He softly speaks each syllable like blowing a mountain of clouds. Arnold presses a folded bill into Moondog’s palm and walks away with a familiar farewell, “Until then and never soon enough.” In the warm afterglow of their exchange Moondog feels complete. A bird sings from high above, the wind whooshes by, and a distant jackhammer pounds a thunder rhythm in threes. In the spell of these sounds Moondog sees Chief Yellow Calf and smiles.



Moondog was far out and for real! Discover his magic music.

Official website:

Moondog – The Viking of Sixth Avenue: The Authorized Biography – by Robert Scotto with preface by Philip Glass

Select Moondog discography:

the Viking of 6th Avenue – Honest Jon’s Records

the German Years 1977-1999 – Roof Music

Moondog – Prestige

Moondog – Columbia

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