To the Moondog, Ma!


Lately, I can't stop listening to Moondog. Louis Thomas Hardin was often-to-always homeless, which is another way of saying the world belonged to him.


Blinded by a dynamite cap at the age of 16, Moondog traveled between the sounds of different countries and discovered some imaginary ones of his own -- the type of exotic places where Jack Smith probably wished he could escort Maria Montez.


Featuring a tugboat toccata, ostrich feathers played on a drum, and a duet between a Queen Elizabeth whistle and a bamboo pipe, More Moondog/The Story of Moondog (Prestige) has more rough edges than the more recent comp Moondog: The Viking of Sixth Avenue (Honest Jon's). Recorded during 1956 and 1957, many of More Moondog/The Story of Moondog's tracks begin in one world -- the one we're all trapped in -- before journeying into another, more fantastic one.

The opening cut "Conversation and Music at 51st St. & 6th Ave. (New York City)" is all that it describes itself as and more, beginning amid the whir and drone of motors in Manhattan, then levitating. "Rehearsal of Violetta's 'Barefoot Dance'" commences in an anonymous apartment, with a few agitated barks from a cocker spaniel named Ninon that wants some candy,and then -- after Moondog offers everyone some potato chips -- the band plays on, leading us out of the room and the city. The woodwinds of "Autumn" strut upward with an energetic optimism that is too endearing for words. A tap dancer is the rhythmic base of both "Hardshoe (7/4) Ray Malone" and "Ray Malone Softshoe," and Peanuts composer Vince Guaraldi might be envious of the fancy-free "Fiesta Piano Solo."

More Moondog/The Story of Moondog's sounds are built from a number of invented instruments, including the Oo (a triangular stringed object struck with a clave), a Trimba, a Tuji, and a Yukh (a log suspended from a tripod, to be hit with two rubber mallets). Yet Moondog could also swing in a manner that Charlie Parker would enjoy, as proven by "Up Broadway," an epic journey from the jazz corner of 52nd Street to the Afro-Cuban corner of 53rd.


The latter portion of "Up Broadway" contains a "Bumba" in 4/4 time that on its own is one of the highlights of Moondog: The Viking of Sixth Avenue. Still, that collection's peak, and my favorite Moondog song of the many -- but nowhere close to enough -- recordings that I've heard so far would have to be Viking's similarly jazz- and Parker-inspired "Lament 1 'Bird's Lament'," which would make an awesome soundtrack to a marching protest that surrounds major landmarks and takes over this country through sheer peaceful magnitude. (Just an idea.)

If the moon, as Paddy McAloon once sang, is the one place left to play, then I hope that Moondog is playing there today.


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