by Phil Olson
Louis Thomas Hardin wrote poetry, composed music, invented a series of instruments, was signed to a multitude of record labels, and conducted orchestras before royalty. He achieved acclamation in Europe and gained fame when musicians like Janis Joplin covered his work. He was one of the most well-known figures in New York City from the late 1940’s to 1972. From these descriptions, you’d think Hardin must have been a very rich and powerful figure, right?
Wrong. Louis “Moondog” Hardin (1916-1999) was a mysterious, long-bearded street performer located on 6th Avenue between 52nd and 55th Streets. He would stand completely silent in a homemade robe, Viking helmet, and spear, and would sell his music and poetry. People would pass by “Moondog’s Corner” having no idea that he recorded music with over four music labels, had a hit record “All Is Loneliness,” and had his music featured in a Jack Nicholson movie, Drive, He Said. If you aren’t impressed yet, Moondog made all his music and adeptly navigated his way around New York City as a blind man. When he was 16, he lost his sight in a farming accident involving dynamite. After that, he learned music notation in Braille whilst attending Iowa School for the Blind. During his days on the street he would carry a Braille slate with a puncher and punch musical notation into the card under his robe. This would later be transcribed into sheet music and made into scores.
In 1974 Moondog disappeared, and most assumed him dead. In reality he had been invited by the German radio station Hessische Rundfunk to perform his music in West Germany and then decided to stay. His real death came in 1999 at the age of 83, when he died of heart failure at a hospital in Munster, Germany.
Needless to say, Moondog was a memorable character in New York for over 30 years. He was an incredible musician and intellectual, and deserves to be remembered as a first-class composer.
And his name, Moondog, must have had some deep, encrypted meaning, right? Nope. He named himself after a dog he used to own that “howled at the moon more than any dog I knew of.”
Cheers to you, Moondog.
The information for this article was gathered from Glenn Collins’s New York Times article “Lousi (Moondog) Hardin, 83, Musician, Dies,” from the Vanity Fair article “Meet Moondog, a Blind Genius in Circus-Freak Clothing and a Great, Forgotten New Yorker,” and from the website Moondog’s Corner.
Phil Olson is an undergraduate student at Michigan State University studying neuroscience. He has worked at AbbVie pharmaceuticals for the past two summers working in protein purification and analytics. He has also volunteered at Origami Brain Rehabilitation Center in Mason, MI, where he works with people with debilitating brain injuries. He hopes to enter medical school upon graduation and pursue a long career in the medical field as a physician.