Obituary: Moondog

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The Independent Culture
WHEN I lived in Manhattan, checking out Moondog was a regular occurrence, writes Jack Adrian [further to the obituary by Richard Williams, 15 September]. The night I landed at JFK, my friend the artist Barry Windsor Smith said, "Hey man, you gotta see this weird old guy in the Viking helmet thump his tub." He was somewhat aggrieved when I said, "You mean Moondog."

Moondog, tall, gaunt, blind, would be dressed in clothes that did not look store-bought, consisting of an eccentric mix of robes and cloaks and jerkins and thick pants and sandals, depending on the weather; sometimes seated on a stool banging a big bass drum while intoning some ode or other, or standing mid-sidewalk handing out roneoed copies of his poems and broadsides. He wasn't actually old (he'd have been in his mid-fifties, I suppose), he just looked it - long, wild grey hair, a straggling grey beard that reached almost to his navel, a nose that was truly a nose, dark, bristling eyebrows, and cavernous, blind eye-sockets (there is a stunning photograph of him taken in true old age which, interestingly lit, makes him look a dead ringer for the Turin Shroud).

Apart from the drum (to which a cymbal was attached) he had other instruments, some of which looked as distinctly home-grown as his clothes. All were more or less percussive - although I remember once a double-bass appeared which he played in muscular, Blantonesque fashion. On one occasion when I introduced myself as someone who had come from England to hear his music, he said, "Don't lose your accent." He was given to gnomic utterances in life as well as in his poems.

His music was sheerly wonderful: strange, infectiously jaunty, inventive, sad, eerie, virtuosic, urgent, maddeningly catchy; mainly round- or canon- based, using steadily piled-on accretions of sound to build to a climax - or an anti-climax, since Moondog was rarely over-obvious. There was a wonderful LP that came out in 1969 in which he fronted a 40-piece orchestra, made up of some of the cream of New York session-men.

But I still mourn the 1950s EP of street-sounds and street-music ("Tugboat Toccata", etc) which turned me on to Moondog back in the Sixties, and which I stole from a friend who didn't like it but wouldn't get rid of it. It was extraordinary, mesmeric: genuinely innovative and iconoclastic - full of car-horns, voices, echoing footsteps, Amerindian percussion: the heart-beats of a great city. Some years later, in turn, some bastard stole it off me.