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MOONDOG, THE VIKING OF 6TH AVENUE: The Viking of 6th Avenue - The Authorized Biography Paperback – 22 Nov 2007
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Top Customer Reviews
The style can be a little dry at times, but otherwise this is a decent biography for fans wanting to know a little bit more about the influential musician and composer. "The Viking of 6th Avenue" thankfully avoids all of the usual music biog pitfalls - being, inter alia, sloppy writing, bad (or non-existent?) editing and pages and pages of discographies which take up over half the book.
For those who aren't fans, there's probably not enough in here for the book to stand up as a good read in its own right: you'll have to listen to Moondog's albums if you want to get into his music. Good thing then, that a 50 minute+ CD is also included.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta) (May include reviews from Early Reviewer Rewards Program)
Moondog's music is both quirky and accessible. He has been described as an "avant garde" composer, yet was totally committed to strict principles of European classicism and tonality, and felt himself to be humbly carrying on in the tradition of Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven. As he once put it, "I am a tonalist at odds with all atonalists, polytonalists, quartertonalists, computerisers etc." Yet for all that, he was an American original, a fiercely independent, rugged individualist in the mold of Ruggles and Ives. Combining the rigid forms of madrigals and rounds with odd meters and his own unique theories concerning "overtones" he managed to produce music -- a great deal of it -- which was both unique and at the same time true to his classical ideals.
And as with many American originals (like Ives, Ruggles, Cage, and Partch), Moondog has been pretty much relegated to the back-burner of American music, with the other "eccentrics".
And yet... Moondog hob-nobed with, and was respected by many of the acknowledged great musicians of the day: Artur Rodinski, Arturo Toscanini, Leonard Bernstein, Benny Goodman, Charlie Parker. He recorded with Julie Andrews, Bob Dylan, and Frank Zappa. He recorded solo and chamber music albums for Columbia. He appeared on stage with the likes of Marlon Brando, Alan Ginsberg, Lenny Bruce, and Tiny Tim. And scores of musicians from Janis Joplin to Philip Glass acknowledged his influence.
At last we have a biography of this remarkable musician, heretofore known to the general public only through the liner notes of a few obscure and under-marketed albums. Robert Scotto has assembled a thorough, convincing, and sensitive portrait, greatly enhanced by interviews with Moondog himself, and those who associated closely with him. This is the story of a man who refused to be hampered by a disability that would have stopped many of us in our tracks, and who moreover constructed a career from deliberately chosen adversity.
This book is inspiring, funny, interesting, and ironic: despite his exposure and illustrious acquaintances, Moondog, as many American musicians, didn't reach the point of self-supporting musical success until he moved Europe. Settling in Germany in 1974, he wrote a tremendous volume of music and made numerous recordings (a great deal of his music still needs to be transcribed from the Braille). His career was thriving in 1999, when he died of complications from diabetes.
There are some issues with the book: a few inaccuracies, a tinge of hero-worship here and there, the occasional awkwardly worded phrase -- but this is to be expected in the first complete biography of an eccentric personality. None of these minor defects detracted significantly from my enjoyment of the book, and as icing on the cake, the book comes with a CD containing representative samples of Moondog's work.
All in all, if you're a student or fan of unique music, or just looking for an interesting biography that's a little off the beaten trail, I highly recommend this book.
And if you're already a Moondog fan this book is, of course, essential.
We learn, from Robert Scotto's 2007 authorized biography of Moondog, that Louis in fact owned property in upstate New York, to which he retreated when time & money allowed. He was married once, had two daughters by different women, and a string of girlfriends. He took the bus everywhere he went (hitchhiking being too dangerous), and rented apartments in New York throughout most of his life. Though famously 'difficult' (he was anti-Semite, antimiscegenation, anti-Federal Reserve and fiercely independent), he befriended literati and plebs alike, rich and poor, famous and anonymous. He counted among his friends Philip Glass, Steve Reich, Leonard Bernstein, Arturo Toscanini, Charlie Parker, Andy Warhol, Pete Seeger, Marlon Brando, Muhammad Ali and many others. He even sued disk jockey Alan Freed over his use of the Moondog name, and won.
Scotto reports on Hardin's upbringing as the neglected child of an itinerant preacher, his many moves and liaisons, and his iconclastic musical and extra-musical ideas. This reporting must not have come easy, since the "Viking of 6th Avenue" rarely documented anything and was by nature secretive and distrustful. Many gaps are delineated but left unexplained, and certain aspects of his life are clearly downplayed or whitewashed ("authorized" by whom one wonders...) but in general this first biography of Hardin must stand as a valiant effort. Scotto alas is not the most accomplished of writers: he frequently constructs long sentences with unclear meanings, and is often hampered by poor word choices. Consider this description of the obituaries following the musician's death: "These are but a handful of the scores that flooded the presses and the Internet."
The book comes with a 28-track CD of Moondog's music (sold separately under the same name) for the uninitiated.
Whether Moondog will be remembered as a street-performing novelty act or as a serious (under-recognized) composer alongside Ives, Ruggles, Cage, Partch and Nancarrow will probably depend on what happens to the hundreds of so-far unperformed Moondog manuscripts left behind -- many dauntingly large in scale and documented only in Louis's idiosyncratic Braille scores.
"sampler" CD of compositions spanning a half century of creativity from shortly after Moondog's arrival in New York in the 1940s to his last years in the 1990s in Germany, and a foreword by Phillip Glass (a master of contemporary musical "minimalism"). Full disclosure: as a friend of Moondog's and a contributor to the CD, this reviewer's name appears in the book. Based on its merits, however -- and those of its unique and lovable subject -- I'm confident that there will be other reviewers, with no axe at all to grind, whose comments will affirm my positive view and appreciation of this long-awaited, substantial and revealing biography.