Each week, Sunday School takes a second look at a classic album worth revisiting years after its release. EMMIE staff handpick releases that shaped a genre, defined a generation or deserve recognition despite being left in the distance. Keep up with Sunday School for your weekly dose of dusted-off classics and throwbacks that merit a second spin.
Release Date: 1969
We tend to treat the homeless with disdain. Often times, they are passed by with little to no regard for their past or ability. There’s a perception in our society that for someone to live on the streets, they are somehow inadequate. They are either cast off as mentally ill or drug addicts or both. From the 1940s to the 1970s, a blind man roamed the streets of New York. He wore long flowing robes, a horned helmet and carried a spear with him. Dubbed the Viking of 6th Avenue, he became a staple of the streets. He would play unusual compositions on strange homemade instruments, earning a reputation as one of the more interesting of the many eccentric characters that lined the streets of the city. He was neither mentally ill nor a drug addict and he was not even homeless (most of the time).The Viking of 6th Avenue was Moondog, one of the most influential classical composers of the 21st century.
Born as Louis Hardin in 1916, Moondog was blinded from a freak accident at age 16. Undeterred by his disability, he learned, largely by himself, how to craft compositions and how to train his ear and he eventually learned how to compose in braille. In the mid ‘40s, he ventured off to New York to pursue a career in music. Despite living as a street musician, he quickly earned a following among musical luminaries such as Charlie Parker, Benny Goodman and Arturo Toscanini, the latter two testifying on his behalf in a copyright dispute. Despite respect from a few musical geniuses in the ‘40s and ‘50s, he never gained a larger following until the rebellious beat and hippie generations came along in the ‘60s. As his reputation grew, he secured a deal with CBS records in 1969 that brought his music, for the first time, in front of a sophisticated orchestra.
His 1969 album Moondog is a perfect look into how his compositions influenced the works of minimalist composers Philip Glass and Steve Reich. Glass, who lived with Moondog in the late 60s, remarked about how they took his work much more seriously than what they were exposed to at Julliard. From the start of the record, we can hear the groundwork for that movement immediately. Simply titled “Theme”, the first track employs the hypnotizing repetition that Glass and Reich became so famous for years later. His compositions are also notable for a blending of Jazz and Classical that became known as Third Stream. “Good for Goodie” and “Bird’s Lament”, named after and dedicated to Benny Goodman and Charlie Parker respectively, utilize swing elements and jazz instrumentation to craft a very unusual and unique sound that characterized his music.
As with many great and influential artists, his work became beloved by many musicians but unknown to the wider world. Much like his life on the streets of New York, his work was unique and on the fringes. That was Moondog’s entire philosophy. To live life like no other and through his pioneering music, it could be said he achieved just that. While his work was often passed by with no regard, the ones that did stop and listen were revealed a whole new world of sound.