Moondog “The Viking of Sixth Avenue” (Honest Jon’s Records) Double Vinyl Album
The great thing about art is one never knows when they will confront genius. Moondog was a composer and performer who played his music on the streets of Manhattan. To be exact on 6th Avenue and anywhere between 52nd and 56th street from the late 1940s to 1972. An odd tourist attraction but he also had some positive attention from Charlie Parker, Leonard Bernstein, Steve Reich, Julie Andrews, Igor Stravinsky, and his future roommate Philip Glass.
In appearance, this blind composer and musician wore eccentric costumes that resemble Viking uniform, including helmet. He would stand on a busy street corner, playing his compositions on his own hand-made instruments. Yet beyond all of that, Moondog’s music is extremely original, catchy, with beautiful melodies. On the surface, one can hear the sounds of the Native American, but mash-up with the textures and overtures of Bach’s compositions. Clearly he influenced both Reich and Glass, but overall Moondog made music for everyone. He wrote and performed pop, ambient, rhythmic compositions, as well as classical. In other words, an artist that is extremely hard to be defined, and truly original.
Causally, Moondog can be seen as an outside music artist, because he did work on his music without proper schooling or music industry backing - although he did end up on a major recording label. Yet, his music is very much disciplined and not always eccentric. When you see the iconic vision of Moondog or hear stories about him sleeping on the streets of Manhattan, you get a sound in one’s head. And you do get that, but Moondog went beyond the cliché outside artist by making accessible music that anyone can enjoy. He’s avant-garde, but Moondog is also very much of a pop artist or composer. There are melodies on this album that will stick inside your head and heart.
Honest Jon’s Records (label out of London, as well as a record shop) has released “The Viking of Sixth Avenue” which is a double vinyl album compilation of early Moondog EPs (from his own label at the time) as well as the rare 10”s. Some of the recordings are from the streets of Manhattan, as well as in the studio. All superb. In a beautiful way, the street sounds add texture to the Moondog performance, and in no fashion does the urban traffic sounds interfere with the aural delights of this genius and his recordings. I suspect one is not going to find a more perfect album than “The Viking of Sixth Avenue.”