Louis Hardin, 83, musician, composer, called 'Viking,' 'Moondog' by New Yorkers


Louis T. Hardin was a gaunt, blind musician known as Moondog to New Yorkers who knew him as a gaudy, mysterious street performer from the late 1940s until the early 1970s. Later, he won acclaim in Europe as an avant-garde composer who conducted orchestras before royalty.

Mr. Hardin died of heart failure Wednesday in a hospital in Munster, Germany. He was 83.

Day in and day out, the man was as taciturn and unchanging a midtown Manhattan landmark as the George M. Cohan statue in Duffy Square. For two decades, he stood like a sentinel on Avenue of the Americas around 54th Street.

No matter the weather, he invariably dressed in a homemade robe, sandals, a flowing cape and horned Viking helmet, the tangible expression of what he referred to as his "Nordic philosophy."

He clutched a long, homemade spear and offered copies of his music and poetry for sale.

Most who dismissed "the Viking of Sixth Avenue," were unaware that he had recorded his music on the CBS, Prestige, Epic, Angel and Mars labels. Mr. Hardin's jazz-accented compositions, generally scored for small wind and percussion ensembles, often achieved a flowing, tonal symphonic style.

Born in Maryville, Kan., in 1916, Mr. Hardin was the son of an Episcopal minister. He was blinded at the age of 16 when a dynamite blasting cap exploded in his hands. A year later, after studying stringed instruments, organ and harmony at the Iowa School for the Blind, he became obsessed with composing.

In the mid-1950s, one of his 78-rpm recordings, "Moondog Symphony," was regularly played by Alan Freed, the pioneering rock 'n' roll disk jockey. It wasn't until the 1960s that Mr. Hardin had regular access to an orchestra and was able to make his first longer album for CBS, "Moondog."

One of his songs, "All Is Loneliness," became a hit when recorded by Janis Joplin. One of his compositions was used on the soundtrack for the 1972 movie "Drive, He Said," with Jack Nicholson.

Along the way, Mr. Hardin wrote bohemian broadsides against government regimentation, the world monetary system and organized religion. He was celebrated by Beat Generation poets and late-1960s flower children.

Although many New Yorkers assumed that he had died after he vanished from his customary post in 1974, Mr. Hardin had been invited to perform his music in West Germany and decided to stay.

"He led an extraordinary life for a blind man who came to New York with no contacts and a month's rent, and who lived on the streets of New York for 30 years," said Robert Scotto, a professor at Baruch College of the City University of New York. "Without question, he was the most famous street person of his time, a hero to a generation of hippies."

Mr. Scotto has just completed an unpublished biography of Mr. Hardin, "Moondog: The Viking of Sixth Avenue."

In his later years, Mr. Hardin produced at least five albums in Europe, including a "sound saga" titled "The Creation," and regularly performed his compositions with chamber and symphony orchestras in Paris, Stockholm and cities in Germany.

Pub Date: 9/13/99

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