From the late 1940s well into the ‘60s, if you visited midtown Manhattan, you might have caught a glimpse of a blind street performer dressed as a Viking. The medieval gentleman was selling pamphlets, making music right there, and reciting his strangely-rhymed poetry. This was Moondog; he stood there for years, on the corner. A large man, he cut an imposing figure with his long beard and hand-sewn leather poncho. He held a large staff aloft when he wasn’t playing various funky-looking, self-invented instruments.
As things usually do not go, Moondog wound up with several recording contracts, and not just for small labels either. In the tradition of the American visionary artist (see Sun Ra, Arthur Dove, or Captain Beefheart), Moondog wore the cloak of eccentricity to attain a certain notoriety. But one of the most interesting things about his music is not how out-there it was but rather its simple, dulcet beauty.
Delightfully accessible, interwoven melodies shimmer atop shuffling beats, accompanied by washes of strings and lush vocal harmonies, perhaps punctuated by sweetly stampeding saxophones or maybe even a brash-sounding men’s chorus.
Because they are so cheery and pretty, I submit to you that Moondog’s records, played in the background, make for exceptional holiday music. You might have heard the stuff before if you’re not already a fan — his song linked above, “Stamping Ground,” appears in The Big Lebowski.