As promised, our favorite top-hat-wearing weirdo (sorry, Residents…you were this close!) Petunia-Liebling MacPumpkin continues to produce bizarre videos for each of the bizarre songs on her bizarre album, Fish Drive Edsels. Her third visual opus arrived this week for the short but startling “Aquatic Plumbing,” and it packs even more weirdness into 87 seconds than her first two videos put together. How does she do it? Magic! And creepy hand puppets. The one starring alongside her in this clip is apparently named Werman.
Petunia and her visual collaborators seems to be going through Fish Drive Edsels sequentially, which means the next video should be for “Green Glow,” a nightmarish nursery rhyme of a song that you can preview below. What surreal landscapes will Petunia wander through accompanied by its beautifully broken music-box melodies? I’m sure we’ll find out soon enough.
When I was a kid, my Dad worked in Rockefeller Center in Manhattan. My Mom and I went into the city to visit him pretty regularly, mostly because my dentist’s office was in the same building. This would have been from about 1972 to 1980, which means I was around for the tail end of the illustrious busking career of Moondog, whose favorite venue was the corner of 6th Avenue and 54th Street, just a few blocks from my Dad’s office. Did I ever get to see Moondog in action? Sadly, I can’t remember. I’d say odds are good that I did, and odds are even better that my mother hurried me, mouth agog with freshly scrubbed pearlies, past the blind, white-bearded man dressed up like a Viking, telling me that it wasn’t polite to stare.
For over two decades, millions of New Yorkers and tourists stopped to stare at the man born Louis T. Hardin, most of them having no clue that the crazy, hairy guy in the leather helmet, playing what looked like a shoeshine box with a cymbal attached to it, was actually an accomplished musician and composer who hung out with the likes of Leonard Bernstein and Charlie Parker. As street musicians go, Moondog was both as eccentric and as accomplished as they come.
Before he became Moondog, Hardin was a Midwestern farm kid, born in Kansas and raised in Wyoming and Missouri. He lost his eyesight at age 16 when, as he tells it, “I picked up a dynamite cap on a railroad track after a flood and pounded on it. It exploded in my face.” Already a drummer in his high school band, Hardin was accepted into the Iowa School for the Blind, where he picked up some formal musical training on various other instruments, including the pipe organ, which enabled him to start composing his own works.
In 1943, while he was in his late twenties, Hardin decided to move to New York City, hoping to connect with the city’s great classical composers and conductors. From hanging around outside Carnegie Hall, he met and befriended the conductor of the New York Philharmonic, Artur Rodzinski, who invited the young blind man with the flowing black beard to sit in with the orchestra’s rehearsals. But Hardin, who wasn’t yet dressing like a Viking but did favor long, hooded monk’s robes, was a little too leftfield to hit it off with the buttoned-down classical musicians of the New York Phil. Soon, he was back on the street, where he instead began busking, reciting poetry and playing music on a growing collection of homemade, portable instruments.
As Hardin’s peculiar sidewalk performances attracted more notice, he began getting write-ups in the press. But as the estranged son of an Episcopalian minister, he was unhappy that many journalists described his berobed, long-bearded appearance as “Christ-like.” By the mid-’50s, he had transitioned to Viking garb for a more pagan look. He had also started calling himself Moondog and making more references to the Native American influences in his music, particularly in the syncopated rhythms that he liked to call “snake-time.”
We could end Moondog’s story right here and still make a case for including him on the Weird List. But it gets better. From his preferred street corner, midway between Carnegie Hall and the jazz clubs of 52nd Street, Hardin began attracting a cult following among many of the city’s best-known musicians. Dizzy Gillespie and Benny Goodman were fans; so were Igor Stravinsky and Arturo Toscanini. By the ’60s, he was hanging out with such counter-culture luminaries as William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg. When he performed indoors—which he did on occasion—he shared stages with the like of Lenny Bruce and Tiny Tim. He even lived for a time with the minimalist composer Philip Glass, who cites Moondog’s spare, percussive fugues, rounds and minuets as a strong influence on his own work. (Moondog is often described as “homeless,” but this is somewhat misleading—only occasionally did he not have an apartment of his own, and when he didn’t, he usually stayed in fleabag hotels or with friends.)
Moondog’s music is, if anything, even more intriguing than the man himself. A mix of cryptic poetry, slinky jazz and stately, classical chamber pieces, it achieved an improbable level of popularity during his New York years, culminating in 1969′s Moondog, released on Columbia Records and produced by James William Guercio, whose other credits included Chicago and Blood, Sweat & Tears. The cover photo of Moondog, with his snow-white beard and glaring Viking’s visage, remains an iconic image of the ’60s alternative music scene.
By the time he left New York for Germany in 1974, Moondog had released six albums, four EPs and, of all things, an album of children’s music with Julie Andrews. His song “All Is Loneliness” had been covered by Janis Joplin. He had been interviewed and profiled by everyone from Collier’s to the New York Times. He even successfully sued DJ Alan Freed for the rights to the Moondog name.
But as New York City took a turn for the seedier in the ’70s, Moondog grew disenchanted with his adopted hometown. While on a tour of Europe in 1974, he decided to stay, eventually settling in a small city in West Germany called Recklinghausen. His move was so abrupt that many people back in New York assumed he had died. (Actually, many New Yorkers tend to assume this of anyone who leaves the Big Apple, it being the center of the universe and all.) But he lived on in Germany for another 25 years, continuing to compose and record and occasionally perform.
He rarely returned to America, though a welcome exception happened in 1989, when he came back to New York to conduct the Brooklyn Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra at the New Music America festival. Treating him as though he had risen (Christ-like?) from the dead, the New York press fawned over him for a week. “Maybe it takes New York 15 years to miss you,” he quipped.
Moondog’s later works grew far more ambitious: Among them was his first complete symphony, a 25-part canon, and a nine-hour piece for 1,000 musicians called “Cosmos” that, for obvious reasons, has still never been performed. Oddly, his best-known work nowadays is probably a tribute to Charlie Parked called “Lament 1 (Bird’s Lament),” mainly because it was sampled in a popular jazz-house track by Mr. Scruff.
One of Moondog’s final works was among his weirdest. Released in Europe in 1994 and in the U.S. in 1997 (the final Moondog album released here before his death in 1999), Sax Pax for a Sax is a tribute to both the inventor of the saxophone and the great city Louis T. Hardin called home for three decades. Most of the music was performed by an all-sax-and-drums ensemble called The London Saxophonic, with occasional touches of piano and a solemn male chorus.
We’ll leave you with some classic Moondog from his NYC street-busking days. As far-out and eccentric as Moondog and his music could sometimes be, there’s also a simple, childlike beauty to a lot of it that stops you in your tracks. Almost as much as the sight of a white-bearded Viking hanging out on a street corner in midtown Manhattan.
Also, one final quote, from a 1953 magazine article. This is Moondog explaining to a bemused journalist why he liked performing on the streets:
I like to flaunt convention. In commercial music, I’d have to conform. But so long as I stay on the streets, people take this* because they think I’m a harmless eccentric. Maybe I am. But I do as I please. That’s more than most people can say. So far as I’m concerned, I’ve arrived.
(*By “this,” the journalist seemed to assume Moondog was referring only to his unusual manner of dress. We like to think he was referring to his music, as well.)
All hail the Viking of 6th Avenue!
P.S. Thanks to the magnificently named reader Eustaquio Habichuela Irsuto for first suggesting that we write about Moondog, well over a year ago. Sorry it took us awhile, Eustaquio.
You may be asking yourself: Why is friend of the blog Petunia-Liebling MacPumpkin dressed up like a tie-dyed fembot? Because she’s got a new video, that’s why! It’s the second trippy clip from her Residents-esque album Fish Drive Edsels and it’s even weirder than the first one, “Carnival (Introduction’s Aside).” This one’s called “Lonely Lady”—but for a lonely lady, Petunia’s got plenty of company in it, from a flying, disfigured hand with eyeballs to a synchronized dance team of praying mantises. Watch and be bewildered.
A few weeks ago, we got an email that began: “Please allow me to introduce myself! My name is TODD TAMANEND CLARK, and I am notorious for having made the weirdest album of all time.” Jaded fuckers that we are, we proceeded to ignore this email for the next two weeks, because when people write to us claiming to have recorded the “weirdest album of all time,” they usually sound more like this.
But eventually, we did get around to checking out Mr. Clark and his allegedly weird oeuvre, including Nova Psychedelia, the collection of tracks from the first decade of his career (1975-1985) that stands as (allegedly) the weirdest set of music ever assembled in one package. And while we’re not gonna crown him Weirdest Artist of All Time just yet, we gotta admit: Todd Tamanend Clark, you are one weird dude.
Here’s Todd’s story as best as we’ve been able to piece it together from various sources, including the man himself, a brief Facebook bio, and a rapturous (but, according to Clark, somewhat inaccurate) review of some of his early work by none other than Julian Cope. He was born in 1952 in Greensboro, Pennsylvania, a small town near the West Virginia border, where he continues to live to this day. A poet, singer and musician, he released his first album under the name The Stars in 1975, then joined a Pennsylvania band called The Eyes and put out an excellently titled release called New Gods: Aardvark thru Zymurgy (sometimes mistakenly credited to a non-existent band called New Gods, though for reasons obvious to those few who’ve ever been lucky to get their hands on an original copy).
During the Stars/Eyes period, Clark’s music was still heavily influenced by the ’60s psychedelic rock of Hendrix, the Doors, the Electric Prunes (who he covered) and especially the United States of America, one of the first bands to use early synthesizers in a psych-rock context. But he was also clearly attuned to the newer, harsher sounds of early punk, and would go on to collaborate with people like The Dead Boys’ Stiv Bators and Cheetah Chrome. Later, in the early ’80s, he dove more deeply into full-blown experimental rock, taking equal inspiration from bands like Pere Ubu (another occasional collaborator) and the works of sci-fi and stream-of-consciousness writers like Harlan Ellison and William S. Burroughs. And yeah, he also collaborated with Burroughs, too. For a smalltown boy from western Pennsylvania, the guy got around.
For awhile there, Clark appeared to be well on his way to, if not fame, at least a sizable cult following. But something seems to have happened between the late ’80s and now that caused Clark to drop even further off the radar than he already was. Maybe his combined interests in his Native American roots (he added the Indian “Tamanend” to his name sometime in the ’80s) and vintage synthesizers (he’s an endorsed Moog Music artist) was too much for most listeners to handle. Or maybe he just didn’t release much music; there seems to be a gap in his catalog between 1984′s Into the Vision (the album that features the aforementioned Burroughs collab, as well as appearances by some of the Pere Ubu and Dead Boys guys) and 2000′s Owls in Obsidian, the first in a trilogy of instrumental tribal-prog-synth-rock explorations that also includes Staff, Mask, Rattle (2002) and Monongahela Riverrun (2004). Todd offered to proofread this article for us for “factual errors,” so hopefully he can either enlighten us.
[Update: Todd did enlighten us. Here's what he wrote: "What I did during the recording gap... After Into The Vision, there was a vinyl single in 1985 ('Flame Over Philadelphia' b/w 'Oceans Of She') which along with my 1980 single ('Secret Sinema' b/w 'Nightlife Of The New Gods') were my college radio hits, the most commercial I ever got. I released no new recordings during the years 1986-1999, although I continued to compose music and play occasional concerts. During that time, I went to graduate school and was a devoted father to my (at that time) five children. (I've since had another son who is now thirteen.) I also immersed myself more deeply into Haudenosaunee and Lenape culture, as well as networked with indigenous activists from other native nations." So there you have it.]
More recently, Clark’s been hard at work on his first vocal album in years, a magnum opus called Dancing Through the Side Worlds. Based on this one interview we found, it was originally slated to come out in 2008 as a four-CD set, but based on our latest email transmission from T.T. Clark himself, it’s now due to arrive in November of this year, just in time for Native American Heritage Month. “If you can imagine Iggy Pop backed by Skinny Puppy and Adrian Belew doing a cyberpunk re-make of Forever Changes with new lyrics by William Burroughs and production by Trent Reznor, you will be somewhere in the aesthetic ballpark of this album,” Todd tell us. OK, then!
Clark’s body of work encompasses so many styles and genres that it’s impossible to cover all of it here, but we’ll skim the surface as best we can. Let’s start with some of his ’70s basement psych-rock stuff, from Aardvark thru Zymurgy:
Then fast-forward to 1984 and Into the Vision, on which he sounds vaguely like Jim Morrison fronting The Residents:
And finally, here’s an extended taste of the Native American-influenced prog-synth freakery he was getting up to circa 2001, with one of his kids, X Tecumseh Clark, playing some of the synths. (Yes, he has a kid named X Tecumseh. And another named Shaman Manitou.) (Bonus fun fact: X Tecumseh is the cover boy for Crystal Castles’ 2010 album.)
So here’s hoping we can do our small part in broadening the audience of this truly original oddball. And here’s hoping he really does release his next album in November as promised, because we cannot wait to break out the thesaurus and the review the hell out of it.
Big news from Electric Phantom, the record label home to Chimney Crow and Petunia-Liebling MacPumpkin. It arrived on our Facebook page earlier this week in the form of a video press conference hosted by Electric Phantom spokeswoman Melody McGinn and attended by the dying remnants of the music press. Let’s watch, shall we?
Very melodramatic, no? Next time we have a big announcement, we’re totally hiring Melody and her gang of ghouls to make it for us.
So now that you know the big news (you did watch the video, right? if not: Spoiler alert!), head over to electric-phantom.com and check out all the new goodies. Happy shopping.
Last time we checked in with our avant-hip-hop hero Mission Man, he had decided to finally quit his day job to pursue music full-time. Now it’s three months later and he’s…well, he’s back to the working grind again, but not to worry. The new job is just part-time and as he puts it on his website, “music is a bigger, more beautiful part of my life than it’s ever been!” So Mission Man’s, er, mission to bring “hip-hop without ego” to the masses continues apace.
Last week, Gary “Mission Man” Milholland released his latest opus: A brand-new video for the pep-talk track “Extra” off his most recent album, M”. In true MM fashion, the clip features all sorts of zany composite shots of Mission Man dancing on flowers and planets and flying away in his Chevy Cobalt, plus some scenes of him busting moves in some shitty sports bar that probably doesn’t deserve him, and a whole sequence involving footprints in the snow that hopefully he can explain to us over a beer someday. But our favorite part of the whole video is probably the part where he looks directly into the camera and raps, “You look extra today: Extra tall, extra smart, extra talented, extra sexy, extra amazing.” Back atcha, Gary!
In other Mission Man news, he recently performed a new track, “Love, Funk and Soul,” with a live band. He’s taking this shit to the next level, y’all!
It’s the freakin’ weekend! And I don’t know about you people, but I’m ready to celebrate like a Mad Hatter with a belly full of special tea.
Two of our favorite web buddies, Petunia-Liebling MacPumpkin and TommyTopHat, have joined forces for a new track called “Mad Hatter’s Ball.” It might be the most festive tune we’ve heard yet from Ms. MacPumpkin. I guess using Alice in Wonderland as source material just does that to people. And that Tommy fellow seems pretty festive, too. His manbehindthecurtain blog is chock full of cool shit.
Anyway, here’s the track. Fire it up and let’s get this ball a-rollin’! Or something like that.
Our friend and former Weird Band Facebook Poll™ champ Petunia-Liebling MacPumpkin has been bugging us all week to post her first-ever music video. So here it is finally! Sorry it took us awhile, Ms. MacP.
The song in the video is called “Carnival (Introduction’s Aside)” and it’s the first track on her album Fish Drive Edsels. It’s a pretty cool visual representation of the funhouse world that is Petunia-Liebling’s music. Hope she’s got more trippy visuals in the works.
So it turns out Moby was wrong. According to the latest song from Petunia-Liebling MacPumpkin, we are all made not of stars, but of monads. I had to look up what a monad is, and according to Dictionary.com, it can be either a “simple, single-celled organism” or “an unextended, indivisible, and indestructible entity that is the basic or ultimate constituent of the universe and a microcosm of it.” I don’t know about you, but I’m choosing the second option.
Here’s the new song “Monads,” uploaded mere hours ago to the Soundcloud page of MacPumpkin’s label, Electric Phantom, along with some tracks from the mysterious Rosewater Treacle Tart. The perfect soundtrack to a slightly hungover Sunday afternoon, don’t you think? (If you can’t see the Soundcloud player, click here.)