From the Naked Cowboy to the Pigeon Man of Washington Square Park, New York is no stranger to eclectic street performers. But today’s entertainers pale in comparison to the eccentricity and success of New York’s original street peddler, Moondog, the viking songwriter.
A new documentary, The Viking of Sixth Avenue (slated for release in 2015), seeks to expose the genius and mystery of the late virtuoso. Holly Elson, documentarian and director, has compiled old footage with the artist’s own words, interviews with his musical collaborators, and archival footage of Moondog on the streets.
Louis Hardin, Jr., better known as Moondog, was a blind, bearded, poet and composer who spent 30 years on the corner of 54th street and Sixth Avenue selling his work. Passersby could see him perched on his midtown Manhattan corner, his wiry white hair poking out from under a horned viking helmet. He stood solemnly, often wielding a battle spear. It’s an image that made Moondog, from the late 1940s until 1974, a New York icon. But Elson, through her film, seeks to reveal that the songwriter’s significance goes far deeper than a sightseer photo-op.
Moondog garnered high acclaim by musicians and poets alike for his sage-like verses and avant-garde compositions. Allen Ginsberg displayed his work on his fridge, Phillip Glass gave him a place to live, and Janis Joplin covered his music.
Elson has taken to Kickstarter to fund her project and, although the donation-based platform is risky, she justifies the decision as reflective of Moondog himself:
“Moondog, the original crowd-funded artist, relied on the generosity of strangers, people who saw him on the street and recognized that he was something special,” she said. “Now we hope to do the same–we’re asking for you to help make this film happen.”
Just under a week after the launch of the Kickstarter page, Elson has earned over $15,000 for her project. It’s promising on the surface, but still quite far from Elson’s end-of-month goal of $105,000. If she doesn’t achieve the $105k goal, the project doesn’t materialize and the money is returned. It won’t be easy, but with tempting incentives like Moondog vinyl and graphic tees, featuring his iconic horned helmet and bushy beard, who’s to say it can’t happen?