Art and Music      
Christopher Ward London


Anyone Seen Moondog?

HALLER:  I had an invite to an official presentation of the Spanish presidency of the EU. Men in suits telling a pro-Europe audience of 150 or so that we, the citizens, are what it is all about. Many fine words were to follow, variations on this most desirous of interpretations of the grand continental drift through treaties from Rome to Lisbon which, we are told, must now give way to people power.  

On entering, I noticed a huge poster for a photography exhibition in the same plush venue: "Clouds in a Sky that doesn't Change." Get the picture: the ironic incidentals that somehow stick to politicking. 

Feeling quite as if I'd walked into the wrong wedding by mistake, I shuffled down the stairs and joined the strangely hushed groups of people waiting for the event to kick off, each discussing their own European project agendas and eager not to be overheard. It struck me I'd walked into a Hitchcock movie. In this sleek, oviform hall of polished wood, with a power podium for political posing a few metres in front of a stepped stage, it felt as if a discreet assassination was about to accelerate the plot . 

Suddenly, the tiered stage was filled by some 25 members of a blind choir, each person led by hand to a precarious perch from which one step in any direction would mean instant European disunion. Another irony it was, then, that the instructions for our citizen's contribution were going to be given before a backdrop of people we can see but who can't see us. 

Bravely, the choir members were to stand through it all, the ladies wearing sinister claret cassocks, the men dressed to the nines and in a cinematic assortment of dark glasses. Now it was Hitch doing Batman. At any moment, the Joker was going to gas us all.

After two relatively short (but relatively long) speeches, the choir began to sing the European anthem, the prelude to Beethoven's ‘Ode to Joy’, but with lyrics in Spanish. Hello, this has gone orff a bit, I thought. But no, it was indeed Beethoven and very beautifully sung as the high registers stormed in and, with the (unofficial) German words, the spine-tingling began. 

Then I spotted the rat. One of the male singers in the back row was sporting a toupee so rusty black and wiry it could only have been made from the stuffing of a pre- World War II sofa. No, I'm not sending up the blind, but when someone who cannot see has been cruelly dressed up to look like the guy who came last in a Roy Orbison look-alike contest, you have to stand up for him.

It would be both negative and facetious to suggest that by changing the hairpiece we can get the heads of this European project looking in the right direction. It's really the content that must be renewed. It's what we're singing that will make a difference. 

There and then it occurred to me that, like many people, the blind choirmaster might never have heard of the great blind musician Moondog, real name Louis Hardin, composer, poet, instrument creator, noble eccentric, humble genius and autodidact, disenchanted US citizen who left his country for Germany, and whose stunning repertoire includes very tasty pieces for voice choirs.

I approached the gentle conductor and, as I suspected, Moondog had passed him by. So, telling one blind musician about another, seemed a fair and immediate contribution - perhaps the only one I'll really be allowed to make - to a European project that could really do with the spirit of Moondog, a magical breeze of artistic unorthodoxy and poetic cross-wiseness, the voices of loners in crowds, a touch of the Viking of Sixth Avenue. I'll send the choirmaster a CD or two and let you know if the choir does any Moondog recitals. 

Jan 15, 2010

Madrid. Europe



Mr Trumbo
2010-02-11 13:41:12
Moondog ought to hav ebeen given a massive stipend just for standing out on Sixth Avue in January wearing a hessian tunic and homemade shoes. And that's before addressing his godlike music.

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