Music in Snaketime

Moondog - Moondog 1969

“Machines were mice and men were lions once upon a time. But now that it’s the opposite it’s twice upon a time.”

Moondog is one of the most pivotal and iconic figures of the classical avant-garde. The man certainly commanded attention – a blind, long-bearded fellow often adorned with a cloak and Viking-style horned helmet living on the streets of New York, he quickly earned the moniker, The Viking of 6th Avenue. But his eccentricity was far from superficial, and Moondog (1969) serves an as exquisite specimen of his unique compositional style and his expertly-seamless fusion of classical and jazz musics. And how many individuals can claim to have ascended from street musicianship to conducting the Brooklyn Philharmonic in their lifetimes?

In the early ‘40s when Moondog moved to New York City, he met Leonard Bernstein, Charlie Parker, and Benny Goodman, the influence of which is certainly evident throughout his catalog, but particularly so on Moondog (1969). The upbeat tempos and often humorous compositional style of this LP are likely the result of these encounters.

The album’s opening selections, “Theme” and “Stamping Ground”, (aka “that song from Lebowski”), are instantly indicative of the sort of ride you’re in for with this record. The tracks are epic and theatrical, with a lush orchestral quality. But simultaneously, there is a humbling intimacy and a flare of smart minimalism at play all throughout the album, adding an understated intellectualism to the whimsical interplay of traditional and invented instrumentation. Tracks like “Symphonique #3 (Ode to Venus)” and the brief vocal interludes sprinkled throughout work brilliantly to counterpoint the captivating rhythmic energy of selections like “Symphonique #6 (Good for Goodie)” and “Lament I (Bird’s Lament).”

There’s a curious and mysterious mannerism to the music on this record, and its inspiration reveals the nature of its oddity. In an interview with Robert Scotto, who went on to publish his biography, Moondog described his music as being directly inspired from street sounds, characterized by what he called “snaketime”, described as “a slithery rhythm, in times that are not ordinary,” and saying, “I’m not gonna die in 4/4 time”. It is this snaketime that gives Moondog’s compositions their enchanting peculiarity. There’s an off-beat, quirky eccentricity and playfulness to every one of the songs here, and together they form a cohesive and rewarding listening experience unlike any other.

10/10