One of the world’s greatest music legends is in a New York club tonight. Hundreds of worshippers, wearing T-shirts emblazoned with his name, wildly undulate to the wacky, spaced-out sounds he unleashed on the world some 40 years ago. Others crowd near the entrance, waiting anxiously for the briefest glimpse of their beloved cult hero. No, it’s not the dude with the black shirt and feathered hair performing on stage — that’s just Keith Emerson, the lightning-fingered keyboardist for Emerson, Lake & Palmer, pounding out his prog-rock opus ”Lucky Man.” No, the 70-year-old object of all this adoration is currently perched in a specially reserved booth, taking a nap.
Meet Bob Moog (rhymes with rogue), one of the most influential innovators in the history of rock & roll and the guy who invented the monster Moog synthesizer Emerson is now plugged into. Even if you don’t know the names of the dozens of contraptions he’s created over the years — the Minimoog, the Minimoog Voyager, the Moog Modular — you’ve undoubtedly heard them: Their eerie, pulsating rhythms and juicy, fat squelches have been used — for good and sometimes evil — by just about every musician in rock, jazz, hip-hop, and pop, from the Beatles to the Beastie Boys, from P-Funk to P. Diddy, from ELP to N.E.R.D. Until recently, Moog was all but unknown outside music-geek circles. His machines altered the course of pop music, but the man himself spent the last few decades laboring in obscurity, flirting with bankruptcy, and enduring a long legal battle over the rights to use his own name.
Not anymore. Thanks to a full-fledged Moog renaissance, he’s finally feeling the love. All year, in fact, thousands of Moog fans have been packing houses at a series of ”Moogfest” concerts — everywhere from Scotland to Japan — featuring both hipster favorites (Money Mark and DJ Logic) and ’70s dinosaurs (Rick Wakeman and, uh, Eumir Deodato). Moog, a new documentary by filmmaker Hans Fjellestad (2002’s Frontier Life), is due in theaters on Sept. 24. And after a 15-year hiatus, the company he founded, Moog Music Inc., is back in business, and sales have never been so brisk. ”I love the whole Moog package,” says loyal customer Roger O’Donnell, keyboardist for the Cure, who uses a Minimoog for several tracks on the band’s latest album (and composed his own tune for the Moog soundtrack). ”It’s the instrument, the sound, but it’s just as much about Bob. Not only is he a genius, but he has that genius hair and that genius name.”
And the burgeoning cult isn’t limited to just musicians and ponytailed analog purists. One 22-year-old engineering student at tonight’s NYC Moogfest drove seven hours to attend. He gushes to Moog (now awake): ”I wanted to tell you, sir, you are my inspiration. I want to be the next Bob Moog.” Another twentysomething is simply awed that Moog exists. ”I didn’t even realize he was an actual person. It’s so cool.”
The actual person — that genius hair a wild white halo, his glasses a trifle grease-smeared — is baffled by all the attention. ”A lot of people want to be in the electronic instrument business because they think it’s glamorous,” says Moog. ”They think you’ll hang around musicians all the time. But it’s not glamorous at all, really.”