The Caribbean are not only the owners of one of the most arbitrary and google-proof band names in existence but are also one of the flagship bands on the fabulous label which I call, er, home: Hometapes out of lovely Portland, Oregon. Their new CD, Discontinued Perfume, a stunning batch of thoroughly adept experimental pop songs with startlingly conversational lyrics (best song title ever: Thank You for Talking To Me About Israel), is released on February 22nd and available for pre-order today. But wait, there’s more ! Here is a song entitled Outskirts from said album featuring your not-so-humble bloggist pitching in harmony vocals, tinkly piano and a possibly wildly inappropriate guitar solo. Like a nosy neighbor stepping into a conversation he doesn’t quite understand, in The Caribbean’s world where disparate elements make for striking art it actually works. Have a listen.
When my friend and label-mate Michael Kentoff of the fine D.C. area band, The Caribbean posted some clips of local public-access phenomenon T.V. John Langworthy to his FB wall I wasn’t quite sure what to make of them. I liked that the line between knowingly funny and genuinely disturbed was truly blurry. So I asked Michael to try to provide some regional context and personal testimony about this hitherto unknown (to me and probably anyone else not living in the greater D.C. area) outsider artiste.
Well, you asked for it.
To the long-time local, there’s something very suburban DC about TV John Langworthy: proudly small-town yahoo just miles from the power center of the universe. It’s difficult to explain, but there he is: TV John (who is a twin!) flaunting his big-headed goofiness involuntarily and in defiance. Suburban DC or not, his similarity to other people ends there. In truth, he’s from a suburban DC on another planet. Television host, songwriter, open mic night organizer, singer, and whatever he does for a living, TV John is both obscure and conspicuous in any place at any time because he is completely and functionally in his own world – and we’re all invited!
Like his legion of fans (the number is anywhere from 17 to 17,000, I’d imagine), I stumbled across the TV John Show, which played to countless carpet-scraping jaws in the early 1990s, on local cable access. His show immediately followed The Music Shoppe, a survey of local music that was morbidly fascinating on a whole different level. Over the course of 30 cable minutes, the TV John Show usually featured two here-today-gone-later-today local performers and, the real pay-off, two lip-synced originals by the towering, flailing, smiling, gyrating host himself. He called them and still calls them “dream songs,” which, he reports, literally wake him up at night and demand to be captured on the nearest magnetic tape tout suite. Sort of like McCartney with “Yesterday” if McCartney woke up restrained by straps and safety pins to a hospital bed. Or if he awoke in a ranch-style house in Montgomery County, Maryland.
I taped a few TV John Shows and would subject unprepared friends to the late-80s video graphics, the parade of oddly matched bands, and, most importantly, to TV John himself – the dream songs and, if we were lucky, a solo comedy sketch that could only be funny somewhere deep inside the cedar closet of John’s brain. Some friendships ended – as if we were laughing at a disturbed asylum escapee, but most people cringed with delight. I, for one, always figured John was in on the joke. He both meant it for real and meant it as a gag. That was his genre (my theory).
Years later, Dave Jones and I went to see him perform with his band at the venerable Galaxy Hut in Arlington. At first sight, John was just a big, dorky guy in his 50s, smiling, chatting, drinking a beer. The most conspicuous thing about him was his giant overly-colorful silk shirt that looked like something a clown might pull endlessly from his left sleeve. Then the music started and TV John emerged – hurling around and singing in poses that almost seemed right out of pro wrestling. The normal big dork did not appear the rest of the night – TV John held sway. It was pretty magical. Definitely entertaining to the extreme. Dave and I chatted him up and showed him some video Dave shot of his set. The three of us laughed. Dave said, “Hilarious, man!” TV John, enormous face, raised two large craggly eyebrows over a giant, toothy smile and nodded, “Sure is!” Knew it.
Many more inscrutable TV John clips after the jump…