North Potomac musician and cable television personality TV John Langworthy has a favorite TV John song, which is almost astonishing when you consider he’s recorded more than 4,000 of them—-all directly from his dreams.
The song is called “Elvis Brain,” and Langworthy remembers the dream vividly. “I was in this old jalopy with Elvis. Elvis was driving and I was riding shotgun. We pulled up to a three-story green house and Elvis grabbed his guitar from the back seat and sang ‘Elvis Brain.'” Langworthy then cites the dream’s exact date. And how does he recall that? “Come on! When Elvis sings to you, you remember it!”
Langworthy, 65, was born in San Antonio, Texas, but has lived in the D.C. area since 1959. Before his “calling,” he sold Yellow Pages advertising. Then something happened that he calls “the greatest musical miracle of all time.”
He’s referring to the night in 1985 he received his first dream song. “One night I dreamed that the eyes of God were looking at me. He said ‘I am’ and I felt like I’d been half asleep my whole life. The next night I was sound asleep, and this really beautiful song came into my dream, it was the most beautiful song I’d ever heard. The same thing happened the next night and I thought, ‘I must have heard it on the radio or TV.’ But the next night it happened again. The following day I thought ‘Something’s going on here’ and I got a tape recorder. ‘Memories, Oh Memories’ was the very first dream song I recorded.”
He’s been climbing out of bed in the middle of the night to record songs ever since. Sometimes no dream songs come; others he receives in bunches—in one case, 27 in a single night.
“In 1991 I first thought I should be doing it professionally,” says Langworthy. The following year he quit his job to take his music to the masses. It was a messianic calling of sorts. “When people go to see Elvis, yeah. When people go to see The Beatles, yeah. And because of my musical dreams, people should come to see me. Because God wants people to be happy. This is God working through me. Believe me, I’m not smart enough to think up this stuff on my own.”
Langworthy performs his dream songs with his Legendary Band, which he met at the Grand Marquee Hotel in 1992. “Prior to that, I performed karaoke style,” he says. “One night a band went on after me and I asked if they’d work with me. They said yes.” According to Langworthy, the Legendary Band is now in its 13th configuration. “WHFS’ Damian Einstein gave us our name. I was there to play some songs and do an interview. He said, ‘Here’s TV John and his legendary band!’ and that’s been our name ever since.”
In 1991 “The Dream Man” recorded the first of his 16 albums (he’s currently at work on No. 17). “I had a co-worker who was a musician, and he took me to Bebop Studios. I took 14 of the 500 songs I’d recorded by then. It was both hilarious—I didn’t even know how to sing in time to the music—and embarrassing.” The critical response wasn’t exactly ecstatic. “The first guy who reviewed the album slammed it, said this is just awful. This guy isn’t going anywhere.”
The critic’s reaction is understandable, because a TV John song is like nothing you’ve ever heard. Campy but utterly sincere, Langworthy’s tunes—which bear such titles as “Cell Phone” (“We carry it in our pockets/We flip through it several times a day/If we forget it/We go back to get it”) and “Bling” (“We got bling bling bling/From ring ring ring”)—make outsider art out of the utterly mundane, and love them or not, they stick with you. Just try to resist “Party Animal,” which Langworthy says many people consider their favorite TV John song. He releases them on his Maxern label, whose name he picked at random from the Egyptian Book of the Dead.
In 2012 Langworthy recorded a five-song EP for Nashville’s Blacktooth Records. It includes the brilliant “Ya Ya” and was recorded with Nashville musicians, including members of Fly Golden Eagle. “Ben [Trimble] of Blacktooth contacted me and said we’d like to record you. I got there with these songs I’d just recorded. One of them was so obscure it almost wasn’t there. Ben said, ‘Let’s do that one!’ It was ‘Ya Ya.'”
Langworthy started posting music videos under his official YouTube account in 2009. He recently uploaded two new videos, “Mother’s Love” and “Big Difference.” To call them low-budget affairs is an understatement. His wife shoots them, and he’s always looking for new places to film. Last year in Vermont, for instance, he asked a waiter “if he knew a good place to make a video.” The waiter said there was an Occupy demonstration scheduled for the following morning. “So I’m there lip-syncing the song ‘Green Light,’ and it looks like all those people are there to be in my video.”
Langworthy says, “I’ll ask strangers if they want to be in a musical video, and half the time they’ll say yes, half the time they’ll say no.” Frankly, he doesn’t like hearing no. “The truth is,” he says, “they should say yes, because God wants me to entertain people with these silly dream songs. It’s just for fun. So if somebody says no, they’re making a mistake.”
Langworthy intends to continue making dream songs regardless, but he wouldn’t mind some public recognition. “I can only do this for the rest of my life and I’m not going to be here forever. So I want people to appreciate me now and avoid the rush later.”