Saturday, January 29, 2011


Striking a pose somewhat reminiscent of Lon Chaney Jr., you see Verne Langdon on the cover of his 2004 CD "Out of Love." It's on top of a few "Famous Monsters" paperbacks because, well, maybe he'd have wanted it that way…a reminder of his friendship with Forry Ackerman, with whom he produced and wrote the Decca album "Boris Karloff and Friends." Another album that horror fans love, is "Poe with Pipes," narration by John Carradine, to organ music composed and performed by Verne. Verne set up an indie record label to market Carradine, Jaye P. Morgan and others…and issued his own solo material as well. More recently, Verne continued in the narration field by supplying underlying music, and sentimental words, for tracks recorded by Jonathan Winters, including "Old Folks." And so Illfolks salutes our friend Verne, who had many other interests aside from music, and had a pretty creative life in, out, and sometimes outre, of the usual corridors of the entertainment world.

Verne was a make-up artist expert at both horror masks and drag (if that isn't the same thing). The monster masks he made, marketed with Don Post, were sold in every vintage issue of "Famous Monsters" magazine. He was also an avid fan of professional wrestling going back to the days of Gorgeous George and everyone's favorite harridan, the Fabulous Moolah. When he wasn't self-publishing nostalgic, McKuen-esque croons or attending some monster convention with Forry Ackerman, he was promoting his "Slammers Gym," where the burly and the loony could grapple and grunt. At 6'2" and 250 pounds, Langdon was certainly able to perform in the squared circle, almost with the grace he used in performing music on calliopes, pianos and organs. For this blog, the emphasis is on the latter.

Verne (September 15, 1941-January 1, 1911) was known to some in the blogworld as one of those "unreasonable" guys who filed DMCA's and "ruined the fun" of people who wanted to give away everybody's music because "music should be free," and the performers should make their money selling t-shirts. Or something. Verne didn't quite understand why some "fans" on the Internet were so dedicated in depriving him of income, or giving away entire albums instead of a sample track and a few words about the song and the artist.

I remember Verne shaking his head over a couple of bloggers giving away dozens and dozens of his cult albums, even the weird "Dr. Druid's Seance" novelty-narration disc and his stuff as "J. S. Bork," a kind of bastard uncle to "P.D.Q. Bach." One blogger was giving away some rare albums…to promote the CD-R copies of rarer ones he was selling at $5 a pop. A self-published author used a blog and free downloads of entire albums (on Verne and others) to call attention to himself and ask people to buy HIS stuff via Paypal. This blogger wasn't concerned if Verne lost a few dollars or if record dealers were deprived of sales.

Verne told me me how he literally called up one blogger. The reason he did, was this blogger kept re-upping the files that Verne was getting removed, and even deviously hiding the links as asterisks, or saying "e-mail me for links." The blogger was quite surprised that Verne could find him, but Internet anonymity is overrated. Verne discovered this guy was at least in his 30's, with gray hair, but still living with his parents. The blogger kept hanging up every time his mother handed him the phone and he heard Verne on the other end. "I just kept calling him back," he told me, "and I told his mother that he had to be a man and speak to me." Of course Verne didn't get any apology, just an indignant huff that if Verne's albums were given away, it was "good publicity," and if there were 100 or 200 Rapidshare downloads per album, why, that had to mean that a few people who bought the mp3 file would be delighted enough to buy the CD. Right?

As he got older, Verne gave up on pursuing the frustrating and humiliating game of trying to reason with people who felt entitled to give away music, and felt anyone who disagreed (including the creator of the music) should be subject to e-mail spam and other cyber-revenges and jihad. So Verne ignored the album photo & link guys who demanded "nice comments" for their "hard work." He stopped falling for the line "copyright owner can contact me by e-mail for link removal." Right. Except the blogger would e-mail back, "How do I know you're really Verne Langdon?" Meanwhile, if other rights owners simply had the file removed, the blogger would write: "Why didn't that prick have the courtesy to contact me directly, and ASK me to have the link removed?" No, Verne stopped dealing with the rationalizations, ego and ignorance of people like that.

Fortunately we don't have quite so many bloggers of this type around anymore. For one thing, blogs get taken down now, not just links. For another, there are so many blogs, it's hard to be a "star" and get zillions of "nice comments," which is what motivates most wanna-be's and "bathrobe boys" who are jealous of fame and having to actually be creative to earn it. So we've seen less intellectual property-wearing drag queens…adorning themselves in stolen goods to look glamorous. Many of these fools realize that all they've done is waste their time for a misplaced feeling of power, no better than slum dogs who write their graffiti tag all over toilet stalls and tenement walls. How ridiculous to fool yourself into thinking you're famous because you've got a blog for a hobby. While Verne's hardly famous, he could look back over the decades and feel like he accomplished something. He was paid for his work (blogs not withstanding) and had a good time being creative, finding paying outlets for his talents, and earning the respect of a lot of people who knew him by name, not some blog pseudonym or graffiti tag.

In the end, you can say that Verne Langdon was his own Renaissance man. He wanted to have his own radio show and in the 50's and 60's he did, including "Langdon After Dark" on KLOK in California. He wanted to write and produce music, and so he did, working with Korla Pandit, Jaye P. Morgan, and others. He became a friend of Mae West's, and could approach and engage a Karloff or Carradine not as a fan, but as a collaborator. His love of fantasy included collecting life masks of great horror stars (and grumbling over the bootlegs of them on eBay). He was among the artists monkeying around with putty and hair on the film "Planet of the Apes." He created life masks (and grumbled about the cheap copies of Lorre, Price and the others on eBay), helped create fantasy displays for "Castle Dracula" and other theme parks, and worked as a make-up artist on many classic TV shows from "Outer Limits" to "Carol Burnett."

I thought enough of Verne to buy the CD version of "Out of Love." What the hell. And he said, "Bless you!" So God bless Verne, for fulfilling his own dreams, freelancing to do what interested him, getting steady work as a make-up artist, and building an eccentric record label for himself and his friends. I think Verne probably knew he wasn't much of a singer, but his straight albums of ballads and country-tinged tunes were probably part-hobby and part demos for his songwriting. After all, "Old Folks," on the "Out of Love" album was later recorded by Jonathan Winters, and quite effectively. While a Carradine track of Poe "with pipes" or an organ instrumental would be good, I thought actually hearing Verne would be a better tribute, and "Carnival of Souls" is one of his better vocals…earnest, human, and a good example of why so many considered him a talented, sensitive soul.


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