Roundabout this time of year, as the leaves fly and the pumpkins rise, I sometimes find myself playing the recordings of Judson Fountain. A true “outsider artist,” Fountain – with co-hort Sandor Weisberger – recorded a series of radio dramas (or, “drammers”, as Weisberger would say in his Brooklyn accent) in the late 1960s through the early 1970s. These were in the spirit of the spooky old horror and mystery radio shows of the 40s and 50s, but made with a much lower budget…and were much more weird. And often (usually, for that matter) unintentionally hilarious.
Though the notes for the first CD compilation (Completely in the Dark, issued in 2004) of some of these shows says Fountain made the recordings between the ages of 17 and 22, it was later revealed that he was actually between 35 and 40. To be honest, they sound more like the work of a young guy and not somebody with that extra maturity age can bring. This doesn’t diminish them – on the contrary, it’s kinda cool that he still had a boyish enthusiasm and the unvarnished creativity to make these crazy things.
From what I’ve read, though the “drammers” are amateur and recorded in a small studio utilizing a vinyl record of sound effects, they did find their way to various radio stations across the U.S. at the time. They were also issued on very limited pressings of vinyl records back then. These are what were used to make the two CD compilations issued by WFMU’s champion of outsider music, Irwin Chusid. A third was in the works, but for whatever reason has never appeared.
Fountain wrote the scripts himself and did a variety of voices, with Weisberger providing much of the story narration. The stories can be clunky and cliched, but are entertaining and funny despite (more accurately, because of) that. The voices…well, they have to be heard to be appreciated. He specialized in witches (he was voted “Best Witch in Radio,” as one of his old bio’s notes) and mean old men and hags. His voicings of those characters is so over-the-top, that you may find yourself a little disturbed at the same time you’re thinking “This guy can’t be serious, can he?” Yes, he was. “Imagine paint-sniffers aiming for the Firesign Theatre and hitting Plan 9 From Outer Space,” as one writer described Fountain’s productions.
Listening objectively, it would appear Fountain had a paranoia, or fear, of elderly people. They’re almost always scary and evil and are often witches in his stories. In the second CD compilation booklet (Dark Dark Dark Tales, 2008) there’s an interview with Fountain and Weisberger where Fountain talks about his childhood. His mother was crippled and hunchbacked, and his father was a Canadian who abandoned them (from the old vinyl record cover bio reproduced in Completely in the Dark: “All of you Canadians out there, the few that’s in N.Y., should be happy with Judson’s accomplishments. Because Judson is Canadian. A mixture of French, British, and Irish. He says that’s worse than being a wicked witch!”) I wonder, putting on my armchair psychologist hat, if his witch and hag voices (which he started doing at the age of 7) were his way of dealing with the “horror” of his mother’s condition. Humor as a coping mechanism. Of course, that’s just conjecture.
By 2008, when Dark Dark Dark Tales was released, Judson had disappeared. Chusid and the record label were still trying to find him when it was discovered that he had passed away at the age of 71 in 2005.
Brief Judson Fountain segment from a local cable TV show in 1985:
But we’ve still got the classic recordings to return to if we want to hear something…well, something very different from the norm.
YouTube has most of the selections from the CD’s. Some highlights (though you can’t go wrong with any of them) include:
[Announcer: “He saw a strange mist. He walked into it. But when he came through it, it seemed to have vanished — and everything seemed strange to him!” Landlord: “I say, this is strange! Where is that mist I came through?”]
“The Wax Museum” (featuring an impression of a singing old woman which sounds like Edith Bunker from the old Archie Bunker/All in the Family TV show on acid)
“The Garbage Can From Thailand”
[“Standing there in back of you, face-to-face, is now the old man you killed. He’s old, horrible-looking — and he’s dead!”]
“The Gorgon’s Head”
[“A suitcase that size is too small to hold clothes. It can only hold one thing: MONEY!”]