When John Austin walks down the street, people stop to talk to him — even though they don't understand a word he says.
That's because he can talk backwards. And not in the order-of-words backwards where you say "Doing you are how?" instead of "How are you doing?"
Backwards like "Gniod uoy era woh?"
He's created a name for himself, "Backwords Dude," with an eponymous YouTube channel, and has captivated audiences across oceans both on TV and online with his incredible ability to take phrases — and even entire songs — flip them around in his brain and recite them backwards. His most popular video has 61,000 views.
He attributes the zany talent to spending too much time alone with a broken record player as a kid.
Austin, 49, was the product of his dad's fourth marriage and his mom's first. His father was a traveling electronics salesman, and his mother was a stay-at-home mom. He had a half-brother and a half-sister who were much older.
He remembers being 5 and being obsessed with his record player. It stopped spinning one day, and young John realized that if he spun his Mary Poppins record backwards with his finger, the songs would play in reverse.
The new sounds lit him up inside. Then he moved on to music his older siblings and parents listened to: Alice Cooper and Frank Sinatra.
He memorized how words sounded backwards — not only the order the letters, but the accents and the inflection. He'd make recordings of himself talking backwards, and replicating other sounds, too, like an old ceiling fan.
His parents didn't know how to handle his differences. "They'd say, 'Don't do that. People are going to think it's strange,' " he recalled. He was moved into a class for kids with autism.
The one place where he felt comfortable was at the movies. While other people would focus on the screen, he'd look longingly through the hole in the back wall and stare at the projector, amazed by how the machinery made pictures and sound come to life.
One day in 1978, while watching "Return from Witch Mountain," then 8-year-old John approached an employee with a request: Can I go up to the projection booth? A man with a flannel shirt, cowboy hat and mustache came down and offered to bring him and his mom up.
"He was the coolest thing I'd ever seen," Austin said.
The projectionist, John Evans, formed a friendship with his young admirer. He taught the boy the tricky task of "changeovers," or switching reels in the middle of a movie.
"He looked at my mom one day and he said, 'Your son is so smart,' " Austin recalled. "He said, 'People come in here and it takes them awhile to get this. I don't think you realize how smart your son is.' "
Austin eventually got a diagnosis: Asperger syndrome.
"I wanted to cry," he said. "All of a sudden, somebody told me who I was."
In 2018, he appeared on "The Gong Show," and in August of this year he was on "Germany's Got Talent." He sang a song in what sounded like gibberish. But when producers played his singing backwards, the crowd roared with applause and the judges jumped to their feet.