In the idiom of rock ‘n roll,the “rock world” as it were there is an overwhelming earnestness that less is always (and without fail) more. Even in the sexual revolution of the late 1970’s New York’s infamous and iconic punk club CBGB’s had an unspoken rule for their bands: no more than three chords. Many of the progressive rock bands of the 70’s with operatic arrangements and literary fiction inspired fantasy lyrics went very much against that. On the other hand there was another side to progressive music. And one that wasn’t necessarily based purely in rock ‘n roll either. This could be based in jazz,soul,funk or a little from all three. And as far as the lyrical themes of the music? There was one person who spoke on that level in an intelligent yet thoughtful manner that spoke directly to the reality of human beings-for those willing to listen. He produced,wrote and even played every not on his records as well. His name is Todd Rundgren. And today he turns 65 years old.
Todd was a Philledelphia native who started off in more blues and rock oriented bands such as Woody’s Truck Stop and (more famously) Nazz in the late 60’s before striking out on his own to sign with Bearsville records and released his debut album Runt in 1971. A year later he released a third album entitled Something/Anything which earned him two major pop hits in “I Saw The Light” and “Hello Its Me”. Though even his most pop oriented songs were far more musically challenging than others,he had been experimenting with mind altering drugs as with many other musicians of the time. Interestingly enough this didn’t lead him down any great path of decadence, but towards a series of albums from the early to mid 70’s that dealt with the most complex aspects of human consciousness and social progress. Rather than simply recite upon classic literature in his lyrics as much progressive music at the time was doing, Todd’s lyrics sought the enlightenment through the soul as well as through the intellect. Some of this spiritual symbolism may have led to the phrase “Todd is god”.
The musical contributions of Todd Rundgren could easily fill up five blogs this size to cover the breadth and scope of it. Known even early on as a producer of some renown his reputation as a musical Rumpelstiltskin,spinning musical straw into musical goal in exchange for production credits (sometimes not always founded depending on who your talking to) for artists such as Badfinger,New York Dolls, Patti Smith Group,Meatloaf,XTC and fellow Philly natives Daryl Hall & John Oates-whose blend of singer/songwriter pop,rock and soul/funk music evolved on a somewhat similar musical course to Rundgren. Though an avid multi instrumentalist, Rundgren’s production trademark has tended to be a gigantic and fully arranged sound owing a great deal to both Phil Specter and Frank Zappa. Todd’s rock ‘n roll side comes out in his talents as a guitar player, which comes to bare quite a bit on stage work both alone and with Utopia, a band he assembled in the mid 70’s and with whom he recorded with relative regularity until the mid 80’s.
Still recording today and continuing to grow and experiment, Todd Rundgren’s life has been less about a musical career than a musical journey that will likely never come to full circle until the day he draws his last breath of life. Sometimes his level of talent and musical output is too intensely passionate,lyrically and instrumentally, for the listener to handle. In my own personal case, this quality drew me towards listening to him. For those music lovers who react with fear to anything they don’t fully understand immediately, and all too many music lovers are but would likely not admit to being that way, would dismiss this quality as being pretentious and egocentric. That goes against Todd’s personal persona-which is often self-effacing to the point of being aloof and shyly eccentric. I am going to try to tell more of his story here through videos that talk about his musical journey thus far and some of his unconventional takes on what he hears around him. As the reality of few days being ahead for him than behind such as humans live and die, I can only look forward to how his musical journey will continue to play out.