Monday, April 13, 2009

Rundgren visits DePauw campus

Rundgren visits DePauw campus
Thursday, April 9, 2009

He's been described as "rock's renaissance man," and on Wednesday night, Todd Rundgren was on the DePauw campus discussing music and technology. [Order this photo]

He's a renowned singer, songwriter, instrumentalist, record producer, video director and recording engineer.
In addition to having a successful career as a solo artist, he has worked with such acts as Meatloaf, Hall & Oates, The Tubes, New York Dolls, Cheap Trick and Grand Funk Railroad.

But on Tuesday, Todd Rundgren seemed to relish the opportunity to just be a musician kibbitzing with students about the ins and outs of the business when he visited DePauw University.

Rundgren did an interview with DePauw radio station WGRE. He then went to the DePauw Nature Park and enjoyed a catered dinner and conversation with students before speaking on "Music, Technology and Risk Taking" as part of DePauw's Ubben Lecture Series.

Rundgren called the title of his presentation a "page marker." He said he preferred to do things off the cuff and let them go in whatever direction they went.

"Ideally, you want to leave people with something practical," he said. "You want to talk about things they're interested in. It's the worst thing in the world to be boring. I know that, because I've been bored."

Rundgren has been involved in the music industry in some form or another pretty much since the day he graduated from high school. He formed his first band at the age of 18.

Rundgren said being a producer is "more than knowing what all the knobs do."

"There are a lot of unheralded aspects of being a producer," he said. "You also have to be a politician and a psychiatrist. You have to do some hand-holding and get between members of the band to work through things that probably should have been worked through before they got into the studio."

Originally, Rundgren only wanted to be a guitar player.

"I didn't have the fire in my belly for writing music at first," he said.

The band he formed just out of high school lasted about 18 months.

"The internal dynamic caused the whole thing to explode," he said.

Rundgren said when he realized the band needed new music, he stepped forward to write it. As he slowly began becoming more dominant in the band, the other members became resentful and the band disintegrated.

This led to Rundgren moving into producing ("I didn't want to be in a band and I wasn't ready to be a solo act"), and to his being labeled a "wunderkind" in the music business.

"I was really just young," he said. "Add a couple of years and it wouldn't have seemed so remarkable. The trick is, you just never believe your own hype. All I wanted was to make music, and as a fortunate consequence of that, I made a living."

Two of Rundgren's most popular ballads are "Hello, It's Me" (1973) and "Can We Still Be Friends" (1978).

"I don't really relate to any of my early stuff anymore," he said. "That's because a lot of it was fueled by this failed relationship. As your stuff gets older, you realize you're singing about things that mean less and less when you should be singing about things that mean more and more."

One of Rundgren's best-known works is the end-of-the-work-week radio staple "Bang the Drum All Day." The song, released in 1983, is played on radio stations nationwide on Friday afternoons, and has also become a celebration theme for sports teams such as the Green Bay Packers and the St. Louis Rams.

"The success of that song is completely organic," he said. "It's purposely cynical. The record label wasn't taking it seriously and didn't hear it as a single. It was just something that popped into my head while I slept."

Rundgren said he believes the song became popular "solely because of the line about banging on the boss's head."

"It's a party anthem, and at least once a year I get a request to use it in a commercial or a movie," he said. "I hate playing it live, though. I feel ape-like. My hands get tired, my ears get tired. But the audience loves it."

At the dinner before he presented his lecture, Rundgren sat down to talk with a small group of DePauw students, most of whom were music majors.

"Music was never a commodity, it was always a service," he said. "Record companies want guaranteed income. The problem is, there are no Michael Jacksons anymore."

Rundgren said he considered services like iTunes "an impediment to people finding new artists."

"Who wants to pay to listen to something they might not like?" he said.

Something that will never change, Rundgren said, is that bands and solo artists alike must keep performing live.

"If you can't turn record sales into ticket sales, you're not going to be around long," he said. "There are plenty of acts who've had a good record and gone nowhere. It takes more than having a good record."

Rundgren admitted that he doesn't listen to a lot of new music (and doesn't own an iPod).

"It all kind of blends together," he said. "Linkin Park spawned a lot of little Linkin Parks, and they all sound the same."

Rundgren was accompanied at DePauw by his wife of 10 years, Michele, and his second oldest son, Randy (the Rundgrens also have a 22-year-old son, Keoni, and a 17-year-old son, Rebop).

"We've been together for 24 years. I was his backup singer," Michele said. "We got married on his 50th birthday. He said he wanted to do something scary."

Michele was impressed with both DePauw and Greencastle.

"This campus is just beautiful," she said. "As we were coming into town, it was like, 'Oh my God, we're in the middle of nowhere.' Then we got into Greencastle and it was just so quaint."

The Rundgrens split their time between homes in Kauai, Hawaii, and San Francisco.

Rundgren is currently on tour. He will be in Kentucky today, then will travel throughout the Northeast before ending the tour in Chicago. After that, he plans on traveling to Tulsa to see his oldest son Rex, a shortstop for the minor league Tulsa Drillers, play.

After that, he plans on acting as a counselor at a rock music camp in Los Angeles, then returning to his home in Hawaii for a bit of relaxation before hitting the road again in June.

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