Wednesday, November 25, 2009


A Wizard: A True Star - An Interview with the Legendary Todd Rundgren
November 25, 1:08 PMClassic Rock ExaminerSonya Alexander
Todd Rundgren
onlineseats.comAt the end of the 60s, in the haze of the late stage of Beatles pop culture craze, lots of young men wanted to form bands. Some did so successfully, others didn't. One who did so successfully was the inimitable, enigmatic Todd Rundgren, who's progressive outlook and true musical skills keep his music as fresh, intimate and satisfying as a long embrace from an old friend. I recently had the good fortune of interviewing this brilliant, humble man via phone. Since he lives in an area of Hawaii considered the "Kansas of the islands" because of the frequent power outages, it took us a couple of tries to connect, but we eventually did.

Examiner: How long have you lived in Hawaii?

TR: I started coming here in the mid-70s to unlax. After Hurricane Iniki hit in 1992, I figured that would be the best time to get some property here.

Examiner: Does your family live there with you?

TR: My children, I have five, are all grown up. My wife comes and goes, depending on what projects she's working on. I enjoy being alone, I enjoy my own company. It's the best thing for my work.

Examiner: You've had many personas as a performer. Which one are you now?

TR: A performing artist. I'm touring now. Have four dates on the mainland coming up. Like to mix it up by doing live shows. We already performed seven shows this past September and we'll be in Amsterdam and England next year.

Examiner: How was it doing "Live from Daryl's House," working with Daryl Hall again? How was it to work in such a casual atmosphere as opposed to in front of an audience?

TR: It was fun and relaxed. We cooked sausage. There was no rehearsal. though, and no dallying around once we started. Daryl and I have toured together before, as recently as a couple of months ago, at the closing of the Spectrum in Philly. In the early 70s, I did the album "War Babies" with him.

Examiner: You've toured with Ringo Starr and His All-Star Band. How was that experience?

TR: Fun. That was a while back. Toured with him a couple of times.

Examiner: Who were some of the musicians that were part of the group when you toured?

TR: Let's see....Nils Lofgren, Joe Walsh, Simon Burke, Burton Cummings, Zak Starkey, Ringo's son. He rotates the group, so it's always a different line-up.

Examiner: How would you define "rock and roll"?

TR: It's not a term, but a period of music, just like 'folk music'. People like to think that any music that has a guitar is rock and roll...that's not so. The Beatles weren't even rock and roll, though some of their earlier tunes were. They were pop. They grew into something more sophisiticated than rock and roll.

Examiner: How did you get into music?

TR: Well, the Beatles redefined music during those times. They showed that if you got four guys together, it was feasible to accomplish something in music. My first band was Woody's Truck Stop, which was kind of bluesy. Nazz was built from the remnants of that group. Its sound was more like The Who, the Beach Boys sound.

Examiner: You had an androgynous look during your early solo career. What was that influenced by?

TR: It was the times. Glam rock, dressing up, was in. Jazz musicians even went from suits to sequined dashikis! Might break out some of the same costumes on this tour, with some alterations...!

Examiner: What is it that you love about music?

TR: That it's essentially mystical. You don't really know how it works, really how you're able to affect people's emotions. It's magic. It's what keeps me interested. The depth, the subtlety. I guess I'm lucky that I was born with a sensibility to not only use the medium for myself, but to also know when it's working. A musician has some obstacles to overcome that are unique to his vocation. I was into record producing early on, so that keeps me going when I'm not singing. Some musicians are forced to do other things besides music if they don't do more than one thing.

Examiner: What do you think of current music?

TR: The most economically stable seems to be hip hop. But that doesn't mean I'll be doing a song with Kanye West anytime soon! Many of the rock bands are leveraging Blink 182, but that's losing energy. A lot of today's music is phenomenal, but doesn't have legs. Music is in natural hibernation. Live performance is the essence of music. If a performer can perform live, he can always make a living. If a performer can make a million in a year in record sales, he can make a million a month performing on the road because the split is completely different between record sales and live performance.

Examiner: What are some of your favorite songs?

TR: Oh, probably most of Burt Bacharachs. (laughs)

Examiner: What are some of your songs that are your favorites?

TR: I don't think about that. I don't like to think of myself defined by a single song, that's too simple. I like to focus on what I haven't done yet.

Examiner: What inspires your music?

TR: Silence inspires my writing. I'm always looking for transcendance in my music. I like to write about things that matter to me and that are revelatory.

Examiner: If you had to pick one word to describe you, what would it be?

TR: Contrarian. (laughs) I'm not that way on purpose. I like to do what only I can do, which is usually what no one else wants to do...!

Examiner: Every venue is different, has different types of audiences. Any you prefer?

TR: There are some I refuse to play.

Examiner: Which ones?

TR: Bogard's in Cincinnati. Didn't like the venue itself. They had shoddy hiring practices, crew would show up high or drunk, then disappear as soon as the show was over. A musician should be able to transform a venue and make it uniquely his own. I had an album called Arena, and during that time, only played one arena, but I still had to create that ambiance wherever I was. Often musicians play gigs they get, not that they want.

Examiner: Anyone you haven't worked with who you'd like to?

TR: Well, I think that creating heroes is dangerous because you're ultimately disappointed. But, if I had to name someone I have reverance for, I'd say, as a songwriter, Elvis Costello, and, as a guitarist, Eric Clapton.

Examiner: Anything happening with

TR: No, not really. I'm not into social networking, though I pioneered its use. I'm not that needy of attention and I don't have an agenda. I don't even own a cellphone!

Examiner: Are you prepping for your upcoming California show?

TR: No. Those seven shows we did recently were prep. I'm currently finishing up an album of Robert Johnson's songs. Delivering them to my label in about a week. Little difficult because everyone's covered him, so I'm trying to make sure my take isn't pedantic. I'm not a blues singer, I've done R&B. There's a difference. Blues is straight ahead. I do tend to move straight ahead, though, in the way that I work, and try not to run into a wall!

Examiner: What's the name of the album?

TR: Todd Rundgren's Johnson.

Todd has four upcoming shows in December. Don't miss a chance to see this proto-glam rock necromancer of ingenius songs do his thing. For more information, go to:

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