Hello, It's Him: Todd Rundgren revels in being an All-Starr
These days,Todd Rundgren just wants to have fun. After 45 years forging one of the most unique careers in rock, he’s earned it.
Six years ago, that meant surprising fans by joining The Cars. Two years ago, it meant co-teaching for two weeks at Indiana University. This year, it means going back to an old favourite – Ringo Starr and His All-Starr Band.
“I wouldn’t be doing it if it wasn’t fun,” says the rock chameleon, who turns 64 next week. “Believe me, I’m a quality of life person. I don’t put off until some year down the line (to) enjoy my life, I want to enjoy it now.”
Rundgren is enjoying every minute of his third go-round with the All-Starr Band, having played during the 1992 and 1999 tours. For him, it’s simple: He loves playing with people who don’t have anything left to to prove. Like himself, they’ve done it all, enjoyed some time at the top, and now just dig playing with a Beatle.
A student of popcraft in the early days, Rundgren’s Beatles influence is all over his garage rock band Nazz and early solo hits like Hello, It’s Me and Couldn’t I Just Tell You. He describes sharing the stage with Starr as “a karmic debt.”
“So many of us would not be in this business but for the template The Beatles defined. They said the bar is not as high as you think it is, you just have to have the desire and commitment to do this, and there’s a possibility for you to succeed. God knows where I’d be otherwise … I’m not suited to conventional labour!”
No sooner did Rundgren position himself as a major pop artist with 1972’s classic double album Something/Anything? than he started to distance himself from stardom with experimental albums. He disappeared off the charts, but his cult following only grew.
“As I matured, I realized that maybe celebrity wasn’t the most important aspect of it,” he says. “That was a hugely attractive thing (at first), to have total strangers supplicate you just because you were in a certain band. But once I had the experience of it, I realized you have to remind yourself to care about the music.”
“So I readjusted my life to focus more on the music than the other more superficial aspects of it.”
Since the mid ‘70s, Rundgren’s career has been one unpredictable curve after another: Producing Meat Loaf’s classic Bat Out of Hell, providing the back-up band for a Shaun Cassidy album, making one of the first videos (Time Heals) to air on MTV, co-developing a computer screensaver system called Flowfazer, and singing for The Cars before original singer Ric Ocasek returned.
Mark David Chapman was obsessed with his music, and left a Rundgren 8-track in his hotel room the night he assassinated John Lennon.
He even raised Liv Tyler (Steve’s daughter) for the first nine years of her life, believing he was her natural father.
Even playing the All-Starrs for a third time is a surprise, since Rundgren rarely does the same thing twice. And while it’s a challenge learning songs that aren’t his, it’s a two-hour party with friends on stage.
“What I’ve learned through the years of playing … as you get older, it’s about ‘the hang.’ If you’re with good people, and they’re good musicians on top of it, it is nothing but enjoyable.”
“When there’s one guy in there dragging it down, it can ruin the whole thing. None of that is here.”