Todd Rundgren may not be a well-known artist for most of the younger generation, but many would have had good use of this multi-talented musician and producer to improve their work. Rundgren is still going strong in a career going all the way back to 1967. His latest product, released in May 2015, is a collaboration with a Norwegian “Space-disco” duo called “Runddans”. While working on this album, I hope Mr. Rundgren found the time to take a quick trip across the border to Sweden and visit the birthplace of his Grandfather in Norrtälje, a small city with 17,000 inhabitants a short trip north of Stockholm.
Have a nice read!
Rundgren loses Marbles
“Obsessed with colour geometry” says US psychotherapist
By Richard Cromelin
UTOPIA: “Any condition, place or situation of social or political perfection. Any idealistic goal or concept for social and political reform…”
TODD RUNDGREN: The runt of the litter, America`s pop-music whizz kid, first in freaked-out fashion consciousness, electronic legerdemain, commercial balladry. Maker of his own myth, canny surveyor of the generation and its music. Genius, or perhaps just an uncommonly crafty dispenser of excess…
WAIT! CANCEL above Rundgren entry…Revise to:
Musical guru, rejecting cynicism but, in turn, exhibiting severe cynicism toward the prevailing clime of the music scene. Now master of the radical turnabout, having replaced peacock-feather facial adornment preoccupation with self-awareness and spiritual/mental development, having abandoned teenage ditties in favour of the massive, complex music of “Utopia”… Enough. Explain please.
Alright. We`ll just let the man himself kick it off and see where it goes:
“What we`re trying to do as a band, and what I`ve always tried to develop, is a refinement of the attitude aspect of things rather than the sensory aspect. The idea is not to be sensational because everybody`s being sensational, or because the music isn`t good enough to make it by itself. The idea is to create a total environment, if you want to call it that, that draws people into a state of mind rather than just causes them to freak out.
“As an artist I feel my influence is in terms of example. It`s not in terms of me convincing people by selling so many records that I become considered an authority about where things are at music-wise. I like to do things by example…
“You are put there as an example of what a person with less so-called talent would do if they were in a performing situation. That`s how you get fans. They identify with you not necessarily because of what you say but because of the kind of person you are. So the band`s and my own performances are just trying to gain ground in that area and to make clearer and more obvious an example of an ideal.
“Some people will set an example of, say, excessive materialism, or excessive sensuality, or excessive abuses of any kind. And our ideal is balance – the overused world `Perfection`. That`s why it`s `Utopia`. It doesn`t mean there is or ever will be such a thing, but it means there is a direction, there is this” – Todd jerks his right thumb toward the ceiling, the left toward the carpeted floor of his hotel room. “There`s up and down, and we`re just headed in the opposite direction of the way a lot of other things are.”
OK, CATCH your breath for a second…Todd Rundgren is not the Sir Thomas More of the rock world. His 20th century exposition of Utopia is vaguely defined, attainable only by struggling through cryptic imagery and mysterious symbology.
The question, obviously (or so it seems), is whether rock`n`roll fans are ready, first to puzzle it out and then to apply this message of Balance and Perfection to their sordid, affluent little lives. Todd thinks that maybe they are, but then he doesn`t really care that much.
“There has to be a desire to see something initially,” he says. “It`s hard to give people the desire to want to unravel whatever it is you`re talking about. I hope to be able to do that in terms of mystique.
“That`s the reason why we go to so much trouble on The Midnight Special; to sit on the blue box and fiddle around and invent all these weird visuals, is to take things out of the mainstream and add some mystique, so that people might want to know what it`s about, out of curiosity, out of a desire to be high. If they don`t desire to find out what it`s about, then they don`t desire to find anything out, so they just desire to go on the way they are and that`s it.
“A Red polygon is only red polygon if it knows it`s a red polygon…I guess. I mean anybody that doesn`t care what a red polygon is doesn`t care, doesn`t realise that it might be applying to a human being, or even to them. When I say red polygon I might be saying, `You, all you want to do is get high`, and the way to do it is by experience, is by putting the combinations together and see what works the best. But it`s not by sitting on your ass and doing nothing” – Hold it, hold it. Back up. You want to run through that again? Getting high, everybody knows, but what`s with the red polygon? Did it escape from a maths class or something?
Right. Sorry. Todd was in Los Angeles to tape “The Midnight Special” television show. The entire band played a couple of numbers, then Todd went to a smaller set and assumed the lotus position on a blue wooden box placed before a backdrop of the same colour. He seemed to float in the painted sky, his purple-and-yellow checkered oriental robe hanging crazily in the void, while on the monitor screen hanging overhead his gaunt form, magically reduced to the proportions of a toy, could be seen swaying amid colourful swirls and patterns…Mystique!
He sang acapella, that untrained, meandering voice (not without some teenage longing left in it) chanting about the red polygon become the blue triangle ending each verse with “I was born to synthesize”.
The following day, Todd deciphers: The first premise, he explains, is that this generation was born with a compulsion to get high (by any means available). Getting high is, by definition, an upward sensation. Now, red is on the low end of the spectrum, whereas blue does its stuff up near the ultraviolet end. The polygon is a weak, disordered, complex, aimless form, while the sturdy triangle is the simplest and most stable. So it`s an upward movement, symbolised in form and colour, toward balance and completeness.
ALRIGHT. WE`LL proceed to – what do you mean you don`t care and you want to hear “Hello It`s Me”? You haven`t learned a thing, have you? OK, Todd, give it to `em!
“People like to project things. They like to project their own shallowness and ignorance on other people so they don`t know that nothing else exists. What I have to do, what the band has to do, is to prove that something else exists, to prove it in the most obvious manner, which means nowadays not talking but doing it, being it, and not letting up your guard, slipping back into that self-indulgence again…
“I`m idealistic, and to me that`s what rock `n` roll is – is alternatives. Unfortunately, when the economy tightens up, the alternatives become less and less as people do things for a living. They want to fall in line so they can get that last buck”.
Are there, tangled in with all the dead faces, dulled brains, frighteningly decomposed spirits that comprise the typical American rock audience, people who will find haven in Utopia? Isn`t that asking a lot?
“I think they`re desperate enough,” says Todd. “I mean probably the reason that we do it is out of desperation. It`s a lot easier to degrade yourself. It`s a lot easier not to exhibit any ideal, but just live second to second for total consumption and self-gratification. And just for whatever reason, nobody in this particular band or organisation found that satisfying.”
The great Rundgren horse face is still a comical, cartoon visage, right up there with Rod Stewart and Robin Trower, and there remains, obviously, a recognition of the need for humour and flash in presentation. But there`s to be no compromise. Even Todd`s shortened hair, now devoid of chemical tint, brings a note of austerity into the picture (as does the white-clad Utopia`s neat, uncluttered, pristine stage show). Todd is aware that he`s going to lose the people who hailed him as a saviour of the commercial pop-song idiom in America, as well as those who simply responded instinctively to his flippancy, his flamboyance, and his eccentricity.
But he`s sincere when he says that he isn`t after success as it`s conventionally defined and, true enough, he makes enough money as a producer to avoid the usual commercial pressures.
So take it or leave it. Think what you will. Laugh at him.
“People can laugh at me and it doesn`t bother me. People can say `He`s turned into Donovan Leitch?` Well, I know better. I know how much more balanced my life is than the average life…A lot of people come because they want to see me do `Hello It`s Me`. But I have to do whatever I feel is the best thing to do, and if I discover that they don`t like what I do, then I`ll just do it by myself.”
I have personally transcribed this from the original paper and you are free to use it as you like. If you use it on your own webpages – please credit me or put up a link to my blog.
This number of New Musical Express also contains articles/interviews with these people: Status Quo, Bryan Ferry, Robin Trower, Alan Freeman, David Bowie, Elton John, Larry Coryell, Hank Marvin, Eric Clapton, Kursaal Flyers.
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