Monday, March 22, 2010
Can We Still Be Friends? : Todd Rundgren Part 1
My obsession with Todd Rundgren is 35 years strong. But I obsess as a fan, not a fanatic. I believe there is a difference. I am not one of those culty followers who accepts every toot, honk and fart the man releases as word. On the contrary, I'm more like the parent who expected his son to become a rich doctor, and with tough love, relentlessly reminded him as he continued to work bitterly for General Mills, that the reason he didn't was his own fault and not the fault of everyone else.
But I have never given up on the man. Many have. Some gave up as far back as 1973, first with the release of his now legendary, but then commercially calamitous "A Wizard/A True Star," and then with each subsequent release of mostly brilliant, though admittedly uneven and occasionally jarring platters of un-"Something/Anythings." S/A of course, is the 1972 double LP masterpiece that seems to be the thorn in Rundgren's side.
Later this year, Todd Rundgren will release "Todd Rundgren's Johnson," a wholly unnecessary collection of Robert Johnson covers. It's not that Todd isn't allowed to pay tribute to the blues man, or that he hasn't got the chops to pull it off. Todd's paid his dues. He can do what he wants...except that I don't believe for a second this is what he "wants." And if you've followed Todd for as long as I have, you know, if he doesn't "want it," you will see it in the performance. You can check out some of the live performances from the forthcoming tribute on You Tube. Here's "Crossroads." See what you think. I was left cold.
For a few days over the next week or two, I will be posting some Todd Rundgren gems, live and rare favorites of mine that may have slipped through the cracks of both the faithful and casual fans. With the help of Frank B. in Cleveland, I was able to plug some holes in my live collection. The choices won't be as random as they may seem. I've thought about the songs quite a bit. I also thought about posting some of the songs and experiments that have baffled me over the years, but then decided against it. I am here to praise Caesar, not bury him.
Today's selections highlight Todd Rundgren, the balladeer, the sensitive soul, the singer. My frustration and disappointment over these forthcoming Robert Johnson covers has led me to this. I really didn't need to be reminded about what I love about the man, but digging into the archives helps quell the frustration.
A song recorded for and released on Utopia's 1981 LP, "Swing To The Right," this performance is from a satellite broadcast from Levon Helm's, then not-as-hip barn, on 4th of July weekend of '81. And if memory serves, "Swing To The Right" was still being held up at Warner Brothers, so this is one of the first tastes of the new material. This entire show rates high for me thanks to the spirited performances and killer set list.
I'M LOOKING AT YOU, BUT I'M TALKING TO MYSELF
Another Utopia track, this one originally found on the 3-sided, self-titled, Network release of 1982. This performance is from a Thanksgiving concert aired on the USA network and later released on VHS as "An Evening With Utopia." The band had been previewing this material for a few months before the LP was released. I caught this show at Pier 82 in NYC, August of that year, and remembered being particularly moved by this song. I think it still holds up.
MAYBE I COULD CHANGE
I've been to hundreds of Todd and Utopia shows and listened to even more live tapes, and I have never heard Todd Rundgren sing this song. As you may or may not know, this appeared on the very uneven, Passport Records, 1984 Utopia album "Oblivion," with lead vocals by the always dependable Kasim Sulton. (Though I've been listening to "Oblivion" as I write this, and I have to admit, I am really enjoying it.)
This was Todd's 3rd label in as many years, and though the record contained a minor MTV hit in "Crybaby," most of it sounded like individual band member leftovers. ("Winston Smith Takes It On The Jaw," anyone?) There were some winners, specifically another Todd ballad, "If I Didn't Try." But it was "Maybe I Could Change," that really evoked the Todd of old. This performance is dated 12/1/83, which means Todd was possibly premiering it as a new song. Again, I want to thank Frank B. for this. A real treasure.
From 1989's lost masterpiece "Nearly Human," here is "Hawking," a song about Stephen Hawking and a song that never fails to leave me breathless. It's a song that sits among the Top Ten on my personal Todd faves list. This is a rare, solo version from 2003, that is not without its flaws, but Todd delivers in a big way.
Here is a song from 1995's misguided foray into electronica and rap, "The Individualist." This is a solo performance from the "Liars" tour of 2005 and one of the few, more conventional songs from that record. It is hauntingly beautiful and the type of song I wish Todd would revisit more often.
Tell me about your Rundgren faves and I'll try to feature them on future posts.