Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Todd Rundgren And The Five Stages Of Grief

Picture this:

Four guys in New York Yankees gear, sitting in upper boxes right behind home plate in Yankee Stadium, drinking beer and being "those" guys. It was 1987, and Rickey Henderson was leading off in the bottom of the first inning. The jeers were brutal. The game didn't even start...really. Lots of "you sucks," and "your dones" before anything really began. This display of appalling behavior grew more visceral with each of Rickey's at bats.

Nine innings might as well be 40 years, when your team can't seem to hit that homerun when you need it. I can't recall the actual set up in the 9th, but for innings one, three, and seven, Rickey's whiffs and poofs made the stank of the Bronx River Avenue subway station almost fruity. The 9th was a fairy tale. I don't remember details, but you can set it up yourself. Anything will do. Rickey's up for one last time, and those guys...drunker...continue.

"You're finished Rickey!" "Its over!"  "MARY!"

 (Yeah. "Mary." I heard it. I swear. Probably, a few more "you sucks," too. I can't confirm.)


Rickey won the game. One of the 4 guys went berserk. He removed his Yankees windbreaker to reveal an official Rickey Henderson, Oakland A's jersey. He was screaming and flailing so hard, he almost spilled his 6th beer.  It was tough love for the first 3 at bats. It was true love and respect in the end.

And then there's Todd Rundgren.

I think I've finally and satisfyingly made it through the "five stages" of Todd Rundgren Grief.

DENIAL: "No World Order"

This 1993 foray into electronica, rap, and interactive entertainment had its moments of pure Todd. But no matter how many faithful stabs I made at trying to embrace this music, I couldn't. I always found myself thinking, "I guess 'Bang On The Drum All Day' isn't that bad." Innovative? Maybe. Unpleasant? Most definitely.

ANGER: "The Individualist"

More rap and more frustrating. There were spectacular songs here, sabotaged again by something the man wasn't born to do. Rap.

FYI: I really don't want to hear The Beastie Boys doing Philly soul ballads either. It's not about rap, which I enjoy. It's about Todd Rundgren rapping, which I don't.

"Live From Daryl's House"

Two episodes of Daryl Hall's groundbreaking webcast found two old Philly friends wearing very comfortable shoes. The result was some of the best music either artist had produced in years. Sure, it was old material, but it was inspired. I'd give anything to hear a new collaboration.

DEPRESSION: "reProductions"

The nadir of my hero's output. Soulless and uninspired techo-takes on songs the man had produced for others. This might have worked with a band and some guidance and...well...a record label that cared. I don't blame the man so much. We work because we need to work. But I still don't like it. Actually, I don't don't like it. I hate it.  Like, it really makes me miserable. That type of don't like.

ACCEPTANCE: Todd Rundgren. A Wizard. A True Star. A man that has inspired me in more ways than I could or should divulge.

Todd Rundgren is 63 years old. He has paid his dues and I'm happy that he still makes music. Any music. The Utopia reunion shows of 2011 were a dream come true for the late, great Moogy Klingman, not to mention so many fans. I saw two of them. One with Moog and sadly, one without. I'm critical. And sometimes, I'm an asshole. But like Rickey Henderson's fans at Yankee Stadium, I just wanted what I knew was there. I just wanted to not only be reminded, but see up close and in person, why I loved Todd Rundgren in the first place.

Then there's this:

From 9/24/11, this is Todd Rundgren with the Metropole Orkest.


40 years after its intial release, "Wailing Wall" from Todd's second album, "The Ballad Of Todd Rundgren," gets a Bacharach makeover. I'll keep to myself just what it did to me on the first listen. (Second listen, too.) It may not be perfect, but it is what it is. I think that's what is most satisfying.

I do hope Todd Rundgren happens upon something to inspire a new record of original material. 2005's "Liars" was a critical success, and a personal fave. Whatever's next, I am ready. I'm retiring from giving the man a hard time.

"You can say what you will about me
talk is cheap and I don't mind
When you lay your life down in them grooves
you know you're bound to get scratched up sometime"


Jeff Matthews said...

Not all is forgiven, but this does remind me of what I used to find magical about Todd.
Ballad of TR is one of those very deeply personal albums for me - very few of my musical cognoscenti friends have heard or even know this work so I felt it was my own special secret. When I finally met Todd a few years ago he was amused that I used lyrics from Chain Letter as my high school yearbook quote ("I was only trying to say how things used to be/'Til we grew up and we all went our separate ways/Looking for our own paths to immortality").
Last year Patterson Hood did a wonderful cover of "The Range War" on his Murdering Oscar solo album, reinforcing my respect and adoration for him, DBT, and TR.

Albert said...

Sal, I was lucky enough to witness first hand the genesis of your love affair with all things Rundgren.....the solo stuff, the two distinct Utopia configurations, etc......he's touched my life in ways that go beyond pure musical brilliance also...his music mirrored time points in my life that in memory, only his music could conjur....your imaginative rollercoaster representation of this depth is quite accurate....the ups, downs and in-betweens....and he'll always deserve our faith in that what comes next will ALWAYS earn our attention, at the very least....I can't think of another "true star" more deserving....not one....

cmealha said...

I agree with you on every point except for Liars but this recording and the LFDH sessions remind me of his genius and talent and keeps the ember of hope alive. He has really produced so much astounding stuff that I need to be reminded once in a while so that I stop coming down so hard on him sometimes. It's selfish. If he doesn't do anything else we should be thankful for all the beautiful music he's already given us. Thanks for the reminder.

Sal Nunziato said...

Nice words from you guys. Some of my musical cognoscenti friends like "The Ballad" so much, they're not even that familiar with all of "Something/Anything?"

And Albert and Cmealha--I would have been satisfied with S/A, but it was your Todd collections that created this monster. Mealha, lending me "The Ballad" and me never returning it. Albert, you and I fighting over the only copy of AWATS at Titus-Oaks. I lost and went home with Jobriath instead.

Anything Should Happen said...

Great post Sal!

I think we both know that we agree on most of Todd's stuff.

Liars was a great album, but I'm not sure if it's made to sound better by what's gone before and after.

However, he doesn't owe us anything now, he could easily just tour a back cat set list and throw in a few surprises, yet he continues to try.

He has this ability to get you infuriated and not many artists do that, but you just think there's more.

The stuff he has produced and the fairy dust he's sprinkled on others are enough really.

He's always been tech savvy and probably realises that people who want new albums are diminishing and so he's constantly looking for new ways to present his songs and work his back catalogue.

His varies 2011 gigs have shown that once more, whatever Todd you want he can do it and the Metropole shows were amazing.

I caught him in the Uk and again it was just an evening to bask in the talent.

Another artist of the same vintage is Ian Hunter, he just gets lazy and needs a push, he needs someone saying that something is crap to him and he can do better.

Sometimes you feel that Todd is so used to controlling everything that there isn't this input.

If he stopped now, it would be enough. The one travesty was that his back catalogue was unavailable for so long, which is now being remedied by Edsel.

I'm sure the next generation could learn a thing or two by listening to some of that stuff.

Anonymous said...

Just for a different perspective, I have only started listening to TR within the last six months. During that time, S/A has become one of my all time favorite albums and I have spent considerable time and effort diving into his other work as a result. His work has become incredibly personal to me but it can also be tedious listening through some of his shall we say less-stellar work (still don't get onionhead). Overall, its a very rewarding experience but one that can demand alot of patience. I always seem to get into artists after they die (warren zevon), so its quite refreshing listening to an older artist's previous work who is still kicking it! While I understand the fustration with his later work,I have the benefit of having good "new" TR music still to explore.

wardo said...

Very nice. (And that's coming from a Red Sox fan.)

It's posts like this, and the music it describes, that encourage me to finally indulge in albums newer than "Faithful".

A guy called Tak said...

After listening to "Wailing Wall", I thought to myself "somebody should make a broadway musical about TR. If 4 Seasons can do it, why not TR?".
Sal, do you have the whole show?

Sal Nunziato said...


Yes. I'll get it you. Check back on Saturday.

misospecial said...

i got so exasperated back in the mid-'70s that i experienced a sort of todd shutdown and only checked in once a decade or so for... 30 years. then i got a grip and started listening to all i'd missed as well as revisiting the stuff i had loved the first time around (a lot of which had held up with crystalline grace, still fresh and indelibly itself). he's a piece of work, isn't he? i finally gave up evangelicalizing for todd a while ago—mostly, anyway; the hours are long and the pay is lousy... but sometimes he still catches me unawares, like in his graceful, eloquent statement at moogy's memorial service. not to detract from your excellent "five stages" conceit, but it's also like a long marriage: if you stick together long enough, maybe all that stuff that drove you crazy gets less important, and you start seeing the person in front of you (instead of the person you imagined)... anyway, thanks so much, well done.

buzzbabyjesus said...

No doubt he's talented, but I never "got" Todd, and know nothing of his music besides the hits. I have the Singles Collection, and yardsale vinyl copies of S/A and Todd, but have never listened to them.
I'm moved by all the love I see here to give them a spin.

Anonymous said...

I liked your Rundgren rant. Though I don't agree with everything the fact that you wrote it at all just rocks!
Here's a FLAC torrent of the Metropole Orchestra Show from 9-24-2011.

Shriner said...

My feelings about Todd (and I have most of his albums -- and all Utopia albums) are that there hasn't been an album as thoroughly excellent as "The Ballad..." -- ever.

S/A -- while great -- has a few clunkers. I can't deny the pop single excellence of "I Saw The Light", though.

Acapella was probably the only album that ever came close to being as brilliant as TBOTR (and that one scares off many people...)

I never got "Todd" or "A Wizard...", Hermit or "Runt" as complete albums. And TR-I sucked and is the only album I actually removed from my iTunes library so it couldn't come up randomly -- ever.

Maybe it's just me.

But I lurve "The Ballad..." from start to finish.

A guy called Tak said...

>Yes. I'll get it you. Check back on Saturday.

Sal, I can't wait!
Thank you very much.

Sal Nunziato said...

Hey Tak!

A guy called Tak said...

Thank you, Sal.
It's just wonderful performance.
"Pretending To Care" - my favorite TR song - was done the way it should be arranged. Beautiful piece.
Thank you again.

Leon said...

Thanks for the written piece, and also for the link to that entire 9-24-11 show Sal - awesome...

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the broadcast Sal.
I was there that night having made it the focus of a 2 week visit to The Netherlands and Belgium. Couldn't see much, far too many tall Dutch people in attendance. Stood at the back and listened to the music. Bag Lady almost tipped me over the edge. A great gig, knew it would be here if anywhere for a share. Thanks again.
Steve Fudge