Tuesday, March 6, 2012

recently i met Todd Rundgren in Oslo during the By:Larm festival... i didn't have much interaction with him (apart from suggesting he play "Open Your Eyes" by his early band Nazz at his gig the next day, which didn't go down well particularly) and listening in on his long, detailed, still-peeved-after-all-these-years anecdote about producing XTC's Skylarking and what a dick Andy Partridge was about how the record turned out. However looking him up just now I was struck by what a pioneer Rundgren was of the stuff to do with cover versions and that whole set of artistic strategies i'm calling recreativity, including self-covers and various forms of remixing, reproduction, and what Arram Sinnreich calls "configurable culture" i.e. stuff where the listener determines the final outcome:

1976's Faithful featured one side of original songs and one side of covers of significant songs from 1966, including the Yardbirds' "Happening Ten Years Time Ago" (the B-side of that Yardbirds single gave Nazz its name) and a nearly identical re-creation of the Beach Boys' "Good Vibrations". The cover of "Strawberry Fields Forever" in particular is uncannily accurate:

1991's 2nd Wind included several excerpts from Rundgren's musical Up Against It, which was adapted from the screenplay (originally titled "Prick Up Your Ears") that British playwright Joe Orton had originally offered to The Beatles for their never-made follow-up to Help!.

1980's release - as Utopia - Deface the Music an uncanny Beatles homage that borders on parody

[in a disturbing side note to Rundgren's Beatles-obsession: on the day Mark David Chapman shot and killed John Lennon, he left an eight-track tape of Rundgren's album Runt. The Ballad of Todd Rundgren, along with other artifacts, in his New York hotel room in an orderly semicircle on the hotel dresser. "I left it as a statement, I guess," he was quoted as saying in Let Me Take You Down: Inside the Mind of Mark David Chapman, the Man Who Killed John Lennon. Chapman had been obsessed with Rundgren and told Jones, "Right between the chambers of your heart is how Rundgren's music is to me. I cannot overestimate the depth of what his music meant to me." Some have speculated that the album Healing (Todd Rundgren album) was recorded partly as a therapeutic exercise in reaction to Chapman's obsession with Rundgren's music ( though Rundgren himself says he didn't learn of Chapman's obsession with him until years later, when books about Chapman were published.]

1993's No World Order Lite -- the first of Rundgren's recording under the pseudonym TR-i ("Todd Rundgren interactive")-- consisted of hundreds of seconds-long snippets of music that could be combined in various ways to suit the listener. Initially targeted for the Philips CD-i platform, No World Order featured interactive controls for tempo, mood, and other parameters, along with pre-programmed mixes by Rundgren himself.

1997's With a Twist -- Asked to produce an album of new versions of his older singles, Rundgren decided to record the songs in Bossa nova style with elements of Exotica, complete with tropical bird call effects at the beginning of Hello, It's Me similar to Martin Denny's recording Quiet Village. Continuing the theme, Rundgren toured theaters with a replica of a tiki bar, the performers on a very small stage with selected audience members being seated at tables also on the theater stage, and being served drinks by the monitor engineer/bartender. The performers never acknowledged the larger theater audience, and the show ended when the last "bar patron" left the stage.

2001 -- Rundgren joined artists such as Alan Parsons, The Who's John Entwistle, Heart's Ann Wilson and Ambrosia's David Pack for the successful "A Walk Down Abbey Road" tour, in which the musicians played their own hits alongside Beatles favorites. The also did a short tour of Japan in Winter of 2001. The following year's "sequel" tour ncluded Todd and Parsons returning, with a slightly changed lineup which featured Jack Bruce of Cream, Mark Farner of Grand Funk Railroad, Christopher Cross and Eric Carmen.

April 2011 -- Todd Rundgren's Johnson, a collection of Robert Johnson covers

September 2011 -- re:Production consists of covers of tracks he had previously produced for other acts, including Grand Funk Railroad's "Walk Like a Man" and XTC's "Dear God"

TR also participated in a strange "self-tribute band" /reunion outing called The New Cars where he stood in for the absent-and-unwilling Ric Ocasek


  1. Good to see another Todd Rundgren fan. They are becoming rare.