Lex On Todd Rundgren

 

Something / Anything.

During independent study time in my junior high school World History class, Momma B. would play music via cassette tapes. Sometimes it was music that I was totally familiar with (like Sgt. Pepper by the Beatles). Sometimes, it was something that my 14-year old brain just couldn’t comprehend, like “world music.”

One day, she played side two the then-current album The Ever Popular Tortured Artist Effect by Todd Rundgren. That second side started with a version of “Tin Soldier” by Small Faces (who I learned about during the previous summer). Then something happened – the song that followed sounded like a page out of Gilbert and Sullivan called “Emperor of the Highway.”

 

I am the emperor of the highway,
This time I think you are out-classed
For my uncle is the Duke of the state police
And he will place his royal boot upon your ass

 

After class, I asked her to play “Emperor” again and again, as well as the hit from that particular album, “Bang On The Drum.” After school, I hauled ass to Record Retreat (still the best record store ever). I bought a copy of Effect, plus a couple of 45 RPM singles, to get familiar with Todd’s work. At the time, I barely knew Todd Rundgren’s name but he would become one of my biggest musical inspirations.

“I Saw The Light” and “Hello It’s Me” were songs that I had heard on the radio while growing up. They were great pop songs, but went unnoticed by my young “AM radio ears” until the early 80s. I played those singles over and over again. Both songs were on a double album called Something / Anything.

(Sidebar – At age 14, a double album was a MAJOR investment for me – I had a small allowance that let me buy 1 album every two weeks. There was no choice of “cherry picking” the songs that moved you, like today. When one invested in a double album, one HAD to put aside the time to listen to ALL of it. I have to admit, I was gun-shy about buying a double album by someone whose work I had only discovered days before.)

Momma B. loaned me her cassette copy of Something / Anything during a trip to the Getty Museum. I took it home to dub, and to study. Before side one was finished, I knew that I had to have my own copy. I ran to Record Retreat, bought a vinyl copy and spent the rest of the weekend playing the hell out of that double album. It was AM pop, FM rock, power pop, operetta, ballads, torch songs, studio chatter and absolutely musical. It was fun, it was serious, it was “something / anything.” It turned into one of my favorite albums.

With the exception of side four (the studio side that included “Hello It’s Me,”), every note that was played and sung on that record was performed by Todd. At 14, I knew that it was possible to record and play everything (both McCartney and Stevie Wonder did this), but those first 3 sides of Something / Anything changed my musical brain overnight. The music wasn’t about virtuosity (although there was plenty). It was all about “the song.” So many varieties of songs on 2 discs – all of them musical.

So, I stopped my dreams of becoming a “junior Eric Clapton.” Being fluid and flashy on the guitar didn’t mean as much to me as songs and structure. Then, it happened – I had the desire to play EVERYTHING. I wanted to produce a sound from any instrument that I got my hands on, like Todd. I wanted to do “that.” So after a long hiatus from the piano, I got back on the bench. I started playing the bass. We had a few drums laying around, so I gathered them and banged the absolute hell out of them (sometimes, all day). I started breaking down vocal harmonies I found on Something / Anything.

My motto at the time? “In Todd I trust.”

I started buying everything that had Todd’s name on it. Started buying his solo records, the music he created with his band Utopia, and seeking out garage sales and record conventions for his out-of-print work with the Nazz. I wanted to study and dissect everything I could find. At 14, he was my new musical hero.

Some of the music was easy for my brain to access (“Can We Still Be Friends,” “Real Man,” “Golden Goose,” and “Love Is The Answer”). Some was just too dense and “musical” for my young mind to follow at the time (his album A Wizard, A True Star wouldn’t penetrate my musical mind until I was in my 30s). All of it had a passion that I wanted for myself. I just couldn’t verbalize it at that time

There is a LOT of Todd’s music that quality as text book examples of being yourself and following that passion. There are some albums, like Utopia’s earlier prog-rock moments, that demand that virtuosity and musicianship be the key elements within the song structure. There are some albums, like Utopia’s Deface The Music, that make you think “How did they write songs that sound EXACTLY like pages from the Beatles’ magical mystery back catalog).

All of the albums show passion for the “song” form itself.

Last July, I had the opportunity to see Todd and company live in concert for the first time. I sang along with every song. Footage taken of me that night shows that I could not take my eyes off the stage. There he was, and there I stood like all the other devoted fans taking in the old and new. By the time the show was over, I was without much of a voice – I sounded like Lucille Ball (the later years). But I had seen him – I saw the guy who changed my musical outlook. Yes, indeed – I had seen the light.

And all because Momma B. fed my interest in music during a World History class. Thanks, Mom!

Happy birthday, Todd! I’m glad you’re still here. I’m glad that I get to study, enjoy, dance, and sing to your music. Because of you, I became more than just a “junior Eric Clapton.” I became a true musician – a true “wizard” and “star.” I wish you many more birthdays, and please keep teaching me about the passion. Cheers! 🙂

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~ by Poppermost on June 25, 2017.

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