“(Songwriter) Jim Steinman still denies that record has anything to do with Springsteen. But I saw it as a spoof. You take all his trademarks—over-long songs, teenage angst, handsome loner—and turn them upside down….If Bruce Springsteen can take it over the top, Meat Loaf can take it five storeys higher than that—and at the same time, he’s this big, sweaty, unappealing character. Yet we out-Springsteened Springsteen. He’s never had a record that sold anything like Bat Out of Hell.”—Todd Rundgren, quoted in Peter Doggett, “Todd Rundgren,” Mojo, Issue 183 (February 2009) (article not available electronically)
This is the second consecutive “Quote of the Day” given over to someone interested in constant reinvention of the self—yet Todd Rundgren, unlike Jane Fonda, does not so much radically upend his life so much as his music. (The one exception is the admission from this now-sixtysomething musician—once the lover of model-rock muse Bebe Buell—that though he used Ritalin and LSD back in the day, his “creative output is much less than it was,” because after he started a family, “I couldn’t pretend to be the free spirit that I was.”)
I began to follow Rundgren’s career most seriously in the mid-Seventies—not coincidentally, when I began to attend concerts. At that point, he was well-launched into his transition from pop balladeer to progressive rocker. I can’t say that his experiments along the latter line were always worthwhile (how many people are going to ask him to replay “The Seven Rays” anytime soon?), but he never sold out.
Rundgren’s interview with Doggett shows the musician at his intelligent, wry, quirky best. Included are discussions not just about his work with Meat Loaf, but also why his early group The Nazz broke up, how a British media rag blew up some remarks he made about John Lennon into a minor tiff with the ex-Beatle, why he moved away from pop (“Lyrically, I was still singing about the girl who broke my heart in high school”), and why a job producing Janis Joplin didn’t work out (“I didn’t identify with her thing of getting so drunk that you black out every night”).
Watching this YouTube video of Rundgren performing “Hello It’s Me” on David Letterman last year, I got this strong sense—and I’m sure you will, too—that he’s getting just a wee bit bored about playing his pop classic for the umpteenth time, so much so that he’s got to do something—anything?—to have some fun with it. (“Hi, Dave, it’s me!”)
What will save him in the end is his never-ending curiosity about music, technology, and philosophy. It’s the best hedge against the obsolescence that a youth-obsessed music industry attempts to foist on singer-songwriters in it for the long haul—which Rundgren, after four decades, indisputably is.
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