The Individualist – Digressions, Dreams & Dissertations
CLEOPATRA; First edition
When I first heard Something/Anything? it blew my mind. It still does actually. Regularly. I knew about Todd Rundgren the guitarist and producer – with credits ranging from Meat Loaf and XTC through to creating the score for the movie Dumb and Dumber…but I had never heard any of his own songs until Something/Anything. And then I realised that I had been hearing his songs on the radio – and that music I thougth might have been Carole King’s or Laura Nyro’s was actually this wizard, this true star: Todd.
He’s a frustrating, funny, silly, singular talent. And, fittingingly, his memoir (a series of snapshots, really) is also frustrating, funny, silly and singular. You won’t have read a rock’n’roll memoir like this. You’ll hope no one else tries to use this as a template. Like a lot of the great music he’s made – it works when Todd does it. It works. Somehow. In spite of himself. Because even when he’s in full goof-off mode, you believe Todd.
Though written in a broadly chronological spill from childhood through the formation of the Nazz, the studio albums of the early 1970s, Utopia and the production work – it gets a bit vague at times, dipping forward and back but stopping in the mid-1990s. Actually, it seems to really stop in the early 1980s and might have been better off just focusing entirely on the 1970s. But focus isn’t really Rundgren’s game, certainly not when it comes to reflection.
His memoir is the perfect short-attention-span airport-read. The chapters are single pages – it’s almost a set of prose-poems. It would be weird as fuck were it not for the fact that fans of Rundgren have followed him through so many musical experiments including faithful cover-versions, a capella records, live rehearsals and engineering and production duties for The Band, Badfinger, New York Dolls, The Tubes, Psychedelic Furs and others.
It’s a weird and wondrous world of music.
And so for his memoir Rundgren sets up an observation or event – usually in a paragraph or two. Then he discusses what happens a little further before summing up with a mantra or missive; his learning.
To start with this is super-frustrating. The recording of brilliant songs/albums written off in 500 words or so. But the further in and the further along it starts to make sense. Of course, Rundgren has suggested it’s a near mixtape of a book – and can be read in any order. But if you follow it through in the page-order what eventuates is a portrait first of the artist – that’s entirely his first consideration after all – and then through that the man. And in his chapters about his children, and the child he cared for that wasn’t (biologically) his, you finally find some heart for something more than the music that drives him. He is, in the end, likeable. Something Todd Rundgren would probably have a good madcap laugh over.
These digressions, dreams and dissertations are banal and then brilliant, pathetic and profound and you can’t fake that. And Todd never does. Never has. Whatever kind of real deal he is might still be up for debate but there’s a stubbornness and authenticity that can often be admired and never ever denied. He’s a mad genius I think. And he genuinely doesn’t seem to care what anyone thinks.
You will get the real story of his dust up with Andy Partridge elsewhere. You’ll get better insight into the techniques and talent in other books too. But you’ve probably read those already if you’re reading this – or thinking about it. So enjoy. And bask in his bonkers-brilliance. Just don’t go recommending this to first-timers or (if there is even such a thing) fair-weather Rundgren fans.
You can support Off The Tracks via PressPatron