Rundgren: all or nothing

by Ailan Jones
Melody Maker 11/73

"John Lennon ain't no revolutionary. He's a f------- idiot, man. Shouting about revolution and acting like an a__. It just makes people feel uncomfortable.

"All he really wants to do is get attention for himself, and if revolution gets him that attention, he'll get attention through revolution. Hitting a waitress in the Troubador. What kind of revolution is that?

"He's an important figure, sure. But so was Richard Nixon. Nixon was just like another generation's John Lennon. Someone who represented all sorts of ideals, but was out for himself underneath it all."

No doubt about it, this kid is really heavy.

Todd Rundgren is fast becoming an anachronistic satellite burning through the stagnancy currently afflicting so much of rock.


In the face of the post-Woodstock Nation collapse of dreams and ideals, most rock 'n' rollers have backed themselves into creative cul-de-sacs.

Not Todd. He seems to have committed himself to a one-man campaign against all that inertia schmaltz and seems intent on blasting his way out of the hole that rock seems to be determined on burying itself in, with both barrels blazing.

No half measures: it's all or nothing with Todd. And if he goes down, he'll sure as hell go down fighting.

With his last couple of albums, "A Wizard, A True Star" and "Todd," both classics, he's taken it upon himself to attempt, in no uncertain way, to change the whole consciousness of the survivors of the Woodstock Nation.

"I guess a lot of people thought 'Something/Anything' was an overtly self-conscious effort to make the ultimate solo album, because they figured it must have taken a long time to make. But I breezed through it, man.


"It's really surprising, when you go into a session with musicians and you have something specific in mind, it can take you all day to get them to play it. And when the specificity of the material is that acute then obviously the arrangement of the material becomes more important... "

And you end up playing two thirds of it yourself. Utilizing the sounds of the instruments and not wasting your own time and the times of other musicians. But what kind of reaction did that album receive in the States?

"'Something/Anything' was like my artistic validation in the States. Everybody liked the songs so much that it really established my artistic identity. But in certain terms, it misled a lot of people.

"Because if anyone picks up one of my albums and says that's their favourite album, that might as well be the only album of mine they ever hear.

"Because I don't make records according to a style. I make records according to a need."

Would you therefore care to elucidate on the mental evolution - the need - behind "A Wizard, A True Star"?

"I had a good analogy for that album yesterday. The 'Wizard' album was a picture of the average brain at work. Now there's a distinction between the brain and the mind. Because the mind tells the brain what to think.

"And the average person's brain resembles the clutter of the 'Wizard' album. In fact, that was my brain, until I cleared it all out. That was my first stream of consciousness album.

"It's not supposed to have a concept other than a picture of the average brain at work. The subsequent albums were more like organizing the brain, so that you can bring some inspired thought through it.

"People don't usually think inspired thoughts because they're usually too preoccupied with the immediate things that clutter up their brain.


"The thing was, I was really trying to smash away the preconceptions about my records."

As a personal statement, it was quite a provocation, wasn't it? Not what you might call Easy Listening. More like some sort of psychic collage of erupting brain patterns.

"That was it, man. A deliberate provocation. It came out of a certain sense of being cornered stylistically. A lot of people were just presuming that I only wrote 'Hullo, It's Me' - 'I Saw The Light' type songs.

"whereas, I had originally been into a hard rock/heavy metal style. The reason I did both was that when I started the Nazz, I had this thing about being eclectic.

"Like the Beatles had no style other than being the Beatles. So the Nazz used to do, like heavy rock, and also these light, pretty ballads with complex ballads.

"And at the time that was something that people just didn't do. You were supposed to have an easily associable style.

"And that's always been part of my problem. I've always had this incongruity of style and influence.

"A lot of people still find it remarkable that I have a penchant for the conventional and pretty and the weird and abstract. That's because I don't make divisions in terms of music. I never have.

"If I hear something I like, that's it. It's mine. The thing about music is that if you're a good listener you can go window-shopping and own everything you see."


There were a few tracks on "Something" which indicated the direction that Todd would follow on "Wizard" but it seems unlikely that anyone was wholly prepared for the stance that he took on that album.

His dissatisfaction with the attitudes adopted by other contemporary figures - Lennon, for example - became obvious with "Rock and Roll Pussy" written for Lennon, and a searing indictment of rock's so-called revolutionaries.

Todd's World View, became apparent on that album. The "Todd" double album epic carried that vision even further, and here was Todd cutting himself to the bone to communicate the urgency of that vision.

He emphasized, with the last side of that album, the need to reorganize the shattered dreams of the sixties and start out all over again.

"I don't think that my attitude is unique, man. Everybody is dissatisfied with it all. But so many people are so cynical, thinking that there's nothing that can be done about it. I don't believe that.

"I don't see any point in accepting the fact that the world might blow up tomorrow, and not doing something about it. That's a selfish attitude.

"It might blow up, but there's no point sitting around worrying and waiting for it. Are you gonna stop it happening by WORRYING about it?


"I believe in a pleasant reality. There are things that exist in this world that are desirable, but they are separated by a lot of undesirable things. Like, there are islands of truth in a sea of falsehood...

"The truth is there. I believe that it's my responsibility to stand by it, and not be a pussy. Not punk out when it looks unfashionable to stand by those ideals."

That is, surely, an isolated position to maintain?

"At this point, I may think that. But I know for a fact that there are a lot of people that feel the same way as I do, but they're so afraid of looking like asses.

"All it takes is for one person to risk making a fool of himself and everyone'll do it. I'm having a great time. I'm more commercially successful than I've ever been.

"My personal life is at a new high. My outlook on existence is at a new high..."

If The Revolution comes, can rock 'n' roll, as a form, contribute to, or even precipitate a confrontation?

"It can, sure. But a lot of people want to see it happening in a very obvious way. That's because they don't think well enough. I think there is a revolution happening, but the people who are so frustrated that they go out and act violently are the people who don't believe that it's gonna happen.

"There the ones who're afraid that it won't happen. Force it to happen, you know, and that is because their belief isn't basically strong enough, and because they're basically weak people.


"They can't stand by their convictions in the face of adversity. The leaders who people remember and revere - anybody who made an effect on the human mine - was someone whose instrument was the human mind. People who have made an effect on the body - once the body died, the effect was gone. I can't name you one American general or soldier who is a household word.

"But Christ is a household word. So is Ghandi, Buddha, and Confucius....

"You have to understand violence to make adequate use of it. There is that degree of frustration in everybody, which can be manifested in violence. Something happens, and the people suddenly feel like being violent.

"That's because they don't understand violence. They don't understand its use, disuse or misuse. In the long run there's no such thing as good or bad.

"But there are in human terms things that are desirable and undesirable. All things have their function and violence has it's place.

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