By HAP MANSFIELD
Antone’s in Austin (213 West Fifth Street, for those of you who moved here yesterday) is celebrating its 33rd anniversary this year with amazing guests whose histories are as deep and convoluted as Clifford Antone’s world famous club.
Among these guests, count Todd Rundgren, appearing there this Saturday.
Todd Rundgren is more than just his famous hits like “Hello it’s Me” and the sports-arena favorite, “Bang the Drum All Day,” although most musicians could have made a career out of just those tunes (and, indeed, imagine the legacy of pedophile Gary Glitter without “Rock and Roll, Part 2”). Rundgren has been one of the most innovative forces in music during the last thirty-some years.
Just as a producer alone, he has a distinguished list of bands to his credit: New York Dolls, Badfinger, Grand Funk Railroad, Meat Loaf, Patti Smith, XTC (he produced Skylarking, arguably their best album), Bad Religion, Cheap Trick, 12 Rods, The Pursuit of Happiness, The Psychedelic Furs, The Band, and many others. He also created some of the first music videos, has a profound knowledge of computers and invented one of the first paint programs (Apple used it). His music has been featured on television shows (like Pee Wee’s Playhouse) and in movies (like Dumb and Dumber.)
Of course, he has a myspace page at myspace.com/toddrundgrenmusic with the slogan, “The music you didn’t know you were longing for.” His music is modestly listed as classic rock/ rock/pop. But he’s so much more than that.
Critics will claim that Rundgren “re-invented” himself as many times as David Bowie has, although, re-invention of the self is impossible — it’s just another facet of the same person. But Rundgren, like Bowie, has a lot of facets. Rundgren’s many sides run from his participation in the 60’s garage rock band Nazz to prog rock, new wave, electronica, pop/rock, dance-techno, bossa nova and back again. He’s a phenom with a stack full of innovative releases and a life full of juicy stories.
If you are a baseball fan, you know that his sons Rex and Randy are both professional baseball players, Rex playing AAA for the Dodger in Las Vegas and Randy with the Royals organization.
If you are a fan of the tabloids, you know that he raised Liv Tyler as his own daughter (she didn’t even know her dad was Steven Tyler until 1988 when she was 11 years old, but Rundgren is listed as her father on her birth certificate). This is one of those complicated stories best left to the National Inquirer because, honestly, it’s nobody’s business outside Rundgren’s family but, let’s face it, it’s good juice.
Another rottenly juicy story about Rundgren is that Mark David Chapman, John Lennon’s assassin, left an eight-track of the critically acclaimed Runt: The Ballad of Todd Rundgren in his apartment as a psychic clue for the police. It should be noted that the hundreds of thousands of others who bought this release murdered no Beatles, or even members of The Amboy Dukes (most especially Ted Nugent).
It’s hard to imagine this happening now, but I remember going to a Rundgren gig in Chicago in the 70s and he was booed for using taped background music at a solo show. He had played all the instruments and written the all the background charts (something he often does) so this is not a Milli Vanilli thing. He was honest about it, too; he ran the tape machine clearly visible, set on a wooden stool onstage.
Audiences at that time were offended by taped performances of any kind, the complete opposite of current concertgoers. One of the major complaints of the concertgoers of that era was that the recorded “hit” of a band often sounded a lot different in a live performance. I believe Rundgren was making a statement with that tape, a statement that was lost on the crowd, who, while they did not yell for “Freebird,” did yell out for “Hello, It’s Me.”
Rundgren is a bonafide musical genius whose like will not pass this way again on our planet. His musical mark is deeply ingrained in the way all music has been carved out over our lifetime. That’s the real juice of the Rundgren story. All the bands you like owe him some debt, whether they know it or not (read that list of production credits again, if you are skeptical). You can thank him at Antone’s this Saturday.