Music interview: Todd Rundgren – a talented man of musical mystery

Todd Rundgren has spent five decades in the music business.
Todd Rundgren has spent five decades in the music business.
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Todd Rundgren isn’t a name that trips off the tongue.

It might ring a bell. You might even know his biggest hits, Seventies pop tunes Hello It’s Me and I Saw The Light.

Say his name to the right person of a certain age, however, and their eyes will light up.

He’s had that sort of career: not easy to keep track of, impossible to second guess and, in the case of some of his more experimental work, difficult to love.

Over five decades in the music business, the multi-talented instrumentalist, songwriter and producer, who turns 65 later this month, has created the sort of music that inspires utter devotion, and that’s where he comes into his own.

“I’m not fooling anyone and I never have,” says Philadelphia-born Rundgren, adding he can’t remember the last time he completed a tour without an audience member walking out after an hour, or demanding a refund because he hadn’t played Hello It’s Me, inside the first 60 minutes of the performance.

He’s not bitter about the walkouts – he considers them the unfortunate result of such a varied career. He’s laughing while telling the story, and he wishes those seeking a greatest hits show all the very best.

“I do hope they’ve learned their lesson and never come to another show of mine ever again, though,” he says.

“The upshot of all this is that the audiences at my shows are survivors; a unique group of people who have been frequently tested over the years. They know they don’t know what’s going to happen, and they’re happy about that.”

These so-called Toddheads are indeed loyal, working as some sort of covert promotional online force in his name. They’re rewarded with many interactions with their hero. Rundgren knows many of his biggest fans personally.

Rundgren produced the multi-million-selling phenomenon Bat Out Of Hell, prompting Meat Loaf’s key songwriter Jim Steinman to say: “Todd Rundgren is a genius, and I don’t use that word a lot.”

While most artists were still using traditional studios in the early Eighties, Rundgren developed his own space to work using synthesizers, samplers and rudimentary computer technology.

As for what comes next, he won’t say, although he does know he’s on tour until the end of the year – when he’ll rejoin Ringo Starr’s All Starr Band for a tour – and that he’s not committing himself to making electronic dance music forever.

“All I ever wanted was the freedom to do whatever I want,” he says.

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