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Entries in todd rundgren (13)


A Tourist Again

New York residents navigate Times Square — when forced to navigate it at all — like a slalom course. We dodge families five people wide, holding hands in matching colors, a woman with a furry hat tap dancing and handing out fliers, the busloads of people loitering outside Bubba Gump. Human bowling pins, human statues, comedy show hawkers in bowler hats, police horses, tour bus operators.

A massive crowd of people waving like loons up at a massive screen showing the massive crowd waving like loons at themselves up on the massive screen.

We grumble, we shuffle, we dodge. We are locals: we know the ins and outs, what’s worth our bother. Times Square? Just another place to get through.

I’m aware of a fact I don’t want to think too much about: when I next come back to New York, I’ll be a tourist all over again.

* * *

Last night, I dodged the bowling pins and Bubba Gump patrons to get to another Todd show on 42nd street. He was playing his greatest hits, all the old familiar Todd songs, the well-worn can we still be friends and hello it’s mes. The ones everyone knows. I found a spot at the back, next to a beer tap shaped like a saxophone, a place where I knew I could dance.

We danced. He danced. We shouted and eye-goggled and drank. One guy kept shouting at him to surprise us. We begged him to play all night for us. I felt a part of this crowd; these songs felt like ones I could claim. I felt local.

And then, at the crescendo of the show, a surprise: that wonderful moment when there was a song I hardly knew, and his performance of it moved me to the core. And suddenly I’m a tourist again in the midst of this roomful of long-time fans, those who knew every word of every song. When it was over I was giddy. And I lost it when I fainted in his arms...

The first time you heard it: remember what that was like.

We’re all tourists in these songs at first. I like that chord, nice and warm. And then we start to form roots with every new record we buy, register a permanent address in the liner notes, have all of our mail forwarded to that corner of the room where you keep every record of his next to a comfortable cushion for long listening sessions. We begin to appreciate saxophone solos. We anticipate the key change. We collect knowledge of who played what just as we collect dust on the spines of the records. We become locals.

But it’s nice to be surprised again. To be reminded of the very first time you saw or heard something that moved you to the core.

When you’re a tourist, the police horses are a novelty. When you’re a tourist, Times Square is a place you go to, not just a place you get through. When you’re a tourist, it’s all new, and the simplest things make you smile and wave like a loon. I’m learning how to be a tourist again; surprise me.

© Zan McQuade. All rights reserved.


The Fans

Oh Jesus where are we on this journey; All adolescence out the window.
- Patti Smith*

Apparently, space is a precious commodity at a Todd show. Something to be fought for tooth and nail. I'm squeezing forward to get to where Pippi and her crew are standing, right down front. This is a mistake, I can tell as I snake through the crowd, trying to be as inconspicuous as possible. I encounter stiff elbows and locked shoulders. Everyone weighted down to the tilted floor of the Gramercy Theater, like anchors. A group of women calls out "stand FIRM, ladies" as I pass, their arms akimbo. The most vocal of them continues to shout at the back of my head. "That's right, keep moving. This is our space." I turn around to apologize. "I'm just trying to get to my friends. They're right over…" "Keep moving, we don't want you here." My fists clench against my chest. And here I thought we all had something in common.

(I related this story later on to a guy from our neighborhood in our local bar. "They were older than you?" "Yeah. I'd say they were in their fifties." "So you got bullied by a bunch of moms?" I don't think he spends all that much time on the internet.)

Later I read somewhere that some people had waited in line for four hours in frigid temperatures to claim a spot close to the stage and realized that I was the jerk in this situation. When it comes to Todd fans, to the lengths they'll go to, I still have so very much to learn.

I finally make it to Pippi. "I made it," I say. "But I think I made a few enemies."

"It's a bit early for enemies, Zan," says Pippi, and welcomes me into the fold. And then it all unfolds: Black Maria, No. 1 Lowest Common Denominator, oh man he's playing Bleeding. His fingers on fire. His voice melting over the crowd. At concerts there is this ebb and flow of connection: the artist moves towards the crowd, and the crowd moves closer to the artist. A call and response of attention and attraction.

Then there is this: Todd is doing runs, challenging his backing band to echo him. Their own little game of call and response, all of us involved in this elaborate triangular give and take of listening initiated by the man in the middle. He hits a particularly beautiful trail of notes, casts them up into the air, watches them hang there for a moment, and from the mouths at his feet you can hear breaths caught in throats. All around us: everyone pausing to recognize the beauty of that moment.

I can't help it: I will gush. I will gush until there's nothing left in my heart to gush about, until it all runs dry.

The fans stand in awe. "This is the best he's sounded in years."

"Did you hear that?" says Pippi, turning to me. "The best in years."

"I heard that," I say. I secretly decide it's because I'm finally there.

Pippi reminds me of something he said the night before when she told him I'm a new fan, something that I'd forgotten in my delirium. "We must nurture her and help her grow," he had said, throwing his arm over my shoulder. He bends the strings on the guitar there on that stage, leaning back on his heels, and my little sapling heart grows three sizes.

"It's almost too much," I say, hand to chest. I feel it pounding.

"Too much?" says a fan behind me. "No way: MORE!"

We the insatiable.

*In what I can only describe as an homage to Patti Smith created by the circumstantial location of a BBQ joint I'd been wanting to try, I ended up walking from the Hotel Chelsea along 23rd street to the gig. This quote, from Patti's review of A Wizard, A True Star, feels fitting.

© Zan McQuade. All rights reserved. Todd Is Godd.


Speculative Comforts

Patti Smith isn't particularly concerned about the dust that has collected on the mouldings in her kitchen. Joan Didion doesn't fret when the slipcover comes untucked from the corner of the couch.

Joni Mitchell spends one day a month in her pajamas, eating popcorn for dinner. She thinks about combing her hair.

Todd Rundgren sometimes just feels like spending the entire day reading Wikipedia.

There is a bag sitting in a closet in Oprah's house that is full of things she's always meant to get around to putting in a scrapbook.

Zadie Smith sometimes orders dinner for one at the bar. Annie Leibovitz sometimes leaves her camera at home.

President Obama might, on a good day, let himself hit "refresh" one more time before bed.

Bob Dylan hates going to the dentist.

© Zan McQuade. All rights reserved.


I've Seen Your Symptoms Many Times Before

Todd Rundgren. Todd Rundgren! TODD. RUNDGREN.

Shut up about Todd Rundgren, Zan.

Can we talk about Todd just this once? Tomorrow night, I get to see the man in concert for the first time. Surely that makes this an exceptional situation.

Go on then. Try to keep it under 500 words.

Oh, Todd. (Good god woman, are you blushing?) You're so hard to explain to others. Friends ask me which Todd songs they should listen to first. Honestly? None of it. It's not for them. Or I'll choose just one song, the perfect song for whatever type of person they might be. For the whistful: "The Range War." And for the intense: "Black Maria." Like writing up prescriptions. On each label: twice a day for five days, with meals.

Todd has a pharmacy full of them. Love of the Common Man Cure For The Common Cold. Feet Don't Fail Me Now Blister Bandages. Death of Rock N Roll Ear Plugs. Some Folks Is Even Whiter Than Me Sunblock and Can We Still Be Friends Breath Mints.

You do know that "Hello It's Me" was used in a Tums commercial? And that the album you're seeing him play tomorrow is called "Healing"? Aren't we beating this theme to death?

Then forget the pharmacy. That's all beside the point. The real point: I couldn't tell you why I started listening to nothing but Todd Rundgren. (I can tell you when: last September in Brooklyn, Big Star covered Rundgren's "Slut" in their encore; the next day, I came across Faithful, and consequently, this video. That video—that white suit—was the beginning of the end.) Or why I can't stop.

My friends all think I'm crazy. (Eden: "This has got to stop, Zan, you're just throwing yourself away for some rock musician who's old enough to play checkers with Ron Wood.") My boss—after pointing to the picture I have pinned to the wall above my computer and asking me who that girl was—wonders how my husband puts up with me. My husband, bless his heart, puts up with me enough to go to Morristown, NJ and sit in the back row of a theater for 3 hours to hear two entire Todd albums performed live.

I couldn't tell you why it's my latest thing. It's an infection, an itch I must scratch.

Maybe Dr. Todd can prescribe you something for that.

A recent review described Rundgren fans as "Trekkie-like," and while I have yet to meet any others, it personally feels very, very true. I need to know every episode inside and out. Or in this case: every record he's ever been involved with. J even mentioned that now that he's more familiar with Todd Rundgren's music (he's learning through "Toddmosis"), he can hear it in the Todd-produced albums: the XTC, the Patti Smith, the Psychedelic Furs. Those transitions on Skylarking? All his. The synths on Waves or War Babies? The layered backing harmonies in Cheap Trick's "Heaven's Falling"? Todd, Todd, Todd.

Go on, let's hear it then...

Twice a day for five days, with meals.

Open Your Eyes - The Nazz / Couldn't I Just Tell You - Todd Rundgren / Personality Crisis - New York Dolls / The Last of the New Wave Riders - Utopia / I Can't Take It - Cheap Trick / I Saw The Light - Todd Rundgren / Frederick - Patti Smith / Long Flowing Robe - Todd Rundgren / Summer's Cauldron & Grass - XTC / Black Maria - Todd Rundgren / Love My Way - Psychedelic Furs / Lucky Guy - Todd Rundgren / Broken Flag - Patti Smith / Death of Rock N Roll - Todd Rundgren / Ain't Got Nobody - Grand Funk Railroad / Sons of 1984 - Todd Rundgren

(If you're viewing this in your RSS reader, you'll need to click through to see the player. Though, really, no one's going to blame you if you don't.)

Further reading:

I Hate To Break It To You, Animal Collective, But Todd Did It First

Patti Smith reviews A Wizard, A True Star

Todd Rundgren Time Machine, etc.

© Zan McQuade. All rights reserved. Todd Is Godd.


Three Clerks


Marvin Gaye and His Girls
John Lennon & Yoko Ono - Double Fantasy
Paul & Linda McCartney - Ram
Loudon Wainwright III - Album II
Rick Nelson - The Very Thought Of You
Herman's Hermits - There's A Kind Of Hush All Over The World
Yaz - Upstairs At Eric's
The Best of Burt Bacharach
Burt Bacharach Plays His Hits
Donovan's Greatest Hits
Tim Buckley - happy sad

"I'll throw the Tim Buckley in for a couple of bucks," said the record clerk. "It's my last day. What do I care." He slides the records into a brown plastic bag. "Overworked and underpaid."

"Well, thanks for your help, and good luck with whatever you do next."

"I'm going to the moon."

"To the moon?"

"Yeah, to the moon."

"Well, good luck with that."

*  *  *


Tammy Wynette - Stand By Your Man/Bedtime Story
Elvis Costello & The Attractions - Punch the Clock
Cat Stevens - Tea for the Tillerman
The Steve Miller Band - Book of Dreams
Dick Hyman at the Lowrey Organ - Electrodynamics
Utopia - Oops! Wrong Planet
Utopia - Adventures in Utopia
Utopia - Utopia

"Do you want to try anything out?" said the girl at the counter. "I've been listening to The Kinks all day."

"I'd love to hear how this side sounds. There's a big scratch."

"Do you come in here often?"

"I try not to. If I do, I'll just spend loads of money on Todd Rundgren albums."

"I know what you mean. That's like me and bookstores."

"Oh, me too." Dick Hyman plays his Lowrey Organ. "I'm definitely getting this one."

"I used to be so into listening to new music. Now I'm just like, whatever." The sound of a cash register. "My boss will be so happy. He called before and said 'did we earn any money?' and I was, like, 'no.' I've been here for seven hours."

And with that, I crossed "record store" off our list of possible storefront ideas.

*  *  *


Prince - Purple Rain
Grand Funk - Phoenix
Christopher Cross* - s/t
Bessie Smith - Nobody's Blues But Mine
Kate Bush - Hounds Of Love

"Ah, yes. Kate Bush. I met her once."

"Was she nuts?"

"Well, hold on, hold on. She was signing records as a promotion for her album back in 1993."

"Rubberband Girl?"

"Well, no, let's see, it was… hmmm. It was called The Red Shoes."


"This was in the days before the internet, but somehow word got out, and by the time I got there the line stretched six blocks. She ended up signing for six hours."

"Wow." (…ow, wow, wow, wow, wow; unbelievable.)

"I actually handed her something to sign that she'd never seen before."

"Cool. Do you still have it?"

"Of course." He flips back to the beginning of the stack and starts counting the prices all over again.

He never did tell me if she was crazy or not.

*Purchased because I confused "Sailing" with "Come Sail Away" by Styx. Oh well. At least I have something to listen to now when I take bubble baths.

© Zan McQuade. All rights reserved.