dinsdag 28 februari 2017

A Wizard A True Star. Todd Rundgren + Meat Loaf/The Beatles/Jimi Hendrix/The Analogues

On a day in February an email arrived. From it a wide ranging discussion developed that is more than interesting to follow. It all started with an album by Todd Rundgren that I personally had never heard of, but that had made a lasting impression on two British, then late teenagers. A digital conversation started under the title "Hot Todd-y"

8 February, Mark
Guess what is No.1 on Uncut magazine's list of "101 weirdest albums of all time"!  A Wizard, a True Star! Described as "....whimsical and depraved, polished and crude, lush and abrasive, hard rock and showtunes" which pretty much captures its tremendous scope I guess!

This prompted me to pull out my copy which I see I noted on the lyric insert I bought on the last day of my teenage years on 25 October 1974 - after its merits had been extolled by a fellow student at University College London who was studying............psychology! 25 October is the date on the watch illustrated on the insert. AWATS has been, um, periodically exhumed over the last 42 years. Some of it predicts Purple Rain Prince in its dense echo-y fearsome ballads and guitar histrionics. Have to play these loud. He got a bit carried away with the synth histrionics. I didn't realise "Cool Jerk" is in 7/4 time: maybe you did if you tried to air-drum along to it.

Copying to Wout in case he is a fan of classic Runt and also wishes to celebrate AWATS. 

"We were on our way to a better day
And the spirit was in us all....."*

* From "Sons of 1984" on the other Runt masterpiece "Todd" - it all makes sense now

8 February, Gary 
Thanks Mark,

As you know I am a huge Rundgren fan, the man was/is a genius and albums like AWATS will seem weird in the same sense Dali or Piccaso  were first perceived by Jo Public, like them it takes just a little effort to see what Todd is trying convey.

I get AWATS out to play at least once a month either on vinyl or digital.... Todd can write or cover many styles with supreme mastery, I really believe he does not differentiate between styles of music, he just plays what he likes and what inspires him.

I read an interview with TR many years ago where the interviewer praised his amazing guitar technique and just how fast he was, his reply was so typically thoughtful. "Making a reputation as a heavy guitarist is too much of a hassle, like being a gunfighter in the Old West, everybody always trying to cut you. I envision myself developing into … something else."

TR is of course a multi instrumentalist, composer, song writer, lead and backing vocalist (amazing harmony skills) and producer. He is also one of the first innovators of digital art, both musical, visual and performance.

Always searching for spiritual meanings in his life, he doesn't suffer fools easily! Always principled and looking for the good in everyone. He adopted the baby Liv Tyler when her mother broke up with Steve Tyler, in a TV interview Liv Tyler said that she always thinks of TR as being her real dad even if Steve Tyler was biologically her father. Touchingly she said that a cuddle with TR when she was unhappy always made her feel safe again. I think that gives some insight into the humanity of the man.

Listen to his albums over the years, they are always striving for something new and innovative, sometimes they do not work (at least for me), eg 'With a Twist' and 'Disco Jets', but most are just pure genius.....

A new TR album is like getting a present at Christmas time, so exciting to open, but just a tiny worry that it just might be a ghastly pair of socks!

9 February, Gary

Wo.: I do not want to withhold this sub-text in the email: "Sent from a manifestation of Steve Jobs' vision!"

10 February, Wo.
Hello Gentlemen,

Unfortunately I have to totally abstain here, as the phenomenon Todd Rundgren has totally passed me by. I will go to Spotify and try the album out soon. I have never even heard of it I'm afraid. Something to catch up on.

10 February, Gary provides Wo. with a lesson in late 70s rock 
If you know Meat Loaf's Bat Out Of Hell, then you would have heard him as he not only produced the album but he also played all the best guitar parts and took part in the backing vocals!


Also checkout TR's band Utopia:

I envy you, you have some great times ahead listening for the first time to the 'Runt'!


12 February, Wo.
I had forgotten that, actually, that Rundgren produced Meat Loaf. In those days I wasn't really a fan of the most famous song from the album, but from the 80s in my student days, we sang and danced to it right up to today. Loads of fun. Of the guitar parts I was totally unaware though. 

12 February, Gary
I forgot to mention that the original by the Capitols and other covers were in 4:4   TR decide to give the "Jerk" a 'jerkier' feel by playing it in 7:4! 

12 February, Mark, who also sidetracks the discussion to an exhibition he visited in in the Victoria & Albert Museum in London

As for checking out Todd's own albums, I don't recommend starting with "A Wizard A True Star". It is a non-stop 50 minute assault on the brain: an unrelenting, at times heavily synthed, wall of sound, roller-coaster ride through many genres of music: that is why it is no.1 in the weirdness stakes, a notch ahead even of Captain Beefheart (but I hasten to add more melodic). The record's more sublime, subtle and soulful moments do not start to shine through until after a few plays.

So it's better to start with the next album he did which is a double l.p. meisterwerk called simply "Todd." This has a more conventional approach to song sequencing and the slower ballads like "The Last Ride" and the anthemic "Sons of 1984"  take your breath away - and they haven't dated in the 40 odd years since they were recorded . Like the dyed hair sported on the cover, he was quite ahead of his time and inspired Bowie and Prince who both sought him out at that time before they hit the big time. However, while diehard fans like Gary have rightly stood by him, he rarely reached that mid-70s peak again and was later written-off by many as an irascible American prog ego-maniac who did not really understand new wave, was no longer bankable on the global concert circuit and fell out with the younger artists he was asked by the record labels to produce.

That reminds me that Todd Rundgren had a much publicised spat with John Lennon via correspondence in the Melody Maker who he accused of trying to change the world "with an elpee's worth of toons" as the song on "Todd" goes. This at a time when Lennon was getting a lot of flak for singing "Imagine no possessions" while living at his Ascot mansion in (which he left for a very modest Bank Street apartment on south Manhattan during his pre-Dakota agit-prop "Some Time in New York" days).  Lennon called him Sodd Runtlestuntle - that was funny, but the exchange is grim reading about and losing trust  in heroes and the crash-landing of dreams of youth. (If you want the dirt, read  http://trconnection.com/trconn.php/article=lennon.arte ).

Yesterday at an exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum I saw the jacket that Lennon wore when singing All You Need Is Love on what I think was the first (and only?) global satellite-linked up TV show called "Our World"  Each country had to produce a cultural highlight: Spain offered Picasso, and for us well, J, P, G & R were up for it - and, amazingly after only one rehearsal of the song, stole the show. They were told to come up with something positive: a pity not enough people around the world listened hard enough to the lyrics. The Soviet bloc pulled out of the show at the last moment of course otherwise the Fabs might have had the Red Army Choir for competition. I don't know what the Dutch came up with: hope it wasn't Father Abraham.

Intermission by Wo.
(According to this source (http://www.fransmensonides.nl/fhm162.html) the answer is none. NL broadcasted the show between 20.00 and 22.00 hours on 25 June 1967, without its own submission. Father Abraham scored his first hit in 1971 with his Seven Sons (Zeven Zonen), after having penned/produced a few for others before that.)

The V&A  exhibition was "You say you want a revolution?" (from another Beatles lyric you'll instantly recognise of course) which was an intense trip though sixties culture and counter-culture via Carnaby Street, Haight-Ashbury, Itchycoo Park and Expo 67, hand-in-hand with Sgt.Pepper (John and George's suits for the album photo shoot were also on show), Godard, Ginsberg, Greer, Quant, Twiggy, early Scorcese, and assorted draft dodging, merry pranksters, listening to pirate radio, clutching well-worn copies of Tolkien and the Tibetan Book of the Dead, and ending up sprawled out on fake grass (green variety) with Jimi at Woodstock on a giant screen (yes, we're still in the museum). They also had on show a couple of Jimi's guitars (and what was left of one), Jagger's jumpsuit, Keith Moon's much-bashed drum-kit and Roger Daltrey's tasseled top. You can now visit Hendrix's London apartment by the way: now restored as a time capsule of an era when musicians dreamed they could change the world - which brings me back to another quite poignant song on "Todd:" actually:

"A million old soldiers will fade away 
But a dream goes on forever
I'm left standing here, I've got nothing to say
All is silent within my dream".

So I'll shut up for now, except to say: best regards

It did not stop here. The discussion continued under the title "Revolutionary photographs".

12 February, Mark
Photo: Mark Carvell
Photo: Mark Carvell

A couple of photos I took (furtively) at the V&A exhibition yesterday : Jimi's jacket and 2.5 of his guitars; and......"it was fifty years ago today"..... 

12 February, Gary
I note that the Les Paul is not stringed up for a left hander (unlike the Fender Stratocaster)! 

12 February, Mark
Very sharp-eyed! The Gibson is definitely Hendrix's which you can check from this article:
http://uniqueguitar.blogspot.co.uk/2014/08/the-many-guitars-of-jimi-hendrix.html  - he had at least two Les Paul's and you'll see it's the 1955 model: click on the link for a photo of of him playing it, upside down of course. Though he was "mix-handed" using his right hand for some things like the phone, he always played guitar left-handed. Maybe this Gibson is played by the current right-handed owner so it is not always a static museum piece strung as Jimi would have had it.

Have you been to his flat in Brook Street (near Bond St tube)? Quite an experience (ahem....). Everybody who was anybody would come round to hang out with him. There is a story George Harrison crashed out on the stairs one night. There are a couple of his guitars on display - and his records: lots of Dylan and blues stuff - Elmore James, Muddy Waters, - and jazz and classical: he used to buy his records at HMV in Oxford Street. The main room is all refurbished exactly as you see it in the original photos of him there. 

12 February, Gary
No I haven't been, maybe we should meet up in London a visit it later in the year? Maybe Wout can join us if he is London? And of course the same building was inhabited by Fredrick Handel a few hundred years before!

Regarding Jimi playing right hand guitars upside down, I understand he used to play right hand bass as was made! 

13 February, Mark
I went last year: I was recommending it to you guys really. 

13 February, Wo.
The Jimi flat is certainly on my list for when I'm in London (long enough). I did have the chance to go to ESP in Seattle, a sci-fi building that houses what remained of the plan to build a Jimi museum there, in 2003. It became a part of a history of pop music for north western U.S. Dresses of the Wilson sisters of Heart, that sort of thing. The highlight was a letter by J. Edgar Hoover asking his people to find out what the lyrics to Louie Louie by The Kingsman were, as he couldn't understand the singer and the message just had to be subversive.

I was walking around in my The Walkabouts t-shirt of a tour a few years previous, now over 20 years. One of the stewards spoke to me that he used to be a musician to and had lost in a local contest to The Walkabouts somewhere mid 80s. Great little, irrelevant stories.

Jimi's grave in Renton is a hideous monument paid for by the family after they finally got hold of the rights to his music.

So far my small contribution on things Jimi.

@Mark, thank you for your advice. I think I'm going of the deep end anyway, as that is where this conversation started. 

Comment Wo.:
That left me with only one thing to do really, jump off the deep end and listen to 'A Wizard A True Star'. Man, there isn't a lot that prepares a person for an aural trip like this album. Zappian madness taken to the extremes, soul, strange musical experiments and beautiful music. It all come by and more, much, much more. Impossible to take in in one listen session. Does the album deserve more sessions, definitely. Does it invite to do so? That question is a lot harder to answer.

13 February, Wo.
As to The Beatles.

Two weeks ago I went to see The Analogues again. Doing 'Sgt. Peppers...' integrally in a phenomenal way. They talked about touring England in the near future. Believe me, a must see. My review is on the blog ca. 4 February, should you need convincing. http://wonomagazine.blogspot.nl/2017/02/the-analogues-plays-sgt-pepper.html 

They also mentioned that on 1 June there is worldwide "it was 50 years ago today" fest planned. The Analogues will play in Amsterdam they said, although there's nothing announced formally yet. Something to keep an eye out for also.

And so a fascinating conversation ended. With interesting tips for exhibitions, albums, live shows and a great love for music in general.

I thought. Two P.S.s arrived:

22 February, Mark 
Back to the music: for the one stop shop CD fans in your audience there is a 2cd anthology provocatively entitled following his meteoric decline "Go Ahead Ignore Me" which I bought in 1999 when I was still curious about how cds sounded. It does the business and seems to be still available: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Best-Todd-Rundgren-Ignore-Anthology/dp/B00000IBEK .

23 February, Gary
Enjoy listening to TR…. Coincidently I am playing every TR/Utopia album via Spotify whilst I do my housework chores… a much more pleasurable experience! 

Gary Hunt
Mark Carvell

For those who can't wait to learn what started all this: AWATS is on Spotify.

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