The Herald, Sharon,
PA Published Thursday, June 24, 1999


Todd who? Yankee Lake headliner Rundgren shuns fame in favor of fans' fidelity

Never one to stand still creatively for long, Todd Rundgren's latest twist is to take some of his rock classics and restyle them with a Latin/bosa nova beat. He'll mix that with a set of guitar-heavy, traditional versions when he comes to the Yankee Lake Ballroom Saturday.

By John Zavinski
Herald Director of Graphics and Technology

In a Todd Rundgren fan-club newsletter a few years back, a tongue-in-cheek pie chart went something like:It's not that he shouldn't be more well-known. After forming The Nazz in 1967, Rundgren had a string of rock hits throughout the '70s and '80s, including "Hello, It's Me", "I Saw the Light" "We Gotta Get You a Woman" and "Bang the Drum All Day" as a solo artist and with The Nazz and Utopia.

Since then, he's produced albums, most notably Meat Loaf's 1977 classic "Bat Out of Hell"; toured with Ringo Starr; played Woodstock '94; dabbled in computer animation; scored an off-Broadway play; and hosted a syndicated radio show. He also is a frequent guest on ABC's "Politically Incorrect".

His albums in the past decade and a half have ranged from traditional rock and ballads ("Second Wind," "Nearly Human") to one where his voice was the only instrument ("A Capella") and two with interactive features that let listeners re-mix the rap-like tracks ("New World Order," "The Individualist").

The latest creative evolution: restyling his own songs with a bosa nova tempo on 1997's "With a Twist." Think of it as beating Muzak to the punch.

Rundgren said the concept of "With a Twist" arose when a label approached him to join its series of releases by "legacy artists." Others were redoing songs "unplugged." Instead of the acoustic route, he opted to explore his interest in Latin music.

"It turned out to be a lot of fun, and it revived the material for me," Rundgren said in a phone interview given just before a sound check in Cincinnati on Tuesday, his 51st birthday.

His 11-city, 16-show "Half-Twisted" tour will stop Saturday at Yankee Lake Ballroom, followed by two nights each in Cleveland and Pittsburgh.

He is supported by ex-Utopia bandmate Kasim Sulton on bass; ex-Tubes drummer Prairie Prince; John Ferenzik on keyboards; and Jesse Gress on guitar.

"The first half of the show is guitar-oriented, with some new material and some material that we rarely perform," he said.

The second half is a scaled-down version of last year's "With a Twist" tour --- complete with a little tiki club and patrons on stage.

Carrying the lounge atmosphere on the road "was an opportunity to imagine ourselves in our twilight years -- we're in our 70s and we play in a little tiki lounge in Waikiki five nights a week doing our little 3-hour show for the tourists to come to."

It actually could be his fate someday -- if he so chose.

In 1996, the Upper Darby, Pa., native packed up and moved "2,500 miles from everything" to Hawaii. Among the reasons was finding a place for his family where he could "feel confident that they weren't being threatened by other school children."


Todd Rungren official site:

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With his audience tending to be in the late-30s or older, Rundgren doesn't have the problem of mobs of fans following him around like one of the Spice Girls, he noted.

He said he's content with his modest level of celebrity. He comes across as being more interested in doing the type of work he wants to, when he wants to, rather than reveling in the trappings of a rock star.

"If it bothered me, I wouldn't move to a remote place. I'd be hanging out on Sunset Boulevard," Rundgren said. "I'm kind of just in a place here that's actually perfect for me."

He recently spent almost a week in New York City and "got to hang out with celebrities and get great service," he said.

"I'm happy I can do that every once in a while and (then) go home, sit on the back porch, drink a beer, watching the sunset."

A high-speed modem connects his utopia to the rest of the world and lets him pursue adventures in interactive media.

Rundgren was a pioneer in that field and even released an album under the moniker "TR-i" (Todd Rundgren interactive). In his latest venture, he offers his new music and video work through his Web site, >

PHOTO Rundgren signs autographs after a 1990 Canton, Ohio show. While his fans may not be great in number, they seem to be unusually loyal to the artist and his work. (John Zavinski/Herald)

He said about 1,500 subscribers pay an average of $60 a year for packages that include online or mailed versions of new songs, periodic CDs, videos and an autobiographical journal.

Technology is "getting very close" to having enough bandwidth in people's homes to allow performers to offer a virtual private network of on-demand television.

The concept interests him, among other reasons, because "being somewhat older, I'm looking for ways to travel less."

After the tour, he'll be producing a record for 12 Rods, a band from Minnesota, and another by Bad Religion.

Now that he's eligible, does he ever see himself being inducted into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame?

"Pa-LEEZE. Thank you, no. Pa-LEEZE," he said.

"That's not my thing. It just isn't my thing. I never thought that popular music of this particular kind should be that pretentious about itself."

Rock's anti-establishment nature has kept it vital. "The whole idea of institutionalizing it ... it's just weird to me," Rundgren said.

"I'm here only because I have those hardcore fans who, when everyone was going 'Todd who?' said 'at least I know, at least I get my enjoyment out of it.' "

If not the Hall of Fame, how about being the subject of a VH1 "Behind the Music" biography?

"I hope not. Not in my lifetime," he said, noting that subjects' careers tend to suffer "a precipitous downfall, but then the comeback is not always a comeback."

"They're very entertaining for me to watch, but I'd be horrified to be on it."

Rundgren will play the Yankee Lake Ballroom at 8 p.m. Saturday (6/26). Tickets: Valley Piano and Organ, Hermitage, or (330) 793-TIXX.

He'll be at the Odeon in Cleveland at 8 p.m. Sunday (6/27) and Monday (6/28), and at Graffiti in Pittsburgh at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday (6/30) and July 1. Cleveland and Pittsburgh tickets: (330) 747-1212 or at Kaufmann's or Iggle Entertainment, both in Hermitage.

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Updated June 24, 1999
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