Todd Rundgren – The Individualist: Digressions, Dreams & Dissertations
- Alex Johnston
- 16 April 2019
Imaginative memoir from the rock legend and multi-instrumentalist
Todd Rundgren has been carrying on one of the more interesting careers in American music for about 50 years now, from psychedelic rock with Nazz through his early, Beatles-influenced solo work and the extravagant prog-rock of Utopia, and his memoir is no less imaginative than his music. Rather than try to force a whole life into a connected narrative, Rundgren presents us with a tightly-structured format of precisely one anecdote per page, followed by a reflection on his own state of mind while remembering the event, and a general conclusion which he appealingly admits is sometimes just 'soapbox proselytising'.
The result is surprisingly effective, even if it's chiefly of interest to two classes of person: Rundgren fans, and obsessive music history nerds. Brevity forces Rundgren to be succinct, and even his tendency to offer life advice, which is forgivable in a guy turning 71 later this year, is held in check by the need to keep it to a brief, grandfatherly aside. Instead of being the memoir equivalent of a pretentious concept album, it's more like an anthology of good songs.
What makes Rundgren fine company is his sense of the absurd, his love of music, and his appreciation of other musicians. Unlike many male rock stars of his generation, Rundgren is a vocal admirer of women musicians: he produced the final album of the great early 70s all-female band Fanny (which he doesn't mention here); he admits to a passionate adoration of the music of the late, great Laura Nyro, who was taken enough with him to ask him to be her bandleader; and he writes with warm affection of Patti Smith, who he befriended non-romantically in the 70s.
If the book has a flaw, it's that the choppy format means that events that are referred to on one page as if they had already happened, actually take place a few pages later, which is distracting. It's also, to be frank, not the most beautifully-produced rock memoir ever, and since the cover design and layout are credited to Rundgren himself, he's got to take the rap for that. Perhaps Cleopatra Records are hoping it'll be taken up by a major publisher which can do, like, actual typesetting and copyediting. In the meantime, it's a rewarding read for rock fans.
Out now via Cleopatra Records.