Though Myers' telling of the story is largely admiring of Rundgren's talents, the man isn't necessarily the hero of all of his stories. Musicians who have worked with Rundgren call him prickly, impatient and irritating, and at times describe frustration and tense disagreements in the studio. And like Rundgren's own musical career, their projects are a jumble of well-intentioned flops, surprise successes and shoulda-been hits.
As the book primarily focuses on the recordings Rundgren made, we get a brief introduction: Rundgren was born in 1948 in Upper Darby, Pa., was a disaffected teen with interest in technology, popular music and self-made recordings, and left home at 17 with a used guitar on his back. He joined and quit a blues-based jam band, Woody's Truck Stop, and brushed with success as a guitarist and songwriter with the Nazz, whose British Invasion influenced style was more up his alley.
|Songs by Jim Steinman; Motorcycle effects by TR|
Rundgren found work as a house engineer and producer with legendary folk-rock producer Albert Grossman, and built a reputation as a "boy wonder" with a photojournalistic ability to pursue and then capture a sound even in difficult conditions: The Band, for example, was in disarray (drug use and internal disagreements) and didn't particularly like its young engineer's impatience and sarcasm (at one point, Levon Helm chased him from the studio with a drumstick) but Rundgren was able to guide its STAGE FRIGHT album to the finish line.
As noted, his projects were a mixed bag. Future hit-machine Hall & Oates' WAR BABIES was so free of anything resembling a hit it got them dropped from their first record label. Cheap Trick's NEXT POSITION PLEASE might be an overlooked gem, but it was overlooked for sure. On the flip side Rundgren developed a reputation for midcareer turnarounds for his work with Grand Funk (WE'RE AN AMERICAN BAND) and XTC (SKYLARKING), getting each of those bands unlikely U.S. hits.
He also took on unusual projects -- debuts for weirdos Sparks, the New York Dolls and an artist everybody passed on, Meat Loaf. Rundgren recognized BAT OUT OF HELL's theatrical grandeur, Myers writes, and brought it gloriously to life.
|Night time is the right time|
If there was a signature Rundgren sound they can be heard on his 70s and 80s solo records and those of Utopia (multitracked harmony singing — Rundgren confesses Chorus was the only class he paid attention to in school; a taste for Philly soul and Beatlesque pop) — but also, a willingness to experiment with technology as demonstrated by pioneering video (he ran a spectacularly unprofitable TV studio); an "interactive" solo album the listener could choose to assemble at home under the TR-i name; and a charge into digital recordings that was ahead of contemporaries and hastened the demise of his own production career.
Testimony to Rundgren's talents at times is as grudging as his exclusion from the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is baffling -- but Myers captures a good summary in the introduction from guitarist Lenny Kaye: "Todd's aphorism was 'If you know what you want, I'll get it for you. If you don't know what you want, I'll do it for you.'"