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Todd Rundgren

The hermit returns

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By Bill DeMain  

Todd Rundgren reached a crossroads on November 10, 1973, when his ballad "Hello It's Me" rose to number five on the Billboard singles chart. One way pointed to superstardom. The other to the shadowy land of cult status.

But for Todd, it wasn't a matter of choosing. While Something/Anything, the double album that spawned "Hello, It's Me," was catching on a year after its release, for its creator, it was already a speck in the rearview mirror. He had followed his muses into new experimental territory, releasing the ambitious A Wizard, A True Star, an eclectic tour-de-force on which he wrote, produced and played every instrument. Though Something/Anything was chock full of potential hits, Todd refused to backtrack. "No fucking way am I releasing anything else off that album," he told his label.

This stubbornness typifies the erratic career choices that Todd would make over the next three decades and thirty albums, choices that would test even the allegiance of his most faithful followers. Looks, bands, labels, philosophies, styles -- if it was a skin that could be shed, Todd would move on without it.

Todd Rundgren was born June 22, 1948 in Upper Darby, PA. Soaking up the sounds of the family record collection, from Kismet to Erik Satie, he developed a taste for eclecticism. By the time he was in high school, he was playing guitar and piano. The first song he ever wrote was "Hello, It's Me."

His natural bent for songwriting has been the constant in his long and winding evolution. No matter if he was writing beautiful love songs like "It Wouldn't Have Made Any Difference," 30-minute prog-rock suites for his band Utopia like "The Ikon," or silly pop ditties such as "Bang The Drum All Day," he couldn't hide his formidable gift for tuneful melodies and lyrics that addressed the human condition with an open mind and heart.

Aside from his prowess as a composer, Todd is feted as one of pop's most original producers, with a resume that includes Badfinger, New York Dolls, Cheap Trick, The Tubes, XTC, and his biggest success, Meat Loaf (Todd says that the epic Bat Out Of Hell album helped finance many of his audio and video projects through the '80s and '90s).

He has also been a pioneer for enhanced CDs and online delivery. His 1995 album The Individualist was one of the first CDs to be offered over the internet, where subscribers could download the music before it was released in stores. Todd was doing file sharing long before any of us had ever heard of Napster.

These days, Todd lives and works in the balmy climes of Hawaii. In 2004, he released Liars, his nineteenth album (not counting live and greatest hits collections), both in the form of a traditional CD and downloads to subscribers of his website (www.tr-i.com).

Of why he continues to pursue his musical art, he says, "There must be something in me, yet another thing that I have to uncover and examine in order to fully understand myself. For me, that's what I have to get out of the music. A greater understanding of myself."

Musician and journalist Bill DeMain writes frequently about music. His work has appeared in numerous publications including Entertainment Weekly, MOJO, and Musician.