Tony Bartolo talks to Todd Rundgren about lies, ‘Pop Idol’, and the comical Bruce Springsteen.
Todd Rundgren’s deep American drawl turns into a huge belly laugh as I amuse him with the tale of my recent karaoke rendition of ‘Hello It’s Me’ in Vietnam, which helped to introduce the country’s masses to the magic of Todd’s music.
A great talker who has a concise way with words, Todd chats about the current album Liars, the first set of original songs in almost ten years and a real return to form, which compares favourably with his batch of highly acclaimed mid ’70s albums. Liars is a kind of conceptual affair, dealing with people’s abilities to avoid the truth, and how it affects the way we live in the world today.
Perhaps it’s a reaction to the current political propaganda? “All people are liars: in the case of a politician, lying is something which I guess could be handy, but they are no different to you or me. When it comes to weapons of mass destruction, who was worse or more morally reprehensible, the handful of guys who were lying to us, or us for wanting to believe in what they were saying? In reality we didn’t care what the truth was, no one had independent information confirming or denying weapons of mass destruction, we just wanted to believe it. To not care about the truth is dangerous. If I have a message at all, it would be to care about what the truth actually is.”
On a lighter note, Todd turns his attention to the upcoming live show and tells us what we can expect? “Well, it’s a return to a band format as opposed to the virtual reality shows of the early ’90s. There’s a new type of light show controlled by LEDs which has never been used before.” In the ’70s and ’50s Rundgren’s production credits were phenomenal. He specialised in cult acts like the New York Dolls, XTC, Sparks and many others, but was it that gave him the most pleasure?
“All of them! Just today I was sitting in my hotel lobby and over the speakers I could hear the Psychedelic Furs’ ‘Love My Way’, which I worked on. That brought back great memories. In fact, a case in point was my work on Meatloaf’s Bat Out Of Hell. At that time he was a cult artist that nobody would touch. In fact, I was the last producer they contacted. No one would touch it. I saw it as a spoof on Bruce Springsteen, who at the time was everybody’s darling. I saw Meatloaf as the funny Bruce Springsteen.”
And what about the music business today? “Music has been a victim of its own success. In the ’70s record companies got bought up by bigger corporations, whose principal interest wasn’t music, they wanted it to be more like a product, like something you could sell in a factory.” You can feel the passion in his voice and when I mention the state of the current music scene: “There aren’t enough quirky artists around, which was my speciality. That execrable piece of crap Pop Idol, which was brought to us by an Englishman, has taken over as if it’s the only talent pool left in the world of music.
“The grunge thing was the last big musical highpoint with the independent labels: bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam; who had to serve an apprenticeship by going on the road perfecting their art, who had to work for years to get a record deal, instead of getting a deal off the bat. If you’re a musician, you’re gonna be doing this for a long time. Look at B B King, playing 300 times a year or even Tony Bennett. If you’re a serious musician you gotta put up with the good times as well as the bad, you just gotta keep on playing”. That’s the truth.
■ Todd Rundgren plays the Royal Festival Hall on July 15. The album ‘Liars’ is out now on Sanctuary Records. The Collectors Edition DVD Box Set is out now.