On Tuesday, we had an all-day meeting of the Corporate Strategy and Engagement team of which Autodesk Labs is now a part. We had participants from Los Gatos, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, San Rafael, and Toronto all in one place at the same time. As part of kicking things off, we had to share something about ourselves that the others probably didn't know.
I told my story about being a Todd Rundgren fan. In 1973, when I was 13 years old, I purchased a copy of an album entitled A Wizard, A True Star,
To the casual listener, the album gets its name because one side features ornate synthesizer arrangements (musical instrument wizardry) and the other side features soulful balladeering (star quality singing). But that's not why I am a fan. The album had a non-rectangular shaped cover, painted by artist Arthur Wood, with odd symbols strewn about it. At first glance these symbols seemed to be gibberish; however, they were a cipher that when decoded had messages like "Be true to your word and your work." and "I will be as true to you as I can." In this case "true," meant "loyal," not "real." Todd Rundgren was making music true to his musical vision independent of its commercial appeal. As a 13-year-old, that made an impression on me and has stuck with me ever since. Words to live by.
As I told this story one of my teammates inquired - "Todd Rundgren — the 'Hello It's Me' guy?" I, of course, said "yes" because that is one of his popular songs, but I cringed a little bit inside because that song is not really representative of why I am a fan. Then I thought, I have been a fan a long time. It started when I was 13. How many people still like something that they liked when they were 13? As counter-examples: I don't watch cartoons anymore. I can eat a variety of foods other than macaroni and cheese. I drive a car instead of peddling a bicycle. I am not the same person I was when I was 13, so how could this musical taste have endured?
So since it's Friday, and I try to blog about something other than work, I thought I'd share 5 reasons I am still a Todd Rundgren fan after all these years.
Todd Rundgren writes his own lyrics and music, plays all of the instruments himself, does all of his own lead and background vocals, and records/mixes/produces the music himself. As a successful music producer for other artists (e.g., Meatloaf, Hall & Oates, The Band, Badfinger, Grand Funk Railroad, XTC), his solo albums are exercises in personal satisfaction and don't reflect the top 40 trends that record companies buy their way into via FM radio and TV shows like American Idol. I respect that.
Complex Background Vocals
Todd Rundgren can create a choir of his own voices by simply recording basic, bass, and alto versions of song choruses. Using only 3 different tracks, he can stagger multiples of them to make a song sound like many people are singing in tune.
Example: "Can We Still Be Friends" from Hermit of Mink Hollow (hear 28 seconds)
Todd Rundgren can play guitar with a dexterity that equals his contemporaries like Eric Clapton, Eddie Van Halen, or Jeff Beck.
Example: "Mercenary" from Arena (hear 20 seconds)
Todd Rundgren's lyrics are just right for me - not too simple like Bruce Springsteen and not too obfuscated like Peter Gabriel (whom I also like). Some of my favorite lines include:
"Oh, but when push came to shove, I had lost the thing I love when I lost the courage of my convictions."
"Courage" from Arena
"Pity the man, searching in the sky, looking for a sign from above, and he never caught a glimpse of what he's worthy of."
"Drive" from The Ever Popular Tortured Artist Effect
"And I'm still running to something, running to something far away, unseen by the others in the herd, I'm only running to something, running to something, into the arms of my dream."
"Can't Stop Running" from Nearly Human
No two Todd Rundgren albums are alike. He certainly has his share of contemporary pop hits like "I Saw The Light" or "Bang The Drum All Day," but his albums include styles such as blues, bossa nova, Broadway, country, dance, heavy metal, hip-hop, jazz, new age, rap, rock, techno, and movie soundtracks. He even has a 1985 album entitled A Cappella where all of the sounds on the record were made using his voice and a Fairlight CMI (Computer Musical Instrument). This predates Bobby McFerrin's "Don't Worry, Be Happy" which won a Grammy in 1988.
Example: "Something To Fall Back" On from A Cappella (hear 22 seconds)
Todd Rundgren is also a computer graphics programmer. When I worked at Ithaca Software, I gave him a copy of our 3D graphics library, HOOPS, to experiment with. He would come by our booth at SIGGraph. In fact, Gary Yost, of the Yost Group that developed 3d Studio and the original 3ds Max, played tambourine and sang on the Nearly Human album. That one was recorded live in the studio, no overdubs, instead of Rundgren playing all the parts himself.
So there you have it. I could have gone on and on, but I kept it to 5 reasons.
Musical explanations are alive in the lab.