Singer-songwriter Todd Rundgren shares his journey Sunday in Great Barrington
GREAT BARRINGTON — "Hello, it's me."
In their drawn-out delivery, the opening words to one of Todd Rundgren's most popular songs suggest a speaker pining for a loved one. But the beginning of "Hello It's Me" also provokes a more basic thought: Who is this "me"?
Lately, casual Rundgren fans and diehards alike have been learning quite a bit more about who the singer is, and was. The former Nazz and Utopia founder's autobiography, "The Individualist: Digressions, Dreams and Dissertations," was released in December. Reflective press and concert tours have followed. On Sunday, he will stop at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center for a night of multimedia performance.
"There's a bit of storytelling," Rundgren told The Eagle. "There's a visual element, which is composed mostly of additional archival material that people may or may not have seen before, so there's a somewhat entertaining and informative element in that. We do a Q&A in the middle of the show, which I wouldn't normally do."
If you think you can grill him onstage, though, think again.
"We've taken some of the potential confusion out of it by setting up an iPad in the lobby of the venue and letting people ask me questions through that, and then we essentially call out the ones that make some sense and put them up on the video screen," Rundgren said. " ... It's a good way to find the good questions and also a good way to keep from losing the microphone if you pass it out in the audience. You might never see it again."
Luckily for audience members, Rundgren is in the mood to share these days. His book has been praised for being forthcoming about Rundgren's late 1960s years with Nazz, his production of Meat Loaf's "Bat Out of Hell" and his experiences with Patti Smith, Janis Joplin and Brian Wilson, among other prominent figures. But he has heard from many readers that his accounts of his backpacking trip through the Middle East and Asia in the mid-1970s have resonated in particular. During that period, which came after the releases of his successful solo albums "Something/Anything" and "A Wizard, a True Star," the Pennsylvania native bought an around-the-world ticket and visited countries such as India and Iran. He wanted to learn more about Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam, religions he had mostly only really read about.
"What were those things really like? What were the cultures that produced those things like?" he recalled wondering.
Those questioning how Rundgren, no stranger to the psychedelic drugs of the 1970s, might reliably relay his life story might appreciate the book's unconventional structure. Each chapter is just one page, and each page has three paragraphs that poke at the nature of memory.
"The essential conceit is that I relate an episode of something that happened to me. That's the first paragraph, and it's mostly exactly what happened as I remember it. The second paragraph is kind of what was going through my mind either when that was happening or when I'm recalling it happening. And then the third paragraph is essentially a summation or a justification for why that particular episode matters at all," said Rundgren, who has never read another rock star's autobiography.
At signings and other events, Rundgren has heard from readers that they appreciate his approach.
"They thank me for making it digestible, for reducing it down, making it pithy. I'm not describing the carpeting and the drapes and stuff. I'm getting right to what actually happened and how I feel about it and what I've learned," he said.
The rocker decided to end his book's story when he was 50. He had started working on the project in the 1990s at someone else's suggestion.
"I hadn't done anything like that before, so I started it, and the more I did, the less fun it was because it reminded me of homework, like a school project or something," Rundgren said.
Ultimately, he returned to the book because he didn't want somebody to scoop him on his own story. Rundgren didn't draw from the years after his 50th birthday for several reasons.
"My life kind of changed a lot after that. It got more about raising my kids. I was living in a much more remote place [the Hawaiian island of Kauai], so I wasn't running into or having interactions with as many well-known personalities," Rundgren said.
The record business also changed.
"I wasn't doing as many productions. It essentially became just go out and play a lot," Rundgren said. "You have to make up for the fact that you can't expect money from a record label anymore, so you go back to being a regular old musician who just plays all the time. It's not as if when you turn 50 you suddenly have a whole bunch of new revelatory experiences. I've been most places that I would like to see, so there aren't those 'aha' moments."
Still, Rundgren hopes to take a year off at some point and help produce a jukebox musical. Along the way, whether in song or in story, he feels compelled to capture his thoughts for public consumption.
"If something happened to me, and it was an important thing that happened to me," he said, "I have to write about it."
Benjamin Cassidy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @bybencassidy on Twitter and 413-496-6251
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