A Wizard, A True Star: Todd Rundgren in the Studio, published this month by Jawbone press,
takes a good hard luck at the Runt and his work as both artist and producer –
the good, the bad and the ugly.
By Lee Zimmerman
For a musician who’s been so prolific… and so persistent…
over the past 40 years or so, there’s been surprisingly little written about
Todd Rundgren and the course of his career. So while A Wizard, A True Star: Todd Rundgren in the Studio can’t be
considered a formal biography per se, it is one of the most expansive narratives
that’s been penned so far.
Written by Paul Myers — an author credited with more
obscure tomes about Long John Baldry and Barenaked Ladies – the book thoroughly
dissects Todd’s studio exploits, tossing in a generous sampling of outside
observations and intriguing insights into his studio regimen. Clearly, Rundgren’s
assertive stance and authoritative personality have occasionally left his
charges grumbling with discontent. And yet, there’s little doubt that he’s also
boosted any number of artists that were in desperate need of guidance. In fact,
if there’s been any single strand in Rundgren’s trajectory, it’s his
willingness to work with a staggering array of artists, a remarkably diverse
mesh of styles and personalities. Indeed, there’s little common ground between
XTC and Grand Funk Railroad, or Meatloaf and the New York Dolls. Yet even so,
Rundgren’s always manages to ratchet up the hooks and harness the melodies to ensure
an accessible sound.
If Rundgren’s sometimes guilty of recasting these artists in
his own image in order to make them more agreeable to the masses, he’s also the
first to plead guilty as charged. “If you know what you want, I’ll get it for
you,” he asserts. “If you don’t know what you want, I’ll do it for you.” That unrelenting
attitude underscores the book’s most dramatic revelations, and interviews with the
artists he’s produced bear witness to Todd’s sometimes testy technique. “He’s a
prick in the studio,” Bad Religion’s Greg Graffin notes somewhat sardonically.
“It’s his way or the highway… if you don’t like hearing the truth about your
own shortcomings, don’t talk to Todd. “
While such assessments seem commonplace throughout, the
pertinent details about Rundgren’s life outside the studio are given only a
cursory nod. His relationship with model Bebe Buell is mentioned only in
passing, and his crucial formative years with the Nazz, the band that served as
his springboard to success in writing, producing and performing, is given a
scant six pages. Even his stint with Ringo Starr’s All Starr Band rates nothing
more than a brief mention.
Inevitably though, those become minor complaints. The star
power packed into this book reflects a who’s who of pop music spanning the
course of more than four decades. The remarkable insights into the Rundgren
regimen suggest he’s an artist who could rightfully be considered in the same
category of genius as Brian Wilson, George Martin, Leiber and Stoller, Phil
Spector or any of the other legendary studio stalwarts who etched their sound
in pop’s pantheon. A fascinating
narrative, A Wizard, A True Star affirms Rundgren’s an artist for the ages.