Saturday, November 28, 2009

T Party Express: Todd Rundgren Relationship Song Cycle

When I was a teenager, I was blessed with several career options from which to choose and parents who never pushed me in a predetermined direction, including toward matrimony - which was all the more remarkable considering that they were conservative traditionalists in their late 50s. I always enjoyed reading and writing to clarify my thoughts, which developed into a creative writing hobby. I won my share of student author awards, but my first love was music.

After many years of dance and music lessons, I knew for certain that I didn't want to be a public performer. I was fascinated with the behind-the-scenes aspects of studio craft - production, songwriting and arranging. My idols were the exceptional few artists who produced and composed their own work, like Brian Wilson. Lacking confidence in my ability to break into the male-dominated music industry of the 1970s, I chickened out and opted for a safe college major instead. My window of opportunity to follow my dream closed, but music remained the constant companion of my life.

Todd Rundgren was one of the 1970s rock pioneers who most influenced my musical sensibility. A well-rounded prodigy, he produced, composed, arranged and performed his own material and sometimes played all the instruments himself. He embraced technology in the studio and brought it to the stage without sacrificing the emotional intimacy of his often intensely personal lyrics.

A song cycle is a musical sequence unified by a common theme. For example, Brian Wilson's exquisite Pet Sounds is a self-contained song cycle that documents the phases of a relationship from its early promise to disillusionment and heartbreak. Over the course of several albums and decades, Rundgren recorded a series of songs that fit into a similar cycle.

We Gotta Get You a Woman from the album Runt (1970) begins with romantic advice from a worldly wise friend - or so it seems.

In I Saw the Light (1972), two pairs of eyes meet and magic ensues.

Doubt, complacency, fear of being changed by a relationship and a fashion homage to Ziggy Stardust show up in Hello It's Me (1972) to dampen the romance. I blame Liv Tyler's mom, Bebe Buell, for the 1970s gender bender makeup.

In the Cold Morning Light (1972) comes a dawning realization that there will be no happy ending ...

followed by recrimination and regret in It Wouldn't Have Made Any Difference (1972).

The 1978 album Hermit of Mink Hollow asks the musical question Can We Still Be Friends? The Magic 8-Ball says, "Outlook not so good."

During the anger or revenge phase of a breakup, a quote attributed to Groucho Marx may temporarily bring some grim satisfaction: "Time wounds all heels." But Time Heals from the 1981 album Healing offers hope to the resilient heart, as well as some nifty early 80s dance moves. Is there anything that Todd Rundgren can't do?

If you were present at the birth of MTV music television, like me you may have a fond remembrance of Todd's video, which played in heavy rotation with the likes of Billy Squier, 38 Special, REO Speedwagon, Rainbow, plus a whole lot of Pat Benatar and Rod Stewart.

The sudden, swift disintegration of my marriage has been more traumatic and disturbing for me than heartbreaking. It makes me almost nostalgic for the poetic angst and uncomplicated pain of lost love. Almost.

Previous stops:

Weather with You by Crowded House (1991).

No Blue Skies by Lloyd Cole (1990).

Wicked Game by Chris Isaak (1989).

Blue Skies by Eva Cassidy (1996).

What a Wonderful World by Eva Cassidy and Katie Melua (2008).

Pick Yourself Up by Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers (1936).

Special by Garbage (1998).

The Whole of the Moon by the Waterboys (1985).

Empty Me by Chris Sligh (2008).

So Long Self by Mercy Me (2006).

Here's Where the Story Ends by the Sundays (1990).

Broken by Lighthouse (2009).

God Shaped Hole by Plumb (1999).

The Thrill Is Gone by B.B. King (1970).

Love and Regret by Deacon Blue (1989).

Real Gone Kid by Deacon Blue (1989).

My Book by the Beautiful South (1990).

A Little Time by the Beautiful South (1990).

Your Ex-Lover Is Dead by Stars (2005).

This Woman's Work by Kate Bush (1989).

Love Will Tear Us Apart by Joy Division (1980).

Reptile by the Church (1988).

Accidents Will Happen by Elvis Costello (1979).

Tears Run Rings by Marc Almond (1987).

Killing Moon by Echo and the Bunnymen (1984).

Love Lies Bleeding by Elton John (1973).

Last Time Forever by Squeeze (1985).

Conjure Me by the Afghan Whigs (1992).

Debonair by the Afghan Whigs (1993).

Hallelujah by Jason Castro (2009).

Total Recall by the Sound (1985).

Fly by Jars of Clay (2002).

Train in Vain by the Clash (1980).

It's My Life by Talk Talk (1984).

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