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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, June 14, 2002

Rundgren refuses to be categorized

By Derek Paiva
Advertiser Staff Writer

 •  'A Walk Down Abbey Road'

With Todd Rundgren, Christopher Cross, Eric Carmen, Alan Parsons, Jack Bruce (of Cream) and Mark Farner (of Grand Funk Railroad)

7:30 p.m. Sunday, Blaisdell Arena

7:30 p.m. Saturday, Maui Arts & Cultural Center

$35, both shows (also $45 limited seating tickets on Maui)

526-4400, 591-2211 O'ahu; (808) 242-7469 Maui

Todd Rundgren cringes whenever he hears his most famous 1970s hits used as Me Decade cultural touchstones on the big screen — something that happens quite often these days.

Director Cameron Crowe — who has confessed to being a fan of Rundgren's work since his days as a teenage journalist for Rolling Stone magazine — placed his favorite Rundgren compositions prominently in his two most recent films, "Almost Famous" and "Vanilla Sky." Sofia Coppola did the same in her 1999 directorial debut, "The Virgin Suicides."

The music licensing fees Rundgren collects from these alone have got to be pretty good, and the singer/producer admits to being flattered by the attention. At heart, though, Rundgren — a full-time Kaua'i resident for the past six years — simply dislikes his singing from the era, and always has.

"It's often unnerving because they tend to use the really early stuff from when I hardly knew how to sing," said Rundgren, who nevertheless spoke kindly of the directors — and, in particular, Crowe. "It's also unnerving that on one hand you're getting the exposure, but people are getting exposed to stuff that really is not anywhere near to what you're currently doing."

What Rundgren, 54, has been doing of late is something he's always done as far as his musical career is concerned — avoiding any kind of permanent categorization.

After the huge critical and popular success of his 1972 double album "Something/Anything?" and its now classic patchouli-scented love ballads "Hello, It's Me" and "I Saw The Light," Rundgren frustrated, and lost, much of his fan base by diving wholeheartedly into a miasma of electronic music and prog rock, both solo and with his own band Utopia.

While pursuing such less-well-received muses, though, Rundgren also maintained a slightly more commercial career behind the mixing boards as a producer, engineer and arranger. Rundgren led production duties on Meat Loaf's "Bat Out of Hell" as well as on albums by Patti Smith, The New York Dolls, Bad Religion and XTC, to name just a few. He is also known for being an early pioneer of Internet music delivery, music video and music-related computer software. He still noodles with pretty much all of the above at his home studio/office in Princeville.

"I still produce, but not as much, for a number of reasons," said Rundgren. "One, is that (the music industry) is in a stylistic slump. The kind of music that's being produced is not the kind that I usually work with. And the other reason is that the record business, in general, is in a real slump. They've trimmed budgets. And at a certain point, the budget gets trimmed to the point where it's not worth it for me to (produce) anymore."

And so when not doing the occasional solo tour or heading out on the road with multi-act nostalgia tours like this weekend's "A Walk Down Abbey Road" all-star Beatles tribute, an average day sees Rundgren working at home on miscellaneous music and computer projects. Though not in the afternoon.

"That's when I watch an hour or two of cooking shows," said Rundgren, cracking up. "Since we got into designing our own house ... one of the rooms that requires the most attention is the kitchen. So I started watching cooking shows to get some idea of what a kitchen works like. And I just kind of got hooked on it ... every day."

Later in the afternoon, Rundgren cocks an ear to his computer to hear son Rex (a 1999 Mid-Pacific Institute graduate and star shortstop for The Owls) play baseball for the Kane County Cougars, a minor-league farm team for the Florida Marlins, based in Geneva, Ill.

"We sit around real old-fashioned like a Norman Rockwell painting ... listening to his games over the Internet," said Rundgren, proudly. "That's become almost a standard part of the day. He started out a little bumpy, but he's having a real good year right now. He'll be starting for the all-star team in his division."

In addition to taking over vox duties on a handful of John Lennon-crooned Beatles hits ("I can do the scream ... which nobody else the last time we toured could do"), Rundgren will be singing a couple of his own hits, "Hello, It's Me" and "Open My Eyes," on "Abbey Road" tour dates. Both, of course, from his self-proclaimed vocally challenged but commercially successful years.

"You know, I never listen to (my) music from that era," said Rundgren. "It's principally the singing ... but often the material too, actually. Up until — and to a certain degree, through — 'Something/Anything?" I was leveraging one failed relationship and getting all of my material out of this one failed relationship. At a certain point I said, 'This is tedious. You're writing about stuff you don't even feel anymore.' And so a lot of the stuff previous to that sounds soporific to me."

Perhaps. But no more soporific than a half hour of "Martha Stewart's Kitchen" can be.