Wednesday, 19 October 2016

TODD RUNDGREN ON JOHN AND RINGO


As well as being part of the title of Todd Rundgren’s classic album from 1973, A True Star is also a fitting description of the multi-talented musician/producer/ cyber voyager who has been a potent force in popular music since his eviscerating debut single Open My Eyes with his proto-psychedelic garage rockers The Nazz in 1968. Since then Rundgren has worked with a dazzling array of bands, and achieved recognition as an artist with a series of critically acclaimed solo albums.
Here he shares some of his moments and insights from more than 40 years in music, which include some spiky exchanges with John Lennon and experiences with Ringo...

I met John Lennon in a place called the Rainbow in Los Angeles during his carousing days with Harry Nilsson. He was sitting in a booth and someone introduced me to him. I said hi but had no conversation; I wasn’t loaded enough. That was the only face-to-face experience I had with him. But there was this infamous exchange we had through a British music paper [Melody Maker]. Someone interviewed me when I was in England, and I’m not exactly sure how John’s name came up but the context was to do with his credibility as a revolutionary. John’s antics were fairly well-publicised at the time. He was going out every night and getting drunk, and there was one particular incident where he got into an altercation with a waitress and apparently was wearing a Kotex [tampon] on his head and acting somewhat boorish.

My opinion at the time was that if you’re going to encourage people to change the world you have to have a certain amount of personal credibility, and if you start going backwards and abusing women when ostensibly you are supposed to be a feminist, it’s time to either be just what you are or drop the revolutionary shtick and clean up your act. So this started a whole faux conflict between us. His take on it – as his take was on just about everything in those days because he and Yoko were involved in this primal scream therapy which had gotten into his music – was that he attributed my commentary down to some issues I might be having with my father. Anything that happened at that time John attributed down to some infantile issues.
Apparently after he was assassinated the police found of copy of one of my albums in the hotel Mark Chapman was staying at. I never had any contact with him and I don’t believe that there’s any evidence that the little spat me and John had any effect on Mark Chapman at all. I’m not even sure he knew about it.

Ringo was the most approachable of all of the Beatles. I have met each of the band in turn. If you grew up on A Hard Day’s Night and Help! and watched The Beatles’ antics, to actually meet them in person was often a let-down. For instance, Paul McCartney was an unusually dour person and John was totally drunk and inanimate. George I met very briefly when I was producing a Badfinger album.


You expected cleverness and a happy-go-lucky demeanour because of the image they projected up until the point they broke up. The only one who seemed to have recovered from any of the effects of that was Ringo. He did the music for fun. He didn’t feel that there was some burden to it, he just liked to play. Any opportunity to sing was fine but I never saw him having any pretence that he was building some giant musical legacy.
My experience with him spans quite a few years. The first time we worked together was for a Jerry Lewis telethon in the late 70s in Las Vegas. Ringo was still something of a drinker at the time. I didn’t really notice; he seemed to be in pleasant spirits. Jerry brought in this fiddle player named Doug Kershaw and made us play behind him, and he started playing Jambalaya and wouldn’t stop. I got up on one of the drum risers and started directing and we just started playing the song faster and faster until the fiddle player couldn’t keep up any more. That’s the way we made him stop.

 
Years and years later when Ringo started doing his All Star shows, he asked me to join him. By that time he was all cleaned up and very well organised. Ironically he was heading up a group of musicians of whom half were in Alcoholics Anonymous and the other half were completely smashed. I managed to straddle a middle ground; I could drink casually and enjoy it and not get into any shenanigans. But at the time, there was Ringo who was in AA, and Zak, his son, who was the other drummer and definitely not in AA. So there was a whole dynamic going on there.


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