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Todd Rundgren creates vitual TV show in his pandemic downtime
If all had gone according to plan, Todd Rundgren would have recently wrapped up a spring concert tour.
Of course, nothing has gone according to plan in the wake of the novel coronavirus pandemic. But Rundgren, who’s rescheduled his shows for early 2021, has kept busy in lockdown.
Quarantined at home in Kauai -- "When it comes to places that you could be stuck in, I definitely lucked out," -- he says -- the veteran performer and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominee is maintaining a full plate of projects, audio, visual and prose. the most pressing is "The Todd's Honest Truth," a virtual TV show that debuts at 9 p.m. Monday, June 22 -- his 72nd birthday -- and will begin airing bi-weekly on July 3. Tickets are $15 per show via onlocationlive.com, and Rundgren is sworn to give viewers something worth paying for in each of the hourly episodes.
"It won't be the typical sort of me sitting in front of my bookcase and playing a bunch of acoustic numbers," Rundgren says by phone. "I scoped out some of the shows people are doing and I found them to be often kind of slack and low-energy, like you're playing for yourself. I wanted to do something that looks a little bit slicker, that's more taut, not a lot of hemming and hawing and dead air and that sort of stuff.
"It'll have a real sort of produced video look to it as opposed to me just pointing an iPhone at something."
The initial idea for "The Todd's Honest Truth" was a podcast "of me spieling about stuff," Rundgren says. After discussions with Future Beat, his regular tour merchandiser, Rundgren and his team decided to go visual and create "more of a variety show," combining live and pre-recorded segments "about a lot of different things. I'm doing a little thing in the kitchen showing some of the ways that I approach dealing with food. I'll be doing little demonstrations of stuff I use to actually make the show. I'm gonna root around in my closet and pull out various old costumes and clothes that might have a story about them and talk about those."
Music will be part of the show, too, but Rundgren cautions that, "I'm not presenting it as a substitute for the live show."
An early adapter to and pioneer of video technology dating back to the 70s, Rundgren has most of the tools he needs already at home and has been adding to his arsenal in preparation for the TV show. He's also been a long advocate for virtual concert tours, playing different shows that would be narrowcast and made available to different cities he would otherwise visit in person.
"We'd go to one venue and do 28 different gigs from there," Rundgren explains, "one for each night of the tour, so the show can come to your house instead of you having to hang out with a crowd of people, and it would still feel a little bit local and special." He says that music industry "inertia" has stymied his ambitions, but the pandemic may open some minds to his idea.
"This is the new normal," Rundgren notes. "It may not and probably won't be the last time that we have a biological catastrophe like this one, so (virtual tours) could be a formula we can use or any artist can use to get through times like this."
Rundgren returns to the road in January, still celebrating his 1973 album "A Wizard, A True Star" and also unveiling an expanded edition of his 2019 memoir "The Individualist," which will feature another dozen chapters. Rundgren is also working on a new album, which, like 2017's "White Night," will feature collaborations with other artists, in this case Rivers Cuomo from Weezer, Steve Vai, Thomas Dolby, Sparks and Adrian Belew. "I'm pretty far along, actually," Rundgren says, though the pandemic "took a lot of pressure off" of having to finish it any time soon.
Meanwhile he's continuing work on a new all-star version of his 1973 anthem "Just one Victory," which he plans to make available to Democratic Party candidates at all levels for their general election campaigns this year. So far he's confirmed Daryl Hall, Joe Walsh, Paul Shaffer and Don Was as participants, with more to be announced in the near future.
"Everyone is frustrated and trying to figure out a way to do something to ideally affect the outcome of the general election," Rundgren says. "I've been enduring the same three years that everybody else has, and just the opportunity to do something besides complain kind of appeals. There's a lot of noise out there, so I wanted to figure out a way to participate without simply making more noise. Simply having an opinion, which of course I do, is not enough. We want to turn that onion into something that's encouraging a lot of people to become involved.
"The song itself is about hopefulness and unity and stuff like that. It isn't talking about the politics of our time; It's just about encouraging people to not lose their will between now and the ballot box, to really keep that fire lit under everyone."
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