Archive for October, 2010

Wizard Wednesdays: Robbie Robertson and the “Polaroid Sound” of Todd Rundgren

Posted in Uncategorized on October 27, 2010 by pulmyears

Happy Wizard Wednesday

In case you’re just tuning in, in the past few weeks, I have been devoting a series of Wednesday Pulmyears Music Blog entries featuring selected content from my upcoming anecdotal history of the studio productions of Todd Rundgren, entitled A Wizard A True Star: Todd Rundgren In The Studio (Jawbone Press).  If your local independent (or chain) bookstore isn’t stocking it, tell them about it and have them order it! (Please!).

And every week, at this juncture, I typically remind everyone that my book is about the making of a whole bunch of records. It’s not just about Todd Rundgren’s records (although most of ‘em are in here), but more of an anecdotal history the entire range of Rundgren’s classic studio productions, with exclusive first-hand tales of the studio from Todd and most of the principle clients. Why, there’s  Meat Loaf: Bat Out Of Hell, Sparks: (Halfnelson), Hall & Oates: War Babies, XTC: Skylarking, New York Dolls: New York Dolls + Cause I Sez So, Patti Smith Group: Wave, The Band: Stage Fright, Cheap Trick: Next Position Please, The Tubes: Remote Control + Love Bomb, Bourgeois Tagg: YoYo, The Pursuit Of Happiness: Love Junk + One Sided Story, Steve Hillage: L, Psychedelic Furs: Forever Now and Grand Funk: We’re An American Band + Shinin’ On. And yes, I even talked with all key Utopia members (all lineups), and get Todd’s take on the making of  Badfinger’s Straight Up and his fascinating interactions with George Harrison.


On Wizard Wednesdays, I have been leaking and remixing / reworking unedited material from both the book and my unused notes. In the first two weeks, I covered Todd’s own Healing and Todd albums, and the week after that I leaked some stuff from the discussion of Todd’s production of  New York Dolls (1973). Next. I shared some of Todd fan Dave Gregory’s thoughts on the sessions for XTC’s Skylarking (1986). The following week, I took you to Lenny Kaye’s house to talk about Patti Smith Group’s Wave album, and the week after that, I had a snippet from Howard “Flo & Eddie” Kaylan discussing his work with Todd on the Psychedelic Furs album, Forever Now (1982). I also posted two separate podcasts of interviews where I discuss the book, you can find those here.

Here’s our latest campaign commercial (airing in the fly-over states)

This week, by request, I’m gonna share a little of my bulk interview notes with Robbie Robertson, discussing how he brought Todd Rundgren with him to Toronto to record Jesse Winchester‘s debut album, and how that lead to Rundgren being invited to work on Stage Fright, with The Band. This isn’t the full interview, but I am not doing much editing here on my blog, unlike in the book itself where it’s folded into a back and forth with Todd.

Paul Myers: Thanks for talking to me Robbie. Let’s start by talking about how you had Todd work on Jesse Winchester’s record.

Robbie Robertson: What happened was, I’d found this draft dodger up in Canada named Jesse Winchester. I kind of felt bad for the guy, you know? He was just hiding out up there and hoping to not go to prison. But he was really good and had great songs. I wanted to help Jesse make a record, so I talked to Albert [Grossman] about it and told him that I’d have to go up to Canada to do it but I really don’t know who to work with up there.  At the time it was very important who engineered, it still is but back then it was even more magnified. It was so critical who the engineer was, and if they could do what you had in mind. A lot of these guys were just staff people and did just, you know, ‘the usual.’

Robbie: When you were trying to do something with some character, or that had a real vibe to it or something, it would be hard to get that message across. So I talked to Albert about this and he said, ‘Well we use this young kind of studio whiz guy by the name of Todd.’  I guess they were doing something, I don’t remember exactly what that was, but Albert and Todd had something going on. So I said, ‘Hey, sounds good to me!’

Paul: So you met up with Todd, describe your first meeting.

Robbie: I told him about this curious situation. I played him a couple of Jesse’s tunes just from a little tape recorder so he got an idea of what it was. Then I figured I’d track down some musicians up there, in Toronto, and we went up and made the whole record in a few days. The thing with Todd was, when you could describe something that you were imagining with the song in abstract, or poetic kinds of terms –  colourful but what the hell does that mean? – he could really translate that sort of idea because he was a musician first before he was an engineer.  So we’d gone up there and knocked this baby out, had a great time doing it, came back and did a little bit more stuff in the studio with it in New York and mixed it. It was a great experience.

Paul: Then, after Jesse’s album, you brought Todd over to the Woodstock Playhouse to engineer the Stage Fright sessions. Was it that simple?

Robbie: Not too long after I’d gotten back, I had to start thinking about doing the next album with The Band. I had this idea. After the Woodstock festival, the people in Woodstock just looked at us funny. After that, it was kind of like, ‘You guys brought all this down on us!’… Woodstock had become the most famous little town in the whole world, with people in Volkswagen buses coming in for as far as the eye could see! …we felt bad about it, you know, because when we, the guys in The Band and me, first went to Woodstock it was just a charming little art community… It was just a lovely enclave of artists and painters. That charm really got dealt a whole new hand after the Woodstock festival. So I was thinking that maybe there was a gesture we could make to the town so that they might just feel better about the whole situation. We really liked those people. So I came up with this idea, I said ‘For this next album why don’t we rehearse all of it first, then we’ll just play it live for just the townsfolk of Woodstock. Just a very private thing. …we took it to the town council … they came back said, ‘Well, we don’t really like this idea at all. They said that they knew that we meant well by it but the people that are gonna come in to see that show are all the same kinds of people they’d been trying to keep out of the town of Woodstock, every day!

Paul: So you called off the concert but kept the stage premise?

Robbie: Yeah, we ended up making this album at the Woodstock Playhouse for nobody, with nobody in the audience. We recorded on the stage, but it turned out to be sort of an interesting acoustical thing because you could perform with the curtain closed and it would give you this dry sound and if you opened the curtain you got the sound of the house in there. So there was a certain thing to work with there. The control room was just off stage, and Todd worked a lot with earphones.

Paul: From previously written accounts, there was a lot of tension at the Playhouse, is that a fair assessment?

Robbie: The vibe was much different than the vibe we’d had with Jesse Winchester. It wasn’t really a great time for the guys in The Band, right then. There was just a lot of, you know, distraction and a lot of drug experimenting, a lot of things going on. The other guys in the band didn’t exactly like Todd. They just …   One thing was we’d all go in there and you’d be kind of waiting until the mood struck you. Until someone might say, ‘Okay let’s go in and cut something.’  [I’m sure] Todd thought, ‘What are we doing? How come we don’t we just show up and start recording?’ He was impatient, he didn’t know what we were waiting for. I didn’t even know what we were waiting for either! (laughs). But you could just tell, when it was getting harder just to round everybody up and get them all sitting down in front of their instruments, learning the songs, and doing all those things.  There was a bit of intensity too, because this was the third record that we were making. The first two records, we had worked with John Simon and [now] John thought that Todd was taking over his position. But Todd just came aboard as an engineer, you know. He wasn’t looking for anything else. But the whole process and the timing thing got weird. Poor Todd! I mean, John Simon didn’t like Todd either!

Paul: But even though Levon famously took a run at Todd, or I’m hoping he’ll clarify that [Levon declined to comment], you seem to have been rooting for him. Was that more or less true?

Robbie: Todd didn’t play by the rulebook of sound engineers, because I don’t think he knew the rule book. So he would just be more experimental and push things further soundwise. But with the situation of not being in an recording studio and just setting up on the stage of these old playhouse, it was a bit tricky to contend with. We’d be doing stuff, trying different things, and the guys were cracking comments, like ‘Well that kinda sounds like shit!’ So he was trying to figure out how to make it work in there, I mean we all were, but the jabs back and forth, I don’t know, the tension just kind of grew out of the ground that way.

Paul: Even though you ended up using a lot of the Glyn Johns final mixes, was the basic Stage Fright sound there on tape while you were tracking over at the Playhouse?

Robbie: The sound on the song ‘Stage Fright’ is really good. I mean, Todd did a great job on that. And on ‘The Shape I’m In.’ Then later on, towards the end of the record, we did ‘Daniel and The Sacred Harp,’ and ‘W.S. Walcott’s Medicine Show’ and they all turned out to be real highlights. Even when we recorded ‘Strawberry Wine’, Levon and Richard were in pretty bad shape, you know, when we doing those things and even that’s on the tape. The situation behind the scenes is in the the sound as well. I love the fact that that actually got captured in this thing; there’s no disguises on this record. So all of that just adds up to me. I think that Todd’s contribution was that he managed to get a Polaroid sound.

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Wizard Wednesdays: Couldn’t I Just Tell You What It Is. And What It Isn’t…

Posted in Uncategorized on October 20, 2010 by pulmyears

Happy Wizard Wednesday, It’s Alive! Edition.

In case you’re just tuning in, in the past few weeks, I began devoting a series of Wednesday blog entries featuring selected content from my upcoming anecdotal history of the studio productions of Todd Rundgren, entitled A Wizard A True Star: Todd Rundgren In The Studio (Jawbone Press).  If your local independent (or chain) bookstore isn’t stocking it, tell them about it and have them order it! (Please!).

And every week, at this juncture, I typically remind everyone that my book is about the making of a whole bunch of records. It’s not just about Todd Rundgren’s records (although most of ’em are in here), but more of an anecdotal history the entire range of Rundgren’s classic studio productions, with exclusive first-hand tales of the studio from Todd and most of the principle clients. Why, there’s  Meat Loaf: Bat Out Of Hell, Sparks: (Halfnelson), Hall & Oates: War Babies, XTC: Skylarking, New York Dolls: New York Dolls + Cause I Sez So, Patti Smith Group: Wave, The Band: Stage Fright, Cheap Trick: Next Position Please, The Tubes: Remote Control + Love Bomb, Bourgeois Tagg: YoYo, The Pursuit Of Happiness: Love Junk + One Sided Story, Steve Hillage: L, Psychedelic Furs: Forever Now and Grand Funk: We’re An American Band + Shinin’ On. And yes, I even talked with all key Utopia members (all lineups), and get Todd’s take on the making of  Badfinger’s Straight Up and his fascinating interactions with George Harrison.

On Wizard Wednesdays, I have been leaking and remixing / reworking unedited material from both the book and my unused notes. In the first two weeks, I covered Todd’s own Healing and Todd albums, and the week after that I leaked some stuff from the discussion of Todd’s production of  New York Dolls (1973). Next. I shared some of Todd fan Dave Gregory’s thoughts on the sessions for XTC’s Skylarking (1986). The following week, I took you to Lenny Kaye’s house to talk about Patti Smith Group’s Wave album, and the week after that, I had a snippet from Howard “Flo & Eddie” Kaylan discussing his work with Todd on the Psychedelic Furs album, Forever Now (1982).

Last week, I posted two separate podcasts of interviews where I discuss the book, you can find those here.

This week, as the first copies arrive on the doorsteps of people who pre-ordered, and as store book stores begin to receive the first shipments, I want to share an actual excerpt from the book. This is an EDITED EXCERPT from my brief introduction to what my book is and isn’t, and I wrote it to put the reader into the proper mindset, expectations wise, about how to approach it. One note, I also noticed that the art director’s flipped a photo of Todd which appears on the spine (and inside) so it appears that he is a lefty. I didn’t do this, so take it up with the art directors and their layout decisions!! Last thing, I’m really proud of this work and freakin’ excited that it’s finally out!


Introduction: Couldn’t I Just Tell You (radio edit) © by Paul Myers

(Full version appears in: A Wizard A True Star: Todd Rundgren In The Studio published by Jawbone Press)

Throughout his storied career, Todd Rundgren has ping-ponged between the worlds of producer and recording artist with varying degrees of critical and commercial success or financial reward. For many, myself included, their first sense of Rundgren’s studio wizardry came after hearing the spoken word ‘Intro,’ from his 1972 tour de force, Something/Anything?, where the wizard allowed us a peek behind his sonic curtain as he playfully demonstrated a litany of audio gaffes one might have encountered on the albums of the day. He couched all of this in the sarcastic premise of a “game” and invited the listener to play along with him on their home stereo system.

“Before we go any further,” Rundgren announced as side two began, “I’d like to show you all a game I made up. This game is called ‘Sounds Of The Studio,’ and it can be played with any record, including this one… You can even play it with your favorite record; you may be surprised. Now, if you have a pair of headphones, you better get ’em out and get ’em cranked up, ’cause they’re really gonna help you on this one.”

Rundgren’s guided tour of things like ‘P’ popping, bad editing, and other common recording flaws told me more about him as both producer and artist than anything I’ve read about him since. Rundgren’s recordings could be seriously masterful, whimsically sarcastic, poppy and progressive, sweet and hard, often at the same time.

[Here’s the only YouTube clip I could find for this, the “Intro” actually begins at 3:40)]

As a producer and engineer, Todd Rundgren is the product of both Les Paul’s recording innovations and the studio experimentations of 60s trailblazers like The Beatles and The Beach Boys. As such, he was born at the perfect time to flourish as a rock producer in the 70s and 80s, the golden age of the studio, when his reputation was largely cemented by a span of work stretching over 20 years. While he continued, and continues, to make recordings, Rundgren’s attentions were frequently diverted over the 90s into new fields of technology. Ironically, some of his innovations would come to liberate the recording artist in such a way as to lessen the perceived value, or need, for a record producer at all. His evolution into a significant digital artist of the 21st century milieu is covered rather broadly in this volume, and I have intentionally dwelled upon the first 20 years, when Todd Rundgren made his name as a studio producer, working in big rooms and, predominantly, on analog tape.

After learning his craft as a songwriter and arranger for Nazz, and then gaining major attention for his engineering skills with The Band, Rundgren began to demonstrate a latent genius for pulling off hit productions with acts like Badfinger, The New York Dolls, and Grand Funk Railroad. All the while he was pushing the boundaries with his solo albums and those made with the various versions of his performance-based group, Utopia. We’ll look at some of his more underappreciated albums for Sparks, Hall & Oates, The Tubes, and Cheap Trick as well as some iconic releases by Meat Loaf, Patti Smith, The Psychedelic Furs, and XTC. Along the way, we’ll touch on some of Rundgren’s other work for artists like Steve Hillage, Shaun Cassidy, Jules Shear, Alice Cooper, Tom Robinson, and Bourgeois Tagg.
In describing Rundgren, the word that most frequently came to the lips of his clients and associates, the majority of whom talked to me for this book, was “genius.” The second most frequent, however, was “sarcastic,” with “aloof” running close behind. But while most artists only worked with Rundgren once – with notable exceptions being Grand Funk, The New York Dolls, The Tubes, The Hello People, and The Pursuit of Happiness – rarely do any of his single-time clients bemoan the final results.

At one point during our two-hour conversation for this book, Jim Steinman, the composer of Rundgren’s most commercially successful production, Bat Out Of Hell, began laughing as he described Rundgren’s constant browbeating and sarcastic taunts. Then, in the same moment, Steinman insisted that Rundgren, who put himself on the line financially to get Bat Out Of Hell made, was “the only true genius” he’d ever met in his life.

The most legendarily combative sessions of Rundgren’s production career were undoubtedly those for the XTC album Skylarking. Yet, in each of their interviews for this book, the three members of XTC express, in hindsight, their admiration for the final results.

XTC’s Dave Gregory, admittedly a fan, credited Rundgren for doing exactly what he’d been hired to do. “Against all the odds,” said Gregory, “he got the band a hit in America with ‘Dear God.’ Todd Rundgren saved XTC’s career.”

As you will see, over the course of the first-hand remarks, post-mortems, and personal opinions expressed by the many players in Rundgren’s professional world, he is not always the hero in his own story; but he is frequently the most compelling character. Contrary to the myth, Todd is not God; in fact he’s nearly human. Good social skills may make for a more pleasant life, but they are not a prerequisite for good art. Having said that, Rundgren nonetheless has legions of friends and admirers and enjoys a uniquely close relationship with his fans, many of whom he invited to camp out in his backyard in Kauai, Hawaii, for his 60th birthday festivities.

What has become clear to me, over my year and a half researching this project, is that Todd Rundgren is a true pioneer who has rarely received the acclaim he deserves. That he has yet to be inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, for example, beggars belief. Not that he himself seems to care.

But before we go any further, I feel it is appropriate to tell you a bit about what this book is and isn’t. When asked, I have described it as “an anecdotal history of the recording world of Todd Rundgren, centered on the golden age of studio recording, when real people made records by hand in the big rooms.” What this means is that, while there will be relevant background about the personal life of Todd Harry Rundgren, we are more concerned with what happened in the studio during the early years, when Rundgren earned his reputation as a studio whiz.

In light of this studio-only mandate, most live albums, personal family scandals, and tragedies are only touched on obliquely in the text. Likewise, tales of protracted litigations, bankruptcies, and all manner of bad business decisions – and there have been a few – are only referred to when they are deemed germane to the purview of this book, which is the making of studio recordings.

Also potentially controversial will be my choice to cover Rundgren’s own work, as a solo artist and with Utopia, rather broadly. There are not specific chapters dedicated to each and every Rundgren album, and certain albums have received more attention than others. I make no claim to having written the definitive study; this is merely my journey through Todd Rundgren’s formative years.

Hopefully what emerges from these anecdotes, thoughts, and memories will be a widescreen picture of a true iconoclast who has made his own way in the world of recording and, in the process, amassed a vast trove of impressive audio documents.

“Wait another year,” Rundgren once sang, “Utopia is here.” And true enough, just when you think you know the real Todd Rundgren, another year has passed and he’s changed again. In all likelihood, by the time you read this he will have morphed again into some new form or format. I have not pretended that I can pin him down like a bug in amber, but hopefully these stories will illuminate the road to Rundgren’s future milestones, whether as an artist, producer, or some future job description not yet invented by the man himself.

May his dream go on forever.

Paul Myers, Berkeley, California

Wizard Wednesday: PODCAST(S) SPECIAL! Two Hours of Me Talking About My Rundgren Book!

Posted in Uncategorized on October 13, 2010 by pulmyears

Happy Wizard Wednesday.

In case you’re just tuning in, in the past few weeks, I began devoting a series of Wednesday blog entries featuring selected content from my upcoming history of the productions of Todd Rundgren, entitled A Wizard A True Star: Todd Rundgren In The Studio, published THIS WEEK, October 15, 2010 by  Jawbone Press. If your local independent (or chain) bookstore isn’t planning to stock it, tell them about it and have them order it!

I typically remind everyone, at this juncture, that my book is about the making of a whole bunch of records. It’s not just about Todd Rundgren’s music, but more of an anecdotal history of  Rundgren’s classic studio productions, with exclusive first-hand tales of the studio from Todd and most of the principle clients. Why, there’s  Meat Loaf: Bat Out Of Hell, Sparks: (Halfnelson), Hall & Oates: War Babies, XTC: Skylarking, New York Dolls: New York Dolls + Cause I Sez So, Patti Smith Group: Wave, The Band: Stage Fright, Cheap Trick: Next Position Please, The Tubes: Remote Control + Love Bomb, Bourgeois Tagg: YoYo, The Pursuit Of Happiness: Love Junk + One Sided Story, Steve Hillage: L, Psychedelic Furs: Forever Now and Grand Funk: We’re An American Band + Shinin’ On. And yes, I even talked with all key Utopia members (all lineups), and get Todd’s take on the making of  Badfinger’s Straight Up and his fascinating interactions with George Harrison.

On Wizard Wednesdays, I have been leaking and remixing / reworking unedited material from both the book and my unused notes. In the first two weeks, I covered Todd’s own Healing and Todd albums, and the week after that I leaked some stuff from the discussion of Todd’s production of  New York Dolls (1973). Next. I shared some of Todd fan Dave Gregory’s thoughts on the sessions for XTC’s Skylarking (1986). The following week, I took you to Lenny Kaye’s house to talk about Patti Smith Group’s Wave album. Last week I had a snippet from Howard “Flo & Eddie” Kaylan discussing his work with Todd on the Psychedelic Furs album, Forever Now (1982).

This week, I’m going to deviate slightly and direct you to two different podcast interviews I just did, both are informative and were fun to do.

The first is from The Pop Culture Road Trip with Chris Epting, a WebTalkRadio podcast. Chris is an accomplished author himself, he wrote Led Zeppelin Crashed Here: The Rock And Roll Landmarks Of North America, and his most recent book is Hello It’s Me: Dispatches From A Pop Culture Junkie,  something of a credible witness in that he actually worked at Todd’s Utopia Sound and Utopia Video back in the day. This was a lively full hour, and we go all over the place. Chris was great to chat with. Good times. I think you can download the whole think or listen to it in a streamin’ stylee.

Paul Myers on Pop Culture Road Trip with Chris Epting

The second is link is from just last night, as the Chilean miners were just about to be brought to the surface, I was on with Doug Ford a/k/a RundgrenRadio Doug, on RundgrenRadio a BlogTalk Radio podcast.

Doug, having already listened to my interview with Chris Epting, did his best to veer his own interview into different areas which made for another lively (almost) hour. The full show is here, my segment is in the middle, between a short interview with Mitch Koulouris, the CEO of Gigatone Entertainment, and Glenn Gass from the University of Indiana, who not only says, on the air, that he digs my book, he’s ordered multiple copies of it for his course with Dr. Todd at IU, at the end of this month! Cheers! Thanks Doug.

Paul Myers on RundgrenRadio Oct 12, 2010

So this week, plenty to listen to. And remember, if all goes to plan, the book is out this Friday! We’ve been waiting so long for this thing to rise and shine, sometimes I don’t know what to feel!

Rock Docs And Biopics Fridays: Lennon At 70 – Imagine There’s No Movies!

Posted in Uncategorized on October 8, 2010 by pulmyears

“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans…”

I doubt that I’m the first to point this out, but John Lennon would have been 70 years old this Saturday (October 9) if he hadn’t been cut down thirty years ago by a mentally unstable egotist with delusions of grandeur and a pathetic plan for fame. That guy’s now behind bars, long may he rust. Lennon is dead. More’s the pity. While you and I can only imagine there’s no crazed assassins (it’s easy if you try), we are left to mourn and celebrate the imperfect but visionary slain Beatle on milestones such as these. A troubled searcher with as many issues as any mortal person, John was no saint but he did inspire generations (and continues to do so) with his music and, for better or worse, introduced “activism” to the pop star regimen. (Elvis Presley’s deputization as a Nixon Narc doesn’t count). I’ve said it before, no Lennon activism means no Geldof / Live Aid, and by extension no Bono and RED campaign… etc.

On Fridays, here at The Pulmyears Music Blog, we sometimes put together little movie lists to get you going on the weekend. Traditionally, these are all films you can download, rent or buy on DVD or streaming (and the usual channels). I call these columns Rock Docs And Biopics Fridays. Today, in honour of the 70 candles John will never see, I humbly submit an imperfect and incomplete list of Lennon Related Films and Documentaries, to help with your own observances.

Keep in mind, I have deliberately left The Beatles movies, A Hard Day’s Night, Help!, Yellow Submarine, Magical Mystery Tour and Let It Be, off this list. But if you have a suggestion for the list of Lennon films that I have not mentioned here, please add it in the comments section of this entry.

The U.S. vs. John Lennon (2006). Directed by David Leaf and John Scheinfeld II.

The U.S. vs. John Lennon discussed that period AFTER The Beatles, when John went on marches and stirred up trouble in the States, drawing the ire of one Richard M. Nixon, who rallied the forces of “justice” against the Lennons. Wonderfully restrained on the fan worship tip, this is one of the first docs that tried to understand Lennon’s activism, while also seeking to understand the climate of the times he lived and how some of those issues – fear mongering, scapegoating and silencing of opposition – continue to this day. Also features Gore Vidal, Noam Chomsky, Bobby Seale, Tom Smothers and even Walter Cronkite. Must see.

Imagine: John Lennon (1988). Directed by Andrew Solt.

Released at what seemed to me, at the time, to be a relatively short time after John’s death (it was in fact 8 years later), Solt’s film is more of a loving scrapbook than a probing study. Still, it’s what I’d call a warm and delightful celebration of Lennonalia, made with complete co-operation of Yoko and the estate, which opened up a wealth of stock  footage and audio tapes used as self-narration. There are valuable unreleased recordings in the film such as the acoustic demo of “Real Love” (recorded in 1979) and an early rehearsal version of “Imagine”. I read online that the whole documentary project came about as a counter-attack to the release of writer Albert Goldman’s trashy biography, The Lives of John Lennon. Fair enough!

Classic Albums: John Lennon Plastic Ono Band (2008). Directed by Matthew Longfellow (for Classic Albums series)

“I think it’s the best thing I’ve ever done,” says Lennon in this episode of Classic Albums, “I think it’s realistic and it’s true to the me that has been developing over the years. It’s me, and nobody else.” Lennon was working, at the time, on the Plastic Ono Band release (1970), produced with Phil Spector, which featured some of John’s most howlingly personal songs. He’d been primal screaming with Dr. Yanov and now was ready to share. This DVD is about 37 minutes longer than the version that aired on broadcast television, and features interviews with Ringo Starr, Klaus Voormann, Arthur Yanov and Jann Wenner plus valuable insights from the recording engineers Richard Lush and Phil McDonald. This one’s right up my alley, considering what I’ve been writing about of late. A must see.

John & Yoko’s Year of Peace (2000). Directed by Paul McGrath.

“All we are saying…” Let’s roll some tape at the bed-in for peace in Montreal, as seen from a very personal and very Canadian perspective. Paul McGrath and Alan Lysaght put together this film for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, and it was narrated by CBC’s Laurie Brown. Having grown up in Toronto (one of only three international bed-in sites), when this stuff was going down, I found this one was deep on personal resonance, yet perhaps it was a little light on new insight. Still you gotta love the footage of the Lennons meeting Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, and Canada’s own media guru Marshall McLuhan. Another scrapbook movie about the time when my village met the global village.

LENNONYC (2010). Directed by Michael Epstein.

In truth, I haven’t seen this yet, but I will be watching PBS on Monday, November 22nd, when it makes it’s television debut. I know some people who have seen it (it was at some festivals already) and I’m looking forward to it because it deals with how Lennon, born a Northern English lad,  came to embrace Manhattan in the bitter end. “John Lennon legitimately became a New Yorker,” says Epstein in the press materials for his film. “And New York was just the right filmmaking lens where you could talk about his political activism, his music and the weight that he carried escaping the shadow of the Beatles.”  The PBS site says that the film includes never-before heard studio recordings from the Double Fantasy sessions and never-before-seen outtakes from Lennon in concert and home movies that have only recently been transferred to video.  It also features exclusive interviews with Ms. Ono, who cooperated extensively with the production and offers an unprecedented level of access, as well as with artists who worked closely with Lennon during this period, including Elton John and photographer Bob Gruen (who took the iconic photograph of Lennon in front of the skyline wearing a “New York City” t-shirt). And hey, New Yorkers, for John’s birthday, on Saturday, October 9, Central Park’s Summerstage will screen the film in the open air, beginning at 7pm. Eerily close to the spot where Lennon’s journey concluded.

The Hours And Times (1991). Directed by Christopher Munch.

A kind of fantasia on the popular notion that purported heterosexual John Lennon went on a gay romp in Spain with openly (to his friends) gay manager Brian Epstein, in 1963, as Beatlemania was in its infancy. Entirely a work of fiction, based on a possibly true story, the film was made safely after both men were dead, and while its a tad prurient and a little creepy, it still works on some level. If it works at all, and the court is still out on that one, it’s down to the fine performances of the actors involved. While David Angus looks nothing like Brian Epstein, he gives the character of Epstein a realistic sense of longing, but it is Ian Hart’s Lennon that you’ll remember. Hart was so convincing as Lennon that he was cast again as Lennon, only three years later. (Hart may be to Lennon what actor Michael Sheen is to Tony Blair).

Backbeat (1994) Directed by Iain Softley.

“He Had To Choose Between His Best Friend… The Woman He Loved… And The Greatest Rock ‘n’ Roll Band In the World.” That was the tagline for this strangely compelling, yet sadly wanting, biopic from 1994. Hart is once again spot-on as Lennon and Steven Dorff gives it is his best James Dean as painter and early Beatle Stu Sutcliffe, the real star of the film, which deals with the Beatles in their pre-mania Hamburg woodshedding years. Sheryl Lee (Laura Palmer from Twin Peaks) plays Stu’s girlfriend (and early Fab Photog) Astrid Kircherr and most of the action is centred on the erotic and homoerotic tension between Kircherr, Lennon and Sutcliffe. The musical sequences are actually pretty cool, instead of going Beatlemania style and having sound-alike versions (or lipsynching to the Star Klub recordings) the filmmakers hired a post-grunge supergroup comprised of Greg Dulli (Afghan Whigs),  Dave Pirner (Soul Asylum), Thurston Moore (Sonic Youth), Mike Mills (R.E.M.), Dave Grohl (Nirvana), and Don Fleming (Gumball). They did, however, use the Tony Sheridan recording of “My Bonny”.

Lennon Naked (2010). Directed by Edmund Coulthard.

I have to thank my friend Mark C. for sending me this on DVD as I don’t know if it’s even commercially available yet. Going back to the Arthur Yanov, primal scream, Plastic Ono Band album period, this film features actor Christopher Eccleston as an unconvincing Lennon and Naoko Mori as a not-so-much Yoko Ono. The events of the story are all well-documented, Lennon meets Yoko at the Indica Gallery, Lennon divorces Cynthia (Claudie Blakley), and has a tumultuous and painful reunion with his wayfaring seaman father Freddie Lennon (Christopher Fairbank). My favourite moments were in the Apple Records boardroom when Lennon announces to his Fab business partners that he is going it alone. Actor Andrew Scott (previously seen in HBO’s John Adams) nails the McCartney character in a way that I’ve never seen, and Michael Colgan’s depiction of Apple Press Officer Derek Taylor, whom I’ve researched in my own studies, was uncanny. Still, the film can’t help but feel a little weird, what with all these people parading around as Lennon and company.

Nowhere Boy (2009). Directed by Sam Taylor-Wood.

This is just being released here in North America, but when it came out in the U.K. last year, critics approved and BAFTA nominations (and wins) followed. Again, I must thank Mark C. for the advance bootleg (which I have since destroyed). As any Lennon scholar knows, much of the pain and anger that surfaced in those Yanov screams, had its roots in the events of his childhood, events depicted in Sam Taylor-Wood’s film. It begins in 1955, as 15 year old Lennon, portrayed quite well by Aaron Johnson (Kick Ass), is just beginning to get into trouble back in Liverpool. He rarely sees his mum, Julia, played by Anne-Marie Duff, and is living with his Auntie Mimi, played compellingly by Kristin Scott Thomas. So many of Lennon’s future troubles relating to women, relating to his bandmates and relating to authority are imprinted on him during this domestic breakdown. Then, of course, comes Elvis Presley and rock and roll. Maybe it’s because it was directed by a woman, and loosely based on the memoirs of John’s sister, Julia Baird, but it’s a far better portrait than most. Lennon on film has been dodgy in the past but I’ve got to admit it’s getting better all the time. It can’t get no worse.

Wizard Wednesdays: My Phoner With Howard, When Flo & Eddie Met The Furs

Posted in Uncategorized on October 6, 2010 by pulmyears

It’s Wizard Wednesday once again.

In case you’re just tuning in, in the past few weeks, I began devoting a series of Wednesday blog entries featuring selected content from my upcoming history of the productions of Todd Rundgren, entitled A Wizard A True Star: Todd Rundgren In The Studio, published October 15, 2010 by  Jawbone Press. Order now!

I remind everyone that my book is not just about Todd Rundgren music, but it is more of anecdotal history of most of Todd Rundgren’s classic studio productions, with exclusive first-hand tales of the studio from Todd and most of the principles from: Meat Loaf: Bat Out Of Hell, Sparks: (Halfnelson), Hall & Oates: War Babies, XTC: Skylarking, New York Dolls: New York Dolls + Cause I Sez So, Patti Smith Group: Wave, The Band: Stage Fright, Cheap Trick: Next Position Please, The Tubes: Remote Control + Love Bomb, Bourgeois Tagg: YoYo, The Pursuit Of Happiness: Love Junk + One Sided Story, Steve Hillage: L, Psychedelic Furs: Forever Now and Grand Funk: We’re An American Band + Shinin’ On. And yes, I even talked with all key Utopia members (all lineups), and get Todd’s take on the making of  Badfinger’s Straight Up and his interactions with George Harrison.

On Wizard Wednesdays, I leak unedited material from both the book and my unused notes. In the first two weeks, I covered Todd’s own Healing and Todd albums, and the week after that I leaked some stuff from the discussion of Todd’s production of  New York Dolls (1973). Next. I shared some of Todd fan Dave Gregory’s thoughts on the sessions for XTC’s Skylarking (1986). And last week I took you Lenny Kaye’s house to talk about Patti Smith Group’s Wave album.

This week I want to share a little background that went into the chapter on Todd Rundgren’s production of The Psychedelic Furs’ U.S. breakthrough album, Forever Now (1982).

In  chapter 17, you’ll read the whole story of the sessions, with content from The Furs’ Richard Butler, Tim Butler and Vince Ely and of course Todd himself. But I was also lucky enough to get a phone interview with Howard Kaylan. Kaylan and his fellow former Turtle, Mark Volman, comprise the singing duo Flo & Eddie and Todd controversially (at first) brought the two master harmonizers into the Furs sessions to lay down their magic fairy dust all over Forever Now, most crucially on the hit single “Love My Way”. In a second, I’m going to share a few moments from My Phoner With Howard, but first I want to tell you about a great little DVD you should rent or buy. In 2001, Howard wrote a biopic, of sorts, comically chronicling a particularly frenzied period in the history of his amazing former band, The Turtles, dealing with their first night in London on the heels of a huge hit, “Happy Together” (you know it). In the course of one evening The Turtles meet the Beatles, John is drunk and abusive and freaks out the band, Howard is dazed and goes walking around. He bumps into Brian Jones, who tells him how much he really loves the Turtles and, say, there’s another American here I’d love to introduce you to, his name’s Jimi Hendrix….  Howard’s treatment was funny and packed with details, and after he took it to Harold Bronson, over at Rhino Records, he agreed to make the 2003 feature film, My Dinner With Jimi, directed by Bill Fishman (Tapeheads, Car 54, Where Are You?) for Fallout Films. You should get this film, it’s hilarious and mind itchingly packed with historical fact and fantasy.

Anyway, back in 1982, when Todd Rundgren was finishing the Psychedelic Furs album, he wanted a certain textural vocal and he knew just where to get it, Flo & Eddie! Only trouble was, The Furs at the time, thought themselves to be the antithesis to what they perceived as The Turtles oldies, hippie vibe. They needed some schoolin’ and as Howard recalled in our long phone call, they eventually came around and Flo & Eddie saved the day. I’m gonna jump around a bit now and give you some excerpts from the actual transcripts….

Paul Myers: Hey Howard, so great to talk to you after all these years, I’m a big fan and I loved the movie. Can you start by telling me a bit about how Todd ended up getting you and Mark involved on this Furs thing?

Howard Kaylan: Todd said ‘I’ve got this British band. I’m almost done with this album, in fact, I thought I was done with this album but I’m hearing you guys singing on it.’  Now why the hell we were anywhere near Bearsville [the album was done up at Utopia  Sound, near Woodstock], I have no idea…Maybe it was at the end of the year, because what was used to do was play at the Bottom Line in Manhattan over the Holidays. So every year we would do our special Christmas/ New Year Bottom Line show, which became famous. I think we did, like fifteen or seventeen years of those. So we could have been in town for that, I don’t remember when the album was recorded, if it was close to the end of the year it wouldn’t have been a big deal to go up there.

PM: I understand there was some resistance at first. And second.

HK: There was a bit of duress in convincing them to accept us. They had already finished the record and to their mind the thing was done and perfect. Especially Richard [Butler], he was really running the show. When we entered [Utopia Sound], it was like ‘Ah, who are these guys?’ And it wasn’t a casual question, either, it was the Butler brothers mainly asking Todd, ‘Who the FUCK are these guys?’ Richard particularly, being the voice of the band, and his brother was asking him, and the band guys were asking his brother, and it kind of fell on Todd to go, ‘Look, you guys calm down. I know, I know, I know.’ These fat old fucks from the Turtles!’ they were saying, ‘What the ‘ells that gonna do?’  They thought we were anti-everything that they were going for.

PM: Did Todd mention your work with Frank Zappa or T.Rex to The Furs, to convince them you were cool?

HK: That’s a possibility, and it’s a shame to have to go such extremes to explain yourself! Those guys, nice guys though they were, were the epitome of sort of, street kids. So raising the name of The Turtles, a pop commercial band, in any way would have red-flagged anything they wanted to do. You know, if the Zappa factor added hipness or ‘street cred’ to what we did, well lovely. And I think when they put two and two together and remembered us from the Zappa days, and the high voices and the groupie shit, it started to make sense to them and all of a sudden as underground faces, those two guys, us, are hip! I still see Todd doing that kind of, well, manipulation to convince people without them knowing it. That’s one of his great gifts.  It’s not something you can just do, it’s masterful, he’s a great student of people. He knows.

PM: Had you worked with Todd before? Did you know his approach to recording?

HK: I love to watch Todd produce because, unlike any other producer I’ve worked with, with the possible exception of Ray Davies, Todd has a very unique production style. I’ve seen him work on his own records as well as The Furs. Todd feels, and rightly so, that if you hear it, and it’s wonderful when you hear it, and you record it that way, that’s it. That’s the sound. You can hear it, you can see it on a meter, there it is. So when it comes time to mix, rather than being Roy Thomas Baker about it and spending three days to get the right drum mix on the 47 mics plugged into his portable 64 track, Todd’ll lift everything up half way and say ‘Press record, man! We’re ready to go!’ Because in his brain, he is so well organized that everything has already got its place in the spectrum. Everything has already got its perfect harmonic place to be. On the big scale, if you looked at it like a graph, Todd’s graph is totally full. He envisions it that way from the get-go, from the minute he pictures the song in his head. So that when he’s finished the recording stage, when it comes time for the mixing, it’s done. I never saw Todd put any effect on anything. I never saw him add, tweak, pitch correct, even though he was capable of doing that stuff twenty years before anyone else was. He could, and would, do things in the middle of the recording phase of the project that were amazing and bizarre and you’d go, ‘Is that gonna work?’ and he’d go ‘Yeah, it’s gonna totally work!’ Then he would put everything up to half way and the thing would literally mix itself. To this day I’ve never seen a producer work less with the controls during a mix, because it had already been done.

PM: Todd told me the story of how you ended up on “Love My Way” but I’d like to hear it from your perspective…

HK: The entire record was finished. We were ready to leave. I had my jacket on, Mark who drove [them up], had his keys in his pocket. We were leaving the studio, we had done our four or five songs and Todd said, ‘Do you wanna hear the single?’ So we said ‘Yeah, love to.’ And he played us ‘Love My Way.’ We listened, and we looked at each other and went ‘Hey Todd, do you know what this song needs? What? US! He said, Really? So we sang exactly what we would have done had this been a Marc Bolan record, we would have done those high sustained angelic voices, broken into harmony on those end aah’s. And just sort of made the thing celestial. He tried one take in the studio, and went ‘Holy fuck, this is gonna work!’ So we did a few more takes of it, layering ourselves, I think three or four layers. We played it back, I think it was the first time that he lifted the levels on the marimba loud enough that I could hear the juxtaposition of that instrument and the voices and it was unbe-fucking-lievable! I swear to God, I listen to that single today, I’ll crank it in the car every time it comes on. Just an amazing sonic experience. One of those records.

PM: Some say Todd is, or was, or could be, a bully. Others say he could be detached…what’s your take on his boardside manner?

HK: I can’t think of another producer who is also an artist, and yet will work with a great variety of other acts without putting his own stamp on the act as producer. I can listen to a Phil Spector or Roy Thomas Baker or even Brian Eno record, and know who produced it. The production overwhelms the group, in my opinion. All of a sudden it doesn’t matter whether that’s Coldplay or U2, that’s obviously Brian Eno. So Todd’s gift is that he lets the act be the act, you know? They’re making their own record. A lot of people who have watched other producers work, would say that Todd is very, very casual about his production, implying perhaps that he doesn’t care. But he totally cares, he just wants the person on that side of the glass to bring 100% of themselves to the project. Without changing it, you know? Hall & Oates will always sound like Hall & Oates, Meatloaf is not gonna sound like Hall & Oates and neither one of those things is gonna be particularly ascribed to a ‘Todd Rundgren production style.’ Todd’s gift is letting everybody rise to their natural level of competence, hopefully. At that point, he brings his talents into it and then everybody rises to the occasion. When I said that he lifts everything up half way and that’s his mix, that’s also to say that everybody gets to sound like the way that they sound in real life.  Todd doesn’t make them sound fake or phony. Any tricks that he does are tricks in the background, or with the background voices or other things that colour and shade the performance. They don’t change it. He doesn’t alter the artist to fit his vision, it’s the other way around. He changes his vision of the way the final record sounds based on what the artist does live in the studio. People would kill to have a producer like that!

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