The veteran rocker — who kicks off his Clearly Human Virtual Tour on Sunday, Feb. 14 — has been placed on the nominees ballot for a third straight year. But he won’t be waiting with bated breath for the results.
“It’s no secret that I don’t care about it,” Rundgren told Billboard during a break from rehearsals in Chicago, where the tour concerts will be emanating from. “It doesn’t matter how many times they nominate me. It’s not gonna make me care.”
A few factors account for Rundgren’s ambivalence (at best) towards the Rock Hall, which he terms “an industry invention.” For starters, he’s a firm believer that “true halls of fame are for retirees and dead people, because your legacy has been established. I’m too busy working to worry about my legacy — and plan to continue working until whenever.” He also finds the makeup of the nominee list and inductee classes veering too far from what he considers appropriate.
“I’m a big Dionne Warwick fan, but name me one Dionne Warwick rock ‘n’ roll song,” he explains. “While I’m aware of Fela Kuti, I can’t name a single musician who’s ever cited him as a principal influence. Year by year it makes even less sense, so why would I be more excited about it or suddenly change my mind? Why don’t they just start inducting blues guys? Why do they have to go to Dionne Warwick or Mary J. Blige?”
Rundgren’s chief complaint, however, stems from how he feels his own fans were “duped” when he was first nominated during 2019. “They run this scam called the fan pool…but most fans don’t realize that their votes count for absolutely nothing,” Rundgren said. The top five nominees from the fan votes are turned into one additional ballot that’s counted in addition to the 1,000-plus by artists and music industry professionals.
“So the first time I got nominated all my fans, who all these years have been like, ‘Geez, you’ve got to be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame!,” they all stepped up and bumped me up to No. 3 in the fan pool — by a pretty wide margin. And then when the actual inductees were 1, 2, 4, 5, 6…they essentially hosed my fans. So that made me angry, and I had to tell them that it was pointless casting votes, ’cause it really doesn’t count for anything.”
Rundgren is also tacitly represented on this year’s ballot via the New York Dolls, who’s 1973 debut album he produced. “I was living New York City and was moving out to go upstate, and I thought I would pick one of those bands and do a little valentine to the New York scene before I left — and the Dolls were pretty much the top contender,” he recalled. “It was kind of a circus making that record ’cause they were living what they imagined was a rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle even though they hadn’t put out a record and nobody out of New York City knew who they were.”
Rundgren’s work these days is two-fold — and primarily focused on the virtual tour, which will take him “to” 25 cities via the Internet, with a 10-piece band and a show that includes 1989’s Nearly Human album in its entirety (though not in sequence). Though the troupe is based in Chicago, each show will be performed as if Rundgren and company are in the specific city, right down to the venue clocks being set to the local time zone and catering that features indigenous cuisines either imported or created by local caterers.
“Everything that we do is essentially an attempt to convince people that they’re actually in the local venue as opposed to just watching a TV show,” Rundgren. “We’ll deck out backstage with local newspapers and other local stuff, just to sort of convince ourselves that we ARE in that place.”
Rundgren had the idea of the virtual tour years ago, even before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the live music industry. But it took that, and several postponements of Rundgren’s own planned tour dates during 2020, to take the concept off the drawing board and onto screens.
“Y’know, sitting in an airport and waiting for a flight that never arrives so you can get to the gig on time, or floods and fires and all the other natural disasters that seem to be more commonplace because of changes to the climate — all that kind of stuff got me thinking,” Rundgren said. “So I had already been thinking about other ways to deliver my product, and then the pandemic happened and that kind of made everybody else think that possibly a different way of doing this might be good to have for a backup plan. So I asked the promoters if they would allow me to try this virtual touring experiment that I felt was ultimately inevitable, and here we are.”
Tickets for the concerts start at $35 via nocapshows.com. Rundgren, meanwhile, has also been releasing singles from his next album, Space Force — a collaborative set similar to 2017’s White Knight — with the full set expected to be released some time later this year.
“I wanted my label to think in this old-fashioned way and release singles before they released the album, the way things used to be,” Rundgren said. “I was always more traditionally an album artist, but nowadays making a whole album and releasing a whole bunch of new music is almost too much for people to digest in a way, at least in terms of modern music consumption. So I encouraged the label to release as many singles as it wants so that it would be more digestible. People can get one small bite at a time, and then maybe they’ll focus a bit more on the greater body of work. That’s my hope, at any rate.”