Todd Rundgren has long been an individualist. An iconoclast. So it is fitting that his new memoir, The Individualist: Digressions, Dreams & Dissertations, out Dec. 21, and the tour to support it next year, are unique.
Rundgren is planning a hybrid concert-book signing tour that gets underway April 1 in Duisburg, Germany and will play 15 cities around the world, combining shows with book events and also offering a deep dig into Rundgren’s catalog from the first 40 years of his recording career, which is the period detailed in the memoir. “I’m still sculling out exactly what it’ll be,” Rundgren, who turned 70 in July, tells Billboard. “I’m trying to create something that’s somewhat theatrical in the sense there’ll probably be a lot of video in the show and most of the material will certainly be familiar to my devoted fan base. But it’ll pretty much be ending up at around the late ’90s.”
Rundgren plans to expand his usual band with “one or two other players” for the tour, and he’s also determining what other events will be part of the trek in addition to the look of the show.
“There’s obviously not a whole lot of video for my very early days; I don’t even recall that our family had, like, a movie camera or anything like that,” he says. “There’s photographs but not much in the way of movie images, so I guess we’ll be Ken Burns-ing it a lot. But we have photos and stuff that have never been made public very much, so if I can find some of those rarities they’ll make it into the show somehow.”
The Individualist memoir, meanwhile, is a revealing 238-page book, including photos, in which each chapter is one page long, dealing with a specific topic. Each chapter is divided into three paragraphs — one that lays out the events at hand, another that chronicles Rundgren’s “emotional response” to them and a third that details “the intellectual conclusions that I came to.” “It makes it possible to read it in a number of different ways,” Rundgren explains. “If there’s some aspect of it that doesn’t appeal to you, you can still read the book — just don’t read the middle paragraph or whatever.” Nevertheless, the unusual format made it easier for Rundgren to write his life story in a way that felt both comfortable and insightful.
“I wanted to write a book that I would like to read and that would make sense to me as a reader,” he says. “A lot of times people will kind of jumble all their thoughts together in this kind of stream of consciousness way, as if you were playing a recording or something like that. Doing it this way I figured out I could easily sort of bracket things in a way that actually have sensible conclusions to them instead of just telling what happened without giving them any sort of context. Once I had a couple of chapters in that form it became a lot easier and a lot more instinctual to finish the book that way.”
Rundgren “resigned” himself to having to share details of his personal life, including a particularly turbulent relationship with model Bebe Buell who had daughter Liv Tyler with Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler while she and Rundgren were together. “I was disinclined to make a spectacle of my life while I was living it,” Rundgren says. “I’ve always sort of kept my personal life somewhat separate from my professional life; I didn’t want one to be necessarily reflective of the other. A lot of these sort of public breakups, drug overdoses that send you to the emergency room, foolhardy episodes where you get in trouble or injured or something like that — a lot of that stuff just never happened to me, or if it happened I never made a big deal out of it. So I guess it’s surprising when I actually do write about it, but I realized that’s an expectation. People want to hear your story. There were probably particular episodes that were difficult to write about, but you can’t write your story and then purposely withhold part of it just because you’re afraid of how it reflects on you.
“There wasn’t an agenda on my part to create an image of myself using the book. I was trying to be interesting and revelatory and pithy, and that’s along the lines of what I would want to read.”
Rundgren stops The Individualist as his 50th birthday and his marriage to Michele Gray, and he doesn’t sound interested in telling the rest of the story. “My life got less interesting after that, at least from a third party standpoint,” he notes. “My life became less about me and my own pilgrim’s progress, as it were, and more about getting my kids through life. So it became more their story than my story…and I don’t want to tell their story. If they have a story to tell, it’s up to them to tell it.”
Away from The Individualist, Rundgren is gearing up to release audio and film recordings from this year’s Utopia reunion tour, though no date has been set yet. He also plans to build in his 2017 collaborative White Knight project and has worked on new tracks with Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo, Neil Finn and Steve Vai, among others. And, lest we forget, he’s received his first-ever Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nomination, with public voting continuing through Dec. 9. Don’t look for any campaign speeches from him, though.
“I’ve never really taken the whole thing seriously,” Rundgren says. “I’ve never watched any of those shows. I don’t pay attention to who wins. I do recognize it as an exercise for the fans, especially at this phase, and I’m happy they have the opportunity to make their declarations about who they think should be in and that sort of thing — the reality being all those fan votes equal one vote out of a thousand ballots or whatever it is. I have no idea what the ultimate outcome will be, so I don’t want to invest myself in it.”
Rundgren’s The Individualist Tour itinerary includes:
1 — Duisburg, Germany, Theater am Marientor
2 — Hamburg, Germany, Laeiszhalle
3 — Amsterdam, Netherlands, Paradiso
6 — London, Eventime Apollo
10-11 — Atlanta, Buckhead Theatre
13-14 — Washington D.C., State Theatre
16-17 — New York, Town Hall
23-24 — Chicago, Athenaeum
27-28 — Toronto, Danforth Music Hall
1-2 — Philadelphia, The Fillmore
5-6 — Cleveland, Ohio Theatre
9-10 — Los Angeles, The Wiltern
12-13 — San Francisco, Palace of Fine Arts
22 — Tokyo, Japan, Somida Triphony Hall
23 — Osaka, Japan, NHK Hall