Circa 1976

Fragments From Red Notebook #2

These are fragments from an old notebook (red cover, not a comment on the contents). New comments are in this color. Date looks like 1976 -- Todd Rundgren, Pink Floyd essays, some baseball stats, and some telltale notes for coding OCR conversion tables (work in Wichita).

Zur Retaliation Rundgrens

  1. Reviews of Faithful have been consistently favorable (even forced-laudatory). Christgau and Duncan have dubbed it the best Rundgren side since Something/Anything. I might concede it the best since side three/Todd. (Big deal!) But even there it's nitpicking. Wizard/True Star was newly unfathomable but contained enough bits and pieces of merit to remain interesting. Todd seems still more fragmentary, because so much (Sides 1 & 2 in particular) slip so badly, and because better moments, like "Heavy Metal Kids" are out of character. Utopia is sheer crap. Faithful is boring crap. Of 4 shitty albums in a row, who cares which one is better?

  2. I've played Side One twice, and to my conviction sussed it out within four bars of cut two. Rundgren has been branded a Studio Wizard at least since Something/Anything, yet of the preceding three efforts, two were recorded "live," and the third was awfully unfocused (e.g., "Real Man"). The Runt has his reputation to protect; like an alcoholic gunslinger called to duty one more time, he has to rpove to himself he can still cut it. (Cf. Brian Wilson.)

  3. Faithfulness equals facelessness. Facelessness may well be a zen virtue, but "Good Vibrations" isn't.

  4. Clue #1 to Side Two: the agonies of trying to make a living off an elpee's worth of tunes.

  5. Clue #2: "The critics got together and they started a game/ You get your records for nothin and you call each other names/ Things got out of hand and somebody got sore/ Now we're all toonin up fo rthe Rock and Roll War." Alternate album title: Sorehead's Revenge.

  6. Critics hate oldies albums, but how can you attack something that refuses to run? Side one is so vulnerable, it seems to have been disarming; side two is so oblique it might as well be good. Besides, he seems to be trying. I think he's bluffing.

  7. Rundgren likes to play games (cf. sides 2 & 4, Something/Anything). Moreover, he can afford that, cause suckers like me will buy his shit no matter how many worthless records he turns out.

  8. Moreover, Rundgren knows that, and plays on it. Two classes of followers. 1) Those who believe that Rundgren has produced more worthy pop than any othe rAmerican of the post-Wilson/Spector generation (I vote his closest rival Leon Russell, who has a few shitty records of his own; also an inclination to follow weird tangents), and reckon he still might come up with something next time out. 2) Those who dig into the current product deep enough to believe. I've played Side Two twenty times or more, and am still not completely assured of my convictions. But what I reckon:

  9. "Black and White" and "Boogie" both utilize by now standard Rundgren song conventions, chord structures and sloppy breaks. They frame the side, and strike me as form-devices. The othe rmaterial is looser, riding on Rundgren's distinctive guitar style, vaguely dj vu phrasing, and a total coloristic identity with the form-blocks. After twenty-some listenings I can recall no lylrics and no real changes in the musical fabric. What I do recall are various points where the music achieves an impression of sorts, usually the mild color variation of several bits of phrasing, choruses to "Love of the Common Man" or "Clich." The result of all this is a texture that does not gnaw, grind or obtrude; it is flacid, boring even. It is also impenetrable; it makes sense only in the fact of its senselessness, the pure design of its formalism. Which makes me think it is a bad joke of sorts, Todd daring listener and critic alike to convince themselves this is a good side.

  10. In sum, Side Two is as faceless as Side One. In some sense I'm sympathetic, since I believe that at least in a meaning-sense the listener constitutes his material anyway, abstract, even abject, artworks are valuable cognitive fields. But, viz. point 3, this cannot be Rundgren's intention, and the complex mundaneness of his integrated materials ensures that there is scarce opportunity for the listener to focus on anything in the mix.

  11. Even when you do focus you come up empty-handed.

  12. The album, not unlike Intuition and Utopia, is totally lacking in humor.

  13. As the first listenable Rundgren album in years, for once we are faced with a now, more serious question: is Rundgren worth listening to? I doubt it. In fact, he makes me wonder if Lester Bangs didn't have some valid points in his "proposal for Fascism" in Hype a way back.

Carll Tucker must have a lot of nerve, cause it's pretty difficult to believe that anyone could be dumb enough to write a piece like his (the Amiri Baraka review) unknowingly. As is often the case with his writing, the sheer number of astounding statements is staggering, far exceeding what any would be detractor could deal with. And their occasional boobishness -- that line deploring how the "heroes" are boring, speecyifying Marxists is a riot -- makes one wonder if it could ever do any good. But few things I've ever read so pissed me off; a couple modest points seem in order.

First, and I would have thought this pretty obvious by now, art (that's all art, mister, no free rides here) is totally worthless, worse even, and artists (the whole bunch of them) are easily the most reprehensible, retrograde beings ever to drag their bellies on this earth. And second, Amiri Baraka knows this, Le Roi Jones learned it and learned it hard. No Obies can undo that lesson; what self-distortion must one endure to become the coolest spade of the beat movement?

I read The System of Dante's Hell a decade ago and it blew my mind like no other written words have ever; from far away I followed Jones into Baraka, Newark, the busts, and then lost track, which was just as well. Tucker drags all that up again, and thinking it over I have to wonder how the author of that book could honorably have done otherwise. But it also makes me indignant. It's not even a question of what right someone like Tucker might have to insist that a nigger from New Jersey gratify his "higher" needs, cause he has no right. But how can Tucker be so shameless not to know that?

The above was framed as a letter. There's a second page later in the notebook on the same subject.

My first reaction on reading Carll Tucker's nasty little piece on Amiri Baraka's latest theatrical offering was that either the guy's got incredible balls or he's awful dumb. Five Maybes in the first paragraph, followed by a bunch of Ordinarilys, leads me to suspect the latter. I mean, ordinarily shit is shit -- no maybe about it.

The biggest problem with Carll Tucker's writing (the Aug. 30 piece on Amiri Baraka being the case in point, though hardly his first such) is that he's able to compound so many contortions, affronts and inanities in so little space, it's exasperating to try deciphering them and hopeless to fully detail them. But the issues stray so widely from the play reviewed, and Tucker's stands are so patentlyobjectionable, that I'd like at least to offer a couple points.

The first point is that art stinks, and artists are the most thoroughly despicable, retrobate creatures ever to haunt this earth.

The second is that LeRoi Jones learned that lesson, and learned it hard. So while, sure, he was the Coolest Spade in the Village Beat Movement, notched himself an Obie and got published in Evergreen Review no matter what he wrote, he also saw that his talents were utterly wasted on that turf, that his acceptance

Whether they be problems of criticism or problems of history, the late work of Todd Rundgren is certainly full of problems. The latest album, Faithful, only serves to complicate the problematic.

Quoth John Milward: "It's 1967 and both Hendrix and the Yardbirds are busy evolving the electric guitar, the Beatles and the Beach Boys are revolutionizing the aesthetics of the studio and Dylan is burning in creative fever with a rock band and sad-eyed ladies. Todd Rundgren is a kid with his first band, the Nazz, and he's listening hard." Again: "Rundgren is very much a product of the Sixties and, specifically, the artists he has chosen to cover on Faithful."

And then, viz #2: "The original material that fills side two is a more ambitious tribute to his influences and his strongest collection of pop tunes since his classic Something/Anything?

Draft and notes for Todd Rundgren essay. Looks like an early draft, followed by a rewrite which is the real article. It might be worthwhile to do the first draft here, but the main article should be retyped first.

One thing, though, is certain. Rundgren could just as well have crafted an album as shitty as Faithful with one-half the work, one-quarter the work, one-tenth the work.

Another thing: Jon Pareles started his review with the equation: "Technology breeds cynicism." Hell, even Engels knew cynicism was begot by capitalism.

Notes for Further Excavation

Todd Rundgren has dumped 11 albums on the American public in the short span of nine years. Moreover, two of those albums are doubles, and three of the singles are 55 minutes or longer, so the once through listening time amounts to well over a good day's work. And finally, most of this stuff ain't easy, so beware. But I thought it'd be useful to list those albums an dprovide a loose outline of what lies where, both as reference sto my piece and as an introductory guide for your own listening pleasure and/or curiosity.

Nazz (1968): An east coast cult item, long out fo print and virtually impossible to find. Lilian Roxon described it as "hard rock" with a "clean sound." Today it sounds almost raunchy, which will tell you something about contemporary standards of sonic ______.

Nazz Nazz (1969): Even harder to find. In fact, I've never heard it.

Runt (1970): Rundgren moves solo to expand his horizons. Includes his first hit, the remarkable "We Got to Get You a Woman"; also a few hard rockers, an original medley, and the inescapably weird "Birthday Carol." It shows Rundgren bursting out in a dozen different directions, many of which were never returned to. Also long out of print.

Runt: The Ballad of Todd Rundgren (1971). Also out of print. Rundgren discovers the piano and tools up for some sweet baladeering, with a couple minor hits, "Nice to Me" and the gorgeous "Long Time and a Long Way to Go." A couple decent rockers, but basically a work of integration, shying away from the excesses of Runt.

Something/Anything? (1972). This double set is probably the single most overwhelming album of the Seventies, a fresh idea in every song and nary a loser on four sides. What more could one say?

A Wizard/A True Star (1973): A follow-up that had its work cut out for it, it has two very long sides with too manyh songs/pieces and even more ideas, an album you can spend years with without fully digesting. Sample contents: synthesizer experiments, tape montages, frenzied rockers, a nice ballad, "Cool Jerk," a great anthem, lots of weirdness, and sex, sex, sex.

Todd (1974): Double album that seem sto go everywhere at once. Notable are the singalong "Sons of 1984," the anti-anthem "Heavy Metal Kids," a couple good pop songs, some synthesizer instrumentals, and other divers weirdnesses. Like A Wizard/A True Star, an essential document of Rundgren's progression.

Todd Rundgren's Utopia (1974): Introducing Rundgren's band. The idea seems to be to assemble a troop of players who can feed off one another like good communitarians should. Problem is it doesn't work. Recommended as the last Rundgren to buy (if anybody gets that far).

Initiation (1975): This one's the tough one. By any reasonable standards it is much, much too long; it is mannered, lyrically self-indulgent, and just plain difficult. But it has tons of ideas and some of the most interesting sounds in years. So you have to sift a lot, but just to cite one example, there's a short bit on the 35 minute synthesizer extravaganza (most unpromisingly titled "A Treatise on Cosmic Fire") that's the most startlingly beautiful rock instrumental I've heard in years.

Another Live (1975): Utopia again, only the new stuff works better, and they throw in "Do Ya" and "Just One Victory" to make you feel good.

Faithful (1976): Basta per ora.

Best of 1976 -- Odd Shit

  1. Resurgence of Rock (Graham Parker)
  2. Top Thirty as Art-Rock (Abba, Bee-Gees, etc.)
  3. Disco
  4. Black Music International (Hi Rhythm, Green, Bootsy, Reggae, Africa, Salsa, Tchoupitoulas)
  5. Creative Music (Jenkins, Braxton)
  6. Concept Music
  7. The Folk Perverse
  • M. Hurley, Rounders + Clamtones: Have Moicy
  • Wild Tchoupitoulas
  • Eno: Another Green World
  • M. Mantler: The Hapless Child & Other Stories
  • Kate & Anna McGarrigle
  • R. & L. Thompson: Pour Down Like Silver
  • Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band
  • Hi Rhythm: On the Lose
  • Anthony Braxton: Creative Orchestra Music
  • Stretchin' Out in Bootsy's Rubber Band
  • Silver Convention
  • The Ramones
  • Gasolin'
  • Jess Roden Band: Leave Your Hat On
  • Gong: Shamal

Bootsy's Rubber Band

In fact, the old cut-by-cut school of criticism might be appropriate here (there ain't that many cuts anyway). Side one, "A Friendly Boo," opens with a storm of noise, a "We want Bootsy" chant, with various instruments wandering in and somehow miraculously eliding into your basic funk, with a narrative history and band intro and a bunch of other stuff I've never bothered to decipher, sashaying along for five or ten minutes till the bass player decides it's New Year's and the whole thing winds down in an odd cacophony.

Which, as it turns out, is just in time for the second cut, a didactic piece (followign the former album's "Psychoticbumpschool") elucidating "The Pinocchio Theory," styled as "the world's funkiest singalong." Then comes "Rubber Duckie," which updates the current Bee Gees-Leo Sayer blackface with Bootsy's trenchant commentary. Then a 30-second hint at "Side Too," which leaves little alternative but to flip the disc over and dig into some "Geepieland Music."

Draft of Pink Floyd essay.

Dear Ruth,

I've never quite overcome the perhaps childish impression that Europe is a fraud, that it doesn't exist, and that the various suggested documentation might just as well be fabricated. Not that I'm suggesting that you're not real -- I know much better than that. But the sheer distance, the intractability, you might as well've been swept up by some flying saucer. The Global Village is sitll more a matter of fantasy than of Sachlichkeit. Of course, distance is a matter of time as well as space. And of History, too. Still, I have from time to time rung up the old numbers, pestered your sitters, scrounged through old papers for the evasive address, queried friends for any tat of information,s cribbled varied pages with nowhere to send them; life is not so easy here without you to lean on.

After we last talked Elias and I went on to Washington. I promptly took sick and should've died. Instead I spent some nine months in Wichita "recovering." Worked a bit -- gnawed my fingers to the bone is more like it -- entertain various ideas while those I loved have wandered off. I'm in St. Louis now, feeding off the architecture. It is gloomy here -- snow and freezing. Some have vanished -- most are indifferent. So am I, I guess. I'll go to New York in a couple days, perhaps that'll be better. I feel so melancholy, though, it's sickening. I have no way to convey my feelings, and the general rot makes it pretty well hopeless anyway.

There's a letter to a David Sapper, followed by some outline notes called "O.C.R. Input Manual." No point going into obsolete typesetting technology at this point.

Then there's some baseball tables (looks like HOF staging), and a drawing of a piece of furniture (two thin art drawers).

Rock Systems

  1. Synoptic Review: Rock Criticism: Class & Scope Functions
    1. Mass Critics (Bangs, Meltzer, Pop Critics)
    2. Art Critics (Marsh, Holden)
    3. Microcritics (Robbins, G. Christgau) (Williams)
    4. Macrocritics (Christgau, Bangs, Marcus)
  2. Reconstructions on Economics: Production, Distribution, Consumption, Exchange Relationships, Exchange Value, Equal and Inequal Relationships
  3. Reconstructions on Aesthetics:
    1. Ideal Systems: Archetypes
    2. Functional Systems: Analytic Points
  4. Reconstructions in Theory and Praxis
    1. Quadruped Dialectics
  5. Generalizations From Experience
    1. 1st Person
    2. Intersubjectivity Scams
  6. Fleshing Out the Theory