Out December 21, 2018
By: Thom Jennings
The long-awaited autobiography of Todd Rundgren, “The Individualist – Digressions, Dreams & Dissertations,” takes an unusual approach-which is exactly what one would expect from an artist who has carved out a career by bucking convention. The book is structured in one-page snippets, described as “bite-sized 3 paragraph chapters.”
Despite the unique approach, “The Individualist” is fairly linear, starting with Rundgren’s birth, and concluding around the time he marries Michele on his fiftieth birthday. It is a page-turner, not because of the celebrity name-drops or any salacious details, it is because of the emotional rollercoaster Todd takes you on, filled with self-doubt, homelessness, freak accidents, criminal acts perpetrated against him, anger, guilt, shame and most importantly, love and forgiveness.
Each page is a mini-opera that gives a glimpse into the mind of Rundgren. If there is a takeaway from the book, it is that there is a thick line between love and hate in Todd’s world. Rundgren pulls no punches when he writes about the foils in his past, and is affectionate and caring when writing about those he loves, especially his children and wife Michele. His best friend from his youth, Randy Read, is also an important part of the narrative.
There are plenty of defining moments. Todd writes openly about the source of his dental problems, the time he was almost raped in alley, his fear of marriage, and two women named Linda, one that is likely the subject of “Hello It’s Me,” and another that went on to marry a Beatle.
Nothing is more moving than the events surrounding this relationship with Liv Tyler-who thought Todd was her father when she was a child. Todd’s side of the Liv Tyler saga is filled with deep emotions, sometimes teetering on rage at Liv’s mother, but ultimately the story of Liv and Todd has a beautiful “ending.”
In addition to the stylistic difference from most rock biographies, there is an authenticity in “The Individualist” that makes it compelling. Todd’s snippets take on a conversational tone that makes the reader feel like they are sitting with Todd and shooting the breeze about his career. None of it feels as if it has been sanitized by a ghost writer or collaborator.
There are some gaps in the story, and topics that are quickly glossed over, especially his tenure in Utopia- which may be because so much has already been written about the band. Todd also does not give us much of a glimpse into the inspiration of his songs, other than “Marlene,” which stands as the only song specifically naming a girlfriend.
In the third, observational paragraph of each page/chapter, he makes observations, questions motive, including his own, and peppers in sage wisdom and lessons learned. Sometimes they are witty, and at other times it makes one pause to reflect. Whether you agree with Todd’s pontifications or not, they are always entertaining.
After reading “The Individualist” the Todd song that comes to mind is Utopia’s “Only Human.” In the song, Todd sings “And I pretend that I’m invincible, that I can go it all alone, but I’m only human, trying to get by. And praying to heaven I might find out why am I human. Mere flesh and flood.” The song, like this autobiography, dispel the notion that “Todd is God,” instead we find a flawed human like the rest of us-and in many ways that is comforting.
In the opening of “The Individualist,” Todd writes that “Rooting around in my subconscious for meaningful reminiscences is not necessarily my definition of a day well spent since I’m so preoccupied with what I’m experiencing now.” That has always been evident in his music-especially live-Todd is never happiest when singing his “hits,” he is at his best when he has embarked on a tour filled with new music and a new production. Thankfully he took a little time out to provide us a glimpse of his past and share his dissertations with us.