Sunday, August 31, 2008

Patti Smith's original album review of Todd Rundgren's 'A Wizard, A True Star'

In 1973, the then rock journalist and poet, Patti Smith, reviewed albums and interviewed rock stars for the legendary CREEM magazine (aka Boy Howdy).

CREEM was no ordinary monthly music magazine for the uninitiated. It also gave the world the literary prose of Lester Bangs (the No.1 Iggy Pop and Lou Reed rock critic immortalized in Cameron Crowe's movie 'Almost Famous').

CREEM was home to Iggy Pop, Todd Rundgren, the New York Dolls, Lou Reed, David Bowie, Mott the Hoople, Kiss, Roxy Music, The Runaways, Cheap Trick and beyond. If you wanted to find out what was happening in the world of glam rock, CREEM was the bible of corruptable pop salvation.

CREEM effortlessly bridged the gap between 16 magazine and Rolling Stone. It's foray into glam rock was pre-punk. CREEM was 10 years ahead of its time. It made Blender and Spin seem like cheap immitations.

Who could ever forget that pull out poster of a wacked-out, bleached-blonde Iggy Pop burning a pile of vinyl albums with lighter fluid?

The following editorial is a reprint of Patti Smith's original review of Todd Rundgren's ground-breaking 1973 album 'A Wizard, A True Star'.

Six years after Patti reviewed A Wizard, A True Star, Rundgren produced her 1979 album 'Wave' that featured the hit single Frederick, and the song Dancing Barefoot, plus So You Want to Be a Rock 'n' Roll Star, a rock song originally written by Jim McGuinn and Chris Hillman, and first recorded by The Byrds for their 1967 album Younger Than Yesterday.

by Patti Smith
[from Creem, April 1973]

A Wizard, A True Star
Todd Rundgren

Ya know where Greaser's Palace ends? That solar burst. The zoot suit Jesus returns to light. Physical atomic end. Well that's where Todd's record begins. Side one is pure brain rocket. Rock and roll for the skull. Todd Rundgren's season in hell.

Put the record on. Internal voyage is not burnt out. Thank the stars for that. Now you got your system of brain travel, Todd got the plane. You're gonna zoom but beware. What he does is very tricky. Mildly sinister. But I give you the satisfaction that all pain on his ticket is well spent. It beings glowing enough. Like a sacred drug. "International Feel." Very Baudelaire. Very godhead. And when he moves to "I Know I Know" you know. For one ecstatic moment you've gone beyond the point of pain into the realm of pure intellect.

I know, here is where I got caught. Not prepared for a transition like "Neverland." Brutally nostalgic. I got that era under my belt. All about toyland. Once you leave no turning back. Well, why did Todd pull us back? The terror of beauty makes one momentarily bitter. First star to the right and straight on till morning. "Neverland" permanently poisons and sweetens. Gives a subconscious aftertaste. Tinges the whole record with Walt Disney. Also torments and slides you into journey a little weak above the belt. As side one progresses you age. There's hair on your fingers.

Tic tic. Like the crocodile alarm that pleasantly ticked away Captain Hook's lifeline, goodie good is wearing off. The move is maniac. Screeching monotone which eliminates mouth, limb and crotch but exalts in brain power. MIT science fiction. The next religion.

Even more ear-itating is "Rock'n'Roll Pussy." Autobiographic as a brainiac. "I'm in the Clique" comes back as "Shove it up your ass, I'm the clique myself." Sexual power is moving up the spine into the skull. It's manic it's magnificent.

Am I getting abstract? It doesn't matter. Music is pure mathematics. And what is more abstract than trigonometry? Todd is further mystery than Greek. You can't plot out his journey so easy. Marco Polo was a natural. Electric exploitation is never predictable.

But beauty is just that. The flamingos that wave you into "Zen Archer" leave you breathless. Happy death. And "Zen Archer" is full of wonder. Beautiful. I'm almost embarrassed to get so worked up over its brilliance. An elegy. Very German. Who did kill Cock Robin? An expression of his guilt? It makes one dizzy. Uncomfortable. He exhibits certain powers, certain confusions. Naked emotion is very frightening. It's extended by Dave Sanborn's saxophone. Elegant and moving as a high and spiraling tombstone.

His language is getting more sophisticated as is his humor and anger. Moving in a very valiant poetry.

The blessings of the turtles/ the eggs lay on the lawn.

Obscure images in "Da Da Dali." Very painterly. Also very Rodgers and Hart. Oh Jesus where are we on this journey; All adolescence out the window. Fags, fag hags, weaklings, minor visionaries and paranoids caught in the cyclone. For the chosen ones there is one last splash in drug soup and up the yellow brick road to Utopia.

That's how it hit me. Sound you can't describe, only experience. Side one is double dose. It takes the bull by the brain. Another point to be examined. He's always been eclectic. Why didn't he care? The evidence is here. Something very magical is happening. The man is magi chef. His influences are homogenizings. Like a coat of many colors. May be someone else's paintbox but the coat is all his. A Gershwin tone some Mr. Kite solid Motown early Rundgren. Several other colors. Telescoping sounds. All manipulated by a higher force. Production itself a form to be reckoned with. The conductor is often more blessed than the orchestra.

There are two sides to every record. Excluding Second Winter. So turn over. This is de soul side. White boys got it you know. Especially ones from Philadelphia. "Sometimes I Don't Know What to Feel" is eighty per cent spade. It touches. I hope Motown grabs it and pumps it Top 40. "I Don't Want to Tie You Down" touches too. "The balance of our minds together/ The perfect give and take." Girl and boy move to man and woman.

Todd does a soul medley. The way he does "Ooo Baby Baby." I know he's no Smokey but I'm addicted to his throat. Cracks and all. I find Todd's voice very sexy; it makes me feel teen-age. Less than perfect but a bit boozier than last shots. The way he does "Cool Jerk" is genius. Real cartoon. Goofy and Daffy Duck are there. Roller skates, Coney Island laughter, the mad bomber. Jesus, sometimes I think he's crazy. Certainly not an earthling. The way he transforms mundane to miracle.

The motherfucker is "Is It My Name?" All the animal energy is in this one. A song that self-destructs. Dirty joke...flaming guitar...the cunt...the man to kick in your brains. It's all there. I love it. Never has he seemed more like a son of a bitch. In fact that's another move on this album. Not only is the quality of his intellect heightened but his emotions. This is the least predictable. The one closest to sainthood and hatchet murder.

My voice goes so high
You would think I was gay
But I play my guitar in such
a mancock way
You only love me for my machine...
"Is It My Name"

Moving into "Just One Victory." A Rundgren classic. Very much a single. Though I would die to hear "International Feel" on the radio. To cruise at suicidal speed down the great highway with "I.F." at full blast:

International feel
And there's more
Interstellar appeal
Still there's more
Universal ideal...

Each album he vomits like a diary. Each page closer to the stars. Process is the point. A kaleidoscoping view. Blasphemy even the gods smile on. Rock and roll for the skull. A very noble concept. Past present and tomorrow in one glance. Understanding through musical sensation. Todd Rundgren is preparing us for a generation of frenzied children who will dream in animation.

Copyright © Patti Smith 1973 / CREEM magazine

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