Wednesday, February 16, 2011

City In My Head

Throughout my life there has always been a soundtrack..........background music as well as music in the foreground. I can safely say that the music that I somehow attached myself to has motivated me when I needed motivation, inspired me when I needed inspiration, comforted me when I needed to be comforted, and even expressed misery musically when I felt miserable. It has always been there for me. Maybe one day I will write about all of the assorted musicians and their output that affected is a wide range.........but for now, there is reason to write about an important portion of that wide range.......especially for me.

I had become a fan of Todd Rundgren a long time ago.......maybe 1971 or 72. You can say that I am a HUGE Toddhead. There was something that was special about his music both musically and lyrically that not only was a treat to my ears, but also grabbed at my inner core. I connected with it. It was all different from what other music I enjoyed and I suppose that really made it appealing for know......being a non-conformist and the desire to march to the beat of a different drum. Who would know what music would come from Rundgren in the future.....I would have to wait and listen.

Rundgren was always on the cutting edge and there were subtle and not so subtle clues in his music and lyrics that would hint at the things to come from him. One of those prognostications was on his 1973 album "A Wizard A True Star". Said to be probably Rundgren's most critically acclaimed piece of work and probably his own personal favorite record, the music was all over the place and a complex work of art. It was a complete curve thrown at you if anyone was expecting this follow-up album to "Something/Anything". I remember one specific statement made on that album that caught my attention. It was in the short lyrics of "Le International Feel"................." Here we are again at the start of the end, But there's More. Wait another year and Utopia is here, and there's always more."

There it was.........and sure enough in 1974, "Todd Rundgren's Utopia" was released and my world changed.

"City in my head, Utopia
Heaven in my body, Utopia
It's time for me, for me to go

City in my head, Utopia
Heaven in my body, Utopia
Into the sky, it rises now"

Utopia........this was awesome.......way ahead of the rest of the world.......complex, different, my complete core was rattled by this music. I couldn't get enough of it. This was progressive rock at its finest. Top notch musicians........yes, the very same musicians that played on the A Wizard A True Star album. The backup band is now THE band of all bands.

"The question comes to mind
About what should be done
And how much of the old will die
That the new may be begun
But you don't have to be afraid
Of being alone with nowhere to run.

You don't have to be afraid
To look yourself in the eye
You don't have to be afraid not to lie.

Someone knows who you are
Someone watches over you
Someone knows how you feel
And someone feels the same.

And the truth will come and the change will come
It's just a question of how and when"
from The Ikon

This music was meant to struck a nerve for me both musically and lyrically. There was something magical about it........maybe it wasn't magic at was as if God was the producer of all of this.

Anyone that is a Toddhead or is familiar with Todd Rundgren is well aware that he is a restless spirit and you never fully know what to expect from him on his next album. He surely gets it right the first time then moves on to another genre or angle and achieves his personal goal and then moves on from there. This also applied to the concept and music of the band Utopia.

Todd Rundgren's Utopia only released two albums "Todd Rundgren's Utopia" and in 1975 "Another Live". For the Another Live record, drummer Kevin Ellman was replaced by John "Willie" Wilcox and Roger Powell was added to the lineup on keyboards. All the while, Todd was still recording his own solo albums and producing albums for other artists. The original Utopia had Hunt and Tony Sales (Soupy Sales sons) on bass and drums but they never recorded. The band then morphed into what is known as the "Mark II" version with Kevin Ellman on drums, Mark "Moogy" Klingman on keyboards, Ralph Shuckett on keyboards, John Siegler on bass, and Jean Yves "Frog" Labat on synthesizers and effects.

After the Another Live album, Todd Rundgren's Utopia became simply "Utopia" and the lineup was Todd on guitar, Roger Powell on keyboards, Willie Wilcox on drums and Kasim Sulton on bass. This lineup. known as "Mark III" would remain together until the mid-1980's. They got together for a reunion tour and album in 1992 and then two years ago Todd, Roger, and Kasim took the stage as the opening act for Todd's Wizard A True Star tour two years ago adding Prairie Prince on drums.

In recent years Todd manages to offer up some Utopia songs in his setlist but those songs are primarily from the Mark III version of Utopia. The only Mark II offering occasionally would be a taste of The Ikon or The Wheel. Those fans who have longed to see the Mark II Utopia have been resigned to the fact that they would never hear certains songs such as the Utopia Theme and The Ikon performed in its entirety as surely not performed by the original members of Utopia.

Never gonna happen................but...........

.........the planets must have aligned.............what could never happen again has happened. The Mark II version of Utopia took the stage for two nights at the Highline Ballroom in New York City on January 29th and 30th. "But there's always more!"..............Todd had said so himself back in the day.

Sadly, the reason for this reunion is that it was for the benefit of Moogy Klingman. It turns out that Moogy has terminal cancer and needs money to pay for alternative treatments. He has been through the chemo and radiation....the whole enchilada. The relationship between Moogy and Todd had become nil over the issues....etc. From the best of friends........"brothers" zilch. As much as Utopia was Todd's vision, it was also very much Moogy's as well. While Todd's career continued and Utopia continued........Moogy was relatively obscure and unnoticed in the music buisiness. In interviews with Moogy, you could tell that he somewhat resented no longer getting the attention that he once had and he has been quick to offer up details of the history of Utopia and how most of what we all know about Todd and Utopia would have never happened if not for Moogy. This is all very true.

Rundgren was performing at the Iridium club in NY with the Les Paul Trio.......a one-off show and Moogy showed up and watched the show..........well.......let me back up a little. Moogy wanted to get the guys together for a club date and play the old Utopia stuff.......just Moogy, John Siegler, Ralph Shuckett and Kevin Ellman to try to raise some money for cancer treatments. They all agreed........but there was one missing piece of the pie........Todd Rundgren. Moogy didn't think Todd would even speak to him, much less agree to reunite for a show. RundgrenRadio show host Doug Ford told Moogy to go see Todd at the Iridium and talk to him. Moogy went to the show and afterwards met up with Todd. Without question, one look at Moogy and you can tell that he has cancer......he does not look good. So imagine Moogy walking up to Todd and having a conversation............just imagine...........I am sure that Moogy was hesitant and not very optimistic that Todd would be accepting of him........BUT........Moogy says that Todd said "You were here for the show? Why didn't you come up on stage and join in?" Imagine that. It was at that moment that Moogy thought he had a chance to get Todd to join the rest of the guys one more time.

Moogy got his dream fulfilled.......Todd said "I'm in. When?"

I wish I could have gone to the show but it sold out rather quickly. There are YouTube videos and a Video On Demand available of the second show. Moogy came alive during the was amazing. They guys picked right up where they left off some 35 years ago as if it was yesterday. As I watched the video of them playing the Utopia Theme........I kept filling up with emotion........both my own reasons and for Moogy................and then Todd sings "City in my head......" and the tears came from my eyes. And I know there had to be people in that audience that cried as I did. It was unbelievable.

Thanks Utopia!

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