Indiana University

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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Last modified: Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Hello, it's Todd: Rock legend Todd Rundgren named to prestigious Wells Scholars Professorship at IU

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Sept. 14, 2010

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- The rumors are true. Todd Rundgren, the rocker-producer known for his songs "Hello, It's Me," "Bang the Drum All Day" and "I Saw the Light," has been selected as the Class of 1963 Wells Scholars Professor at Indiana University Bloomington for this fall.

Rundgren, the ninth instructor in the Wells Scholars Program, will teach the middle two weeks of a four-week, one-credit hour honors seminar designed for 22 Wells Scholars and Hutton Honors students. The class commences in late October and finishes in mid-November. Co-teaching the class will be IU Professor of Music Glenn Gass -- whose relationship with Rundgren helped make the professorship possible -- and IU Distinguished Professor of Sociology Bernice Pescosolido, who was instrumental in helping to plan the course.

Gass, a professor at IU's world-class Jacobs School of Music, said he sees Rundgren's engagement at IU as the start of a trend in which legendary rock stars share their knowledge with a new generation. Rundgren, who performs frequently, gave a concert at Clowes Memorial Hall at Butler University in Indianapolis on Sept. 11.

"Todd is a treasure trove of memories, knowledge, stories . . .," Gass said. "This class is a way for him to celebrate what he's done and allows him to share his experiences with students who really want to hear what he has to say."

In addition to learning about the culture, politics and economics of the music business, from the 1970s through today, students will visit Professor of Anthropology Nicholas Toth at IU's Stone Age Institute to view some of the earliest tools used for making music.

"I think the students will love it. For us, the appeal of the class is really both Todd and Glenn," said Professor of Physics Tim Londergan, director of the Wells Scholars Program (and a self-professed rock 'n' roll fan).

The Rundgren seminar is currently full with a waiting list, and course auditors/visitors, including IU students not registered for the seminar, cannot be accommodated.

During his stay in Bloomington, Rundgren will give a public lecture titled "LONGHAIR: Todd Rundgren on the Beatles Effect" at 7 p.m. Oct. 28 in Ballantine Hall 013. He will also present a Halloween-night recital titled "CLUSTER: The Birth of the T Chord" at 8 p.m. Oct. 31 in Auer Hall. Both are free and open to the public.

Gass said he asked Rundgren to talk about the Beatles both because of Rundgren's collaborations with various members of the band and because of the window it will provide into his own music. "If it was going to be 'Todd talks about Todd,' he may have felt awkward," Gass said. "By asking him to talk about the Beatles, we can get more insight into his music, too."

Rundgren's unique associations with the Beatles include a number of covers, participation in the Ringo All-Star Band and co-producing the power pop band Badfinger with George Harrison. When Harrison died, Rundgren did a highly acclaimed version of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" for a tribute album. In 1980, Rundgren and his then-band Utopia, did a loving sendup of the Beatles (Deface the Music) that Gass calls "just genius."

Rundgren is also a longtime Beatles fan who credits Harrison with inventing the "lead guitar" player, Gass said. "When Todd was in the band Nazz, he wasn't the lead singer -- he was the lead guitar player -- which in the 50s meant one of the backup musicians. Because of George, lead guitar now means you're one of the band's leaders."

Gass initially met Rundgren in Hawaii, when Gass and his wife were on sabbatical for a year (and where they spent the past two summers). "The kids start taking the bus together and the next thing you know, you're going to cookouts at Todd's," Gass said. "I quickly learned that everything they said about him was true. He's brilliant, articulate, really interesting -- and interested in things far beyond his own work and even his music. He's just a really engaged human being."

Rundgren is also known for staying true to his artistic muse. "He refused to take the easy way out," Gass said. "The easy way would have been to do five more songs like 'Hello, It's Me.' He paid a price for that, but in the long run, in 50 years, I think that's why he'll matter more than stars who may have had more hits."

Rundgren was the highest paid producer of the 1970s, producing bands that ranged from the New York Dolls, The Band and Patti Smith to Meat Loaf, Hall & Oates and Cheap Trick. On Aug. 1, 1981 -- the evening MTV debuted with "Video Kills the Radio Star" by the Buggles -- Rundgren was ready with his music video for "Time Heals," which premiered on MTV the same evening. Always a fan of technology, Rundgren made his music available through online downloads about 10 years before iTunes ("Everyone had dial-up connections then," Gass commented. "His fate is always to be just a few years ahead of his time.").

Gass said after the Beatles broke up, he was personally attracted to singer-songwriters like James Taylor, Neil Young, Carole King, Joni Mitchell -- and Todd Rundgren. "Todd was always one of the best and most interesting performers. Even in those early albums, it was clear he wasn't just a singer-songwriter," Gass said. At turns, Rundgren played with electric guitar or classical riffs, producing his own double album in 1972, on which he also played all of the instruments.

From the time he met Rundgren in Hawaii, Gass starting thinking of ways to bring the performer to IU. A confluence of events sparked by a Rundgren speaking engagement at DePauw University led to the IU professorship. DePauw's executive director of media relations, Ken Owen, is "a huge Todd scholar -- Todd to him is like the Beatles to me," Gass said.

"All of a sudden it went from being a day dream to being a real possibility, and now it's actually happening," Gass said. "He really can call himself Professor Rundgren. This is not a gimmick: He is the Class of 1963 Wells Scholars Professor."

About the Wells Professorships

The Wells professorships are made possible by gifts from the IU classes of 1941, 1942, 1943 and 1963. Previous Wells professors have included the Honorable Helen Suzman, a South African political leader (Class of 1941 Wells Professor in 1993), Sir Malcolm Bradbury, a novelist-screenwriter-critic (Class of 1942 Wells Professor in 1997), and Holocaust scholar Christopher Browning (Class of 1943 Wells Professor in 2003). The most recently appointed Wells Professors were Sir (later Lord) Timothy Garden (Class of 1941 Wells Professor) and artist Robert Colescott (Class of 1943 Wells Professor), both of whom taught at IU in 2004.

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