Music News

Todd Man Out

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As for those over thirty, they were recently reminded of Rundgren's continued existence by The Difference, a nationally syndicated radio program that he began hosting more than a year ago. Although the series doesn't air in Colorado, it's been added to the lineups of more than thirty U.S. stations, most of which fall into the Adult Album Alternative, or Triple-A, category. But several weeks ago Rundgren decided to sever his relationship with the show. As he tells it, the program was originally intended to introduce people who'd gotten out of the habit of exploring unfamiliar musical styles to the wonderful variety of sounds being made these days. But while his vision earned The Difference plenty of critical acclaim (including a Billboard magazine nomination as "Rock Radio Show of the Year"), it didn't endear Rundgren to program directors.

"When we started, we realized we were playing to a format," he concedes. "It's not an ideal format, but it's better than some in terms of exposing the world of music--so we decided to start off slowly in the hopes of evolving into something more adventurous. That was why we called it The Difference--because we wanted to be more adventurous than the affiliates themselves, in the hopes of pushing stations in better directions. But the stations weren't interested in being pushed. Their loyalty is ultimately to advertisers; their survival is dependent upon ad dollars. If Zima is spending money like water--which is what Zima tastes like, by the way--they're doing so because they want to target a particular audience. And anything that might be seen as unappealing to that particular audience is seen as dangerous--which is what we were."

As a result, various stations began demanding that Rundgren homogenize The Difference in ways that he was unwilling to even consider. "Essentially, it got to be where there were more and more cooks instead of fewer and fewer cooks. Things began to deteriorate seriously over the summer, and I finally just said enough is enough. I said, 'If I can't play a broader range of music--if I can't play jazz or Latin or Tex-Mex or zydeco or hip-hop or really heavy metal or anything that I feel like playing without garnering complaints, then fuck it.'

"In the end, I refused to be dragged around by parochial local concerns," he adds. "And it's those concerns that are already killing any potential that Triple-A might have had. Nobody stuck with the format long enough to peel off the smart, younger audience that should have been interested in it. Instead, they began regurgitating the same old things. They figured that people were less interested in something that might have broadened their views than they were in Bad Company--or in Hootie & the Blowfish, which is just plain old dreck. That represents the complete antithesis of what I wanted to do. So if the syndicator wants to keep the show going, he'll have to do it without me."

Don't shed any tears for Rundgren over this disappointment, though; he's so enthusiastic about his Internet project, which he hopes to put into operation during the first quarter of 1997, that he's already put his association with The Difference behind him. He claims not to know what challenge he'll tackle once his computer-generated storefront has opened, but he's certain that something will present itself to him before long.

"I have a short attention span, which tends to be a symptom of younger people," says Rundgren. "As people get older, they usually narrow down their range and start to focus in on certain things. They start to be less open to newer and more radical things and stick to more of a core of set ideas--mostly, I think, because your brain starts to hurt after a while and you just want it to stop. But I've gotten used to the constant racket." He laughs. "In fact, I kind of like it."

Todd Rundgren. 9 p.m. Saturday, November 30, Ogden Theatre, 935 East Colfax, $18.50, 830-2525 or 1-800-444-

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts