I have a place where dreams are born
And time is never planned
It’s not on any chart
You must find it in your heart
It was 1972. My hair was long, my waist was thin and I had dark(ish) circles under my eyes from too many weekend nights spent drinking in a dive bar with my friends, smoking too many Kools. I was in a band. I ran what was the school’s “underground” newspaper.
And I had a tremendous crush on a cheerleader. Yes, read the previous paragraph again and put the previous statement into context.
Of course, were that just it, what I had imagined was my Hamlet-like charm (“sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought”) would have managed that difference in our outlooks.
But there were a couple of other factors that seem, even in retrospect, to be somewhat insurmountable. Sally (1) had a boyfriend who was a year older and, yes, an athlete who didn’t care for me in the least bit for I represented everything that was pretty much anathema to him and (2) her father was the superintendent of schools and the newspaper I was putting out was causing all manner of organizational upset within the administration’s offices.
So I needed a plan. A plan that would get me in her good graces. Get her to realize that her boyfriend was a boor and that her father could just deal with it. Get her to have even a sliver of the feeling that I had for her for me.
And my plan included Todd Rundgren.
The previous year Something/Anything? had been released. The two-disc set that includes “Hello, It’s Me”
I’ve thought about us for a long, long time
Maybe I think too much but something’s wrong
There’s something here that doesn’t last too long
Maybe I shouldn’t think of you as mine
and “It Wouldn’t Have Made Any Difference”
When it wouldn’t really make any difference,
If you really loved me
You just didn’t love me
It should be understood that if you heard those songs when you were in your teens they would have had a whole lot more impact on you than if you heard them, as you likely did, later.
And, yes, I fully recognized that Rundgren was much more than a ballad singer on Something/Anything?, as the essential title of that album indicates a cleverness in words that exceeded that which had been used to label records by far more famous musicians, and his guitar work on “Black Maria” was something that he was to continue to refine years later, as it became something of a staple in his sets.
But let’s not be coy here.
It simply struck me that were I to expose Sally to Rundgren’s music, my challenge would be far simpler.
Conveniently enough, Rundgren was scheduled at Detroit’s Masonic Auditorium, so I immediately got a pair of tickets. Then asked Sally if she would go. Fortunately—or so it seemed at the time—she said yes.
They were good seats, I recall. Maybe 15 rows from the stage, left side.
Her father had given me a stern look and a quick view of his back as he turned away when he saw me at the door; her mother was more accommodating. But it didn’t matter because I knew that Todd would make all the difference in the world within a very short period of time.
Yes, she was a cheerleader. Yes, she had an older athletic boyfriend.
But I had music.
The stage was empty with a single exception. A reel-to-reel tape recorder. Large.
Someone walked out on stage, hit the “Play” button, exited, and soaring sounds that could have come from a Moog synthesizer began to play. The sounds resolved themselves into the opening of “Never Never Land.”
And out on the stage walked Todd, singing the opening verse. And while dreams may have been born there, mine were essentially squashed.
Rundgren was wearing a unitard over his skinny frame. His hair was in full motley, a multi-colored look that we really weren’t to see until Dale Bozzio in 1980, a lifetime from 1972, an eternity from that particular moment in time. It wasn’t the Todd of Something/Anything?. It was the persona that would be more fully exhibited the following year on A Wizard, a True Star, on which he performs that song.
Patti Smith was to call that endeavor “Blasphemy even the gods smile on.”
Sally wasn’t smiling, unless a smile includes a look bordering on horror.
We stayed for the show. I don’t remember much beyond the first song.
The rest is silence.
In subsequent years, Rundgren has continued to make music, most of it notably imaginative. There is Faithful, where he diligently covered The Beach Boys, the Beatles and Hendrix, as well as provided a side of his own sounds. There is A Capella, which entirely consists of his voice. There is With a Twist, which is Rundgren covering his own songs in a bossa nova style.
As time went on, “Hello It’s Me” and “It Wouldn’t Have Made Any Difference” were relegated to easy listening and his “Bang the Drum All Day” (from 1983’s The Ever Popular Tortured Artist Effect) became an anthem.
He continues to create music, all the way up to the very moment.
A lifetime has passed since that night at the Masonic Auditorium. I can’t hear him without remembering it, though.
As for Sally? I don’t know what has happened in her life. High school ended. In 1974 “Sneakin’ Sally Through the Alley” by Robert Palmer came out, as did “Sally Can’t Dance” by Lou Reed. (She could; remember, she was a cheerleader, made to move.) I heard that she married a minor league pitcher, but it didn’t work out. I don’t know much about sports, but I’m pretty sure that baseball clubs don’t have cheerleaders. Maybe there was something there.
After a reunion I attended (not one, oddly enough, divisible by five, but a multiple of years since graduation) I wrote a piece about the consequences of time and remembrance for a friend’s politics and culture newsletter that ended up being distributed to the class. In the piece I mentioned that the only reason that I attended the reunion—my wife did an eye roll in response to whether she’d like to come along--was to apologize to my prom date for being a crap accompaniment; she responded, much to my dismay bordering on horror, “Oh, that’s OK, I always knew you wanted to go with Sally.” Apparently I was transparent to others but not to myself. So much for stratagems.
And I heard from Sally, as someone had forwarded the newsletter to her. After a career in teaching aerobics, she’d gone into law enforcement. Skip tracing or teaching or something. Whatever it is, it is something far different than I would have ever imagined back in high school English. I suspect for Sally, as well.
Things don’t always turn out as we anticipate. “And nothing is, but what is not,” an earlier me might have quoted.
I never asked if she recalled that night. And never will. It really doesn’t make any difference.
Just think of pleasant things
And your heart will fly on wings, forever in
Never never land
* * *
Todd Rundgren’s new album White Knight is due May 12 on Cleopatra Records. It features a variety of guests, including Robyn, Trent Reznor, Donald Fagen, Daryl Hall, Bettye Lavette, Joe Satriani, and Joe Walsh.