Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Todd Rundgren—
A Wizard/A True Star


Released 1973 on Bearsville/Warner Brothers
The Seth Man, July 2003ce
Todd Rundgren’s masterpiece (here on in referred to by its ‘head’ acronym, “AWATS”) was a tremendously ambitious statement and a lofty epistle to dippy as it was a never-ending gallery of truly amazing sounds and astonishing music. Todd sought to construct a cosmic calling card to the universe in full blown 16-track stereo with an album about as post-psychedelic, progressive and glam all at once like nothing else. No other album sounds like “AWATS.” It turns from segments trippier than anything from 1967, campier than Sparks and as electronically progressive as anything with a smooth soul medley tossed in to complete a grand universal interface as all of Todd’s subjectivities were cast upon a grand cosmic scheme of things where buoyancy, compassion and all the Rock in his head could not clash at all but only arranged themselves into perfect interlocking-ness that explored, divined and revealed all at once. (And that’s just the first song.)

Certain ecstatogenic substances the like of Ritalin, mushrooms and pot caused the focus of Todd’s music to become more intense, and all over “AWATS” it shape-shifted into shorter, denser songs like a hyper-flickering third eye constantly re-adjusting its line of intra-vision. Were it not for his intuitive arrangement skills (along with a clutch of ace musicians executing them with precision) “AWATS” coulda easily broke both its legs taking a tumble down the steep edifice of ambition. But those arrangements act as hyperactive butlers that constantly shimmer in and out of the room deftly with an endless succession of synth-tastic props, variable tape speeds, overdubs, studio cross ties and backdrops for the songs to sally forth over gilded rails, even as they tie themselves into loop-de-loops and arc at severe angles while segueing into something else entirely different all at the same time.

The umbrella title “The International (In 8)” comprises all of side one in a run-on sentence of messy epiphanies hung with electronic siding while an alarming amount of portals through the twisting realms of the psychotropically cleansed mind of Todd open, close and lead to others. Side one is abstract and nimble, beginning with the sputtering of a Moog-propelled lift off that sputters and fails quickly, nose diving safely into fizziness and then into the treacle-impeding trudge of super-phased piano/keyboard chords that sound exactly the way cheap C-90 cassettes did when their slack wasn’t universally distributed and taut throughout (and moments later, either snapping or spooling out into your portable player.) The drums slowly and stridently finish a roll in under 20 seconds flat to crack open the cosmic egg that is “The International Feel” where everything gently swirls, unfolds and blossoms all around his tremulous vocals, and we’re truly in “Never Never Land” with a repeat of the incantation, “I know...I know...I know...” as though signaling that the quest for knowledge has begun. Endless volley of fully-formed-though-short-as-hell-non-vignettes continually confound expectation as they whiz by fantastically at the speed of genius: “Tic Tic Tic It Wears Off,” “You Need Your Head,” “Rock And Roll Pussy,” “Dogfight Giggle,” “You Don’t Have To Camp Around” and the instrumental “Flamingo.” One by one they all change in tempo, attack and time signatures as they escalate towards the hugely emotional summit finally attained on “Zen Archer” where visions of beauty and sadness are scaled over and over. It speaks more through its music than its nonplussing lyrics delivered liltingly, presiding over a slow motion, accordion-led funeral tango ballet. David Sanborn turns in a yearning tenor sax blow on the tail out as arrows swish by and hit their targets with a super “bow-ow-ow-ow” effect like shafts shuddering and quivering upon making contact with their cosmic targets, and they get thicker right up until “Just Another Onionhead”/“DAda Dali” cuts in, and here’s where things get seriously tripped out. “When The Shit Hits The Fan”/”Sunset Boulevard” is the other 2-ply track, and is by far the most progressive rockin’ moment. Like “The Colony Of Slippermen” but with far more aggressive lead bass mellotronics and 45 degree ski-sloping momentum hurtling just out of harm’s way like a super viscous/vicious water slide just edging around scenario after scenario of disaster, winding up again and again in the safety of the known confines of Sunset Blvd. But as soon as this image of home appears, it begins to slowly melt back into a reprise of “International Feel,” here titled in French like an International Anthem of Vibe that it is well and truly is.

Side 2 bears the heading “A True Star” and with it shows a far more calm and fragile approach for most of its near 30 minute-running time. Todd is now left with to pick up the broken pieces of his reality and prove himself without studio trickery or anything that even bears a hint of the slightest whiff of gimcrack so he opens with the emotional reawakening, “Sometimes I Don’t Know How To Feel.” It’s not a lament so much as a statement of fact: Not numb, not dumb, just overwhelmed as he takes post-psychedelic baby steps back to reassessing his own perceived and fragmented senses. Whoa -- I feel like crying along with the dripping icicles of harpsichordian Moog regret in the song because it isn’t sentimental at all: it’s direct from Todd’s heart to yours. “Does Anybody Love You” is the final hiccoughing of the quirked-out 90 second songs on “AWATS,” and is so gentle Todd resorts to using a typewriter as percussion. With the fanfare of a slow saxophone arrives a 10.5 minute soul medley culled from highlights of The Impressions’ “I’m So Proud,” The Miracles’ “Ooh Baby Baby,” “La La Means I Love You” by The Delfonics and The Capitols’ “Cool Jerk” -- all seamlessly co-joined together into a single, weightless space-coo-of-lurve until it gets broken up with the jittery, electronically pulsed “Cool Jerk”; thrown in as a total goof-ball shake-up like Bowie’s overtly arch rendition of “See Emily Play” on “Pin Ups.” “Hungry For Love” is a bare bones beating of both chest and meat lurve solicitation with underpinning whining guitar sliding, followed by the album’s most plaintive moment, “I Don’t Want To Tie You Down.” Bowed head piano is gently touched not played as though truly reaching for those notes that will spell out the depths of Todd’s non-possessive devotion. “Is It My Name?” opens with frothing phasing over a massively FX-ed to fuck guitar tone (played in all certainty by Rick Derringer/nee Zehringer/aka the guy from The McCoys) and the tom-toms resound so loud they’d give you a headache if they weren’t placed so sonically perfect and timed to land down each time the guitar line takes a breath. They’re thumping on and on as Todd’s voice rises into hissy fit-ness over and over, “You only love me/For mah machines!!!” It cuts off right at the end, as though it’s the singer not the song he’s striking out at with a super-echoed fade out, as though representative of Todd’s ego finally shattering the mirror of his mind.

“Just One Victory” draws the album to a close at a massive (by “AWATS” standards) 4 minutes 50 with big heart-swelling sound arrangements ala “Pet Sounds” or “What’s Going On.” Heavy on the heart-tugging glockenspiel accenting trotted out on cue combined with tripled-tracked, space-gospel voices that plead for you to be true to yourself, don’t let anybody bring you down and despite all the hang ups, hassles and day to day pressures and confusions that dare to ensnare your peace of mind, there’s another piece of behind (is that yours I’m feeling? I’m sure it ain’t mine) that’ll let another day dawn one more time, and peace of mind ain’t far behind.


Note:
The promotional version of “AWATS” excised “Does Anybody Love You” from side two -- probably worried off in a last minute effort to ensure fidelity on this longest running of single LPs. But best of all, "When the Shit Hits the Fan" featured an electronic squiggle (“wheeeurpp!”) Rundgren himself overdubbed over all appearances of the word ‘shit’: thereby out-vibing the censors with something far freakier.