The venue was an amphitheater with wooden bleacher-like seating running up opposite sides of the room. Since we were early, we sat in the front row (across the floor from Mr. & Mrs. Gray). The organizers were generous and supplied complimentary wine & beer and platters of finger food prior to Todd's appearance. He wandered out shortly before the talk started with his black Sharpie at the ready and autographed things and stood for pictures with fans (like myself…what a patient man). Dressed in all black, even with those increasingly famous "nursing home" black shoes.
His talk, "The Muse of Solitude", started with a short playing of Hank Williams' "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" to "set the mood". Todd paced the floor in the center, engaging and funny and, dare I say, effusive. He talked of various creative techniques he regularly uses. He mentioned the creation of "Lost Horizon" - it came to him while lying in bed in Nepal - very isolated but also far-flung from his studio and the tools to retain it. He went over the song in his head while visualizing a keyboard, every day for three months until he got back home. (!) He talked of being true to his own subconscious impressions of his work rather than what other people were saying, another necessary type of solitude. He talked of physical isolation and how little he has now compared to the days when he was on his own, essentially. Now he has the commitment to family, and they are rightfully distracting. (Next time anyone feels like grumbling that the guy hasn't come out with any new material for too long, remember: he's got priorities, the right ones.) The family doesn't disappear just because he is on tour or out of their physicality either. Even as his older children (Rex and Liv) become professionals, he still worries about them "like they are kids". But rest assured, one of the things he promises us that he won't do is write songs about his kids, i.e."Daddy Don't You Run So Fast"…
After about an hour of the "formal talk" the organizers then opened the floor for a Phil Donahue type Q&A. He was asked about the Beatle's screenplay "Up Against It", and Patronet. He talked of the music industry's failures and about the marketing of cd's, loss of artists' royalties, the "byzantine distribution system" and overstocking of material and the loss of nice venue space for live performances. Also how Tower Records and all of the other cd retailers should toss the cd's and turn their spaces into decent performing venues. This brought cheers from the audience. He was asked about the processes behind specific pieces: Change Myself (took a jab at an unnamed president who wants to get rid of an unnamed middle-east dictator), Healing, Just One Victory (originally recorded incorrectly and which he does not remember finishing). Then he was asked about his drug use and its role in creating music ("…there's always someone…" he says). He talked about S/A and its similar chord patterns, how he just kept having songs appear in his head, and the album's theme of him being dumped by some girl, somewhere along the line. Among other topics: technologies past and present, his disappointment that the first electronic music hit was "popcorn", that he doesn't dream much (that he can remember anyway since he sometimes puts his generally hyperactive self into a "stuporous state" before bed), what his role as a producer is and what that means today as opposed to what it used to be, and that he never woke up one day and said "I think I'll write an international sports anthem (Bang the Drum) today…". His final words to the crowd were jokingly, "leave me alone!"
A doorprize drawing was held for some signed cd's, vinyl, posters, and the Billy James book. After that he hung out for more autographs and pictures. The only bothersome item was one of the main organizers who managed to mispronounce his name in the intro, repeatedly scolded people who took pictures, and rolled her eyes when a friend of mine asked Todd for some creative advice. Could have lived without that. But keep your eyes open folks, the evening was videotaped and the camera guys said there might be the possibility of it being available somewhere down the line from the creative conference organizers.
It was a fabulous evening. I feel so blessed to have had this rare opportunity to hear Todd talk about the processes behind the music I've heard him singing and playing all these years. Wow. What a kick in the teeth to the throes of a mid-winter funk and what a fine kickoff for this latest tour. Thank you Todd.