Portland Creative Conference

Review by Michael Flatley (As edited by Michael Harkins (Hark)) (Switch to

Backstage Pass Series, Thursday, January 16th, 2003

Review and Insights

A very good friend of mine, Mike Flatley (no not that Michael Flatley of "Lord of the Dance" fame) recently attended TR’s presentation at The Portland Creative Conference. Unable to attend the evening’s lecture (like most other TR diehards), I asked Mike if he would provide a summary and some thoughts/insights about Todd's Lecture, which took place on January 16th in Portland, OR. Encapsulated below are his notes from TR’s presentation, along with some of Mike’s insights, observations and answers to my questions about this unusual event.

Theme: Solitude as a Muse

By Michael Flatley
The Setting:

The event was held at the Wieden & Kennedy advertising agency in Portland, OR. The space in which it was held was a unique multimedia room that contained rafter seating for a few hundred people. Tonight’s lecture was very well attended (with standing room for the overflow crowd). The evening began at 5:00pm with cocktails, hors d’oeuvres, music and networking. Then at 6:30pm Todd Rundgren’s presentation began.

The Presentation:

TR gave a 45 minutes presentation… followed by 45 minutes of Q&A with the audience.

Todd explained his personal creative style... and reflections on the universal criteria for artistic creativity and innovation. He said that he likes to minimize effort and look for ideas from his subconscious. He finds that his subconscious has a lot more to say when it's not busy engaging socially. Here are two of the nuggets he tossed out, "Isolation is a vacation from consensus reality". "Consensus reality is the opposite of innovation."

TR - Using Dreams To Produce Songs:

The song Bang on the Drum All Day was stuck in his head (and surprisingly) upon waking up one morning, 90% complete. He had no idea why his brain was playing this song. Todd also stated that had absolutely no clue that BOTDAD would become a sports anthem and be so profitable for him. Although Todd thinks it's a dumb song and is somewhat embarrassed that it's becoming his legacy, he still finds some amusement (from the fact) that he has no idea as to where it came from, and that he was simply the transmitter for the song.

The song Waiting Game also came from a dream of Todd’s. In the dream, as he related it: Todd was producing the band Manhattan Transfer in his studio… and they were singing the Waiting Game (all of it… each and every word in its entirety). So when he woke up he just held onto the memory and wrote down the words, and studied the harmonies until he new he was able to recreate it.

The album Healing was an experiment in which he simply asked the question, what would it be like to combine two different themes... entertainment and therapy. Healing was his attempt to create an album that could be used as a vehicle for meditation.

Restlessness, Hyperactivity and Isolation:

Someone asked TR if he studied dream interpretation. He said that he doesn't dream much because by the time he falls asleep he's in a complete stupor. He acknowledged being hyperactive, and to even prepare for sleep, his ritual is to lie on the couch watching television, sipping beer, until he finally conks out, and then wakes up later and goes to bed.

Todd said that he watches a lot of TV, but since there's no social interaction, he considers it to be a type of isolation. He also said that there are specific things he enjoys watching but did not go into more detail as to what he enjoys most. Mostly, it sounds like it's his way of relaxing.

High Output Periods, Changing Priorities and Personal Standards

In the old days of his high output periods, Todd said he would isolate himself for weeks at a time. However, being a dad has shifted his priorities… he is rarely alone any more. Todd did say that he expects to have a lot more alone time when the youngest kid leaves home six years from now.

Todd also equates (another factor in) the drop in his music output to self-imposed standards and criteria. He doesn't want to create a new song unless it's really new to him. He also stated that the early part of his career did not have this same commitment. He also related that there are other reasons as to why he was so prolific throughout the '70s. It's important to Todd to actually like what he creates. Trying to figure out what others will validate is a trap that he's seen many other recording artists try. However, he believes that remaining true to oneself is the best policy.

Patronet and the Future of the Recording Industry:

Someone asked Todd to explain the concept behind Patronet... he did so by expressing his ideal as to how he believes the music industry may evolve.

TR related that live performance is becoming the more effective way earn a living, while letting people download recorded material for free has the net effect of increasing the audience and the potential for a lucrative tour. An artist’s patrons would be the folks who want to support the artist and receive the music as it's being created, or be the very first one to receive products. He thinks the giant record stores should be converted into performance boutiques. "We've lost most of the nice venues and need to figure out how to replace them."

The future of the industry will be about managing inventory. Only produce what people have pre-ordered. That eliminates waste and other costs associated with inventory. The non-patrons will have free downloads... but might support the artist in other ways. It's free PR. It's free advertising. It's also theft, but it's not going away. So what's the point in fighting it?

Nazz – Poor But Efficient

TR mentioned that during the earliest days of the Nazz, they would book studio time for just 1 hour at a time, because that was all they could afford (at the time). They would try to cram as many songs as possible into that 1hour block of studio time.

Limited Philosophical and Spiritual Discussion:

There was not much in the way of deep philosophy, or spiritual exploration tonight. The nature of this evening’s talk gave Todd a chance to have an exchange with an audience primarily using his left-brain hemisphere (analytical talents). He was extremely grounded and quite coherent throughout his presentation and during the Q&A period. Todd used a few words that I had never heard, and it appeared as though he might have reviewed some books about proper lecture techniques. Although TR is barely a high-school graduate, he has the ability to articulate better than many college professors. He clearly possesses a strong passion for learning, but I wonder if he has had any teachers (since high school.) This man is truly a champion of self-directed studies.

Observations About TR:

Although I realize that in the past Todd has been somewhat neurotic and rather impatient, all of that seems incredibly well managed these days… his humor is often self-deprecating. Another observation is that he managed to avoid discussing politics. Unlike many on the left who are so freaked out about the current (Bush) administration, I got the feeling that Todd has become more tolerant of the human condition and the craziness of the world, unlike the '80s when he was clearly so disgusted with our country’s political leadership. If he still carries a lot of anger, it was invisible this evening.

Todd looks really healthy for 54. Hawaii must be suiting him well (although he did not mention Hawaii this evening). Todd kept coming back to his kids…. he clearly loves them and being a dad has become the central focus of his inner life (also a source of anxiety, and a distraction from his career, but well worth it to him). Todd’s bottom line this evening is that he's very rarely lonely (isolated) anymore, but he still anticipates more plenty of new opportunities to advance his career as an artist.

The most noteworthy point for me is how much my own dreams were affected by attending the lecture. And I probably had five dreams involving Todd. So this talk had an impact upon my own subconscious. The lecture was videotaped. I imagine it'll also be transcribed and posted on his web site or offered to patrons as a download.

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1/16/2003 - Wieden + Kennedy - Portland, OR

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