MYSTICAL MESSAGES IN TODD'S SONGS

by David Jodrey (jodrey@welchlink.welch.jhu.edu)
July, 1995


It's quite possible to be a Todd Rundgren fan without paying much attention to the mystical dimension in his lyrics. However, Todd has frequently made spirituality and the esoteric traditions the topic of his songs.

A few examples:

1) "Infrared and Ultraviolet" - the title refers to colors beyond the range of normal vision. The lyrics ask the listener to:

     Take a look
     At the things that you can't see
     All the mystic treasury...

     Check it out...
     There is nothing to buy
     Why not give it a try
     While you're waiting for your ship to come in

     Let the ancient song survive...

     For it's something in your mind
     That will let you see behind
     Cross the border and find
     Infrared and ultraviolet
If this song is not an invitation to listeners to look into the mystical tradition for themselves, then what is it?

2) "Hodja" is set in the context of the Whirling Dervishes, founded in Konya, Turkey by Rumi. The viewpoint character's stated motivations for wanting to learn to "spin" are relatively immature. However, the colorful and distinctive dance that has given the Whirling Dervishes their nickname is only part of a system of human development. Perhaps the aspirant, if accepted as a student (not invariably the case) will progress along the path despite his current "rawness." Although Todd uses the Sufi context in this song and another from that same album ("Miracle in the Bazaar"), I don't interpret this to mean he's saying, "THIS is the right approach for YOU" - on the contrary, he often makes it clear that you have to decide for yourself. Other songs of his make Hindu, Buddhist, JudeoChristian, and even ancient Egyptian references. Perhaps the same thing is true for you that "The Individualist" asserts is true for him:

     i got a special answer meant just for me
     somewhere in my immediate vicinity
3) "Mystified" - the song states that
     Every thought wears a thin disguise
and refers to "double entendre" - a French phrase for intentional double meanings. An example of double entendre from a movie: in a Rodney Dangerfield film (Back to School was the title, I think) Dangerfield has become a college student, and says to a young woman student he has met at a party: "You're an English major? Maybe you can help me with my Longfellow."

Here's an example of double meanings in the song:

     But if you knew what I was looking for
     You'd get off your ass and walk out that door
a) If you fully understood what TR was looking for - namely, mystical enlightenment - you would reject this goal as inconsistent with your own orientation, and stop listening to him.

b) If you correctly understood the value of the search for enlightenment you'd be energized to pursue it yourself.

I suggest that the song title itself is an example of double entendre. Etymologically, "mystify" is analogous to words such as "liquefy", "stupefy", "petrify", "emulsify". This suggests an alternative (although unusual) meaning of "make into a mystic".

Mysticism can be defined as "belief in the existence of realities beyond perceptual or intellectual apprehension that are central to being and directly accessible by subjective experience." The American Heritage Dictionary (electronic version) follows this definition by an alternative meaning of "vague, groundless speculation." However, the strongest meaning of the term is its first definition in the same dictionary, "Immediate consciousness of the transcendent or ultimate reality or God." Todd is clearly a mystic in the sense that he believes that there are realities that cannot be seen or reasoned out. Is he a mystic in the strongest sense - someone who has had transcendent experiences? Well, the lyrics of "The Individualist" assert

     my eye is on the prize that's in disguise
     that you can only theorize but i can utilize
     to rise above the lies about reality 
Maybe so.

4) "Hammer in My Heart" is another example of double entendre. In addition to the romantic obsession which is the most obvious interpretation of the lyrics, it refers to the constant silent repetition of a word or phrase, a meditation technique called in various traditions "mantra" or "zikr." "Fix Your Gaze" refers to another meditation technique. Like Peter Gabriel's song "In Your Eyes", it seems to me to pertain to a mystical exercise called "absorption into the teacher".

This is not an exhaustive list of references to the mystical tradition in TR's music - but I hope it will motivate some people to look into the issue further. Suggested books:

Robert Ornstein, "The Psychology of Consciousness" (2nd rev. ed.)

Arthur Deikman, "The Observing Self: Mysticism and Psychotherapy"

Aldous Huxley, "The Perennial Philosophy"

Willis Harman & Howard Rheingold, "Higher Creativity"
[Harman was formerly Dean of Engineering at Stanford U.; you skeptical technical types might find this a congenial book to start with]

Jean Shinoda Bolen, "The Tao of Psychology: Synchronicity and the Self"

Lawrence LeShan, "How to Meditate"

Gary Emery and Pat Emery, "The Positive Force" (title in original hardback edition was "The Second Force")

The Bhagavad Gita (I like the Prabhavananda & Isherwood translation)

Various books by Thich Nhat Hanh on Buddhism

Various books by Idries Shah on Sufism

I wish you success in your search.