In 2013, Vice paid me to attend ToddStock, a four-day celebration of wizard musician Todd Rundgren’s 65th birthday, with the man himself in attendance. Superfans paid $800 to sleep in a tent, eat twice daly from killer themed buffets, and attend fun, open-bar happy hours with their hero. My psychedelic guru, Ray Bong, had only recently turned me on to Todd, and I was not yet the big fan I am now. Even Prince looked up to Todd Rundgren, as a songwriter, guitar shredder, producer, and as a fellow uncompromising soul. I really loved writing about ToddStock (CLICK HERE to read that Vice story).
But I left out some of the funniest, most interesting parts…
Just a few years younger than Todd, Ray Bong was one of the few who proudly paid over $1600 to take his wife for a weekend of camping with Todd Rundgren.
But before all that, I invited Ray Bong over to my house, he smoked me out, and we called up Todd Rundgren at his home in Hawaii and talked about music and laughed with him for 17 minutes, for OffBeat magazine — because not only would Ray consider this a great honor and gift, but I would have a Rundgren scholar on hand during my interview. Usually a psycho blabbermouth, Ray’s voice shook as he spoke to his idol.
I asked Todd, “Aren’t you scared of the type of people who would pay $800 just to be around you? Aren’t you taking a risk?”
“[laughs] We had the original Todd Stock five years ago out here on the island of Kawaii, in a lot next to my house. I just opened it up and said, ‘Anyone who can get themselves here and can put up $350 for food and booze,’ then everyone was free to show up. This time, we certainly expect to see the fans that show up to all the gigs and they want to have an opportunity to hang out outside of that context. When we had the first event, a few people early on would get a little over-excited and wanted to monopolize the conversation. But…eventually they calm down because they realize the have a whole week to get everything covered [laughs]. I have these events every once in a while and then they go back and they prosthelytize me!
My wingman at ToddStock, Mike Hogan from New Orleans brass rock band Egg Yolk Jubilee, joined me at ToddStock with his video recording gear. Like Ray, Hogan worshipped at Rundgren’s feet. He even keeps in email correspondence with Rundgren’s musician wife Michele, to find out what projects Todd’s working on, when Todd will tour, what Todd had for breakfast. I kid. But Hogan wore a different Todd shirt every day of ToddStock.
So he was the perfect person to record video of Todd and I fishing together. I’d previously communicated with Michele Rundgren — who sort of manages, and is very kind to, all of her husband’s fans and other sycophants — and she arranged for me to interview Todd for Vice, while we fished for catfish on the flooded Mississippi River levee.
Todd remembered me from our phone interview, and happily went along with my idea to recast John Lurie’s famous weird fishing show Fishing with John, as Fishing With Todd. Pole in hand, Todd laconically answered my questions as if this were just a conversation we happened to have while fishing.
Todd was very cool, and generous with his time. Before he left and went back to the party, he even sang and recorded the augmented theme song with me, “Fishiiiiiiiiiiing, with Todd. Fishiiiiiiiiiing, with Todd.” I was excited to put at the beginning of the fishing video Hogan filmed (which you can CLICK HERE to watch), “Theme song by Michael Patrick Welch AND TODD RUNDGREN.”
After the fishing interview, we took a nap, and then headed to the dinner buffet. I sat at a corner table munching when Rundgren himself walked up with his plate of food and sat down beside me, presumably because I was the only person in the dining hall not wearing a Todd Rundgren t-shirt. Todd and I talked off the record about New Orleans. “I love New Orleans partly because I love to cook. Cooking is a great passion of mine,” Todd said. “And one of my favorite things to cook is a good roux. So I like to come here and get the real thing.”
Just then Mike Hogan walked in — wearing a Got Milk? shirt, except it said Got Todd? — and he spotted me sitting and chatting with Todd. His eyes widened slightly. Hogan brought his food over and sat with us. I caught Hogan up on our food conversation. “Oh yeah, I knew you liked to cook,” the superfan said to Todd.
“And I was just saying that one of my favorite things to cook is a roux,” Todd added.
“I’ve never made a roux,” Hogan admitted. “It seems like it takes a lot of preparation, and is easy to screw up. So I leave it to other people.”
“Well then,” Todd said without laughing, “you’re a pussy.”
And I knew Mike Hogan was in heaven.
Not wanting to make my Vice story about me, I left out an amazing musical memory I won’t ever forget:
All weekend, Todd’s superfans had been jamming in different combos in the main room. They’d be working on some Rundgren cover, and I’d see Todd walk in, realize what they were playing, then walk straight out.
I’d performed my psychedelic electronic solo act “White Bitch” in New Orleans for over a decade and, feeling discouraged, was ready to quit forever. But I had recently realized how much my music and weird approach had in common with Rundgren’s. I’d overlaid all of my meticulously programmed backing beats onto a series of weird, funny videos I’d made, so that my onstage moves synched up with the pre-recorded images in trippy ways — all of that was very Rundgren, even though I’d never heard him.
So at 2am, two hours after Todd turned 65, I set up all my one-man-band gear in the grass outside of the main room and began to play. Todd had gone to sleep, but lots of people wandered out of the main room to watch and listen. Two of Rundgren’s three sons stood in front of me jamming out to the first song. They seemed really into it, but then quickly walked off, which bummed me out. Still I played on.
By my third song, the two sons returned with their brother, plus Michelle Rundgren, and Todd himself — they had woken dad and dragged him out of his bed to see me play! The whole Rundgren family stood five feet in front of me for the duration of the show, clapping and whistling and shouting encouragement as I sang and played guitar.
I could have led the crowd in the weekend’s first chorus of “Happy Birthday to Todd,” but thought it best not to focus on him at all. I did say into the microphone, “I only recently discovered Todd’s music, and am learning a lot about it this weekend. I’ve learned that all this time I thought I was ripping off Prince, but I was actually ripping off Todd — just like Prince does.” Then I played Prince’s “I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man.”
When I finished the song, Michele leaned in on me and shouted, “Play your original music!” I took this as a big compliment at the time, but later realized she simply feared I’d bust into a Todd Rundgren tune. She really looks out for him.
When I finally finished my set, everyone clapped, and Todd Rundgren himself began to chant, “White Bitch! White Bitch!” until all his fans joined in “WHITE BITCH! WHITE BITCH! WHITE BITCH!”
I took that as a huge compliment too — even though I’ve known plenty of people who didn’t like my music, but still loved saying the name. I played one more show after that, then put White Bitch away forever, satisfied, at least, that Todd Rundgren liked it.
Michael Patrick Welch’s “132 Famous People I Have Met” series is FREE, but please consider donating to his VENMO (michael-welch-42), or to his PayPal account (paypal.me/michaelpatrickwelch2), so he can feed his kids, pay his mortgage, etc.