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Philadelphia has spawned some of the greatest storytellers in entertainment history. Comics Kevin Hart, the late David Brenner and Dom Irrerea are Philly style comics who became famous for how they tell a story.
A few blocks from the Philadelphia city limits and about a mile from where Brenner grew up in West Philly, is Upper Darby. The gritty neighborhood, which is within shouting distance of where the HBO show "Mare of Easttown" was shot, is the hometown of Tina Fey and Todd Rundgren.
The former became a megastar courtesy of her memorable takes as the Weekend Update anchor on “Saturday Night Live,” for her films, “Mean Girls,” “Sisters” and her sitcom “30 Rock.”
The latter — Rundgren — became one of the most daring and inventive figures in the history of rock. During the early ’70s, “Todd is God” signs were staples at his concerts. But it all started for Rundgren in suburban Philadelphia in a neighborhood that spawned Fey and fellow SNL alum Cheri Oteri.
“I don't know why that is,” Rundgren said. “It's not like we all went to this great creative high school. ... I was born there and grew up there, but I moved on."
Hawaii, where Rundgren lives, is thousands of miles from his hometown. But Rundgren has been inspired everywhere he’s lived. Now 72, he’s had his share of hits, including “Hello It’s Me” and “Bang on the Drum All Day.” But like the late Lou Reed, his deep cuts are most fascinating.
Rundgren is an adept pop craftsman but he is that rarity, who also is driven to create avant-rock for himself and other bands as a producer (The New York Dolls, XTC).
“Todd is what we were in Sonic Youth,” singer/songwriter Thurston Moore said. “He is an art-rocker. Todd is someone who could have been this pop superstar since he can write hit songs but he chose to go in another direction, which is so admirable.”
Rundgren can’t just write one way.
“I like to challenge myself,” he said by phone from his Kilauea, Hawaii, home. “If I wrote the same way all of the time I would become so bored.”
So Rundgren’s shows are often split between hits and deep cuts. After more than a half-century as an unpredictable recording artist, he penned an entertaining memoir, “The Individualist: Digressions, Dreams & Dissertations.”
“I revealed a good bit about myself with the book,” he said. “It was a good experience, but it was work.”
The memoir is mostly from the ’70s and ’80s, a very productive period for him.
“I covered a lot of ground,” he said. “It was a lot of fun looking back.”
A number of the tales are just as funny as the anecdotes Bruce Springsteen delivered throughout his exceptional autobiography, “Born to Run.”
Rundgren waxed about his lost opportunity with Linda Eastman, who became Paul McCartney’s wife.
“Was I jealous of Paul for snagging a girl who had just weeks before spent an inordinate amount of time with me,” Rundgren said. “Actually I was envious of Linda who now got to hang with the Beatles.”
Rundgren has no reason to be jealous, since he often has been part of Ringo Starr's All-Starr Band.
“I enjoyed doing a bunch of tours with Ringo,” Rundgren said. “First off, he’s a Beatle. Once you get over that, he’s one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. Ringo didn’t needed to be in a band like the All-Starrs. He didn’t know what to do with himself before that. Ringo couldn’t just be in some new band. He’s Ringo.”
Rundgren is legendary in his own right.
“I don't think of things that way,” he said. “I’m a musician who has made the most of my opportunity.”