A 60th birthday — many fear such a milestone. But not eternally spry rocker Todd Rundgren, who faced the date last month with a week-long party he threw for himself and fans at his hillside home in Hawaii.
Some 200 well-wishers paid $300 (to cover the cost of food), set up tents on the singer’s six-acre estate on Kauai, and took part in daily activities like kayaking, nature hikes, even hula lessons.
“And all week long, I was also rehearsing my upcoming record, ‘Arena,’” he says. “And on Sunday, June 22, my birthday, we essentially did a public dress rehearsal for all the people who showed up. So they got to hear it for the first time, before anybody else did. It was a great week, and we had a great time together.”
Rundgren, who brings those songs and their apocalyptic end-of-humanity message to the Great American Music Hall Sunday, was stunned by the co-operation he witnessed on his land.
He says, “the fans helped erectthe mess tent and the communal area. And they even husbanded the land before most of the people got there, and pulled up all the nasty thorny stuff from the ground so people could walk around barefoot. They kept the place spotless, and it gave me optimism — optimism that there are people up to the challenge.”
That challenge is mapped out on “Arena,” in Rage Against The Machine-ish anthems like “Mad,” “Strike,” “Panic” and “Manup.”
Only one number, “Courage,” bears the charismatic chime of the man’s classic pop hits “Hello It’s Me” and “Can We Still Be Friends;” the rest is sheer stadium-sized aggression, and an intended wake-up call for humanity.
“I know I’m going to offend people when I say that what annoyed me the most about Obama’s campaign was the whole ‘hope’ thing,” says Rundgren, who home-tracked his disc on laptop and cut its snarling vocals in the muffled linen closet.
“It’s too late for hope. It’s time for action. If you hope that the Earth is just going to go back to its normal temperature, well then you just might as well put a gun to your head. Because nothing is going to happen without heavy lifting, sacrifice, perseverance — all the hard things that human beings, and especially Americans, don’t like to do.”
The 40-year music-biz vet admits that he’s fairly removed from the rat race on Kauai. He moved to the island from Sausalito in the early 1990s, but only recently completed work on his digitally lit dream home and its open-air lanai, where “Arena” took shape.
“I’ve got a really beautiful spot,” he says. “And there are no venomous snakes of any kind here, and very few reptiles. Just some wild boar that still wander the jungles and nene, the Hawaiian goose.”
The calm is admittedly a contrast to his turn to arena rock, he says: “The style has an inherent heroism and themes of grandiosity. And the ‘Arena’ cover is a visual quote from the movie ‘300,’ and that’s where humanity is at right now. We’re at the gates of Thermopylae, and if we don’t make a stand here, we never will.”
IF YOU GO
Where: Great American Music Hall, 859 O’Farrell St., San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. Sunday
Contact: (415) 885-0750; www.gamhtickets.com