Rock stars have parents, too

Every once in awhile, the people at Time/Life will put out a book that features some of the great photography that has graced their pages over the years. I was looking through one that I picked up a few years ago, and it featured pictures of 60’s rock stars, in their heyday, with their parents…Grace Slick with her mom, David Crosby with his father, etc. I always find it fascinating to think about some of the biggest rock stars in the world, and some of the stories that come with the territory…what do their parents think?

Some rock stars take their parents along for the ride. This was never more obvious than when Elvis started hitting it big in the 1950’s. He bought a big new house for his mom and dad, and moved right in with them. In fact, when he bought Graceland in 1957, his mom and dad moved in with him again. After his mom died, Vernon Presley continued to live at Graceland with Elvis, and even past Elvis’ death.

I remember being at a religious retreat weekend one time (it was a phase, ok?). The first night we were there, we each had to stand up, say our name and where we were from, and then tell an interesting fact about ourselves. It was all pretty run-of-the-mill, until a 70-something year old man stood up and said, “My name is Charlie Knudsen. I’m from Princeton, Illinois, and my son is one of the Doobie Brothers.” Suddenly, I remembered that the Doobies’ drummer, Keith Knudsen, was from that area…and here was his dad! He certainly didn’t look like his son was a rock star. Throughout the weekend, I wanted to have a conversation with Charlie, and get his thoughts about his famous son…whether he had met any of his son’s famous friends, did he see his son much, and how did he feel about the stories concerning drugs, alcohol, etc. (Keith died in 2005 at age 56). I didn’t approach him…just didn’t seem like an appropriate time.

Back when I was at WBNQ, I was sitting at my desk one day and realized it was Todd Rundgren’s birthday. It had been Brian Wilson’s birthday a couple of days before, and through a series of phone calls, I was able to get through to Brian to wish him a happy birthday. So I figured I would try to call Todd to wish him a happy birthday as well. I knew that he was originally from Upper Darby, Pennsylvania, so I started by calling directory assistance and asked for all the listings for Rundgren. They came up with 4, so I started dialing. The first number didn’t pick up (no answering machine), but the second call I made was answered by a woman’s voice. I simply said, “Is Todd there?” The woman replied, “No, not right now.” I responded, “To whom am I speaking?” She replied, “This is his mother.”

I couldn’t believe it! I was talking to Todd Rundgren’s mom, Ruth Rundgren!  I told her who I was, and why I was calling. She told me that he was living in New York, but made it home every couple of weeks or so (what a good son). We then went on to chat for the next 45 minutes or so. She answered all kinds of questions about Todd’s career and his childhood, and asked me a lot of questions about where I was from, what my family was like, and if I enjoyed the radio business. It really was just like talking to someone’s mom. Finally she said, “Well, I don’t really talk on the phone much, because I could talk all day. But I do like to correspond with Todd’s fans, so let me give you my address and we can write to each other.” Cool! I also gave her my address, and figured that was that.

Less than a week later, I got a large envelope delivered to me at the radio station. When I opened it, I found a calendar, and a note from Ruth. She said that she had been to the mall the other day, and stopped by to pick up some photos she had had developed. They were giving away calendars that marked events in rock history, and she noticed that they had a few dates pertaining to Todd (birthday, release date of “Something/Anything”), so she thought she would pick one up for me. I was touched!

We continued to correspond for about a year, and then we just sort of lost touch. I always thought about saying something to Todd if I ever met him, and can just imagine him saying something like “Yeah, that’s my crazy mom.” Unfortunately, I never got the opportunity.

Below is a little postcard that Ruth sent to me just to say hello. It just goes to show you…no matter who you are…everybody’s got a mom.

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About groovyrick

I live in a small town in Illinois with my wife and three kids. I am a part-time musician, part-time writer, and full-time dreamer.
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4 Responses to Rock stars have parents, too

  1. Melodie Keefe says:

    I love it that you and Ruth developed a friendship. Great story Rick!

  2. amy says:

    Great story! I too have a Ruth story. It was in the 70’s. I was a real Todd fan (still am). I was friendly with a nightclub owner here on long island new York. I really wanted Todd to perform at the club and decided to undertake the task myself. I wrote to Margaret Gardner. I don’t remember her status or how I located her. In any case, Margaret had forwarded my letter to Ruth. Imagine my surprise to receive a 2 page personal letter from my idols mom! I almost passed out! I still have that letter to this day. My most cherished possession. Ruth is a very special lady. Todd’s lucky to have her as a mom.

  3. Dee says:

    I think the fact that he has such a nice mom has a lot to do with how he turned out. I mean, he’s not only a brilliant musician, but he’s also a pretty terrific guy.

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