My First and My Most Recent Todd Rundgren Meet and Greet

Photo: Scott Sheppard, Todd Rundgren, Sheryl Sheppard — courtesy of Michele Rundgren

It's Friday, so let's talk about something besides Autodesk Forge. At work this week, I was asked about my recent (August 30, 2017) "meet and greet" with Todd Rundgren at The Chapel in San Francisco. This got me to retell a story about my first meet and greet from long ago.

I moved to Alameda, California in June of 1990. I was here exactly one day when Todd was recording his Second Wind album at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco. So Eric Wagner and I drove over there to watch the album get recorded. I had been a fan for a long time, and believe it or not, I was a pen pal with Todd's mom, Ruth Rundgren. Utopia albums (Todd's band) had the address of the record company on the back cover. So in 1978, I wrote the record company. Ruth, worried that the record company, ignoring the incoming mail, would result in Todd getting a bad name with his fans, so she took it upon herself to respond to those letters. She noticed that my letter had been done on a computer, so in addition to answering my query, she asked me about computers. The result was about a decade-long exchange of letters. This predated the internet, so we used the good old postal service. Ruth even sent baby gifts when my children were born. I bring this up because Ruth was at the Palace of Fine Arts recording sessions. Though we had never met in person, she recognized me and gave Eric and I backstage passes.

After the recording session (done in front of a live audience to inspire the musicians to perform at their best), when we got backstage, I introduced myself to Todd as "Hello, I am Scott Sheppard, and this is my boss, Eric Wagner." Todd's rejoinder was "Your Boss?" I said, "Yes, we work at Ithaca Software." Todd replied, "Oh, you're the guys who own HOOPS." HOOPS was indeed our Hierarchical Object Oriented Picture System that allowed software developers to create 3D graphics on all of the various flavors of Unix, VAX VMS, DOS, this new thing called Windows, and the Macintosh. Todd had originally developed the Utopia Graphics Tablet for Apple. He had even written his own operating system for the Macintosh because he didn't care for the desktop paradigm. His operating system was called DataWorld — a HyperCode System. The paradigm was that data was arranged on sides of a cube. You turned the cube, and data became visible. Once you selected a piece of data, the operations appropriate for that data became available. This was years before Windows grayed out the operations that don't make sense based on what the user has selected. Todd and David Levine had recently released Flowfazer, a screen saver program for the Macintosh where the pixels moved more like real dripping paint. I mention this because Eric, Todd, and I talked about computer graphics the whole time we were backstage at the Palace of Fine Arts. It was the first time that I met Todd, and the topic of music didn't even come up.

During the 1980's there was a popular anti-drug commercial on TV:

When Eric and I met Todd at the Palace of Fine Arts, Todd was wearing a "This is your brain on drugs with a side of bacon." T-shirt.

Photo: Todd Rundgren courtesy of Clayton Call Photography

Months later, the Special Interest Group on Computer Graphics (SIGGraph) conference was held in Dallas. I didn't attend because I was on a deadline to finish coding a graphics driver for a specific type of PC graphics card. Eric attended and was manning the Ithaca Software booth when Todd strolled up. Eric opened the conversation with "That's the same shirt that you were wearing the last time I saw you." Todd's response was "Well, I've washed it since then." I, of course, know this story because Eric phoned my office from the trade show booth to rub it in.

Reminiscing is alive in the lab.