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Todd Rundgren's Utopia Found: The Great Pyramid of Massachusetts

Feb 7, 2011 – 6:16 PM
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Chris Epting

Chris Epting Contributor

Those great stage sets of the mid-1970s took arena rock where it had never gone before.

Pink Floyd delighted its fans with a giant, inflatable pig. The Rolling Stones had a six-pointed "lotus petal" stage that opened to reveal the entire band. And the Electric Light Orchestra had its own onstage spaceship.

That era brought rock concertgoers their first taste of strawberry wine, and also their first taste of high-concept stage productions.

While it's all but impossible to track down what happened to all of these elaborate (and expensive) stage props, there is one that remains today, blissfully suspended in a state of 1970s animation.

Todd Rundgren on pyramid stage set.
Courtesy of Chris Epting
Todd Rundgren on stage with his group, Utopia, in 1977.
In 1976, in support of the album called "RA," Todd Rundgren's Utopia set off on an ambitious, yearlong trek around the U.S.

Complementing the Egyptology motif of the "RA" album and tour was a spectacular stage set that featured a giant (nearly three-story) turquoise-and-gold-colored sphinx replete with a green laser light emitting from the mysterious cat's forehead.

In front of that was the stage centerpiece, a 24-foot-high iron-pipe pyramid structure that Rundgren would scale during the concert climax, armed with his silver Egyptian Ankh-shaped guitar, and then tumble from while holding a bungee cable (of course, this being the '70s, there were also thick layers of dry-ice fog, wind machines and laser beams).

The death-defying act thrilled fans (many of whom had become entranced with the "Pyramid Power" wave of the 1970s), but once the tour wrapped in 1977, the props were packed away in a Woodstock, N.Y., warehouse never to see the light of day again. Right?

Not so fast.

In the mid-1990s, Rundgren's path was crossed by longtime fan, Dan Harple, a renowned Internet pioneer.

As Jeffrey L. Pulver recently blogged, "If you use Skype, GoToMeeting or YouTube, among others, Harple's technology and its influence has touched your life."

Rundgren (something of a computer pioneer himself) and Harple worked together on a variety of projects, including Patronet, Rundgren's interactive fan-artist concept that allowed fans to directly support the creation of new Rundgren projects.

Harple and Rundgren became good friends, and so when it was time to empty that Woodstock warehouse several years ago, Rundgren asked Harple if he had any interest in the sphinx and pyramid.

Harple jumped at the chance to own one of the most storied stage sets in arena rock history.

"I pictured it on my property in coastal Massachusetts called 'Treetops," Harple told AOL News. "Both the sphinx and pyramid at first. Then I learned that the sphinx was made of a hard foam that would not withstand the elements, so I passed on that. But the pyramid, which is made of iron, seemed like the perfect piece of architecture to put out in the middle of this open field we have."

And so the massive structure was trucked to Harple's property and erected according to Harple's careful specs.

Dan Harple on top of the pyramid he owns.
Courtesy of Dan Harple
Dan Harple stands atop the former Utopia pyramid at his Massachusetts property.
"I researched Egyptian pyramids, most notably the Great Pyramid," Harple says. "It was aligned with the four points of the compass, perfectly aligned with the four cardinal points."

Many pyramidologists believe that the meridian line running north and south on the globe passing through the pyramid (31 degrees east of Greenwich) should be the zero line of the whole world.

"After being totally engrossed in this I became resolved to line the 'RA' pyramid up precisely as per the Great Pyramid. Once it was placed, I then got the John Deere tractor out and created the grass-cut hieroglyphs that are now seen on Google Earth."

Harple, who today splits his time with his family in Amsterdam and at Treetops, appreciates the pyramid on several levels.

"In one way, I like it because it reminds me of the work of Todd Rundgren. I play guitar, and in my teens I followed him closely. He was like a spiritual lantern for me in how he dealt with things. He has always stayed the course on what was right for him, and I respect that."

But Harple (who most recently founded and was chairman of Gypsii.com, a social media network in China) also likes the fact that the pyramid has been repurposed as something that has deep meaning.

"Pyramids are a major symbol of life and optimism," he said. "And so having it out here in the middle of nowhere seems to bring a real sense of peace to whomever sees it."

As well, Harple appreciates what it is like to climb the pyramid, just as Rundgren did during so many Utopia concerts.

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"It's mind-boggling," he said with a laugh. "It gives you a sense of the athleticism involved for Todd scale this thing every night, while he played guitar. Some people get a little scared up there, but when you position yourself at the apex, you're treated to a rare, spectacular communion with nature. It's peaceful up there. There are hawks and deer you see. But the peace at the top helps you resolve everything involving who you are and who you want to be. It's very therapeutic."

Harple also has a feeling about his pyramid as it applies to what is happening today around the Great Pyramid at Giza.

"The crisis in Egypt has me thinking," he said. "It's really a synchronicity, but I find it fascinating that our stewardship of this pyramid at Treetops, when juxtaposed against the crisis in Egypt, really has a message. Our pyramid, the Utopia pyramid, is all about serenity, natural order, beauty and wholeness. Some of these ingredients would surely be apt in Egypt right now."

No doubt that gentle, 1970s-evoking sentiment will have many agreeing with Harple. Especially right now.

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