Moogy Klingman, On Fighting Cancer with Music

September 22, 2011
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By Fernando Perdomo
 
Mark “Moogy” Klingman has been a part of rock ’n’ roll history for
more than four decades. As a loyal sideman to Todd Rundgren on some of his most celebrated albums, Moogy tackled a wide variety of piano, organ, and synth parts on classics like “Hello It’s Me,” “Sometimes I Don’t Know What To Feel,” “Utopia Theme,” and “The Ikon.” As a founding member of Utopia, he was at the forefront of progressive rock, with a style deeply rooted in funk, boogie-woogie, and jazz. He co-wrote Bette Midler’s signature song “Friends” and produced her album Songs for the New Depression, which featured her duet with Bob Dylan, “Buckets of Rain.”

Klingman has never stopped playing all over New York City, but a recent diagnosis of an aggressive form of cancer has given him a new outlook on life and a supercharge of energy. In February, the original lineup of Utopia reunited for two sold-out shows at the Highline Ballroom in New York to raise funds for his treatments. Klingman was overwhelmed with emotion, playing with musicians he had not seen in 30 years. He credits music as a major part of his recovery.

How did you get the nickname “Moogy?”

My real name is Mark, and my original nickname was Marky. My little sister used to mispronounce it, and that’s how I ended up with Moogy. It’s coincidental that I ended up playing the Moog synthesizer in Utopia.

What made you decide to play piano?

I saw the movie Rhapsody in Blue, and of course, the opening music was George Gershwin’s composition of the same name. The next day I started playing piano. Utopia’s song “Freak Parade” was based on Rhapsody in Blue. Two of my biggest influences are Gershwin and Aaron Copland.

There are similarities in the way you and Todd write on the piano. How did that happen?

We were both listening to a lot of Laura Nyro when we were 18 and 19; specifically, we both learned a lot from listening to her album Eli and the Thirteenth Confession. We went on to influence each other greatly.

Who are some of your piano influences?

Allen Toussaint, Dr. John, Bill Evans, Art Tatum, Bud Powell, and Keith Jarrett, who I studied with.

What were some of the classic keyboards you used in Utopia?

The Fender Rhodes, Minimoog, Univox Mini-Korg, a Hammond L-100 organ, Sound City Piano, an RMI Keyboard Computer and Rock-Si- Chord, a Clavinet, and a Yamaha Grand in the studio.

How did you prepare for the Utopia reunion shows?

We rehearsed ten times without Todd and three hours with Todd. I think it came out rather well.

How did it feel playing the long sets?

Music eliminates all the pain from the battle with “the big C.” Music is a real pain reliever. Music is magical. I’ve been going through operations and treatments, and I felt no pain onstage. It was a real rebirth, but it’s a shame that it had to take the form of a fundraiser for me.

What’s next for you?

More Utopia shows, I hope. I have a band called the Peacenicks that plays a few times a month, and now I’ll be doing some shows with the Utopia Brothers, which includes John Seigler and Kevin Ellman. I have to play a lot because I don’t know how long I have left in this world. Ultimately, if I can hang around for a few more years it would be amazing. But if I go soon, I have to say that it was a miracle that I could do these shows, and every show will be a miracle.

Find tour dates, live photos, and more, at moogymusic.com.

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