by David King
I realize the headline invokes images of a scenario resembling the movie “Weekend at Bernies”. However, this is an intriguing, true tale for Clayton residents Robert and Jason Chislett, the ice sculptors of Chisel-It Ice Company in Concord.
In the 70s and 80’s, Todd Rundgren and his band Utopia had quite the run of success. Songs such as “Hello It’s Me”, “I Saw the Light”, and “Bang the Drum All Day” are still heard on radio today. A groundbreaking favorite of the 70’s was their theatrical electric fairytale composition, “Singring and the Glass Guitar.”
It was this latter song that David Chislett, brother of Robert Chislett, raved over after witnessing the performance at a Todd Rundgren and Utopia concert. The song ended with a smashing of a “glass” guitar on stage. That was nearly 40 years ago yet the imagery of David’s description was forever embedded into Robert’s mind.
“That image of a shattering guitar always stuck with me over the years,” Robert confessed. All the Chislett brothers became Todd Rundgren fans.
Much had transpired with the Chisletts over the next 40 years. Robert’s other brother, Terry, passed away a few years ago. Having already lost his mother, Terry’s son, Jason, decided to move from New York to Clayton. He now works with his uncle Robert at Chisel-It Ice. Terry’s ashes were also transported to Clayton.
When Todd Rundgren and Utopia reunited and announced their 2018 tour, Robert couldn’t wait to take Jason to the concert to experience one of his father’s favorite bands. Fortunately, one of the stops on the tour was San Francisco’s Masonic Center in May of 2018.
As a tribute to honor both Terry and to the iconic “Glass Guitar”, Robert decided to make an ice guitar to take to the concert. No detail was spared. The ice guitar contained the bands eye logo and colors. It also contained Terry. Robert had placed some of Terry’s ashes inside the cavity of the ice guitar.
Robert had no plans what was next, just his vision that his ice guitar sculpture would somehow be on display somewhere at the concert.
Robert and Jason arrived at the Masonic Center a couple of hours early toting the ice guitar in a large box. Robert approached the Masonic Center operations staff with the box and asked if they would be interested in putting the guitar on display somewhere during the concert.
“Who ordered this?” they asked, confused over the request. Robert explained no one but he just thought it would be a cool nostalgic tribute to Utopia’s earlier, well-known performances. The staff chased down the management who abruptly denied the request claiming it would be a liability issue and demanded that he remove the box off the premises.
At this point as more than an hour had pass. Disappointed, Robert began to return the box to his car.
The whole conversation was overheard by a man who had purchased VIP tickets to meet the band backstage. He encouraged Robert to wait while he asks the guys backstage during his VIP meet-and-greet if they would be interested in it. Backstage, the man relayed the incident to Todd Rundgren’s wife, Michelle. Fortunately, Michelle wanted to see it.
Meanwhile, outside, a bouncer noticed that Robert was still lingering at the entrance with his big box and once again demanded that he leave the premises.
“He’s with me,” Michelle announced from inside. “Let me see what you have,” she said as she approached Robert. Robert opened the box to reveal the ice sculpture.
“Come with me,” she instructed. Robert and Jason followed Michelle backstage with the box.
It was about 30 minutes before showtime and Rundgren and the band were still doing their sound checks. When Rundgren finally arrived backstage, Michelle introduced Robert and Jason to Rundgren and presented him with the ice guitar.
Rundgren was thoroughly amazed with the sculpture. Robert gave Rundgren the guitar and he and Jason hung out with the rest of the band in the dressing room and enjoyed a beer together before taking their third-row seats.
Rundgren’s act no longer includes “Singring and the Glass Guitar” and the smashing of an ice guitar. However, near the end of the show, Rundgren brought the ice guitar onto the stage where it set next to the drums. At the end of the encore, Rundgren picked up the ice guitar and held it up over his head for all to see, then threw it high in the air and walked off as the guitar shattered across the stage – a perfect ending to a perfect tribute.
(Updated October 18, 2019 from published January 2019 edition.)