Q - Did you guys have a love/hate relationship?
JS - You know, it's funny, to me it was never a love and hate thing. I mean, my memory of it with Meat Loaf is it was always very much two guys working together who, we were never incredibly close, but on a personal level I think I can honestly say, with maybe one or two tiny exceptions over 30 years, I never even had a huge problem with Meat Loaf personally.
JS - The real problems came, the problems he had with his voice or with problems with management, lawyers, that I stayed away from. I just didn't get involved. At that time particularly there weren't really any problems. I mean, my biggest problem then was with David Sonenberg in that originally it wasn't Meat Loaf, it was Meat Loaf and Jim Steinman.
JS - We were a duo in the sense, a different kind, but it was for two, two and a half, three years we were working as Meat Loaf and Jim Steinman, like Hall And Oates. So I was stunned 'cause David was his manager and when we got to CBS to sign the record deal, I remember it was a big table, like 12 people, and the president, Walter Yetnikov was at one end, and they sent the contract around to be signed.
JS - It went by me, I wasn't there to sign it. I remember being surprised and saying, hey wait, I didn't get to sign it, and they said, well you're not in it. That was the first I had found out that they had taken my name off and I think Meat probably thinks this had a more profound effect on me than it did. But maybe it did have that profound effect. I just remember being really startled and sort of shattered just because in my mind it was a very cool thing to have this combination of a song writer pianist and a singer.
JS - I didn't know of any example of that and I thought it was really cool. It was the reason all of our auditions were just piano and him. It was what we intended the whole thing to be, a piano in the center of the stage, and it would be like that. David's reasoning was that he thought it was easier to sell with the name Meat Loaf. I didn't agree with him but I also mainly was upset that I didn't know about it.
JS - So it wasn't about Meat and, to Meat Loaf's great credit, he was wonderfully loyal. I actually eavesdropped without him knowing it at a studio in New Jersey. We were working on Bat Out Of Hell and he got on the phone to David in tears and pleaded with him to put the credit back to the way it was 'cause he didn't feel comfortable with it being only Meat Loaf, which is an interesting seed to a bigger story.
JS - I still believe honestly, had it kept the original credit, I suppose this is a little self-serving, but I don't mean it that way. I think Meat would've had a much easier time over the last 30 years. 'Cause one thing Meat will admit to I'm sure is he'll say, I never wanted to be a star. I'm not comfortable being a star, and he had a lot of breakdowns and problems, which I think had a lot to do with it was just his name.
JS - He felt much more comfortable when it was the two of us 'cause we shared the burden and he wasn't the person who had to come up with the creative work. He didn't have to write the stuff. I think when he felt his name was there, 'cause you know how the audience is, the audience thinks actors make up their lines, they think the singer, to this day a lot of people think Meat Loaf wrote the songs, that proved to be a great burden on him, and I think taxed everything.
I still to this day honestly believe had it been billed as a duo, Meat would not have had one tenth of the problems he had psychologically and I think I would've been happier because I wanted to feel part of it, more than behind the scenes. But once it happened, it happened, you know. I remember when I was thinking about it saying, well no one's ever gonna hear this record anyway, it's not gonna matter, why should I get upset about it, this is such an absurd little project.
JS - So I didn't get overly freaked out. I got more, probably, upset about it later on, a few years later like when Meat lost his voice. I was thinking, this is so awkward, this whole thing is clumsy and I really think it was a terrible act because I think Meat didn't want that burden on him. He didn't wanna feel like (that), and you could see that if you were with him, as I was, every day when we were touring.
JS - The audience would chant for him and love him and it was wonderful and I felt fine. It was great 'cause they were loving the songs too but I could tell it was hard for him because it's almost like he felt he had to come up with songs for the next record. Suddenly there was this split between us and we weren't like one organism. I was someone like the director, and he was the actor, and there was a split and it was awkward, basically.
JS - So that was the main thing that bothered me but I don't remember ever feeling anything like love/hate on either end. Well I loved him as a performer, and he was adorable (laugh) at first. I mean, Meat, when I first knew him, he changed a lot in a fascinating way. I mean, the character of Meat Loaf that he does on stage, and he's very articulate about this, he was always, in a strange way, very articulate before he even knew he was articulate.
JS - He always played a character and what the character of Meat Loaf, we sort of created that character together and I directed it, but it came out of him. I could always sense it in him. He was the sweetest person, on a personal level, but you could tell there was this beast in there that waited to get out of the cage. I thought that was kind of my job, to let the beast out of the cage and the stage act was really staged, which also was very antithetical to what most rock and roll was then.
JS - Most rock and roll was all about, you be spontaneous, you be yourself on stage. You know, when you mentioned the Grateful Dead, that's the perfect example of that. There was no distinction between them and their audience. Rock and roll was essentially communal. The rock and roll I saw was essentially the opposite of communal. It was ritualistic. It was like you were then, and there was an altar, and you were looking up at something.
JS - I didn't want anything communal. I didn't want anything to do with that rabble out there, so to speak (laugh) I mean, I thought it was a whole different convention. It was more theater. There was an audience and there was performers. And once Meat… we would rehearse the character of Meat Loaf. I remember specifically, you know, I would direct him how to enter and stalk the stage like a predatory beast, and he did it brilliantly.
JS - It would be rehearsed like with actual movements. The steps, the kind of walk, I mean, if you saw his show the first time we ever performed, that's what he did. The costume we came up with together and I'm proud of this stuff. This is looked at in rock and roll terms generally as contrivance - not what you do. You just go out and even now, you know.
JS - I hate to keep picking on bands now, but bands are so faceless now and they wear the clothes that it looks like they wear every day and I hate that. I still think the biggest loss for me is that rock and roll has lost its sense of showmanship, and showmanship is really a cheaper term for mythology. It's lost its sense of mythology. You don't imagine some of the great, you know, I don't imagine Jim Morrison in everyday life being like he was on stage.
JS - That's what I loved about all the '60s stuff. And Meat Loaf, once he mastered this character, the walk and stalking the stage, and when he entered, the first performance we ever did for the public, he came out and he just stared and glared and stalked for two and a half minutes, maybe. It was one of the greatest things I've ever seen. He didn't make a sound, and it was a directed show.
JS - He wasn't supposed to even speak during the show. That was one of my favorite things about it. Well when he did speak it was scripted. It was very ritualistic and that caused tension. That was hard on him. This is where again it gets to the idea that it was Meat Loaf was the billing, it really shouldn't have been Meat Loaf or Jim Steinman, in a way.
JS - It should've been some name for some theatrical experience, you know, like Neverland, come visit Neverland starring Meat Loaf, or something. Just like Bat Out Of Hell, to me the ideal probably wouldn't've been either name. It would've been Bat Out Of Hell starring Meat Loaf, written by Jim Steinman. That's how I saw it. It was more like a movie. But we were on tour - we started touring and the tour was an amazingly constructive thing.
JS - The first show we ever did was such a disaster. It's one of those classic legendary things. I remember in September of '77 we were walking down the street and the record was just gonna come out and I remember Meat saying to me, "you know, Jimmy, we gotta take this gig. Sonenberg said it's really important. It's Chicago. We'll be opening for Cheap Trick. It's a great thing. CBS wants us to do it, we gotta do it."
JS - I said, well I don't know, we haven't really gotten the stage show down right and it's premature and I don't think we should. He said, "you gotta stop being this visionary all the time. You gotta just be practical. What could go wrong?" This is like in a movie where you do a jump cut, what could go wrong, to an audience viciously throwing everything they could find at us.
JS - Fruit, vegetables, you name it, we were just a disaster. It was a home town crowd in Chicago that came to see Cheap Trick, their homecoming. They didn't even have us on the bill. They didn't announce us and so they're all there to see Cheap Trick. Before Cheap Trick came out I walk out first, all in black leather and I do this sort of striptease of gloves, taking rituously and I was booed mercilessly.
JS - Boy, they hated me. I must've been pretty cool but they really hated me. I'm sure Meat Loaf's in the wings just like with Clive Davis saying, "Boy they really hate Jimmy, at least I'll be out there and it'll save the show." Meat Loaf came out and boy did they hate him! (laugh) They were vicious. They were yelling out "Fat boy! Eat a salad" It was like the worst things they could say and mostly about how he's fat, it was really insulting stuff.
JS - "Shut up and stop singing", and I remember Meat was adorable. I'm at the piano and Meat comes up to me while they're saying these things and he goes, "Jimmy what do I say, they just said you're a fat pig" (laugh). I said, "tell them that their mother wears army boots" (laugh) and Meat actually, I had no idea what to say I was playing the piano, and Meat goes, "okay I'll do that".
JS - He goes, "your mother wears army boots". [mimes the audience throwing a bottle] "You shut up, you stupid fat hippo!" He goes, Jimmy that didn't work (laugh) and said, well I'm not too good at these ad-libs then. Let me play the piano. They just booed us off the stage. It was a total disaster and I remember afterward everyone was sitting around like it was a morgue. We had two guitarists, two brothers, the Kulick brothers, one of who is in Kiss now, Bob Kulick.
JS - They always kept saying they were great in that they were the old grizzled veterans 'cause they had toured with some band. They were like it's a jungle out there, it's a jungle. You guys don't know what a jungle it is and I'd always say, oh who cares? Then they're out there, after the show, going we told you it's a jungle, it's a jungle, we're dead, and Sonenberg's going, we gotta rethink this whole thing.
JS - We gotta go back. Maybe it should be just piano. We should play maybe lounges or something, we can't do this. I was the only one, Meat remembers this, I think I was the only one who was sort of saying, this was cool. Did you, they really hated this. I mean, this really, it was that same, I always had that reaction. I wasn't totally detached from reality, but 90 percent. I just thought it was really cool that they hated it so much.
JS - It was a complete flop. They just were not interested and it also showed how you can't just introduce an audience to something. That was something I knew from theater. You had to prepare an audience and so we were gonna do no more shows like that, that's what we said. We had to headline even though it was a new act 'cause that was the usual thing.
JS - You know, you opened for a bigger act. We wouldn't do that. The main change was we decided even if it was the tiniest club we'll have to headline and do the show, we could do. They next time we played was a place in New Jersey called Creations, a little night club, about 300 people and I remember Meat was so terrified to go on 'cause he hadn't been on stage since Chicago.
JS - He was shaking like crazy going, "I can't go out there. They're gonna call me fat. I can't go out there!" and everyone had to hold his hand. We had to drive around with him before the show and he went out there and they had just started playing the record on NEW FM. Only two stations in America were playing the record. MMS in Cleveland and NEW FM in New York.
JS - The record took forever to get started. Radio people hated it like everyone else, except for these two stations and NEW was our salvation in New York 'cause I could hear it, it meant it existed. There was a guy who's a legendary figure named Scott Muni who was probably one of the first two or three free-form, they were called then, DJ's, what everyone takes for granted now, FM radio didn't exist then.
JS - There were only a few stations FM radio. He was a pioneer in playing the new rock and roll and not just playing Top 40. Scott Muni, also by the way, had one of the best observations about Bat Out Of Hell ever when I met him years later. I said, "Scott, how are you doing?" He goes, "oh, you know that Bat Out Of Hell, I love that record. You know why I always played that record?" I thought he was gonna say 'cause it was brilliant (laugh)
JS - I said, "no, why did you always play that?" "'Cause those songs, they were so fucking long, I could put one on, go take a dump, read the paper, still have two or there minutes to come back, wipe myself and I was ready to go again." I thought that was, I really treasured that (laugh) I thought that was the most practical comment I ever got from radio, and they were playing the record.
JS - We got to this place, Creations, this 300 people or so, and Meat Loaf walked out on stage and from the beginning of the show to the end they sang along with every song. They knew every lyric and they cheered everything. You could see him physically change during the show. It was like you felt every tendon becoming inflamed, every muscle becoming resurrected, every nerve tingling and the brain expanding.
JS - He just stood there and he went from being like Archie Bunker's wife, Jean Stapleton (laugh), this sad sort of scared figure, to this heroic sort of Marvel comic superhero, like that. You could just watch it happen during one show and he remained that, he became a sort of superhero. Once he knew that the audience was [TAPE DISTORTION]
Q - What happened once he knew the audience was listening?
JS - Well, yeah, once he felt the pulse of the audience and felt the audience was with him organically, it's like Batman knowing Gotham City was behind him. He could soar 10 times as high and he really became much more the Meat Loaf character - which I'm sure screwed him up in his private life. 'Cause the Meat Loaf character was such an extraordinary complex character. Now, you got to keep in mind that to my memory when I first met Meat Loaf he was the sweetest farm kid. He was a kid from Texas.
JS - He did seem, in that sense, and I'm sure it's my shallow perception 'cause I didn't know him well, he seemed almost one dimensional. As I got to know him I knew there was a lot more going on under the surface. He had a really difficult childhood, a really difficult life with his family, ran away from home at the age of 14, I think, so there was a lot more going on but it didn't show. But that's why, maybe I sense it intuitively and he sensed it as a performer, to bring it out, this other monster could come out of the cage and be so powerful and bestial and predatory. But also funny at the same time.
JS - It had to be the essential sweetness or it wouldn't have worked, he would've just seemed obnoxious. Or contrivance, like an Alice Cooper, but he didn't, it was real and that's why he didn't need make-up and stuff, like an Alice Cooper or a Kiss, but he was just as much an extreme comic book figure in the best sense, as Alice Cooper or Kiss. So this show at Creations was a turning point 'cause he felt he could have the audience with him as he always had that faith but he had lost it from the bad show in Chicago.
JS - That's what the problem was then because it was billed as Meat Loaf. I think he felt more of an onus to be what he thought a performer should be. I remember early on in the tour, very early on, just probably the second month, we were playing Pittsburgh, in a place in Pittsburgh, and it was the first time he veered away from the script so to speak. Again, this is tricky 'cause he's thinking of himself as a performer and what does a performer do but come out and ad lib and talk to the audience?
JS - That was never done on our show. The way our show had been constructed it was really scripted. There was very little talking at all and what there was, was scripted or ritualistic like the speech on Hot Summer Night. You know, "on a hot summer night would you offer your throat to the wolf with the red roses?" That sort of thing, 'cause I didn't want him talking to be honest, it wasn't as interesting and it wasn't as mysterious. But I think he felt weird not talking and in Pittsburgh, for whatever reason, it came out.
JS - He walked out on stage and he looked at the audience and instead of just stalking and glaring he turned to them and said, "how you mothers doing tonight? You ready to party? You ready to party hard!? Pittsburgh, you ready to party?!?" You know, he became to me every other rock and roll band in the country saying, "are you ready to party", you know, "Hey Minneapolis!", and I was just withering up, I was horrified actually.
JS - Sonenberg was in the audience and he was horrified too. We had a big confrontation afterward with Meat Loaf in the hotel room and I remember it was really violent, he was really upset 'cause to him it was like questioning the validity of him as a person, like "I can't talk to my own audience?" 'Cause it'd become his audience, 'cause it was his name, which is understandable but to us it was a scripted piece, a theater piece and that's where the real conflict started.
JS - It was a problem for him 'cause, and he got so upset at the idea that he couldn't say that. To us it was simply artistic. It wasn't interesting him saying, "you ready to party tonight?" It just didn't fit this great Marvel Comics character. You know, it's like Batman saying, "hey Gotham City, you ready to party? Hey, Robin come on let's boogie!" It didn't fit that world, it wasn't mythic at that point and it wasn't extreme. He went berserk in this, hotel is not the right word, motel room. He threw a chair through the window I think, he broke it, stuff, mirrors. Then he stalked out of the room. I remember we had to go find him.
JS - My memory of this is probably a little more colorful than it was but it still doesn't matter. There's a certain point where truth is not nearly as accurate as what you can embellish memory with and it probably, as I remember it, is much more representative of the real truth of the whole experience. We had to go looking for him because he had tried to take his life a few times and never succeeded. I don't think it was ever meant to be successful and one of them was when we were making the record, which has to do with Todd, which I can go into later, Todd Rundgren.
JS - But this time David was justifiably concerned, he said, "oh come on we've got to get a search party, he's out there, he could do damage to himself, he's really upset." 'Cause it's like in his mind we knew he's going, "I don't exist, huh? I can't say hi? I'm not worthwhile, huh?" It's like that kind of thing. It's like an actor who feels he should improvise, basically. It's a strange idea 'cause I would talk to him all the time and say, "Meat so I'm Francis Coppola and you're Marlon Brando of The Godfather, who's cooler? It's cooler to be Marlon Brando, right?"
JS - But it was difficult for him, with the name Meat Loaf out there and so we went looking for him. I remember this like the Night Of The Living Dead, partly because it was Pittsburgh and Night Of The Living Dead was filmed in Pittsburgh, that was a big movie at the time and I didn't realise 'til I had been in Pittsburgh that it was pretty much a documentary, not an [TECHNICAL PAUSE]
JS - So I was entranced by Pittsburgh 'cause it's where Night Of The Living Dead was filmed. I was amazed that Night Of The Living Dead turned out to be so much a documentary about Pittsburgh 'cause the people looked like that (laugh) at the time that's how it seemed to me. We were in the worse area of Pittsburgh, like a horrible, I wouldn't even describe it as a ghetto, it was more like a toxic chemical experimentation laboratory. All you saw around you were these horribly colored toxic fumes coming out of, I guess, factories or steel mills; blue, purple, green, it was scary. It was like one of the pure science fiction where you expected mutants to emerge right around every corner.
JS - We're in this huge parking lot next to this motel, which was totally deserted, a deserted parking lot, fumes everywhere, and we're like a search party in the Frankenstein movie. We all had flashlights but they could've been torches and there's eight of us and we're going around going, "Meat? Meat? Meat?" (laugh)
JS - What I remember was a nice touch was this station wagon pulls up with this little old couple. That looked like that Grant Wood painting of America. Like one of them should have a pitch fork. Like the old grandma and grandpa from a commercial for Kellogg's Cornflakes or Metamucil or something. They pull up and they were probably looking for directions, they drive up right, you know, nicely and they pull up to this groove and they suddenly see eight people with flashlights going, "Meat! Meat! Meat…" and they go: "Never mind!" (laugh) and they speed out of there having come upon this rare group of cannibals from Pittsburgh. (laugh)
JS - We're looking for Meat Loaf and we looked everywhere. I finally got a sense that it wasn't going to be in this area and went all the way to the other area of the parking lot and it was like probably the length of a football field. I see this figure crunched down in a hunched position basically like a running back in football. Meat was a football player and boy, he was powerful. And he was set position down like a rhino or an elephant, something about to charge.
JS - You could always see, one thing you could always recognise Meat by - on stage too - one of the most amazing things on stage is - and it doesn't show up on film well - but the steam that would come out of his body was like the steam that comes out of a manhole in New York from the subway system. If you're on stage, 'cause the amount of heat that he generates there'd be a massive amount of steam coming out of his body, you'd think that he had like 500 Haitian workers inside his stomach all illegally making clothes for Kathy Lee Gifford (laugh) It was just an amazing amount of steam!
JS - And you could see that in this parking lot, that's why I noticed him, there's this huge volcanic eruption of steam. I went toward all the other side and there he is crouched down - I can't do this 'cause I'm sitting down - but he's crouched down in this position and I say, "Meat?" He goes [LOW GUTTURAL GROWL] and I say, "okay we're having a conversation, that's good". I say, "are you okay Meat?" He says [GROWLING] "I'm not... I'n not a Frankenstein monster. I'm me, I'm Meat Loaf, I'm not your Frankenstein monster!"
JS - I said, "No I know Meat, now I'm Francis Coppola". He said [GROWL] and meanwhile, way on the other side of the parking lot where there's a truck stop, which is also right out of the Night Of The Living Dead, there's this huge truck. I don't even know what the right term is, but it's one of those enormous trucks that you could get a small country into. It had an amazing front that someone spent a lot of time on where they did a customised front with the special fenders and it had a devil's head. Huge devil's head on the front, and the fenders had been made… I can say I hope I'm using the right term, but those things, basically, the breasts, the huge nipples that stick out.
JS - They were turned into these amazingly sharp fangs so there are two fangs on either side, a devil's head, it is the perfect truck. The guy had gone in to get Hostess Twinkies and whatever these satanic truck drivers eat. So it was empty, the truck, he's not in the truck and it's just out there idling and Meat is aimed directly at those fenders, I could see, and he goes, "I'm not a Frankenstein monster" [GROWL] and I realised - well I shouldn't interfere with this, something's coming and I just moved aside, and he charged, like… [POW! BLAM!]
[Jim's sunglasses become dislodged in the fury of demonstrating Meat slamming this truck]
JS - [straightening his sunglasses] Excuse me, lost an eyeball.
JS - And it seemed like 100 miles an hour, he charged in his crouched position, like a football player. It would make Marcus Allen envious - and just went full force, had to go at least 100 yards, gathering up speed and he's a fast, strong guy and rammed head first into that truck, into the sharp, piercing fender. I remember the forehead exploding blood pouring out like firecrackers and all I remember thinking was "God look at the way the red of the blood mixes with the fumes of green and purple and the devil's head" and, you know, it was like a wonderful image to me. I had obviously lost touch with the reality (laugh) too. And he just crashed and the truck was far more damaged than Meat, he just had to get stitches or something which is not so unusual for him. That was our confrontation about the scripted show.
JS - As I remember he went back to the scripted show for a while but then gradually had to make it more of his, where he could talk to the audience, and kind of found a balance. That was, kind of metaphorically I think, what he went through a lot for the next 20 years, whether he was Meat Loaf the character, for which he didn't have someone to write material 'cause he wasn't that person, or was he Meat Loaf the person, who would never be so predatory and monstrous on stage?
JS - I think it became difficult for him, just the old story of - what's that old movie, A Double Life or something - where someone playing the part of Othello and they start becoming the part and end up killing their own wife. It's like the blur between reality and the part he was playing and much more so in this 'cause it wasn't a movie, it wasn't like it was Othello, it was Meat Loaf, it was his name. His real name strangely enough, being Meat Loaf, was also the name of the Marvel Comic superhero rock and roll icon mythic character he was playing. It had to be confusing.
JS - "Jim Steinman" wasn't confusing, that was just what I was. But it was definitely confusing for him, I think. But it was exciting to see all these shows and it was also an interesting lesson, what you could do. I mean, it showed that it was still an uphill battle, even with the artist, to do rock and roll as theater, it was an interesting thing to witness.