Bat Out Of Hell, Meet The Phantom Of The Opera
by Larry McShane
Associated Press Writer
NEW YORK (AP) - He's sold millions with Meat Loaf, turned Phil Rizzuto into a play-by-play man for adolescent lust, ranted about bats and Harleys and Fender guitars. Can Broadway possibly be ready for Jim Steinman?
The world will soon see. Steinman, the mastermind behind Mr. Loaf's two biggest albums and a recent chart-topper as writer/producer for Celine Dion, is headed to the Great White Way with a new (and unlikely) partner: British theater impresario Andrew Lloyd Webber.
The man who penned "Paradise By The Dashboard Light" has written lyrics for Webber's new production, "Whistle Down The Wind," an adaptation of a vintage film produced by Sir Richard Attenborough. "Whistle" opens Dec. 6 at Washington's National Theater, with the Broadway debut tentatively set for April 15 at the Martin Beck Theater.
The seemingly mismatched pair - leather-loving Steinman wrote "Bat Out Of Hell," British country baron Webber wrote "Cats" - have actually shared a mutual admiration for years. Webber previously wanted Steinman to do lyrics for his mega-hit "Phantom Of The Opera."
"I used to say to Andrew, 'You took my career,'" says Steinman, who began as protege of legendary producer Joseph Papp. "And it's funny, because he said almost the same thing - shows you how the grass is always greener."
"He's always envied my chart hits," Steinman continues, laughing. "And I've always envied his $800 million."
Steinman's Billboard-topping work began with Meat Loaf's 1977 debut "Bat Out Of Hell," which sold 25 million copies. It includes the Rizzuto showpiece "Paradise" and the hits "Two Out Of Three Ain't Bad" and "You Took The Words Right Out Of My Mouth."
Currently Celine Dion's version of his "Wuthering Heights"-inspired "It's All Coming Back To Me Now" is hovering in the Top 5. In between, there was work on a highly successful Meat Loaf reunion, hit singles for Air Supply and Bonnie Tyler, and a disastrous mid-80's pairing with metal-heads Def Leppard.
As Steinman tells the story - and he tells his many stories well - he arrived in Dublin to work with the Leppards, inspired to be in the land of Joyce and Yeats, he asked if the band shared the same feelings.
The response: "No, we haven't had a chance to meet any of the local musicians."
Steinman soon parted company with the group, leaving one of his rock 'n' roll dreams unfulfilled: "I've always wanted to do this ultimate heavy metal record."
Steinman's combination of operatic bombast and raging rock music led the Los Angeles Times to once dub him "Little Richard Wagner" - a title he still happily embraces.
"When I was a kid, I used to play Little Richard back to back with Wagner," Steinman recalls. "And it never occurred to me that was off the wall. I just think that they're very connected - both highly stylized, amplified, extreme and kind of glorious and silly at the same time."
Steinman still favors the leather jackets and faded jeans that he wore on-stage during Meat Loaf's first tour, but his long hair is streaked with gray these days. It's a more distinguished look that matches his current job title as Broadway lyricist.
His first lyrics were written way off-Broadway - in western Massachusetts.
While at Amherst College, Steinman wrote the book, music and lyrics for a show called "The Dream Engine." Papp saw it and loved it, but its content - too much sex and violence - kept it from the New York stage.
Steinman went to work for Papp's New York Shakespeare Festival and co-wrote another musical, "More Than You Deserve," which premiered in 1974. Meat Loaf won a role in that production; the pair then began work on "Bat I."
Steinman, as his "Bat" lyrics suggest, is a creature of the night. He'll go to bed at 5 p.m., roll out of bed at 11p.m., and start writing. Not that his odd hours bother anybody - Steinman shares his suburban home with his cats and nobody else.
"I'm nocturnal - vampire like hours," he says with a smile. "It's been true since I was like 7 years old. I don't know - it's just part of me. I like it when there's not a lot of distractions, phone calls."
That's one of many tidbits gleaned during a rambling, hour-long chat on a rainy Manhattan afternoon.
There's Steinman's late '70s advice to Bruce Springsteen: "I told him he should play Abba's 'Dancing Queen' for an encore." Bruce stuck with "Quarter To Three" and "Rosalita."
There's his favorite television show: "Dining Around" on The Food Network. "It's great. Everyday they go to great restaurants around the country and eat."
There's his favorite rejection story, which involves an audition he and Meat Loaf did for record mogul Clive Davis: "He looked at me and said, 'Jim, do you ever listen to contemporary radio?' And I remember thinking, 'This is not going to be a good deal.'" Steinman was right.
After watching "Bat Out Of Hell II" sell 10 million copies, Steinman said he advised Meat Loaf to try something "totally different" for the follow-up.
Instead, the single off his next album was an incredibly derivative faux Steinman tune, "I'd Lie For You (And That's The Truth)." Steinman was equally irritated and amused.
"Even the title is very mild compared to what it imitates," Steinman says. "I think, 'So big deal.' I'd lie for you? That's hardly a one-night stand. I'd embezzle at least. Sign phony checks. But lie? I don't know."