Beat Of The Meat

By Simon Kinnersley

photo from 1978 - Meat Loaf (left) in a tan jacket and shirt. Jim Steinman (right)

Right, let's get this sorted out from the start: who or what exactly is Meat Loaf? "Meat Loaf is a person, being me," explains the 20 stone Mr. Loaf from his substantial armchair in his record company's office in New York.

But..."Meat Loaf is also the band. It's both. Essentially it's a joint project between myself and Jim (Steinman). We put the band together a week before the album came out."

Ah yes, the album - "Bat Out Of Hell." It's not, as I first suspected, the usual assortment of headbangers' delights, not a visionary meisterwerk, but a vigorous and, at times, outstanding set of songs, the music possessed with a sense of pomp and ceremony, the lyrics revealing a delectable extravagance, tempered by a genial sense of the absurd.

The word has spread about it in America, and more surprisingly, in Britain where it currently resides at number 24 in the MM chart. We'll also be able to see Meat Loaf (the man and the band) when they come over in the summer.

But back to the album. It is, explains Steinman, "a collection of teenage anthems, rock 'n' roll anthems which reflect a teenage state of mind. Like the lyrics of one of the songs say, it's all 'revved up and ready to go.'

"It's a visionary album because it's made up of visions, but it has unity. It has speed, velocity, collision, it's very violent, but it's also very romantic; there're sexual images - It's that kind of teenage thing.

"The song that probably illustrates it best is 'You Took The Words Right Out Of My Mouth' where the girl is offering her throat to the wolf because she feels sorry for him because he's so hungry. The unified image is very violent, but it's also very romantic."

There must be a fair number of people who regard the idea of a singer and a songwriter putting together a well produced and thoroughly promoted album as being yet another example of the unacceptable face of music marketing; heaven knows America's littered with them.

"Listen," Meat Loaf replies sharply, pointing a finger across the table, "Bat Out Of Hell was written as a backlash to people like Frampton, Fleetwood Mac, Abba and Boston. It comes from the same roots as punk rock. It's defiantly an attempt to get back to the roots."

"Our music has fever, fantasy, violence, passion, rebellion and fun, their music doesn't have those things," adds Steinman. "Punk misses the romance and fantasy, and it comes from a different social class and I can't relate to it. But we're trying to get away from the synthesis of homogenized rock and roll."

And in this at least, he feels that the album has succeeded quite convincingly, although he's quick to point out the substantial part played by producer Todd Rundgren.

"He's one of the big reasons for the albums success. He never tried to impose his ideas on us. There were probably a lot of things that he didn't even like, but he never said anything." And, to further emphasize the point, they have every intention of using him again on the next album.

Meanwhile, Steinman is simply carrying on..."You see, the Sex Pistols are closer to classical music than Yes. Because Stravinsky was trying to capture that exact self-same power to tear everything down."

He then recalls an early unveiling of some new movement by that illustrious composer when the audience were so moved and overcome by the performance that they ended up trashing the theater. Steinman is evidently most impressed.

"Our main influences were the Stones, the Who, Wagner and Hitchcock. Hitchcock, because the songs were written as a movie, and I'm trying to get across the same sort of thing.

"In fact, we'd love to do a movie before the next album, kind of rock and roll Peter Pan, because that's the best story ever, and I'm working on the script right now."

Meat Loaf, whose name was coined in his days playing American football, first met Steinman when he came to audition for a part in the play, More Than You Deserve, the words and music to which, needless to say, were written by the latter.

As history shows, Meat Loaf landed the gig and, six years later, the happy couple are still together. A touching story.

Before this, apart from the usual string of the local bands in California and Detroit, the only thing worth recalling was Meat Loaf's brief experience as lead vocalist for Ted Nugent, with whom he recorded "Free For All." When it comes to background, Steinman can do little more than yawn, then casually wait the next question.

It seems they really pulled together when Meat Loaf was hauled in to go on tour with the National Lampoon Show. "It was quite simple," he recalls. "We were both broke, and I just refused point blank to do the show without Jimmy, because by now we were well forward with our ideas.

"We were just a duo, voice and piano; we were doing songs like 'Bat Out Of Hell' and almost all the other ones in fact. At the time we were signed to RCA, but we didn't record with them. There were a lot of artistic hassles over who should have what to say, but they became legal hassles and in the end we had to buy our way out.

"The problem stemmed from the fact that no one really understood or could imagine us as being anything more than a piano and a voice. Yet it was never conceived in that way, it was a far fuller thing, it was like showing people a script for a film. Unless you can understand what's going on, it just doesn't make any sense, and certainly no one seemed to grasp what we were trying to do.

"It got to the point where we were literally carrying the cans of tape from one record company to another, add a little bit more, then on to the next. In the end, it took over a year to pull the whole thing together."

Steinman, who until now had been gazing abstractly out of the window, apparently paying little attention or interest to the conversation, sprang into action.

"We used to do all our practice in a hotel room. I'd written most of the piano parts without a piano. A lot of them had been pinched from some of my previous pieces, the rest I just put down. It was quite easy, really; I write the lyrics first, then it's simply a matter of putting the piano around it."

In a rare moment of sentiment, Steinman recalls how at one point becoming a concert pianist seemed most appealing and attractive. "I studied piano from when I was nine until I was about thirteen - the idea really had a hold on me then. I was really flashy and I used to fake most of it. I didn't practice much. Then it came to the point when I had to start working a lot harder if I wanted to take it any further and I just got sick of it and I didn't play for five or six years.

"But through that time I was very fond of music - opera was always my favorite sort - and there's some of that in our music. I love the danger of it, the fact that you can take it over the edge. I like to play Wagner and Little Richard back to back, that's where we are. We're classical. Not in an ELO sense," he quickly adds as an expression of horror appears on my face, "classical rock."

It sounds like he's trying to say rock opera, but he's, not surprisingly, a little reluctant actually to use those dreaded words.

"Rock opera is completely different. You immediately think of something like Jesus Christ Superstar, which essentially has both these ingredients yet it has no passion, it doesn't go anywhere. You could call it operatic rock and roll, as we've the physical power of rock and roll and sense of fun. Its ingredients are extreme, it's the limit, as far as you can go.

"The music and theater are together, the same thing. Because a live performance is theater; true theater is not being cautious."