The Power Of Rock 'n Roll

Gallery Magazine

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GALLERY: You don't get very may good voices, soulful voices, in rock anymore. So much of rock'n'roll came out of the Southern gospel tradition, black and white, at one point.

STEINMAN: It still should be. The essence of rock'n'roll still has to be the song and the vocal, and you don't hear many good songs anymore, either. In the past few years, rock's gotten very boring, the whole Frampton thing. It's like the three F's--Fever, Fantasy, and Fun--are missing. Because it's the fever and fantasy that make up the fun. I like good music too much to really like punk, but I kind of like the stance of punk because it's closer to real rock'n'roll. Neil Young I love because he's never given in. Buffalo Springfield. Fleetwood Mac, as pop. I never really think of them as rock, but it's great to hear those harmonies. But Phil Spector really had it all, and also he always dealt with those teenage things that made it so powerful and universal. Rock'n'roll has to do with being a teenager, the energy of adolescence. When it starts to get too adult, I think it begins to lose a little of the power.

GALLERY: Well, rock may have had its day in terms of being "the" music. Its orientation is really so much older now.

STEINMAN: That's why it's more middle-of-the-road. But there will always be rock'n'roll for teenagers, and I think it's really entrenched now because of the way it permeates the media. I don't know about forever, but it'll be around a long time.

GALLERY: The attitude or the music?

Jim Steinman, at a piano

STEINMAN: I think as music, because I think the attitude determines the music, and the attitude is very entrenched. Attitudes never used to last as long, because a generation wasn't able to communicate with itself as well. Now, generations can communicate with themselves through radio and TV. They've become their own little armies, and they can keep things going, whereas before, there was a generation of teenagers much more dependent on their parents. Now they have too much buying power, too much independence. They can perpetuate their own music.

So I think it will last a long time. I just think it will become more and more stripped down to essentials. The effect of punk will be interesting, because it shows how much of the music you can strip away and still have rock'n'roll. Eventually, it may be nothing but the drone of three guitars playing three chords, but it will still serve the same purpose to a lot of sixteen-year-olds. It will become just the pure essence, like musk or rock'n'roll.

GALLERY: Did "Bat Out Of Hell" start out as your musical, "Neverland," or was it written for Meat Loaf?

MEAT LOAF: "Bat Out Of Hell" and "All Revved Up" were written for me, but added to "Neverland." The only song that was in "Neverland" originally was "Heaven Can Wait."

STEINMAN: In a way, all the songs I write are for "Neverland" because this version of Peter Pan is such a rock'n'roll story that I almost always have Peter and Wendy in mind. I wrote "Bat Out Of Hell" and "All Revved Up" just as songs, then I started working on the script. But "Paradise By The Dashboard Light" was written separately because I wanted to do a duet.

GALLERY: Does that song come from personal experience or standard American culture?

STEINMAN: More from absorbing the total culture. I never went through that specific situation, but I've gone through enough things like it. The great thing about that song is that it gets in all the things I really love--cars, rock'n'roll, sex, and baseball. It seemed the only way to get them all into a song.

MEAT LOAF: Most of these things Jim hasn't lived, but I have. I went through "Paradise By The Dashboard Light" so many times. Except that I've never been married or divorced. But I've been in that seat with the best-looking girl in school.

GALLERY: Did you get there?

MEAT LOAF: A lot of times. But I've been in those scenes where they've said, "Stop right there," too. GALLERY: I really like "Two Out of Three Ain't Bad," another great cliché song.

STEINMAN: That seems to be universally liked. The kernel for that song was a friend who dared me to write something as simple as Elvis singing "I love you, I want you, I need you." Because at the time, I was doing all these big, complicated songs. I took the bet, thought about it, and decided I couldn't do anything that simple, but it would be great to have just two out of three, because I love that phrase. And the way it turns out in life, that's usually the way it is. I want you, I need you, but I don't love you. Then there's the twist to the song, where it comes full circle, and everybody's hurt. Some people think it's too syrupy, but a lot of people respond to it. We were in Cleveland, and this real toug guy, like a biker, comes over and says, "Hey, you know, I never fuckin' cry, but I cried during that fuckin' song. I lived that song. I really lived that fuckin' song." Another time, a disc jockey told us, "You must know me and my wife." They were separated, and he said, "The song sums up our problem."

GALLERY: Are there any lyricists you really like?

STEINMAN: I think Springsteen's a genius, and Randy Newman. I like him for his stance, his sarcasm. My favorite all-around songwriter is Jimmy Webb, because he's far more romantic. In rock'n'roll, I think Townsend is really great, and the Stones at their best--not their recent stuff. And anything Spector did. Every time I hear "Be My Baby," I shake.

GALLERY: Where did you grow up, Jim?

STEINMAN: In California and in New York. We moved East when I was in junior high. I have very little memory of that; all of high school is a total blur. I have more memories of California because I really wanted to be a surfer. Then I moved to Long Island, and that dream was shattered.

GALLERY: Were you popular in high school?

STEINMAN: I was real popular in junior high school. High school, I just kept getting thrown out. I was always cutting classes.

GALLERY: Did you study music as a child?

STEINMAN: I studied classical piano for about three years, beginning at age ten. I moved really fast, learned very quickly, but I was really faking it toward the end. My teacher said that I had to make a decision, that I had talent and could be a classical pianist, practice hard, or I could continue just showing off. I decided I preferred to fake it. But I was angry with myself for not having the discipline, so angry that I just quit, didn't play for years. Then when I went to college, to Amherst, I didn't really iintend to do anything with music, but I wanted to start a rock'n'roll band, so I just taught myself again, from records.

GALLERY: What did you major in?

STEINMAN: Drama, finally, but I was a wreck. For freshmen, Amherst was like the Marine Corps. The idea was to break you with hard courses, so I had to take calculus and physics my freshman year. I went to classes about twice and realized it was hopeless, so when I got my final mark, it was a 17 in physics and 33 in calculus. The dean called me in, very upset, because they had this tradition that they never recorded a grade lower than 30. That was the lowest mark they gave. And I had a 17. So he very pompously discussed this situation, told me the lowest mark was 30, so he felt he should put that down, but on the other hand, he said, "Other kids have worked very hard for that extra 13 points." Finally he gave me a "30(17)."

This came up again in my senior year when I applied for a senior project. I wanted to do a rock'n'roll opera, and I didn't expect them to go for it, but it turned out that they were really excited. Then, at the meeting, they said they were still very upset about the scholastic record, that the 33 and 17 still worried them. One of the committee asked me, "Here you got a 17 in physics and a 33 in calculus. How do you explain that?" I said, "Well, I've always been better in math than science." So they let me do the project, and I've always thought it was because they liked the answer.

GALLERY: Was that when you started writing music, in college?

STEINMAN: Yeah, but I was also writing plays then. I wanted to write plays and films, and I thought if I was in an audience, I wouldn't want to see a play without music. So I decided I'd learn to write music so that people would come see my plays. The music was a device. Then, gradually, I got more excited about the device.

GALLERY: Did you write musicals?

STEINMAN: I wrote a lot of scores for plays by Brecht and Shakespeare, then one or two full musicals. Which is really how I met Joe Papp and became involved with the New York Shakespeare Festival. It just became clear to me that it would be easier to inject theater into rock'n'roll than to try to do the opposite, to inject rock'n'roll into theater, since the theatrical establishment is so difficult to deal with.

GALLERY: I think you two work really well together, as creator and interpreter. Why do you like Meat Loaf to sing your songs?

STEINMAN: I wrote them for myself, but I sing a whole different way. He sings a way that I can't but I like. He has the majesty of opera without sacrificing the power of rock'n'roll.

MEAT LOAF: I'm very emotional. He keeps everything inside. I scream, yell, throw things when something goes wrong, and he just walks around like nothing's going on. He's very calm and I'm a maniac.

GALLERY: Meat Loaf, do you think of specific people or images when you sing?

MEAT LOAF: Oh, yeah. I always sing to women. All different women. They don't always exist. A lot of times I just make them up. I close my eyes a lot when I sing, and that's when I see the women.

GALLERY: Who's the woman in "Paradise By The Dashboard Light"?

MEAT LOAF: Ellen Foley, who sings on the record. Or a blonde, not necessarily Ellen. But when I sing "I remember every little thing," I'm immediately in a car, by a lake, just like the lyric. When it comes to "never had a girl lookin' any better than you did," I think of this girl Carol in high school, who was gorgeous. "Heaven Can Wait" is white, pure white skin. "Cryin' Out Loud" is a brunette. "Bat Out of Hell" is a girl with long black hair.

GALLERY: Do they have faces?

MEAT LOAF: Faces change on me. They always have the same hair.

GALLERY: But Jim, you don't think of anybody when you write?

STEINMAN: Not anybody real. Fantasies.

GALLERY: That's interesting, because the music presents a fairly egalitarian view of sex. The record doesn't seem to be in any way sexist.

STEINMAN: No, i don't think it is. And I'm actually real proud about that because the music deals with a lot of areas that could be sexist. But apparently, some women think it is, maybe because of the back cover, with the anonymous girl holding me, and Meat Loaf's hand on her.

GALLERY: Who's the girl?

MEAT LOAF: Now, that is a weird story. We met the girl in the Rainbow next to the Roxy in L.A. There were two girls in white, one surfer in white. All blond. One of the girls came over to me and said, "I choose you. I'm with you whatever you want to do." She had a twin sister, and both were models. She's the one on the cover, but I went out with her and she said, "Hey, let's get married." I said, "Okay." A joke. But we were engaged. She came to New York and lived with me for about ten minutes, bought a ring, and started wearing it as an engagement ring. Started telling everybody we were engaged. Then a few months ago in Dallas. I got a special delivery letter, and inside was a black scarf with the ring attached and a note. "I'm breaking our engagement due to health reasons." That was all. Really crazy.

GALLERY: Have you always attracted women?

MEAT LOAF: Yeah, well, in high school I was really shy, talked as little as possible, but the cheerleaders were really wild, just like one of those movies. Except for one, Bonnie Bell. We always thought she was the virgin of all time, and later we found out that she was far from it, but we believed it then.

STEINMAN: That's the history of America right there. Bonnie Bell.

GALLERY: What kind of dates did you go on back in high school?

MEAT LOAF: I grew up with some of the wealthiest people in the state, like a guy descended from Angus, the cattleman. The Frito Lays kid. I was definitely upper middle class, but I thought I was poor. We all got cars early, because in Texas you can drive when you're fourteen. But I'd go on double dates sometimes with chauffeurs.

STEINMAN: I went out with a lot of chauffeurs, too. That's all I could get to go out with me.

MEAT LOAF: I've heard that every girl Steinman went out with became a hooker right afterwards.

STEINMAN: That's not true. Not every one.

GALLERY: Do you like women?

STEINMAN: Sure. I'm mystified by them. But then, I'm also mystified by men. In fact, I'm mystified by just about everybody over age eighteen.

MEAT LOAF: Nobody has ever been able to figure out the details of his sex life, but he is not your average person. He stays up all night, then goes to sleep right after "The Little Rascals" on TV. His last apartment was legendary. There were about seven people living in this one-bedroom apartment that was like nothing I'd ever seen.

STEINMAN: I'm sloppy. I hate dealing with anything domestic. One time I went to California for two weeks, came back, and there had been an electricity failure. I opened the icebox, and things were pretty much rotted, but I couldn't deal with cleaning it, so I just closed the door, and, of course, things kept progressing in that direction. I couldn't deal with it, so I just stopped using the icebox. About a year later, I opened the door and this yogurt grabbed at me. Finally, I moved out of the apartment rather than clean it.

GALLERY: I gather you do not have any special relationship with a woman right now.

STEINMAN: I have an undying, intensely felt love for Kristy McNichol.

GALLERY: On "Family"? I like the mother.

STEINMAN: I like the mother, too. And I like Brooke Shields. But it is true that I haven't had a girlfriend in quite a while. I have had short-term relationships. Too many people are desperate for maturity, and I'm desperately trying to cling to adolescence. But I've had a great time for five years. And when you grow up with the Beach Boys, with those images, it's difficult to deal with ambitious girls who want lives of their own.

GALLERY: What about you, Meat? Are you involved with anybody right now?

MEAT LOAF: On the road, the band gets all the girls. We're too busy having meetings. But lately I've been hanging out with a dancer. Another close girlfriend was on "Captain & Kings," and a couple others are on soap operas. But I lived with a girl for eight years, from the time I was nineteen, and I was very faithful for six of those years.

Then I went to England to do Rocky Horror Picture Show and met girl after girl. At one point, I had a girl in my room, and I felt so guilty, I couldn't go to bed with her, so I said, " I'm sick." Then I had a flirtation with a girl in the show. We'd make out on the set. One night after dinner, she asked if she could come back to my room. I'd been with one woman for six years, and was very nervous. I made love to her and it was awful. She rolled over and said, "I'll give you ten minutes and we'll try again."

After that, I went berserk. A waitress, a French switchboard operator who didn't speak English, her roommate. I went back home, told the girl I was living with; she went crazy.

GALLERY: Is sex very important to you?

STEINMAN: Yes--I'll answer for both of us.

MEAT LOAF: Fantasy is more important to me.

STEINMAN: One of the best ways to achieve fantasy is sex. Unless you have a lot of money.