The Ultimate Hook
by Sandy Robertson
He looks precisely as he did when I last saw him a year and more ago. Shock of gray hair, shiny black shirt ("The same one constantly recycled"), leather tie, jeans, track shoes. For all I know he was sporting the same underwear, too.
Jim Steinman has the same obsessions as always, as well. Almost. The man who penned all of 'Bat Out Of Hell' and 'Dead Ringer' spoke to Meat Loaf, vocal half of the megamillion partnership, the other day for the first time in over a year.
Meat has a new LP next year, and Jim is not involved. There's little point in elaborating; despite previous posed attitudes of bonhomie, it was always evident that these were prompted by accountants rather than emotions. The trials of the dual psyche are well documented already.
But the present day composer still refuses to die, Edgar! Scholars like myself always took Meat's claim (that he was the only one who could handle the convoluted arches of Jim's tunes) with a hefty pinch of rock salt. Steinman made the point with his solo 'Bad For Good' and now...what? Bonnie Tyler, that's what!?!
Remember the croaky anthems like 'Lost In France', and that rasping thing 'bout a heartache? The unkind rock fan reached for smelling salts and muttered 'Rod The Mod wit boobs' before twiddling the dial.
"She hasn't had a deal in Britain or the US for two years, I think," says hyperactive Jim, leaning back in a seat at London's Air Studios. "But she's big in other countries. Now CBS have asked me to do a record with her, which I'm just doing the final mix on here. It seemed such a bizarre idea that I had to say yes!"
The Steinman solution to the change of image problem for Bonnie was a state of the art metamorphosis: Seeing in her a good voice that had never been exploited in an 80's way, he whisked her to NYC, put her together with his E Street pals like Max Weinberg and Miami Steve, plus expert hands such as Rick Derringer, allowing her a couple of songs of her own choosing, and then set her to work.
Two masterful JS toon beats, 'Faster Than The Speed Of Night' and 'Total Eclipse Of The Heart', were matched with Creedence's 'Have You Ever Seen The Rain' and ulp, Blue Oyster Cult's 'Going Through The Motions', and the lost Alan Hunter/Eric Bloom co-job from the neglected 'Spectres' opus.
The final result is mind-boggling, as has been declared by all who've heard it, including Ms. Tyler; "Is that me?!", she croaked. Well, some of it is.
The Patrice Chereau of the valium generation has outdone himself this time, proving that, like Spector, he can make a pulsing throat the pilot of his Wagnerian vehicle at the drop of a sleigh-bell.
The album is one of those perverse jobs that works because it seems so unlikely on paper (remember Mr. Fowley's deranged combinings: of Helen Reddy's Aussie twang with 'Pet Sounds' waveforms and Vicky Leandros's Graeco-English autocue with Von Daniken trash mythology? You don't? Huh!); max-mad volume is required to get the best from the thunder drums and sledgehammer chords.
Steinman's two songs are, as you'll have noted, more of his twisting of cliché titles. 'Faster' is an increase-dance in Cossack mode, with a penultimate scream by some teenage Yma Sumac-type that'll make you come in your pants, while 'Heart' ballads it up with a sweet descant-boy and lines like "Your love is like a shadow on me all of the time." Shiversome.
Tyler sings the Creedence 'Have You Ever Seen The Rain' thing in a thoroughly rabid manner, like she just saw the last wave, but the biggest revelation is 'Going Through The Motions,' introduced by a pack of chanting schoolkids. Says Jim: "One of them said, 'Do we get our picture on the back of the record?' Pushy kid. He's in Springsteen's band now!"
I'll say no more, except to tell you that even the lesser songs have been shined up by the addition of JS lyrics, "Yeh, this song had a line about peanuts on the floor, so I changed it to a ribbon of blood on the floor. That's a line from a song I've always wanted to write, a rockabilly tune about a Christmas slasher called 'I'll Decorate The City With Ribbons Of Blood.' I'll do it one day..."
Suffice to say that even my cynical friend who dubbed the LP 'Bonnie Tyler Out Of Hell' was quite impressed after we scraped him off the wall where he'd been deposited by a power chord. The month of March will reveal all; the Ides won't chide!
The title of Steinman's metal monster movie project, 'Neverland,' has taken on a somewhat ironic note considering how long the thing has been in the works, but Jim remains optimistic even though one can hardly imagine Meat Loaf now being involved. Of course, looking at how dismally Meat's recent films have fared, this might be no bad thing.
"CBS films aren't concerned in it anymore," shrugs Jim. "There's a possibility that Steven Spielberg might do it as his next movie, this being like the other side of 'ET,' in that it has a villain in it."
The tone of Steinman's super-optimistic chat indicates that this might be more than pie-in-the-sky, and Spielberg has been quoted as saying there are only a couple of rock composers he'd want to work with, Jim being one of them. Indeed, he almost got to do the score of 'Raiders Of The Lost Ark.'
Another possible director is Steinman's buddy and idol Brian DePalma of 'Dressed To Kill' and 'Phantom Of Paradise' fame. "He's never done a musical, really," bubbles Jim. "But first he and I might do a Doors-based film he's thinking of doing with John Travolta."
I express my opinion that the greasy fever boy ain't no Jim Morrison.
"Yeah, but Brian's wife says John does a perfect Morrison impersonation!" He sinks back in his chair. "But then, she says he does a perfect Stevie Wonder too," he sighs.
The movie does sound interesting, given DePalma's brilliant style of virtually re-making other movies in whole or in part as a sort of homage. This time it's Orson Welles rather than Hitchcock.
"I really liked that book you wrote about me, 'The Phenomenology Of Excess,' great title! Meat went, 'Phonomeno-Phenamma-Phinm - what is this shit?' My mother said, 'What are all these swastikas for?' I showed Brian DePalma the part where you mentioned him...When he heard the whole Meat Loaf story he decided to merge it with the Morrison thing, because he thinks it's the greatest showbiz saga..."
"Now it's like 'Citizen Kane,' sorta, this guy sees the Morrison character (Travolta) in some remote part of South America at a motor race track then loses sight of him. But he's supposed to be dead, so the guy goes back to the States and interviews all his friends and enemies to find out what he was really like, to see if he could have faked his death. So it's all told in flashbacks, mostly."
Anyone who saw Brian DePalma's 'Blow-Out' (a tribute to 'Blow-Up' and 'The Conversation,' it's said) will know that Travolta can act, sorta, and since the character is no longer actually Morrison..."Brian wants to have the music very Doors-like, and I don't. But nothing's finalized yet." Nothing ever is in movies.
You'll recall Jim's Doors-type rant 'Love And Death And An American Guitar' was to be in a film about one ax? Gone to the great cutting room in the sky, it appears. Now the poem (waste not...) is slotted into...
'Neverland,' FIRST DRAFT. Jim has let a few souls (including lucky li'l me) peruse this item so that feedback might be obtained. Piano demos of two of the Captain Hook songs, 'Who'd Do The Dirty' and 'Who Needs The Young,' one sung by Jim and the former by the star of 'Ain't Misbehavin,' show them to be scabrous, PG-rated panto grinds, funny, gruff stuff.
The screenplay is filled with camera directions, usually the province of the director, but Jim can dream, can't he? This update of 'Peter Pan' has lotsa laffs, though it seems a mite slim for a whole flick, but then again there are numerous points where explosive battles and songs and choreographed dance extravaganzas are noted, which would flesh out the running time considerably.
There are flaws though. In this version the Lost Boys never age because they get exposed to a random combination of noxious, evil gasses. And Barrie's idea of Wendy being too old by the time they come back to Neverland is retained.
However, since Wendy didn't get exposed to the gas, she'd have aged even if they'd taken her with them when she was young, only the Lost Boys remaining eternally teen. This may not be important to the narrative, but it needs ironing out.
There's lotsa sex and violence. Peter asks Wendy: "Are you anal, rectal, vaginal, oral, genital, bestial, hetro, homo, bi, tri, quatre, cinq, six, sick, lonely, desperate, monolingual, bilingual, cunnilingual, passionate, poetic, hallucinogenic, barbarian, cesarean, mammalian, cornucopian, horn of plenty, plenty horny..." and throats get offered to wolves with red roses, which longtime followers of this dream will be familiar with.
As always, Steinman's lyrics and poems shame most rock writing into insignificance by comparison to his luxuriant imagery: "If light were dark/And dark were light/The moon a black hole/In the blaze of night/A raven's wing as bright as tin/Then you, my love/Would be darker than sin."
I realize some of you will think this ain't no Yeats, but Jim Steinman possesses the virtue of taking himself and his work seriously, but not too seriously. As we walked out of the studio he noticed the book on magic I was carrying. "I did a lot of research on demonology when I was writing my script, to get ideas. My friend bought me a beautiful crystal ball, with a 100 page book on how to use it, which impressed me a lot. So complex and mysterious! Then I found a sticker on the bottom that said 'Franco-American Imports.' Kinda took away something, you know?"
See you at the movies (I hope).