This interview with the soon-to-be-infamous Meat Loaf and his partner in crime, Jim Steinman, didnt start out that way. Actually, the two creators of the Bat Out Of Hell album (on Cleveland International Records) phoned me to take issue with a concert review I did of them when they appeared at The Cleveland Agora a few weeks back.
Although I had loved the Bat Out Of Hell album and had met Meat Loaf and Steinman when they were in town, we never really got together to discuss their music seriously. So, when they called and began chiding me a friendly manner, I thought Id better turn the tape recorder on.
After I finished talking with the two amiable artists, I realized that wed been on over and hour and that I had more than enough material for an interview. Ironically, when they were in town in November Id passed on a chance to talk with them because of my schedule. No matter. The result is that the Meat Loaf story is unfolded here, and its a story that shows that these two talents have only just scratched the surface of their capabilities. The future holds many surprises for an unsuspecting rock public.
Meat Loaf was born in Dallas, Texas and decided to make his nickname his stage name as well. Hes been using that handle for years. When Meat Loaf starred in The Rocky Horror Picture Show film, he played the part of Eddie, a greaser with half a brain. He doubled in that film (and onstage) as Dr. Scott.
Jim Steinman hails from California, but lives in Long Island these days. Steinman and Meat Loaf joined forces when they both worked on The National Lampoon Show. Meat Loaf recalled his past experiences working as an actor:
Ive done a lot of Broadway shows and a lot off-Broadway things. When Jim and I did National Lampoon together, it was really crazy. For the Lampoon show, Id go in a corner and just sit and stare from my chair for maybe four minutes. The lights were down low, and Jim would play piano. Id just stare at them and Jim would be playing dramatic stuff. Theyd get nervous and Id just sit there; some people would dance, some would giggle and Id just stare. Then Id turn to the audience and smile, saying, Ill bet youd like to know wheat the hell I going on, wouldnt you?
After doing the Lampoon thing, Meat Loaf sang with Ted Nugents band on the Free For All album - warming up for the project that he and Steinman were planning. At the time, Meat was staying with Chevy Chase (of Saturday Night Live fame), and he and Steinman were getting ready for a concept album to end all concept albums: Bat Out Of Hell.
That project was finally realized last January, being produced and engineered by Todd Rundgren. The seven lengthy songs featured Kasim Sulton and other members of Todds entourage, as well as Edgar Winter (on saxophone), Max Weinberg (drums) and Roy Bittan (piano). The latter two fellows are from Bruce Springsteens E Street Band, and it was no coincidence that Meat Loaf used these two, as he explained regarding Springsteens affecting of their project:
One night Jim went down to see Springsteen play in New York, and he came back and told me that he couldnt believe that Springsteen was doing the same thing we were planning to do. But Jim and I were doing what were doing before we ever heard of him. We were already working together when we heard of him. Were nothing like he was, though; hes real dramatic, too, but in a different sense.
Anyway, Todd Rundgren did the record with a minimum amount of trouble, and Steinman and Meat Loaf were relieved at his helpful approach.
Todd was great, Steinman said. I was amazed at how he didnt impose his things on the project. He actually terrified me a bit because I expected him to come in and say, I want a minute here in the song for some incredible guitar adds. But instead it was Why dont you tell me exactly what you want? It worked brilliantly.
I was actually more in awe of Max and Roy than I was in awe of Todd, the pianist continued. When I met Max, he was totally perplexed that I ran up to him and hugged him; hes the most unassuming person in the world. Hes just a drummer I love, though, because hes not self-conscious about his technique. He is an incredibly emotional drummer, and hes responsible for a lot of the momentum on Bat Out Of Hell.
The title cut from the album is one gargantuan production number. Its almost nine minutes long, but because it builds in various sections, its incredibly well paced. I told Steinman that it must have been a bitch to record that one. He laughed.
Bat Out Of Hell was actually done in one take, he revealed. When we went into the studio to cut it, I thought we were gonna be at it for 10 hours or more just getting the music down. Todd said we were gonna play it in one take, and we actually did. However, we spent $10,000 mixing that song. We mixed it about 20 times or so. It was much harder to mix than it was to record. Id never been through anything as traumatic as mixing that song, though.
Steinman writes all of the music and lyrics, and Meat Loaf interprets them and delivers the goods. But how does a man go about writing such an emotionally draining song, one so full of imagery?
Well, Bat Out Of Hell was always a phrase I liked a lot, said Steinman. And I wrote the first two choruses and stopped. Then I decided I wanted to have a motorcycle crash in it; I always loved those car songs where people die - like Tell Laura I Love Her and things like that. I love that stuff.
The first single form the album, though, is the song that follows the title cut on the album: the Phil Spector-ish You Took The Words Right Out Of My Mouth. Steinman explained that this song and several others on the album were written for a musical he put together some time ago. It was to be a futuristic version of Peter Pan, called Neverland. You Took The Words Right Out Of My Mouth opens with a spoken dialog from Ellen Foley (one of the girls from TVs Three Girls Three) and Steinman.
That intro, Steinman said, was much longer than what we put on the record. It was basically a wedding scene where Wendy is initiated into the pack of lost boys. She becomes their mother, their girl, their wife; I always loved Peter Pan.
Steinman grafted this spoken intro onto the song to create tension from the spoken word to silence; then the music charges in. And dynamics and dramatics such as these are what make Bat Out Of Hell more than just a rock and roll album.
Steinman may create the tension, dynamics and lyrical genius that graces the tracks on Bat Out Of Hell, but onstage it is Meat Loaf who reigns supreme. In that setting, Steinmans job is to play piano and drive the excellent road band that was put together (no mean feat) to duplicate and expand upon Bat Out Of Hell. Meat Loaf, meanwhile, creates his own tension onstage. He has been getting rave reviews and drawing large crowds in every city on their current tour. When the band played Cleveland, it was only their fourth gig, but they still blew everyone away.
I work off improvisation; thats my whole thing, the singer said. Thats where Im coming from. Improv is like the pacing that I do and acting really nervous. I like to set up a song when I go onstage. I am an actor and I deal in theater; that whole pacing thing is part of that. Ive performed for as many as 115,000 people and Ive developed a lot of techniques over the years. I mean, Jim and I tried to keep it underground that we were from the theater. We want to create a different kind of rock and roll atmosphere onstage. As we go along and get more money, itll be more theater. I mean this is really dramatic material were doing. It isnt as easy to understand because were not, uh, Eric Carmen, you know?
When I saw Meat Loaf perform, I misinterpreted some of his onstage mannerism for nervousness. He said he understood why:
Youre basically into rock and roll, and I understand that. However, what were doing is different; we try to make the concert hall a living room to a point. See, everything is really well planned out. I mean it. Still, theres always that freedom which allows us to do at any point whatever improv we want to do. What we do now is only half a skeleton of what were trying to do. Weve got plans for real theater. We arent into flash pots and smoke bombs; were into dramatics.
So, you havent heard the last of the dynamic duo of Steinman and Meat Loaf. Before we hung up our respective phones, I asked Steinman why the act is simply called Meat Loaf and why his own name wasnt attached to it.
Originally it was Meat Loaf and Jim Steinman, he answered, but it was changed cuz we got a lot of flack from people who thought itd be easier to market that album and package if it were just Meat Loaf. To me, Meat Loaf represents an overall project.
Meat Loaf himself views their collaboration and partnership as a long-lasting one. Weve been together so long, its that old thing if hes cut, I bleed. Were that close, the singer concluded.
When I hung up the phone I realized that Id just talked to two of rocks most sincere and interesting innovators. Then I cranked up Bat Out Of Hell on my tape player and thought about what theyd said.