Nocturnal
Pleasures


The following is a rough transcription of Jim Steinman during a six hour interview in 2003.

Q - Kerrang Magazine said that you meeting Meat Loaf that it was one of the most important moments in history.

JS - No, no, no, Spin Magazine.

Q - Spin?

JS - Spin Magazine. The 100 greatest moments in the history of rock and roll, number seven to be specific, was me meeting Meat Loaf. Kerrang Magazine is noteworthy because I got to be on the cover, and Kerrang has gotten bigger and bigger. It's now the biggest music magazine in the UK.

Q - Take me back to that moment of meeting him?

JS - We met when Meat Loaf auditioned for me. I was doing a show that I wrote the music and lyrics for at the New York Shakespeare Festival. Oh God I don't even remember what year; it was, probably 1972 or '73, one of those two years, and he came in and auditioned. It was just, we saw 2,000 or 3,000 people. He came in one day and I thought he was, from the minute he walked in, I was stunned.

JS - I thought he was astonishing. He's just one of those people who walks in and it's the equivalent of an enormous cat pissing on the door. Just stakes territory immediately. Just charismatic and he wasn't the character of Meat Loaf then, he was much more like this enormous inflated farm boy. He wore like overalls, he didn't have that much experience singing rock and roll specifically.

JS - He had done Hair on stage. Mostly he sang gospel and blues, which is what he grew up learning and knowing. He came in with this amazing accompanist, who I still work with, named Steve Margoshes, an incredible pianist, and he sang a song called You Got To Give Your Heart To Jesus, 'cause he sang all gospel and blues. I just remember thinking this is the most amazing presence and voice that I've encountered ever.

JS - It was pretty natural for me because I grew up with opera and Wagner was my hero, and Meat Loaf was like all the operatic stars. He was, you know, they play Sigfried as a 16-year-old sort of Brad Pitt character, but they're all like 400 pounds. So it didn't bother me, the weight, it was perfectly natural and when he sang it was mind-boggling. This huge volcanic eruption of sound that was totally awesome in that you could feel the room shake.

JS - This is something actually no one can tell from the records. It's odd but I don't think the records have ever captured Meat's voice the way it was. We would rehearse in a room that was smaller than where he auditioned and in the room you could totally feel the piano shake, the chairs shake, it was a physical phenomena.

JS - I also loved the way he performed physically, his eyes would disappear so you couldn't see anything but the whites of his eyes. They would roll up to the top of his head. So he sort of had a little Linda Blair thing going and he'd do amazing things with his hands. They would convulse while he was singing in a strange sort of rhythm and counterpoint, and he basically seemed possessed and sang this song, You Got To Give Your Heart To Jesus, amazingly.

JS - When it was done I was just dumbstruck and I remember at the end of the day everyone gathers, the director, producer, writers, to discuss the people you've seen who auditioned. I was the only one who had him down on my list. I said, well what about that guy Meat Loaf? It seemed very natural to me to say Meat Loaf, strangely enough, from the minute I met him. I don't know why, but I (laugh) was the only one who didn't make jokes about his name.

JS - Nobody else had him on the list and I remember them all saying, Meat Loaf? That big fat guy? There's no part for him. I mean, it's ridiculous. And I said, we got to write a part for him, he's just astonishing, and there was a big fight but we ended up writing a part for him that didn't exist. It was a show about Vietnam and he played a soldier in Vietnam who was prone to throw hand grenades at his superior officers.

JS - And it was just a stunning moment. I'll never forget it 'cause I needed someone to sing my songs. I had always thought I would sing my own songs. I came out of college and I had Robert Stigwood as a manager who at the time was Eric Clapton and The Bee Gees (manager) and I, of course, was right up there with Eric Clapton and The Bee Gees, I was number three.

JS - I was going to be a singer and a songwriter but I had gotten into a terrible medical problem with broken bones, my nose, and it was too complicated to go into. But I couldn’t sing, basically. It was too excruciating and painful, and when he came in it was like a gift from the gods. Like they had sent someone who could sing far better than I could and who actually was the only person I could imagine on earth who had the perfect voice for what I was imagining.

Q - Who were you (with) when you two met?

JS - Joseph Papp in historical terms of theater is a sort of Messianic legendary figure. He came to prominence in New York City in the '50s. He was a great populist, that's what was wonderful about him and his first really his great visionary thought was that Shakespeare shouldn't be at all elitist. He worked is ass off to get Shakespeare done in Central Park for free, which is still being done every summer at the place called the Delacourt Theater.

JS - He was a tireless promoter of populist art and a tireless fund-raiser, which was tied to it. He was able to raise money and build up the New York Shakespeare Festival gradually from a nothing operation in, I think Brooklyn, to this pretty big organization in New York. And not only doing shows in the park but they had a New York Shakespeare Festival, which is still downtown in New York on Lafayette Street.

JS - He got a real sort of charge when he put on Hair in 1967 or '68, off Broadway, and it became a sensation and ended up on Broadway and then permeated the culture. It was really one of the first times, I guess, in a long time that a musical had permeated the culture. Then it sort of stopped in the early '60s with West Side Story, Sound Of Music, that era and pretty much you could say The Beatles had a lot to do with that.

JS - You know, music changed and theater music was sort of archaic and didn't fit the contemporary pulse but Hair brought it back to relating to the culture. Papp was just a Messianic in wanting to bring theater to a mass audience, and Shakespeare particularly, and I identified with him immediately because he saw no difference between Shakespeare and Hair basically. It was all theater and I grew up with opera and rock and roll and didn't see any difference.

JS - It was all just sensational to me and intensity, mythology and everything cool, and Papp became sort of my surrogate dad. He loved being a mentor to people and he sort of took me in. He saw a show I did in college, my senior year at Amherst College. I did this thing called The Dream Engine, which is a three hour rock epic with tons of nudity, it was everything I dreamed of. It got closed down by the police. Written up in (laugh) the newspapers. Caused a sensation.

JS - Papp came to see it and at the intermission he signed it up, which was really cool, it was like one of those legendary stories. He was in the dressing room and I remember signing the paper, I didn't know what I was signing (laugh) I just said what the hell, it's better than going to graduate school studying film. That's what I was going to do. I also remember we were all nude because the second act was almost all nudity (laugh)

JS - So there's 20 people nude standing around Joe Papp singing. I think it's the only time he signed a contract with 20 people nude, at least that he admitted. That started me out in theater which I really hadn't set my mind that clearly to do, but I said well this is a great opportunity. So we went right from my school to New York City to break into the world of big time show biz and theater, and I had a lot to learn about that.

JS - There was a seven year journey working with Papp and never getting that show on. It started with the fact that there was a mayoralty election in 1970, the first year I got to New York and the City Council wouldn't okay this. He had a great idea; he wanted The Dream Engine to be done with the original cast of college kids in the Central Park Theater, where they did Shakespeare, which was a brilliant idea because it was an amazing production.

JS - A lot better than most of the stuff I see, still today, in New York. He thought it would be just, you know, no problem because they had never questioned anything because it had always been Shakespeare. But for the first time the City Council read it and said no way, it's too sexual, too violent, far more nudity than Anthony and Cleopatra has (laugh). Amazingly enough, I don't think they ever read Shakespeare, I think (laugh) they would have turned down a lot of Shakespeare.

JS - So he couldn't do it in Central Park and I stayed with him for seven years working on other things, including the musical in which I met Meat Loaf called More Than You Deserve. But I never got to do The Dream Engine and The Dream Engine was really the seeds of the vision of Bat Out Of Hell for me, creatively, and Meat Loaf became the physical vessel through which I could get that across.

JS - So it was really those two forces, that I brought with me from growing up and from school, and Joe Papp, ending up meeting Meat Loaf was all; that's why Spin Magazine, I guess, you know, hyperbolically called it the number seven great moment in rock and roll was to have allowed us to work together and in their perspective created a whole form (TECHNICAL).

Q - Forgetting what Spin says, for you how important was that moment?

JS - Well at the time it wasn't important at all except that I had seen this big, huge actor that I thought would be good in the play. So it's like everything is going to be during this interview, at the time nothing seemed that significant (laugh) because it's at the time. Everything comes with perspective looking back. It was basically significant to me because I found someone who could sing my music the way I always envisioned it.

JS - At the most immediate purpose was hey this guy could be in the show and could sing a great song, which hadn't been written, you know, had the character, but he embodied what I was trying to get at theatrically. I mean, my whole thing was I was really looking for a fusion of theater and rock and roll. I'd grown up with them both and it really didn't exist and I thought Hair was pretty ridiculous for me.

JS - The show I did actually was done at the same time at the school as Hair but The Dream Engine was pretty prophetic. I still think it's the best thing I'll ever do and it's all been downhill (laugh) from there. It's the one thing I share with Orson Wells (laugh) that we did our best thing first and it was extraordinary. It was, because Hair was this, you know, flowers and all sentimentality and love children.

JS - The Dream Engine was about a really violent pack of kids and it actually, though it came before it, almost eerily prophesies the Kent State massacre with soldiers shooting and killing all these kids. But also prophesies the Manson murders in that it had the kids who were the heroes. They had, I don't want to get into the plot but basically they had separated from the rest of the country. There had been an earthquake and California was severed from the country.

JS - There was one huge city in California, which was run by a conglomerate of the church, the police, and big business, who were the villains, and the kids were basically like the Lost Boys. It was all sort of a science fiction version of Peter Pan and that was, that's always been my biggest vision. It's sort of like this huge breast that I suckle on (laugh). Everything I take is somewhat related to my Peter Pan vision.

Q - Neverland.

JS - Yeah.

Q - It seems like everything that we know in your career seems to have some tie back to Neverland.

JS - The good stuff does. That's 'cause I've been wanting to do that now for 30 years. I just haven't gotten to it. It's my favorite story of all time.

Q - Could you say Peter Pan?

JS - Yeah Peter Pan is my favorite story of all time. I mean, of great mythic. I mean, you know, the old tales there are only three to five great stories, Romeo And Juliet, etc. I mean, Peter Pan is definitely one of the three to five great stories. For me it was one of the great stories partly because it was the greatest rock and roll myth I could think of. I mean, when you think about it, first of all it's a lot darker than people realized.

JS - I have no idea why Peter Pan became what it became with, for those who grew up in my generation it was Mary Martin, this butch lesbian playing in the mid '50s flying around. Now it's Cathy Rigby, I don't know if she's a lesbian but she's just as worthless (laugh). I mean why they had a woman playing this boy I never knew. I was always so fascinated with the idea of, first of all it's about gangs, I loved West Side Story, and when you think about it Peter Pan is nothing but a battle of gangs.

JS - Indians, Mermaids, Pirates, Lost Boys, and they're all fighting over turf, which is Neverland. The greatest thing is that these boys don't grow up, which is the ultimate rock and roll mythology, and it's also one of the cruelest stories ever. The romance between Peter and Wendy and there's no colder moment that I know of than when he comes back to take Wendy to Neverland but he's forgotten that 30 years have passed. He just says oh you're too old, I can't take you, you're too old, and she's 31 or something.

JS - But I was always entranced by that story and always wanted to do it as a rock and roll sort of science fiction epic. That was what The Dream Engine sort of was, the first incarnation of it.

Q - Which begs the question, how much of it is a rock opera?

JS - It is more just my psyche than it's one concept. It's one story. In a way I think every song is a story. It's almost to me like if you take what I'm saying well Peter Pan is a great story. If you interviewed each of the Lost Boys they'd each have a song from Bat Out Of Hell, for each one of them. It's basically a collection of stories. It's like a mosaic.

JS - But if you put it all together it's part of the world that I love, which is the world of Lost Boys and Peter Pan and Neverland and a place where kids don't grow up and what results of that. I mean, the thing that I loved about it is that I didn't find that to be a light or a sentimental idea, I took it literally. I thought it was actually a great science fiction concept that if a kid was 18 for 80 years what would he be like? I thought that was a great subject for science fiction.

JS - For one thing I thought he'd end up like Caligula totally insane and mad. Because if you're 18 you got to have sensation and excitement and thrills like every second and everything is life or death and urgent and it's all, you know, so primal and important. And if you do that for 80 years you're going to be exhausted and you're going to be almost totally insane trying to find new excitement, new thrills, new ways to ignite passion.

JS - And on the other hand you have to ask yourself do you change at all? If you live 80 years do you become wise through experience, or because you have an 18-year-olds soul and brain and body, do you stay 18? I thought it was an interesting subject.

Next Page