The Power Of Rock 'n Roll
By midnight, hundreds of monsters line the street outside New York City's Waverly
Theatre. There, every Friday and Saturday, the Rocky Horror Picture Show--a 1974 spoof of
Fifties horror films--is the occasion for a cult ritual of costumes, dances, screams, and
songs by its fanatical following. And invariably, many in the crowd are made up to look
like Eddie, the leather- jacketed delivery boy who, having lost half his brain to Dr.
Frank-N-Furter's knife, comes thawed and roaring out of the gothic castle's freezer on a
motorcycle, singing, "Whatever Happened to Saturday Night?"
Underneath the bizarre
makeup is Meat Loaf, a huge, hulking Texan who played the part in the stage version, too,
but who has collected quite a few more impressive theatrical credits. He also has one of
the most powerful, moving voices to be heard in the Seventies, and these days, Meat Loaf's
"Saturday Night" isn't a horror show, but a high school collage of sexual
frustration, fulfillment, and fantasy.
Meat Loaf recently toured the country with Bat Out Of Hell (Epic/Cleveland
International), a debut album produced by Todd Rundgren with music by Jim Steinman. One of
the songs, "Paradise by the Dashboard Light," soon became an FM cult favorite
itself--a rock'n'roll duet detailing the frantic groupings of a couple in a parked car.
Ellen Foley, who made a brief TV appearance on the short-lived variety show,
"3-Girls-3," sings the girl's protests and passion on record; Karla de Vito is
Meat Loaf's match onstage; and Steinman, whose fantasies forged the album, leads the band
through the riveting Bat Out Of Hell rock opera.
Meat Loaf is 30, Steinman 27, and contrary to physical appearances, it was Jim who
proved to be the big eater one afternoon in a New York Chinese restaurant. "He's
known for his huge orders," Meat Loaf told Gallery's Susan Toepfer after Steinman
picked everything from columns A and B, and most of C, as well. "I'm just a
promiscuous eater," the songwriter countered. "I can't establish a long-term
relationship with any one food. It's the gastro version of Looking For Mr. Goodbar. I pick
all these foods, and eventually they turn on me."
GALLERY: At least in New York Rocky Horror Picture Show has a very
strong, strange, and devoted following. Was it that popular when it was released?
MEAT LOAF: No, it was not a hit when it came out. It's just a huge
cult movie. Almost every city we've played so far, it's in and sells out.
GALLERY: Are you recognized on the street?
MEAT LOAF: No, because I look completely different in the movie. I
wear a black wig and a lot of heavy makeup, so I look like I have a beard to match the
GALLERY: What did you do before the film?
MEAT LOAF: I played Amiens in "As You Like It" in
Shakespeare in the Park and also worked the Shakespeare festival in a play that Steinman
wrote called "More Than You Deserve." That's where we met, about five years ago.
I also worked at Cafe' La Mama. And my last encounter with the theater was a play called,
GALLERY: That never got off the ground, did it?
MEAT LOAF: Worse than that. It was the most horrifying experience of
my entire life. I was doing the second "National Lampoon" show at the time, the
one with Gilda Radner and John Belushi. Steinman was the musical director. I got out of
that and into "Rockabye Hamlet" and didn't like it. About three weeks into
rehearsal, I tried to get out, and after a little meeting with the producers, they called
in Gower Champion, who said, "How dare you want to leave a Gower Champion show?"
They wouldn't let me out, and since I was under control, I had to stay until the whole
thing gave way.
GALLERY: When did you come to New York?
MEAT LOAF: In 1970, from Los Angeles. Right of the plane and into
GALLERY: Did you take off your clothes?
MEAT LOAF: No.
GALLERY: Were you the only one?
MEAT LOAF: No. There were thousands of people who wouldn't. Hardly
anybody would take off his clothes, in fact. It got to the point where they were paying
'em $17.50 a shot to do it. Seventeen-fifty to peel. The nude scene in
"Hair"--what a hype. It lasted about four seconds. The stage was almost totally
dark, and they had these revolving lights, which meant you couldn't see anything. Just
shadows. It was banned in some cities because of the nude scene, the language, so it made
a fortune. It was great because it got lousy reviews when it opened on Broadway. I did it
originally in Los Angeles.
GALLERY: When did you move there?
After I dropped out of Texas Tech. I went from Dallas to L.A. to form a rock'n'roll band
called Popcorn Blizzard. In the late Sixties we opened for Ted Nugent, the MC5, the Fugs,
Edgar Winter, Johnny Winter, the Grateful Dead, Dr. John, the New York Rock and Roll
Ensemble. All the big concerts that followed Woodstock.
GALLERY: And you just sang?
MEAT LOAF: Yeah, and I was terrible. I started the band becase I
didn't have anything else to do, and I didn't want to get a job. One summer, during
college, I was an efficiency expert at a place where they made these huge water and oil
vessels. I had to stand there, seventeen years old, and supervise people who had been
doing this all their lives. They hated me--until I got to pitch for their softball team.
Then they liked me. I still like to play softball and have had a team ever since I can
remember. Now I play with the Broadway Show League.
GALLERY: What did you want to do when you were a kid?
MEAT LOAF: Play football. I didn't know anything else.
GALLERY: How did your parents feel about that?
MEAT LOAF: Oh, being in Texas and being as big as I am, it was
natural. Although I'll say my ability as a football player wasn't as great as a lot of
others'. I was just mean, ornery. They'd make me mad before every game. And football in
Texas, especially high school football, is a big thing. There'll be maybe 30,000 people
turning out for a high school game. Or a junior high school game. It's enormous.
GALLERY: I guess so. They have all those cheerleaders.
STEINMAN: That's why they have football, to take care of the
cheerleaders. There was this huge surplus of cheerleaders, so they had to create something
GALLERY: I've been told the name Meat Loaf comes from those football
MEAT LOAF: Yeah, it's a nickname I got around 1961. My own name is
boring. I was never called by my real name, because in the South they call people by their
intials a lot, and mine are M.L. But when I introduced myself as "M.L.," they'd
always call me "Mel." So later I stuck with Meat Loaf. Another name I had was
"Mighty Large," and when I was playing football, my legs were so huge, they
called me "Tree Trunks."
GALLERY: Is Meat Loaf your legal name now? Is that how you sign your
MEAT LOAF: I have two names, but I never tell my real one. And I do
have a credit card with Meat Loaf on it. Some people call me "Meat," and when
I'm reviewed, I'm sometimes "Mr. Loaf."
GALLERY: Did you have a good time in high school?
MEAT LOAF: Yeah. You know football players; they have good times. But
my team was different from most. We broke a lot of rules. We trained on enchiladas when we
were supposed to be eating roast beef. People would get sick; the coach wouldn't
understand. The team, needless to say, didn't win any championships.
GALLERY: You started singing in church. Was that important to you?
My grandfather was a Church of Christ minister. Church of Christ is real close to Baptist,
the only difference being that we had no instrumental music, in other words, an organ.
There's a quote in the Bible about "making music in your hearts." They took that
to mean singing.
GALLERY: Did you enjoy that?
MEAT LOAF: Yeah. And I sang in the choir, too, but that was just so I
wouldn't have to sit in study hall. I didn't really sing there, just mouthed the words.
GALLERY: When did you get interested in acting?
MEAT LOAF: That's a real bizarre story. I was drunk one night with my
best friend, and he told me they were having auditions for this high school musical and
that I should go. I said okay, even though I'd been just mouthing the words in choir all
along. I went in and sang out of tune, and the next day it was announced over the
loudspeaker that I'd gotten the part. I was immediately called into the baseball coach's
office. He was furious and told me, "You cannot be an athlete and do these sissy
things." So that made me mad. I wasn't going to do the musical, but that made me
change my mind. And I really got into it, had a lot of fun with it, but I still wanted to
GALLERY: When did the football stop?
MEAT LOAF: In college, when I got hurt and couldn't play anymore. I
had eleven concussions, and I still wanted to play, but they wouldn't let me.
GALLERY: How did the Bat Out Of Hell album come together?
MEAT LOAF: It started with this sort of Peter Pan musical Jim had
written called "Neverland." I freaked out one day. He had to make a decision
about whether he was going to do that play or we were going to start the album.
GALLERY: It's a concept album of sorts, with all the images focusing
on a kind of Fifties high school world.
STEINMAN: Well, high school. I wouldn't ever think of it as especially
Fifties. If you're in high school now, it's the same. And for the Eighties, I'm optimistic
about a return to a certain kind of innocent power. Conceptually, I'd describe it as a
combination of romantic violence and violent romance. When I was growing up, the greatest
rock'n'roll sort of existed at that cross-roads, where romance became violent and violence
GALLERY: In the early Sixties?
STEINMAN: Well, there's always been that element, whether you go back
to Elvis in the Fifties or the Ronettes in the early Sixties or Del Shannon through the
Stones. It only stopped for me, really, in the early Seventies, when the music got real
bland, tranquilizing. But that's what used to get to me, that romance that was so
passionate it was violent, so that it existed as thrill and action. Which is perfect for
rock'n'roll because there's nothing adult about it, no more responsibility to it. It's
antithetical to the kind of music Paul Simon writes. He writes about the responsibility of
relationships, and it's no longer romance, violence, but meaningful relationships, which
are hard to place in the same context as rock'n'roll.
The same thing happens when the violence becomes so romantic that it ceases to be
damaging. That's where the real fun in rock'n'roll was to me, and I don't hear any of that
in the Seventies. So in a way, a lot of the Bat Out Of Hell songs were written just
because I really wanted to hear songs like that, and the only person in the last few years
who could thrill me was Bruce Springsteen.
GALLERY: Well, there are critics who say that everything you do comes
straight from Springsteen.
STEINMAN: I find that puzzling, musically, although there are a few
things. We come from the same influences. One of my favorite songs of all time is Del
Shannon's "Runaway," and that's a real influence on Springsteen. Phil Spector,
the early Sixties, that's where the influence comes from. Springsteen was more an
inspiration than an influence. But the main difference between us is that his songs are
much more realistic and street-oriented, whereas mine are much more mythic and fantastic.
GALLERY: You're also relying on a very adept, calculated use of
STEINMAN: My lyrics are a lot more self-conscious, and yeah, I love
MEAT LOAF: Also, we use Max Weinberg and Roy Bittan, his drummer and
keyboard player. Max, because he happens to be a great drummer, and Roy, because he and
Jim have very similar styles of piano playing. Roy's a little smoother, but the styles are
similar, and Jim decided not to play piano on the album. He just did a couple of piano
overdubs and some lascivious sounds on "Paradise By The Dashboard Light."
STEINMAN: You can't hear it on the album, but I'm doing a lot of Donna
Summer moaning. Essentially, I just made out with myself. First I recorded the boy, then
the girl's groans. It was all very hesitant, trembling.
MEAT LOAF: If you could only hear it, it would be the best part of the
album. When Jim was recording, Todd was laughing so hard he was crying. By the time he got
to the girl, Todd was biting the console.
GALLERY: I wish I could hear it. But one thing I really liked about
the album is its operatic quality.
STEINMAN: I wanted it to be majestic. When I grew up, I wanted to be
an opera singer. I grew up listening to opera and rock'n'roll. I had an operation on my
nose, so I can't really sing now. But I love that point, too, where rock'n'roll becomes
operatic. Phil Spector developed it to a fine point. I still get chills listening to those
records. The music that influenced me most was The Who, Spector, and the Beach Boys.
"God Only Knows." "Wouldn't It Be Nice." Their sound is what America
is to me.