A Marriage Made In Hell
By John Aizlewood
Q Magazine 1993
Stars and Stripes. Smith and Wesson, Coca and its sugary sidekick Cola - Great American Partnerships to which must be added Meat Loaf and Jim Steinman, girthsome rock bellower and kitchen-sink production maestro respectively, reunited after a decade of bickering and bankruptcy for Bat Out Of Hell II. "People will be enriched and thrilled by it," they tell John Aizlewood.
It's one in the morning and Jim Steinman, writer of Bat Out Of Hell I and II, is holding court in the sparsely attended Le Bar Bat, somewhere in Manhattan. Plastic bats hang from the ceiling, while a deafening fusion group play a seemingly endless set, punctuated only by Steinman hollering "fuck off" as they close each tune.
Steinman has sampled every starter and dessert (no main course nonsense) on the menu. Twice. He's surrounded by piles of food, into which his straggly gray hair occasionally slips. Between slurps of melting ice cream, he devours a vast bowl of something red and alcoholic, through a straw the length of a man's arm. Steinman will not move until he's finished the drink. Truly, he is the Lord Of Excess.
Hours earlier, in a rehearsal room close by, Meat Loaf, Steinman's muse, the singer on Bat Out Of Hell I and II, is rehearsing his band. Loaf faces the band while they attempt a slowed down You Took The Words Right Out Of My Mouth (Hot Summer Night): a pacey trot across Rock & Roll Dreams Come Through, with its not one, not two, but three choruses: and I'd Do Anything For Love, which is not one, not two, but three separate songs molded together. Meat Loaf rummages through his CBS Records holdall (he left the label in 1983) for throat lozengers, and makes notes. "Majestic," he bawls and his right shoulder judders as if it were a pneumatic drill. The gray hair could do with a swift shampoo, but otherwise he's in fine fettle, big-boned rather than fat.
Between rehearsal and Le Bar Bat, Meat Loaf and Steinman tell their tale at The Power Station studio, where the band are sampling effects to use live. Steinman, Lord Of Excessive Lateness, is eight hours behind schedule.
These contrary men ("Jim considers himself in fashion. I have a dog that looks like that.") need each other. Nobody sings a Jim Steinman song quite like Meat Loaf and nobody writes for Meat Loaf remotely like Jim Steinman. In fact, nobody writes songs like Jim Steinman: he is, perhaps, the lost genius of pop, stranded - lamentably unlauded - in a world of rock with opera's attitude, where life has stopped at the point of adolescence that childhood dreams are shattered. It's how "soul" music should have turned out: every chorus is like losing your virginity, every verse is like killing your parents. It's as if Phil Spector and Richard Wagner were making records together.
"Bombastic?" he smirks. "Of course it's bombastic. I take that as a compliment. Rock 'n' roll is the most bombastic form ever - heightened, oversized, gigantic, thrilling and silly."
The miracle here is not that Bat Out Of Hell II exists - a sequel to one of the best selling records of all time makes blindingly obvious commercial sense - but that Meat Loaf and Jim Steinman are doing it after over a decade of feuding, suing, bankruptcy, catcalling and farce...
Meat Loaf was born Marvin Lee Aday (he's changed the name by deed poll) in Texas. He moved to Los Angeles, fronted Meat Loaf Soul, who became Popcorn Blizzard to open for Hendrix, The Who, Sun Ra, The Bonzos and countless others. "I have no idea what we sounded like," he lies.
By 1969 he was a car park attendant and failing actor. He successfully auditioned for LA's version of Hair. Also in Hair was Stoney, who later became Eric Clapton and Bob Seger's back-up singer. They recorded an album and sneaked a Number 71 American single, What You See Is What You Get.
Steinman, meanwhile, was born in New York, grew up in a liberal, intellectual household and went to the prestigious Amherst College. There, so legend has it, he formed The Clitoris That Thought It Was A Puppy.
"Aww, that's something that Jim thought up for interviews," shouts Loaf, visibly upset by the gentle deception. "Go ahead. Tell the story. I don't believe it in a million years. You think it's really funny don't you Jim? It's just one of your silly stories."
"Oh dear," winces Steinman.
Oh dear indeed.
They met, according to Loaf, in November 1971.
"I was taking psychedelics, Nixon was bombing the hell out of Cambodia and everything was falling apart," half remembers Steinman, who'd been lured to New York to orchestrate a production of "South Pacific set in Vietnam". Meat Loaf, car parks beckoning once more, was auditioning.
"Usually it would be the professional Broadway type who'd belt out Little Anthony & The Imperials' Goin' Out Of My Head or slim, jerky types," remembers Steinman, of the moment Spin magazine declared the seventh most important event in rock history. "Meat was the most mesmerizing thing I'd ever seen, much bigger than he is now and since I grew up with Wagner, all of my heroes were larger than life. His eyes went into his head like he was transfixed. He sang You Gotta Give Your Heart To Jesus. I can seem arrogant at times because I'm certain of things and I was certain of him."
By 1975, they were working on what would become Bat Out Of Hell and touring with the National Lampoon Road Show. Steinman played piano, Loaf harangued the audience.
"John Belushi said I was the only person who could do it," name drops Loaf. "I said I would if Jim could come too. He got $190 a week, more than me."
"It's amazing he can remember that. I had no idea," scowls Steinman. "All I remember was playing a Pennsylvania bible college and doing a crucifixion sketch. The audience were really drunk and started violently chanting The Lord's Prayer and throwing things."
"I don't remember that," continues Loaf, unabashed. "They were going to hire a driver for $400 a week. I did it for $300 so I'd earn more money than him."
Bat Out Of Hell, eight almost perfect songs, as to spend 400 weeks in the British album charts. It's second only to Fleetwood Mac's Rumours, and it's closing. Todd Rundgren produced and paid for the album nobody wanted.
"The only reason it came out," chides Loaf, "is because Miami Steve Van Zandt told CBS the opening to You Took The Words Right Out Of My Mouth were the best 10 seconds in rock 'n' roll. A total lie on his part. People were saying I had a great voice and I didn't need Jim. I though they were loony."
"We were being rejected by people who had not yet formed their companies," adds Steinman. "It's like mental steroids, it makes you strong when you're brutally rejected by that many people. I consoled myself with the reviews Wagner got - bombastic, over the top, self-indulgent."
By the time Bat Out Of Hell took hold, things were going horribly wrong. Meat Loaf, Jim Steinman and band had played over 170 dates in the first 10 months of 1978.
"They started putting pressure on Jim to go off the road and write," quakes Loaf, "they" being their joint management and record company, desperate for the follow-up, provisionally titled Renegade Angel. "Jim had his book of lyrics stolen. They should have told me to go into a padded cell as I was a lunatic. I had a problem with someone (who turns out to be E Street Band pianist Roy Bittan) and Jim went off to work with him. This freaked me out."
They began to drift apart.
"He had a mental block on the new songs," continues Steinman. "I was trying to get them to rest his voice, this great instrument, which they were making do a show a night like a bar bands singer. They were saying, 'Bat sold eight million and the next one would sell four even if it were crap - look at Joe Cocker'. By the way, Bat hasn't peaked yet. It could sell twice as many."
The tour halted when Meat Loaf tumbled off-stage in Canada, an action Steinman still reckons was deliberate. Then the singer lost his voice. "It was psychosomatic at first because I didn't want to do it," says Loaf. "I freaked myself out so bad that when I tried to do it, I couldn't. I'd started smoking and I don't have a voice that can stand that sort of thing. This is where Jim's jokes come in."
"Like you being injected with your own urine?" taunts Steinman.
"Awww. It's not true."
"Isn't it true you were injected with urine to test for antibodies?"
"Well...yeah. But I didn't pee in a cup and have them inject me with it."
"Ha! There is a difference between my fancifying reality and him blacking out for three years."
The cure came via a therapeutic masseur from Los Angeles who, according to Loaf, has a theory that "the body is like a house wired with electricity. If you blow a fuse you don't get electricity."
Renegade Angel became Steinman's 1981 solo album, Bad For Good, the songs which Loaf had self-blocked. "I couldn't bear for people not to hear those songs," grimaces an anguished Steinman. He sung them himself: it's a wonderful record, except for the weedy voice.
Steinman quickly wrote new material, which became Loaf's Dead Ringer, released just four months after Bad For Good.
"Those albums were mutant children, sent to battle each other," suggests Steinman.
Loaf still couldn't sing properly so Dead Ringer's vocals were spliced together phrase by phrase. Then the management told Steinman he wasn't to play live. Loaf sacked the management, Steinman didn't. Singer and songwriter ceased to work together. R&B veteran Tom Dowd produced Loaf's next effort, Midnight At The Lost And Found.
"The songs were dreadful. I had no concept of what was good or bad anymore. I don't count it as a record," rants Loaf. "My brother-in-law mixed it in three days, gave it to CBS and they put it out. We were stopped four times in the studio by injunctions.
Steinman hadn't been paid for Bat Out Of Hell. He sued Meat Loaf's publishing company, who hadn't been paid either. Everyone seemed to sue Meat Loaf, who filed for bankruptcy.
"I don't want to get into that story and I don't even want to talk about it," shouts Loaf in a manner that suggests the opposite. "I wasn't in the situation of being bankrupt. It wasn't that I didn't pay my electric bill, my phone bill or my credit card bill or my tax. It upset my wife no end because people look at you funny. I was being sued for $85 million by Jim's manager - Jim had no idea what was going on. I spent $1 million on lawyers and was seeking protection from being sued again.
"The record company said I shouldn't have anything to do with Jim, that nobody wanted to hear his songs. These morons - and I'm gonna sit here and call 'em morons - passed on Total Eclipse Of The Heart and Making Love Out Of Nothing At All which reached Number 1 and 2 in America in the same week. They couldn't care less about me."
The real sinner, in Meat Loaf's eyes, is that sacked manager, David Sonenberg, who also handles The Spin Doctors and Jungle Brothers. Sonenberg denies everything and claims that his suit was closer to $2 million.
"I was an accountant and I was seduced into management by Meat Loaf," he declares. "I'd managed Meat for five years and he'd just voluntarily signed for another five. I tried to stop the tour around the time of Dead Ringer so he sacked me. He did himself personal and financial harm by continuing."
"He made me into a villain, a bully, a drug addict, and a drunk," yells Loaf, "although between 1988 and 1991 I did 500 shows and missed one. When I worked with John Parr, John was scared to come to my house because he thought I ate beer cans, trash was stacked around the house, I had guns in every room and my kids had syringes hanging out of their arms. I don't drink, I don't smoke. I'm actually the most conservative human being in the world." And he does love little league baseball with the young Loaves.
Sonenberg denies muck - spreading.
"He never really drank. I'd deferred royalties and commissions. Because of the voice he had tremendous frustration and became abusive - he was in less than full control of his faculties. When his bankruptcy trustees paid me, I got the bulk of his house in Connecticut. His wife viewed me as the person who'd thrown the family out of their house. It's stayed in her mind I think."
"I'll be cordial if I see him," continues Loaf. "He tried to destroy me. His partner who later went to prison for heroin dealing, said I'd never work again when I wouldn't rescind the sacking. Sonenberg didn't like Jim. I'm not sure he does now."
Sonenberg denies not only the part about the heroin but actually having a partner.
"Yeah, my first dealing with him was a vicious betrayal," chuckles Steinman in admiration. "I thought me and Meat were a duo like Hall & Oats. The first time I knew my name was off Bat Out Of Hell was when we were actually signing the deal and the contract went right by me."
"Meat Loaf actually had no desire for Jim's name to be on the record," counters Sonenberg. "Jim wasn't too thrilled."
The post-Bat Out Of Hell legal disputes weren't resolved by royalties.
"We haven't been paid on Bat since 1980," claims Steinman. "CBS have made $120 million and Tommy Mottola (head of the label) admits it's the most profitable record in the history of the industry, more so than Thriller."
Sony America issued a formal statement: "Sony has always accounted for sales to date and everyone at Sony, from Tommy Mottola down, is proud to be associated with this album."
One person, however, is happy: "It makes a great annuity for me," shrugs Todd Rundgren.
Meat Loaf went on to make a succession of moderately successful albums. By 1987, he didn't have a record deal. The voice was fine but the songs weren't up to it, save two Steinman efforts on Bad Attitude. It just wasn't the same.
Steinman began producing. He turned Bonnie Tyler into a star and made Sisters of Mercy sound like the greatest band in the world - two astonishing feats. He helped Air Supply, Barbra Streisand and Barry Manilow, and Def Leppard who sacked him during the Hysteria sessions. Best of all was Original Sin by Pandora's Box in 1989 - four women singing the soundtrack to Armageddon - it's one of the great lost albums and the work of which Steinman is most proud. Ken Russell produced the video, reviews were rave and it flopped horrendously.
"If that had been successful," muses Sonenberg, "there would have been no Bat Out Of Hell II."
There was only one thing to do...
"We hadn't exactly been swapping recipes," understates Steinman. "I went over to his house Christmas 1989 and we sang Bat Out Of Hell on the piano. Working together again seemed like the cool thing to do."
Four years later, comes Bat Out Of Hell II. Guess who claims the credit?
"In the late 80's Meat Loaf asked me to manage him again," claims Sonenberg. "Me and Jim didn't have the inclination to get re-involved. Later, when Meat still couldn't get a deal, his management asked if Jim would write and produce an album. He agreed and Meat asked me to get a deal, which I did for a fee. Why would he do that if I'm such a viper?"
The new album could only be a work of magnificence - Steinman and his soul mate reunited. Yet its accompanying feeling of sheer panic detracts from the tub-thumping, breathtaking grandeur. There are four songs from Bad For Good, two from Original Sin. Hardly "new" as such.
"I'd have liked 11 new songs," admits Steinman.
"The Pandora's Box songs don't count," bellows Loaf. "It Just Won't Quit was written for me and Jim put it on Original Sin without telling me. I could have strangled him."
Todd Rundgren pops up again, as vocal arranger. Meat Loaf, not entirely unsurprisingly, has already fallen out with him.
"I went to his house to do background vocals and he was in such a foul mood I said 'Screw you' and left. In a work situation he's the worst human being possible: he gets very abusive and I don't choose to be around it. I have no animosity to Todd."
"Erm, I have had a tendency to convey my feelings that the songs were unnecessarily long," admits Rundgren. "Jim wants everything all the time and I run out of tricks after the first five minutes of a song."
"Todd Rundgren is one of the very few people I truly idolize," smiles Steinman as Loaf simmers. "He's a genius and I don't use that word lightly."
Now, on the eve of Bat Out Of Hell II's release, the pressure is enormous.
"There'd been so much politics and legal wrangling that Jim wasn't in a jolly mood," muses Rundgren. "The themes of the songs were darker because of the expectations this time around. I haven't heard the thing yet, though."
"It's a shame Meat Loaf is running this down," sighs Sonenberg. "I'm rooting for it, for my wife and children, for his wife and children."
"There's nothing like this," explains Steinman, Lord Of Excessive Hyperbole. "I believe that people will be enriched and thrilled by it."
"Jim doesn't know this," sighs Meat Loaf, "but a psychic told me that Jim has written his best stuff already and he'll never write like it again. If this doesn't do three or four million it'll be a cold day in hell before they let us do anther."
Jim Steinman remembers his other productions...
Barry Manilow: "He's very driven."
Bonnie Tyler: "A Welsh dairy maid with a lusty body."
Barbra Streisand: "She has beautiful breasts."
Air Supply: "The two most boring people I've ever met, but I found that mesmerizing."
Sisters Of Mercy: "Eldritch is very, very intelligent."
Def Leppard: "We were in Dublin and I was saying how great it was to be in the city of Yeats and Joyce - Joe Elliott said they hadn't met any of the local musicians yet."