‘They’re scared to death of me!” growls Meat Loaf, from his couch in a suite at a Boston hotel. “The corporate world is frightened!”
Who? Why? What’s got Meat steamed now?
Commercial endorsements. It seems that in a world where the once proudly disreputable Rolling Stones are paid millions by Microsoft, there’s nobody out there in the corporate environment willing to draft Meat Loaf as its spokesman. This is a problem Alice Cooper once moaned about, too, but a fate he finally accepted: “What could I endorse except, maybe, Halloween candy?”
As to Meat … “I’ll tell you what it comes from,” the large, long-haired Loaf reasons. “People take pictures of me live, and they see the sweat … and sometimes they get me confused with Ozzy Osbourne. Although they loved him for a minute until he bit the head off a bat.”
Ah, but Meat Loaf is not unloved. Not anymore. Not by the masses. Sure, he had a fallow period - hell, more than a decade - between “Bat Out of Hell” and “Bat Out of Hell II: Back Into Hell” - where he couldn’t sell much of anything as record, although, consummate pro that he is, still put on show-and-a-half in concert.
But his, uh, meat and potatoes have been the “Hell” albums. Together, they’ve sold more than 40 million copies around the world. Before the second “Hell” album, Meat Loaf’s carnivorous critics had carved him up and and left him for dead. A relic of the bombastic ‘70s. An answer a trivia question: Who played Eddie in “The Rocky Horror Picture Show”?
Meat Loaf did not gloat at all about his second coming in 1993, and he does not assume that his latest album, “Welcome to the Neighborhood,” will be an automatic best seller, either. He’s aiming, primarily, to meet his own rather exacting standards. “I think the album is good,” he says, “and the response to (the first single) ‘I’d Lie For You (And That’s the Truth)’ is outstanding. Every song had to be 100 percent.
Actually, Meat Loaf was very nearly in big trouble as the album neared its release. His record company, MCA, wanted to call this record “Escape From Hell.”
Meat Loaf weighed the options, considered the consequences, and came to a decision on it: His new album would not be called “Escape From Hell.” If they insisted, he said, fine, I quit.
Nope. “I freaked,” Meat says. “My wife thought my head was going to explode. I was really, really angry.”
This is no ruse. MCA initially announced the release of the album using the “Escape From Hell” title. For a promotional party at the Hard Rock Cafe in Boston, MCA stuck little cardboard display ads for the new Meat Loaf album, “Escape From Hell,” on tables.
“I called my business manager,” Meat says. “I called management. I told my wife, I sat my kids down. I said, ‘Your father is retiring.’ And they go, ‘Aren’t you making a mistake?’ I said, ‘No, because this is the wrong title. It gives the wrong image of me. It gives the wrong image of the record. And if this record company wants this title, they can have it, but they don’t have me.’ I was dead serious.”
A minor, semantics issue? Not to Meat, for whom hell was a little too familiar a stomping ground. Hell, Meat Loaf thought, it was too easy, too dumb, too self-derivative.
“I told them, ‘I don’t like this title,”’ he says. “‘It looks like all I care about is selling this record and anything with “Hell” in it will sell if it’s got a Meat Loaf title on it.’ I said, ‘I’m not going to sell out,’ because I felt like I was selling out, and the only reason I’m making this record is to sell more.”
Meat Loaf and MCA went back and forth, head to head. Finally, Meat won and now it’s “Welcome to the Neighborhood.”
The irony, perhaps, is that “Welcome to the Neighborhood,” boasts 12 songs that hew to the hooky, bombastic, mock-operatic pop-rock form of the “Hell” albums. Then again, this has always been Meat Loaf’s metier. In Meat’s words, “Everything Louder Than Everything Else.”
In the world of rock criticism, bombast is usually cited as a great sin. In Meat Loaf’s world, it’s sonic putty. He’ll bring the word up in conversation if you don’t. Think of Phil Spector or Bruce Springsteen’s “Born To Run” album and you’ve got an idea of Meat Loaf’s ideal sound.
“Welcome to the Neighborhood” wasn’t, as the “Hell” records were, a collaboration with composer Jim Steinman. “It’s a collaboration with a whole mess of people,” says Meat. Steinman is in there in bits, but he was the one who suggested ace songwriter Dianne Warren, who helped immensely. “I had the seed,” says Meat, of the concept. “I didn’t plant it. She planted it. She watered it, grew it.” Meat Loaf’s role, he explains, is to edit, make corrections. He sees his songs in dramatic, cinematic terms.
“I watch a movie and I go, ‘It would be great if there was a character that came in here and did that inside the movie,”’ he says. “My movies are a lot better. I invent characters that come in … incredible characters.”
Those characters inhabit the songs. They encounter all sorts of life-or-death, make-or-break dilemmas. They encounter danger, sleaze, passion. Meat Loaf can, and will, go on forever in discussing these characters, their motivations, their hopes and dreams. After one particularly impassioned monologue, the obvious question comes up: Don’t you drive yourself crazy?
“No,” he says. “I absolutely love it. I sit around and do it constantly. I do this constantly.” (Just as Meat Loaf has met no chorus that doesn’t bear repetition, so is he with his thoughts.) “I’m never bored. People go, ‘How can you not be bored?’ The only time I get bored is when I’m so tired I can’t think.”
Is there a concept to this album? “There is, but there’s not,” says Meat. “Because when all is said and done, I can’t remember what it was. … I think of a script, but one where it falls three-quarters in and I’ve got another quarter left to talk about and three quarters in front of it to deal with. So here we go. And I’m constantly changing it to fit what I hear.”
The songs go on forever. Meat Loaf - who has seen no song he cannot stretch - is a man for the CD age where up to 80 minutes of music can be compressed on one disc. “I actually have a song on this album that’s 3:58 and you know what,” he says, with a laugh, “I told them their clocks were wrong. I said, ‘That’s impossible.’ I saw it and said, ‘Did we edit that song?’ And they said, ‘No.’ I said ‘I don’t make songs that are 3:58 long. Figure out a way to make it four and a half.”’
The liner notes, they go on forever, too. Among the zillions thanked are the Yankees and two Patriots, Matt Bahr and Drew Bledsoe - hey, a McDonald’s spokesman! - Motley Crew’s Nikki Sixx, a guy who runs a pinball arcade, Meat Loaf’s slow pitch softball team (“We lost the championship! Every run was unearned, I had thrown three shutouts and a one-hitter”) and his “throat guy” Dr. Lane.
Meat Loaf: A man who is as subtle as a flying mallet. There are those who hate him for that. There are those who love him for that. Meat Loaf understands both positions. But he is not going to budge from his perch at the top of the mountain of excess: More. Louder. Bigger. Deeper.
Like, he’s going to change so he could snare a McDonald’s ad?
Although when you think of it, wouldn’t that work?
“I don’t want $200 million,” he says. “But, you know, my daughter’s got two more years left in college and I see commercials and I think … it drives me crazy.”
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