Reviewed by Angela Marie
‘ He could feel the intensity – sometimes he saw photographs of himself and saw the Meat Loaf character there, just under the skin…He liked to decompress after a show, spend some time alone and let the character fall away, but as he got more famous, people wouldn’t leave him alone…and the way he dealt with that was to stay in character…What the hell else was he supposed to damn well do with his time?’
Like a Bat out of Hell: The larger than life story of MEAT LOAF is so much more than the story of one man. It is a creation story. A story of Doctor Frankenstein forming his creature or the puppet master designing his puppet … in the beginning. Eventually the puppet wants a say. A story of Jim Steinman and Marvin Aday, and how, as if perched on a set of scales, there was no equilibrium. If one was up, the other was down.
Initially the reader meets the reclusive nocturnal Jim Steinman, eccentric and confident. Almost oblivious to others, with a lifetime of music behind him. Flashback to Dallas, Texas and JFK as the reader meets ‘poor fat Marvin’, the teenager from a difficult home, burdened with feelings of self loathing and worthlessness. This story is about the magic, the angst and the desperation that explode and implode when educated privilege meets directionless sadness. A complicated tale.
It is a story driven by the raw emotive yearning buried deep within. Enter Jim Steinman, New York born and bred, a fan of Wagnerian opera and its melodrama, and already writing and directing musical theatre whilst barely out of his teens. Following 1973’s audition for More Than You Deserve, he cast Marvin aka Meat Loaf in a role especially created for him. Steinman was not looking for the ordinary, the conventional. He was looking for the substance of his visions, dreams and nightmares. Meat Loaf had fallen apart following the passing of his mother and was looking to heal. And so began the journey towards Bat Out Of Hell.
Perhaps there was someone living a remote existence on an isolated mountain top in the Kimberleys who was not familiar at the time with at least one single off the album Bat Out Of Hell. Released in 1977, Bat soared in Australia and the UK with the singles You Took the Words Right Out of My Mouth, Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad and Paradise by the Dashboard Light, and continued a slow and steady burn elsewhere to sell in excess of 43 million albums worldwide, becoming one of the best-selling albums of all time. But there was trouble in paradise and, as we know, Rock and Roll Dreams (do not always) Come Through. Jim Steinman conceptualised the Bat album, wrote the lyrics and music, and expected equal acknowledgement on the album cover. The record company tagged Songs by Jim Steinman onto the cover in shrunk down print and unremarkable font, causing anguish that would last forever. Jim directed the stage show, the costume of the beast, the theatrics and played keyboards on tour. In Australia, he was asked to step aside at a press conference so that photographs could be taken of Meat Loaf and the female lead, Karla DeVito. Genius denied. Revenge plotted.
Like a Bat out of Hell is a complex tale. It is told from multiple perspectives and across decades, with two starring characters recalling and explaining fifty years of collaboration and non-collaboration, and featuring dozens of support players. It weaves through the good times for Meat Loaf, the successful tours, the adoring fans filling Wembley, the number one hits, both single and album. It weaves through the desolate years where success was difficult to recapture, where the stadiums shrank down to clubs and lounges. It is a story of Steinman and Meat Loaf uniting, breaking apart and reuniting, and then birthing the success that was I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That) from Bat Out Of Hell II. It tells of the legal battles and pain.
Like a Bat out of Hell merges the world of touring and recording with the real world. We see Meat Loaf falling in love with Lesley and becoming a family man and father. Will their relationship be sustained? Is there a happily ever after for Jim and Marvin and their seemingly symbiotic relationship? This book makes excellent reading for the music fan. Though lengthy it is not drawn out, but crammed with interesting anecdotes and side stories. Who knew that in the chain of profits from records, the artist is the last to be paid, perhaps waiting twenty years for the royalties to come in? Who knew that Jim Steinman also wrote Bonnie Tyler’s Total Eclipse of the Heart, Celine Dion’s It’s All Coming Back to Me Now and Air Supply’s Making Love Out of Nothing at All? A sample from many and covered by many.
The supporting cast draws from far and wide. Todd Rundgren, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Ellen Foley, John Belusi, Brad Pitt, Helena Bonham Carter. Members of the E Street Band, The Who, Barbra Streisand. The manager supporting his lifestyle by big-time drug running. Hard to stop listing. The stories add layers of depth to what we read, blending together mere mortals and stars.
To believe the stories we have to believe the biographer, British music journalist, Mick Wall. LIKE A BAT OUT OF HELL is not footnoted and quotes are freely dispersed, yet there is an authenticity to the tale given the author’s strong voice and his years of interactions with Meat Loaf and Jim Steinman through interviews and conversations and the extensive research he tasked himself with. There is empathy with the struggles of Meat Loaf and Jim Steinman, and acknowledgement of Meat Loaf’s sensitive heart and Jim’s true genius. An understanding of Meat Loaf’s love of performing and acting and how that allowed him to morph away from himself. Yet the tale can tell it like it is. It is worthwhile to read the Notes and Sources pages where further reading is recommended for the ardent fan.
Like a Bat out of Hell reminds us that we are all subject to the pushes and pulls experienced in life’s journey. It tells that fame and fortune do not necessarily bestow happiness and contentment. That egos are fragile and volatile. That rock stars and creatives are human too.
Mick Wall has been credited as the world’s most eminent writer on rock and metal, beginning his career in 1977. In 1979 he formed a PR company, Heavy Publicity, and began press campaigns for Black Sabbath, Dire Straits, and REO Speedwagon among others. Mick Wall has founded magazines, presented television and radio shows, blogs and podcasts, and appeared on shows and documentaries. He has partied hard with the stars and written about this semi-autobiographically. He has written more than twenty biographies, with subjects ranging from The Doors to Prince and Guns N’ Roses to Foo Fighters and AC/DC and Metallica. Et cetera. Long may he write – a giant walking the Earth.
By Mick Wall
ISBN (Trade Paperback) 978 1 4091 7353 3
ISBN (eBook) 978 1 4091 7354 0