Author Ken Sharp pieced together a few interviews he had done with Meat Loaf, who passed away January 20, 2022 at 74, for a perspective of how larger-than-life he was as an entertainer.
When did you first realize you had a good voice?
People would tell me when I was in the play Hair that I had a good voice. But really the first time that really happened in a major way was when we did a showcase for a Michael Weller play and Joe Papp stuck the song “More Than You Deserve” written by (Jim) Steinman into this showcase. The showcase theater only held a hundred people but that first night those hundred people stood on their feet and wouldn’t stop applauding. Joe Papp did a lot of showcases and a lot of the scripts didn’t have titles. This was called “The Vietnam Project” and because of the song “More Than You Deserve” the play was later titled More Than You Deserve. That’s when I felt I had a connection with this songwriter, Jim Steinman. I never think I’m good (laughs); I always think it’s the other person.
You have a background in theater with Hair, More Than You Deserve, Rainbow and The Rocky Horror Picture Show among others.
Now don’t forget, Othello, As You Like It and there’s a ton more. My background with that kind of stuff started when I was a sophomore in high school in drama and musicals. In college I took Constitutional Law, History, Drama, (laugh) Speech Therapy, Improv, Music Appreciation—that class I got thrown out of. (laughs) When you’re in acting they have classes to help you prepare for auditions. I’ve always been a story teller and that’s kind of what I do. My “Storytellers” tour was one of my best tours ever. I was the only artist ever that VH1 asked to do a “Storytellers” tour. I agreed and went out on a “VH1 presents Meat Loaf Storytellers tour.” We did almost 70 shows and that was an unbelievable tour. So this Vegas residency rolled back around and is kind of a spin into that vibe. But with this new show there’s a lot more dimensions that are added than just the “Storytellers” concept. I get to do my characters; I get to do the songs; I get to tell the stories and I get to do it in a different way. And no show’s ever the same. If you come to see one of my shows in Vegas you have to see it three, four or five times because it’s different every time. I have never in my entire life had a “paint by numbers” show. Everything changes each night.
Did your background in theater influence the manner in which you inhabit and interpret the material you sing?
Of course it has. As a singer I put my own slant and interpretation on things. I’ve done 59 films and I’ve never asked a writer what they intended for that film. I even did an Arthur Miller script and he was on the set and I wouldn’t dare ask him what he intended for the film. He came to me at lunch and said, “I like what you’re doing with my character.” That was one of the highlights of my career as an actor when you get Arthur Miller leaning over to you at lunch going, “Good job, I like what you’re doing my character.” It can’t get any better than that. In terms of the music, I’ve never asked (Jim) Steinman what he wrote a song about; I’ve never asked any writer of any song I’ve recorded that they wrote a song about. And I would never tell you what I intended on a song because that’s up to the listener. The worst thing that can happen is when you hear, “I wrote this about when I broke up with my girlfriend Sally. I was in such terrible turmoil and this whole album is about that breakup.” Fuck you, I don’t care! Then you go to the other side of things and the girl writes, “I ran over my cat with my green pickup truck and I wrote this song about that.” Oh, please don’t tell me that, I don’t wanna know that! (laughs) I’ve never heard Don Henley explain what “Hotel California” is really about. I’m a huge fan of The Eagles and Don Henley and have read interview after interview and he’s never once mentioned why he wrote it and what he wrote it about. It’s my song; it doesn’t belong to Don Henley. “Hotel California” belongs to me. And the same thing goes for the fans who own my records. I don’t own those songs; they do. There’s that old saying, “Every actor is born to play a role”. Okay, let’s look at that, (Al) Pacino, Godfather, (Laurence) Olivier, Richard the III, (Robert) DeNiro, Taxi Driver. James Gandolfini was born to do The Sopranos. Every actor was born to do a role. We can go on and on. As an actor, I still haven’t found the role I was made to play in a film or a TV series. If you look at musicians like Bruce Springsteen, to me it’s Born to Run. I was obviously born to do Bat Out of Hell.
If you’re riding in a car and a song of yours comes on the radio, do you listen or do you turn the channel as quickly as possible?
I’ll listen to it if it’s not the song “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad”.
‘Cause “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad” is sped up and I sound like friggin’ from The Chipmunks. I’ll listen to the song “Bat Out of Hell” but I won’t listen to “Paradise By the Dashboard Light” for too long.
Being the artist, when you hear your music on the radio can you listen objectively or is it a case of “I wish I would have sung that part differently”?
Once something is locked in that’s it. Anybody who says, “I wish I would have changed that” is wrong and I’ll explain to you why. You can sit there and say, “Oh God, I shouldn’t have done that” but you learn from that; if something like that ever happens again you can remember it. You know why you didn’t do that the first time? You didn’t know to. It’s like if you ever have an argument with somebody and you walk away and go, “Man, I should have said that” Well, the next time you have an argument with somebody say that but at the time you didn’t know to say that. It’s called learning and it’s called education. I don’t think you should ever regret a moment nor can you ever say “I should have done this.” The only thing I should have ever done relates to a painting by Childe Hassam, one of the great American impressionists, and I could have bought it for sixty grand. But the woman at Sotheby’s told me, “Don’t chase it” and she was wrong. And that’s the one regret in my life that I didn’t buy my Childe Hassam painting when I could have. That same painting that I could have bought it for sixty grand sold for three million ten years later. But I don’t care about the value, that’s not what’s important to me. I would never have sold it.
When did you first realize that Bat Out of Hell wasn't just a hit record but a phenomenon?
That happened when I performed on Saturday Night Live in 1978, thanks to John (Belushi) and Gilda (Radner). Listen, you never do anything by yourself. The lobbying of Walter Yetnikoff from my label CBS and the fact that Gilda and John and I were very good friends is what made it happen. John and Gilda had lobbied the entire year to get me on the show and they finally did. John basically held my hand throughout the whole experience because he knew I was terrified. I’m terrified of performing on TV. So he put me in his dressing room and told me not to move and he’d come in and check on me and make sure I didn’t leave. When I was singing, Gilda and John were standing by each side of the camera showing their support for me. They were very good friends of mine. The moment my appearance on Saturday Night Live went out on the airwaves that pushed the record into overdrive. That week Bat Out of Hell sold almost a hundred thousand copies.
That’s amazing as the show certainly doesn’t wield the same power today.
No, that’s right, it doesn’t anymore but it did have that power for the first four years. Back then if you went on Saturday Night Live you could guarantee your record would sell fifty thousand copies.
Is it true you met Elvis in the mid-70s?
Yeah, that’s absolutely true. He came to see the stage version of The Rocky Horror Picture Show at The Roxy. He asked to see me and Tim Curry after the show. That meeting happened in the private room over The Rainbow. He wanted to meet me and Tim. I walked right up to him and he asked me a question and all I did was shake my head. He asked, “I hear that everybody else had been impersonating me when they did the character of ‘Eddie’ but you didn’t.” I did answer that because that was an actor question so I was capable of answering that one. I said, “There’s no point in me imitating you because it would be impossible.” There have been four people I couldn’t talk to—Elvis, John Lennon, Frank Sinatra—although I had some things prepared to have talked to him about—and Jason Robards. I sat next to Lennon in a coffee shop in New York City—I even remember the address, it was 919 Third Avenue--and asked him to pass the Sweet & Low. I’d recognized his voice. I’d been sitting there for ten minutes trying to think of something to ask him and everything I thought of I went, “Nah, that’s stupid, I can’t ask him that.” The only thing I said to him was “Thanks for passing the Sweet & Low” (laughs) and he said, “You’re welcome.” Then with Jason Robards, everybody in my band knew I was absolutely crazy about this guy as an actor. He was standing fifteen feet from me waiting for a car and everybody in my band was encouraging me to go and talk to him and I said, “I can’t talk to him! I can’t think of anything to say and anything I would say is gonna be stupid.” They said, “Go talk to him, he won’t think you’re stupid” and I said, “Oh yes he will” and then he left.
Are there any contemporary artists you enjoy?
Oh, I don’t pay any attention to music; I hate music. (laughs) The only time I listen to music is if an artist comes out that I think is interesting like Bruno Mars. I heard some of his stuff and thought he was good so I downloaded an album and now I’ve got everything he’s done. I wanted to move out of and I didn’t want to go where it was cold and now it’s cold. (laughs) I hate cold; I want someplace where it’s not cold! (laughs)
Away from music, what keeps you busy?
I never stop working. If you think I’m not working I’m working. I’m constantly creating something. In my off period when I was home, I listened to all eighteen shows we did last time in Vegas probably three times; listening back, changing things and moving things around and making adjustments to make the show better. The only way to do that is to constantly work on it. You have to keep working. If you don’t work on something it’s not gonna improve and it’s not gonna get better. So I spend a lot of time working plus I’m also going through arrangements on songs and dealing with Jimmy (Steinman) on stuff. I also read scripts and work on characters as well. I never stop and I never take a break.