R.I.P. Meat Loaf

Well, that inappropriately hilarious headline had to happen sometime, and if it sounds like Hazel burnt the dinner, the fault lies with the high school football coach of Dallas native Marvin Lee Aday (b. 1947), who gave him that nickname. (He was born “Marvin” though he later changed it legally to “Michael”. I guess he found “Marvin” embarrassing, though that reservation surely didn’t deter him from employing a professional name even more calculated to draw ridicule, as of course it did. Especially among the older generation back in the ’70s).

I didn’t spend hours listening to Meat Loaf records, although I liked his singles and loved his image. My main interest in him lies in the fact that he lived in the nexus between rock and theatre/film. Most of the eulogies today seem to be dwelling on his recording career, which is natural, but my focus will be a little different. Like Alice Cooper and Marilyn Manson, both of whom we’ve written about, Meat Loaf brought dark vaudeville to rock. I don’t know how much of a musical trailblazer he was, but I do think he was an IMAGE trailblazer. It is easy for me to think of many apples off his tree: Jack Black, Chris Farley, Sam Kinison, Ron Perlman as Hellboy, and my good buddy (and Aday’s fellow Texan) Corn Mo, have all always reminded me of Meat Loaf in one way or another. Though Meat Loaf wasn’t a comedian (as some of those I just named are or were primarily), he brought a high degree of melodrama to metal (or pseudo-metal if purists prefer) that is kind of inspirational. He was a big man who didn’t just cut loose, he laid it all on the line to move you, or for you to laugh at or recoil from. The reaction was yours to have, but he wasn’t hiding his lights under any bushel.

I had long thought his Elvis-like presence in The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) was stunt casting, due to the fact that I didn’t discover the movie (which had midnight showings at our local college cinema) until a couple of years AFTER the advent of his monster hit album Bat Out of Hell (1977) with its three hit singles “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad”, “You Took The Words Right Out of My Mouth” and “Paradise by the Dashboard Light”. (I am astounded to learn that the latter two tunes each only went to #39 on the pop charts. How do I know them so well? TV performances? Kids playing the LP at parties? I didn’t own his albums). At any rate, Meat Loaf’s post Rocky Horror fame surely helped the retroactive fortunes of the movie, as his character Eddie’s number “Hot Patootie — Bless My Soul” is a highlight. That glam/50’s rock revival thing was huge at the time. Meat Loaf would have been great in De Palma’s Phantom of the Paradise!

But the point is, musicals were Meat Loaf’s thing BEFORE and SIMULTANEOUS WITH his rock career. In high school he was in productions of Where’s Charley? and The Music Man; he was also a crowd extra in the 1962 version of State Fair. In the early ’70s he was in the L.A. production of Hair (as well as other regional productions of that show). He was also in an off-Broadway production of a show called Rainbow (1972) and then the 1973 L.A. version of The Rocky Horror Show, which led to his casting in the film. He also acted (and sang) in the Public Theater’s productions of More Than You Deserve and As You Like It with Raul Julia and Mary Beth Hurt in 1973 and 1974.

At the same time, Meat Loaf was already pursuing his recording career, making albums with people like Ted Nugent and singer Shaun Murphy (then known as Stoney). I am sharing the 1971 album cover above because it reminds me of the old-timey nostalgia period I wrote about here. It’s all about the costumes! After the record-setting success of Bat Out of Hell, came the film and LP Dead Ringer (1981) which didn’t do nearly as well, despite having a lead single (“Dead Ringer for Love”) with vocals by Cher (a kindred spirit in theatrical pop if ever there was one). Meat Loaf was also in numerous movies: Americathon (1979), Scavenger Hunt (1979), Roadie (1980), Out of Bounds (1986), The Squeeze (1987), Motorama (1991), Wayne’s World (1992), The Gun in Betty Lou’s Handbag (1992), and the Steve Martin comedy Leap of Faith (1992). Then came another burst of chart success with Bat Out of Hell II: Back Into Hell (1993) which yielded the #1 single “I Would Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That), as well as “Rock and Roll Dreams Come Through” (#13). Welcome to the Neighborhood (1995) also spawned a #13 single, the duet “I’d Lie for You (And That’s the Truth”) with Patti Russo.

Of his dozens of additional films the best known were in 1999, Crazy in Alabama and Fight Club. He co-starred with Michelle Williams in A Hole in One (2004), and made appearances in the Spice Girls movie Spiceworld: The Movie (1997) as well as Tenacious D: The Pick of Destiny (2007). Over the years he appeared on TV shows like Tales from the Crypt, South Park, Masters of Horror, Monk, Glee, Elementary, and even Ghost Hunters and (ugh) Celebrity Apprentice. He was a guest on SNL and Letterman. His last record was Braver Than We Are (2016). His last screen work was a recurring role on the TV show Ghost Wars (2017).

Is he bound for rock and roll heaven or his beloved hell? Actually a cartoon version of hell would BE his heaven, so let’s say he went there. And may the roasting be as painless as possible. (Addendum: it has emerged that he was an anti-vaxxer and he died of Covid related causes. It is for his Maker to determine his final destination.)