From geeks to housewives, Meat Loaf spoke to everyone

I think somebody somewhere must be tolling a bell. Less than a week ago, I was driving my young family down the M4 and my wife, in charge of the music, was taking requests. “I’ve got a request,” I said. “Put on Bat Out Of Hell.” And, over her protests, I really cranked it up. Five minutes into the song, she asked if she could put something else on. No. She asked again after seven minutes: “It does go on a bit…” I was not about to yield. We played the whole, glorious thing.  

This morning, listening to it again, having heard the news of Meat Loaf’s death, my eyes really did mist with tears. I have loved Meat Loaf since I was 11 or 12 for the same reason, I think, that I have loved Marvel comics and the work of Stephen King: the broad strokes of the emotional paintbrush, the ease with absurdity, the built-in nostalgia, the wildly romantic worldview and the sheer brio of the style. He was still in the charts, back then – singing, with characteristic hammering urgency: “Gimme the future! Gimme the future! Gimme the future with a modern girl!” 

Meat Loaf was never cool. He was never good looking. He was never, ostensibly, deep and meaningful. Rather, he took the profoundest human themes – sex, death, damnation, sex, motorcycles and sex – and treated them with the absurd over-the-topness that you can only elsewhere find in grand opera. Guilty pleasures be damned: that is all the joy and life-force you could want or need. 

That’s why Meat Loaf outlasts the cool stuff – because cool wears off. Typically, the songs that you identified wholeheartedly with in your adolescence, the ones you cried to alone in darkened rooms – because nobody takes themselves more seriously than a teenager – are the songs that make you cringe now. Yet Meat Loaf has his cake and, as you’d expect from a man that shape, eats it. He evokes and celebrates the intensity of those teenage feelings – but he also gives you a giant wink as he does it. 

I think that’s what makes his adolescent songs of love and lust, in their way, properly grown-up. Think of the wry double-perspective in the Paradise By The Dashboard Light trilogy, which tells the story of a boy so desperate to get his leg over in a parked car that he promises the object of his affections that he’ll love her till the end of time. Part three finds him – because, no cad, he keeps his promises – “waiting for the end of time… so I can end my time with you”.  

“If I gotta be damned, you know I wanna be damned! Dance into the night! Dance into the night! Dance into the night with you!” Doctor Faustus never sounded that cheerful. The great ruffled Liberace shirts and velvet suits, the pantomime Gothic imagery delivered with passionate intensity… Meat was the high-camp rock and roll equivalent of Saturday afternoon wrestling. It was entirely natural that Richard O’Brien should have recruited him for The Rocky Horror Picture Show: as “Eddy”, in leather jacket and Pickelhaube, he rides a motorcycle out of a walk-in freezer to sing “Hot Patootie, bless my soul, I really love that rock and roll!” before Tim Currie murders him with a pickaxe.

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