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Meat Loaf Remembers Jim Steinman: ‘He Was the Centerpiece of My Life’

In an emotional, two-day interview, Meat Loaf looks back at the ups and downs of his five-decade saga with the writer of his biggest hits. “We belonged heart and soul to each other,” he says. “We didn’t know each other. We were each other”

Jim Steinman (left) with singer Meat Loaf in 1978

Michael Putland/Getty Images

Jim Steinman was such a titanic figure in Meat Loaf’s life, that sharing their saga in a single phone call to Rolling Stone after Steinman’s death simply was not possible. It took two long calls across two days to get it across, and at the end of the first one, Meat Loaf broke down and sobbed uncontrollably over the loss of his friend. “Oh my God!” he moaned. “I haven’t cried until now. It just hit me. Oh my God! It’s horrible!”

But he stayed remarkably calm for the rest of the interview, tracing their incredible saga from the initial meeting at a New York theater in 1973 to the creation of their 1977 collaborative LP Bat Out of Hell to the difficult years that followed and their final moments together earlier this year. “Since I met Jim, he has been the centerpiece to my life,” Meat Loaf says. “And I was always the centerpiece of his. Jim couldn’t do anything or go anywhere that I wasn’t with him or I wasn’t there. Anything he did, they talked about me. Anything I did, they talked about Jim. And I didn’t care. I wanted that.” The singer reminisced about his personal and musical relationship with Steinman.

I met Jim Steinman at the Public Theater in New York when I auditioned for his musical More Than You Deserve. I sang a Motown-style song called “(I’d Love to Be) As Heavy as Jesus.” I didn’t know him. He didn’t know me. But when I was done, he walked by me and said, “By the way, you’re as heavy as two Jesuses.”

But then he said, “Can you wait here? I need to get some more people.” About 30 minutes later, he came back with 16 people, including the casting director and Joe Papp, the head of the theater. They asked me to be a part of this showcase they were doing to preview the musical. They gave me $125 a week, which was enough to pay my rent and have groceries.

When we started, we only played to about 100 people a night. When I sang Jim’s song, everyone stood on their feet and went crazy. That happened every night, all week. By the end, I was going, “Maybe I should work with this guy Steinman. People tell me I can sing, but I’ve never sang like that.”

When the play finally opened, the audience went berserk every time I sang “More Than You Deserve.” Paul Shaffer was the musical director. One night, they started to chant, ”More! More! More!” I was shell-shocked, but Paul looked at me and mouthed the word “chorus.” I went out there and sang the chorus again. Mary Beth Hurt was in the play also. She said to me, “We’ve never seen anything like that.”

Everybody was saying to Jim, “You have to work with Meat.” And everyone was saying to me, “You have to work with Jim.” I was all for it, but there was this gentleman named Kim Milford. I was in the Rocky Horror Picture Show with him and we worked together in the musical Rockabye Hamlet. He was good-looking and skinny with long, blond hair. He looked like a rock star. I didn’t look like a rock star. Jim initially wanted to work with him, but he was eventually talked into working with me.

Around this time, I got a job in the National Lampoon road show understudying John Belushi. And I got Jim a job as the piano player in the show. I said to Jim, “Listen, we’re going out on the road. Let’s sit together and write a pop song.” We’d meet in the afternoons at the theaters because they always had a piano. “You Took the Words Right Out of My Mouth” came together then. My input was more arrangement, methods, a word or two here and there. My job was to make the songs focused, the same way you’d get a character focused. Every song was a character. I’d get Jim to add a word, change the melody.

Nobody knows this, but “Paradise By The Dashboard Light” was my song. It was about a girl named Renee Allen, who I went out with. We’d park somewhere and she’d, in so many words, say “stop right there.” And I had a 1963 Red Galaxie Convertible that I worked to buy. It had the “Dashboard of Doom.” And I told Jim this story sitting in front of his apartment.

My girlfriend was Ellen Foley and I wanted her to sing on the record and I wanted Jim to write a duet. That’s where “Paradise” came from. Anyway, I was in Rockabye Hamlet and then National Lampoon. When it stopped, I said, “Jim, I can’t take any more shows. You can’t either. We have to move forward on this record.” This was the beginning of 1975. And for the next few months, I had saved up enough money, Jim had saved up enough money. I thought by May we would have a record deal. That didn’t happen.

We auditioned for people all over town, but they’d say to me, “We want to sign you to our label, but you gotta get rid of this guy.” In the meantime, to augment the money, we were playing small supper clubs around New York for 60 people a night. We played downtown at a place called Reno Sweeney several times. They put speakers out on the street and pulled the grate down in front of their door because they couldn’t get more people inside. We even sold out Carnegie Hall.

People kept saying, “Listen, this guy Steinman, you can’t be with him. You’re too good.” I went, “You people have no idea. You’re in the music business and you’re telling me that? You people don’t know what you’re talking about. This guy is an absolute genius. And me and him together, we’re an unstoppable force.” Clive Davis was the worst. He told us in his office how bad we were. He said, “You don’t know how to write a song.” And people just wanted to sign me. In the meantime, they’d call me up and I did the lead vocals on Ted Nugent’s record. They wanted me to go with Nugent and REO Speedwagon, all these people. I went, “Stop it! This is not happening! I’m not leaving Jim!” They go, “Then you’ll never make a record.”

“When I sang Jim’s song, everyone stood on their feet and went crazy. That happened every night, all week.”

I’ve never told this story, but Jim is gone now and it’s time: We had finished the demos in 1975 when he called me one night. He said, “There’s this guy down here at the Bottom Line.” He didn’t even say “Bruce Springsteen.” It was just “a guy.” This is 11 p.m. at night. He said, “There’s a guy doing what we do down here at the Bottom Line. You have to come down and see the second show.” I said, “Jim, I’m not going to come down there in the middle of the night.”

I didn’t go. Jim stayed for both shows. And Jim thought that [E Street Band keyboardist] Roy Bittan was legitimate. I guess Jim liked Springsteen. He felt Roy Bittan was one of the best piano players in the world and he wanted him on this record. He said, “This guy is better than me.”

And so we finally make the album and Todd Rundgren produces it. It took off because Walter Yetnikoff at CBS believed in it and a program director in Buffalo, New York named Sandy Beach put it on because in “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad” there’s the line, “you’ll never find gold on a sandy beach.” Also, John Belushi helped us get on Saturday Night Live in May 1978.

Saturday Night Live broke the egg and Bat Out of Hell spilled out all over the world. We went from selling no records at the end of May to being five times platinum. From that point on, I was always at 11. I would get up, go the morning radio, go to soundcheck, do interviews, do the show, sometimes go to a radio station after the show. I’d go to the Rocky Horror Picture Show screenings. I tried to get Jim to go with me everywhere we went, to every radio station and every interview. He did a lot at first, but he got tired. I just kept going.

I should stop now and talk a little about Jim. He was generous beyond scope, but he was also selfish. He’d have 18 dozen donuts and I’d go, “Can I have one of those donuts?” He’d be like, “Oh, I don’t know about that.” And then we’d be talking about a big screen TV, and next thing I know, one was delivered on Christmas Day.

I had lunch with his mother sometime in ’74 or ’75. His mother looked at me and put her hand on my arm and said, “You know my son better than I do.” I said, “I don’t think so.” But now? I probably do.

People always write about how much we fought, but that’s just not true. We only ever had one argument. André De Shields had sang “For Crying Out Loud” before me. I never asked Jimmy what he wrote about. He never told me how to perform it.

But on this day, he said, “Andre DeShields did this.” We were at a hotel on 74th and Broadway in a rehearsal room. I didn’t say anything at first.  But then I took the piano and turned it on its side. His feet were still on the pedals. He said, “What do we do now?” I said, “I got chewing gum.” And we put the piano back down, put the pedalboard back in, and held it in place with my chewing gum, and left. I said, “By the way, Jim. Don’t ever tell me how someone else sang the song!” He goes, “I know that now.”

By the way, I will argue with anyone that wants to argue with me on this point: I dare them. “Crying Out Loud” is the best love song in history.  Please come and argue with me on this point. I’ll take you down every time.

I sang every song we ever did in character. I left me. I was not method. I didn’t have to find something in my past life to be able to sing his songs.  I became the song and he saw the ability for me to become the song.

“You can’t just have a great voice and sing a Jim Steinman song. You have to become a Jim Steinman song.”

The critics hated us. When somebody would write a bad review, like Dave Marsh in Rolling Stone, I know it poked a hole in his heart. But he would never show it. He’d never give it away. Somebody would praise him, he wouldn’t acknowledge it. But it would heal the hole somebody else put there.

For us, success was a lot harder to deal with than failure. When Bat Out of Hell broke big, I had a nervous breakdown. I lost my voice when I was working on the songs for the next record. And I felt abandoned by Jim at that moment.

At the same time, Jim felt abandoned by me. But he wanted to have his own record. Really, he wanted to be a celebrity. He didn’t want to abandon me, but he thought that people didn’t know what he did with Bat out of Hell. It wasn’t so much me, but when [backup singer] Karla DeVito started to get some attention, he wanted some too. Jim wanted the world to know, “Hey, I helped create this.”

Jim released [the solo album] Bad For Good [in 1981]. It didn’t do well and he created a lot of enemies in the process. When I recorded my album Midnight at the Lost and Found in 1983 with [producer] Tom Dowd, we were told that we couldn’t record any songs by Jim Steinman. Jim had written “Total Eclipse of The Heart” for me, but we couldn’t record it. He gave it to Bonnie Tyler. I don’t hold any grudges against Bonnie. She didn’t know. And she understood the song and it enveloped her. She did a fantastic job.

But what Barbra Streisand [who sang Steinman’s “Left In The Dark”] and Barry Manilow [who sang “Read ’em and Weep”] didn’t understand is that you can’t just have a great voice and sing a Jim Steinman song. You have to become a Jim Steinman song. You have to be the song. You don’t sing the song. You are the song.

Anyway, Jim and I got back together in 1984. I was recording for RCA at the Power Station. Jim was working on something there and we started hanging out and talking. Jim said, “I think it’s time we did another record.” I said, “I agree.” It took us until 1993 to get there, but that’s okay. Look how long it took us to do Bat Out of Hell. When the second one was done, the label was like, “Great, ‘Rock and Roll Dreams Come Through’ is the single.” We turned around and said, “No, that’s not the single. Are you nuts? ‘I Would Do Anything For Love’ is the single.’” It took a lot of arguing to get them to agree.

I couldn’t say this before, but he was going to do Bat Out of Hell III with me before he got sick. He was sick a lot longer than people knew. It was at least 13 years ago that he had a stroke. He had open heart surgery, triple bypass, and he just couldn’t do Bat III.

But we were never apart even though we were apart. We never lost each other. We also never sued each other, no matter what people write. It’s a fuckin’ lie to say otherwise. I never sued Jim. Jim never sued me. Our managers sued each other. But my heart never sued Jim. And I know Jim’s heart never sued me.

“We belonged heart and soul to each other. We didn’t know each other. We were each other.”

As he got sicker, he turned to me more and more. I kept wanting to go see him, but he’d be in the hospital for a surgery or I’d be on the road. I was trying to make a living. I was trying to support my family. I was always on the road because I never got any royalties. Only in the last few years, when my health took a dive, did I go see Jim. When we got together, I made him happy. I made him laugh. And his nurse would call and I’d talk to him on the phone via FaceTime during Covid. His brain was there. He was trapped inside a body. For somebody like that, he was very spirited. He held it together. But it was hard because he was so weak.

We must have talked on FaceTime 12 times in the past year, but I couldn’t go see him because he was worried about Covid and it’s hard for me to go anywhere with my back issues.

After he died, his nurse, Mary Beth, left me a message saying how much he loved me. She said I was the one person he needed more than anyone else in his life. I don’t want to die, but I may die this year because of Jim. I’m always with him and he’s right here with me now. I’ve always been with Jim and Jim has always been with me.

We belonged heart and soul to each other. We didn’t know each other. We were each other.

From Rolling Stone US