FIRST AND FOREMOST, MEAT Loaf is a sports nut. Even the title of his new album, The Monster Is Loose, is a sports metaphor: “When Mike Piazza was on the Mets in ’99 and having a terrible slump,” says Loaf, “that’s what their scout would yell at him to lift his spirits.” But The Monster Is Loose is more commonly referred to as Bat Out of Hell III, the third installment in the over-the-top rock opera that debuted in 1977 and vaulted Meat Loaf, who had achieved modest success in the musicals Hair and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, to international stardom. (Bat Out of Hell I and II have sold nearly 50 million copies worldwide.) Loaf has done his best to honor the spirit of the original, bringing back collaborators like Todd Rundgren and songwriter Jim Steinman – seven of Steinman’s tunes, including the 1996 Celine Dion hit “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now,” appear on Monster. The album rocks even harder with contributions from Mötley Crüe’s Nikki Sixx and Queen’s Brian May. Loaf, 59, checks in from London, after just slaying a crowd at the Royal Albert Hall, and he’s dying to know who won game seven of the National League Championship Series.
Back in the day, what did your parents think of the nickname Meat Loaf ?
My dad started it – when I first learned to walk, my name was Meat. And if you look in my old yearbooks, they say Meat Loaf everywhere. When I did Hair in ’69, no one asked me where I got the name. We had just come out of the Sixties, and everyone was still on acid until ’76. It wasn’t until I did the first interview for Bat Out of Hell that somebody asked about my name, and I said, “I’ve been called that for twenty-eight years! What’s wrong with you?” [Laughs]
Your shows are so theatrical — did you grow up listening to musicals?
My mother loved Oklahoma and Carousel. To be perfectly honest, when I was a kid I didn’t even know who Chuck Berry was. I was more into football. If you sum up my influences as a kid, it’s Oklahoma, Carousel and Johnny Unitas. Musicals and football. And if you look at my stage performances, that’s kind of what it’s like: a football team with music.
What concerts that you’ve seen have a similar energy?
You have to go a long way back: the Who in 1968 at the Grande Ballroom, after I opened for them with my first band; Joplin at Cal State Northridge in early ’68; then I opened for Hendrix, which was absolutely mind-boggling; Springsteen in Asbury Park and Buffalo Springfield at the Aquarius Theater. Those guys attacked it, like, “We’re gonna fuckin’ give you a show!” The rest of them, I go in and get disappointed in how they take the stage – like, “OK, I’m here, worship me!”
That reminds me of something you said recently – that you went to therapy in the Eighties to “get over myself.”
[Laughs] I did. I’m not built to be a celebrity. I met Elvis and John Lennon, and I was an idiot, a complete moron. I think of myself as a plumber. In 1978 I was prepared to do the shows, but I wasn’t prepared for everybody coming up to me, like, “I’m your best friend and always have been.” And I wasn’t ready for the criticism and rejection. I’m not thick-skinned.
I read somewhere that the first Bat Out of Hell somehow morphed out of Peter Pan. How’d that happen?
Good question. A demented mind. It has to be Jim Steinman and his desire to be a Lost Boy, to never grow up. That’s everyone’s desire. But you have to admit that the entertainment business keeps you younger than any other business. In sports you get old quick. But have you seen the Rolling Stones recently? Unbelievable! [Mick] Jagger is buff, and he has incredible stamina. It goes to show you that it’s not all sex, drugs and rock & roll. He made me go down to the gym – I’m not working weights yet, but I’m working the treadmill.
Take it easy, because I don’t think you’d sing like you do if you weighed a buck-fifty.
If I weighed a buck-fifty, I’d disappear. The wind would blow me away.
Have you read the Mötley Crüe autobiography, The Dirt?
Hell, no! I don’t think I could handle it. I’m far too conservative.
How do you know how debauched they were?
In 1984, I was around Tommy Lee and Vince Neil for a week, and I got it. Plus, my daughter, Pearl, went on tour with Mötley Crüe as a background singer, so I’m pretty in tune with them [laughs].
Is Halloween a big day for the Meat Loaf family?
[Laughs] You remember Chevy Chase in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation? That’s what my house looks like on Halloween. I put up tombstones, giant spiders, bats, cobwebs, witches and pumpkins. I’ve hired teenagers to hang out in the front yard to scare kids.
When Brian May played guitar on the epic “Bad for Good,” did he ever say it sounded like a Queen song?
No. He said, “Sounds like Bat Out of Hell III to me.” It was amazing watching him work. He was sweating. Literally. He’d play something and say, “That’s not good enough.” He’d adjust amps, stand closer to the amp, get more sustain… . He was there for ten hours. I’m in love with guitars, and the guitar work on this album is outstanding.
Like the Dixie Chicks, you’re from Texas. Are you ashamed that Bush is from your home state?
I wouldn’t touch that question with a ten-foot pole.