By SEAN DALY
He's big. He's sweaty. He's named after the blue-plate special. And almost three decades after his only truly great album, 1977's goth-pop smash Bat Out of Hell, the 53-year-old man we lovingly call Meat Loaf is still a white-hot ticket.
There are certainly greater mysteries floating unsolved in the pop music universe - is Elvis still alive, who killed Kurt Cobain, what's up with Garfunkel's hair - but Meat Loaf's utterly seductive grasp on a still-ravenous classic-rock audience is a stumper for sure.
When tickets for the Dallas-born rocker's show tonight at Ruth Eckerd Hall went on sale, the date sold out in no time flat. With demand so ferocious, a second show was added on Sept. 19. (As of press time, tickets still remained for the second show.) In a local concert season stuffed with such marquee heavyweights as U2 and the Rolling Stones, Meat's girth at the box office is astounding.
The man born Marvin Lee Aday, who has also acted in such cult classics as The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Fight Club, says his success is directly tied to our universally animalistic instincts (or something like that). For instance, there's a reason why it's impossible to turn off Paradise by the Dashboard Light when it comes on the radio - every other hour on some stations - for the rest of our lives. When it's cold and lonely in the deep dark night, Meat will be there to wave his ever-present red handkerchief and fire up our adolescent urges with randy baseball analogies.
"That emotional thing does not change," says Meat (let's call him Meat, he likes it), who is taking part in a conference call from a hotel room in New York City, just another stop on his world-spanning Hair of the Dog Tour.
"The story (of Dashboard Light) does not change, especially the "Stop right there!' (part). Emotionally, people have been the same for a long time. . . . I think cavemen kind of got into this realm, as well - they just used clubs . . . and hit women over the head and dragged them by the hair."
He adds: "I don't know about the Middle East. I don't know how they relate to Paradise by the Dashboard Light."
Meat Loaf - whose father called him "Meat" when he was just a tyke, proving that parents should be really careful with nicknames - is known for staging woolly and wild-haired shows, part concert, part theater, all mayhem. There's nothing subtle about them. And all these musical orgies later, the big man says he has no problem firing up the faithful.
"They expect the best that I can give them on that night," Meat says. "It all comes back from playing high school football. There were a couple of signs (in the lockerroom) and the head coach misspelled a couple, but that's beside the point. . . . As you went onto the field and you came from the field, on both sides of the door (there was a sign that said) 110 percent. And that's how I relate to that. Your job is to motivate the audience. . . . I have never failed on a dead audience to get them alive. . . . If they're dead, it's my fault, not theirs."
Meat calls his current traveling show "a little fireball . . . an aerobic workout . . . my Jane Fonda video." He'll be dusting off all of his hits, including I'd Do Anything for Love (But I Won't Do That), from 1993's multiplatinum Bat Out of Hell II: Back Into Hell.
(And no, he didn't say what "that" is.)
Music historians could spend eons trying to locate a legitimate storyline in the Bat Out of Hell series, which has been fueled as much by songwriter Jim Steinman's overblown goth-pop claptrap as Meat Loaf's silly quest for sex. Meat Loaf says Bat Out of Hell III could be ready for release as early as next year. And yes, Steinman, the man responsible for Meat Loaf's biggest hits (not to mention Bonnie Tyler's Total Eclipse of the Heart), will be penning the tunes.
"Jimmy had some health issues and (was) really physically not up to par to sit in the studio for a long time and do it," says Meat. "So Michael Beinhorn (who's worked with Ozzy Osbourne and the Red Hot Chili Peppers) is going to produce and Jimmy is writing."
He's not quite sure what the album is going to sound like. "Bat Out of Hell was produced by Todd Rundgren; he's completely out of his mind. Bat Out of Hell II was produced by Jim Steinman; he's completely insane. Michael Beinhorn is as odd as the other two, and he's doing III, so I have no idea."
Meat has been trying out one of the Bat III tunes, called Only When I Feel, in concert.
"It's not a key piece to the record," he says. "It's a little edgier than the previous Bat records. Not quite as melodic, but edgier."
Needless to say, Only When I Feel will be a greatly anticipated segment of the Hair of the Dog Tour, which was given the shaggy name to let fans know that Meat Loaf still throws a one-of-a-kind party. After all, the "hair of the dog" is that magic elixir that cures morning-after aches and pains.
"Not that I have hangovers the next day (after a show)," Meat says, "but it feels like one after I'm finished."