Editor’s note: “Stand By Your Band” is an exclusive new series at the Informer in which Iowan music writers and musicians will defend oft-derided bands that they happen to love.
The first time I did karaoke at a place at least resembling a bar, I performed two songs. The first was “Livin’ La Vida Loca” by Ricky Martin. It was merely a spicy appetizer meant to get the crowd going. I jumped around, fell down, did stupid stuff. But I ended my night singing “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad” by Meat Loaf. As I stood on a chair and belted out the chorus, everyone in that Bennigan’s became bonded by an electricity that none of us expected, yet we welcomed it and let it consume us.
The electricity we felt that night can more accurately be described as the overwhelming sensation of being alive. This sensation can be found throughout all of Meat Loaf’s songs, through the good and even the bad. And there is a lot of bad, admittedly much of it that I haven’t even heard but I just know it’s to be avoided.
I believe that it’s this confrontation with the messiness of being a person in our world that makes so many people want to dismiss Meat Loaf as ridiculous. They see a large man in strangely fancy clothes, sweating and hollering and gesticulating like an opera singer, and they use that as a point of mockery. Combine that with silly song titles like “I Would Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That)” and “Objects In the Rearview Mirror May Appear Closer Than They Are,” and no one takes Meat Loaf seriously.
But can I tell you about “Objects In the Rearview Mirror”? It tells of a young man’s journey through life in three parts: the car crash death of his best friend, physical abuse from his alcoholic father, and the first woman to show him the ways of love. The lyrics paint these scenes with plain, direct language, almost as cheesy as those modern country songs where they sound like someone wrote a fourth-grade book report about their own life. But “Objects” rises just above the threshold of cheesiness by using imagery that would shake anyone who truly listened. In the verse about his abusive father, the character sings: And though the nightmares should be over / somehow the terrors are still intact / I’ll hear that ugly, coarse and violent voice / and then he grabs me from behind and he pulls me back.
In Meat Loaf’s music, the most unbearable moments one can imagine sit alongside a celebration of youth and love. This duality is most expertly played on Meat Loaf’s classic record, Bat Out of Hell. For anyone who sticks up their nose at his brilliance, this is the record that should make them a believer. It really does have everything a rock fan would need, from tender ballads to hard-driving rock’n’roll wth blistering guitars and huge drumming from Max Weinberg. There is not a wasted moment. Everything feels important, even the innuendo-laden baseball commentary interlude in “Paradise By the Dashboard Light.”
Bat Out of Hell is the embodiment of the human experience in one album. Life, death, sex, love, lack of love, lack of sex. Okay, the record is mostly about a lack of sex. “Paradise” is the quest of a young man to get sex, but realizes he must make a life-long commitment to do so. It mocks the institution of marriage while wholly embracing it, because for all of the record’s tales of teenage lust, Bat Out of Hell’s ultimate lesson is that all of your life’s struggles need to be pointed toward one goal: having someone accept you for who you are.
The protagonist of “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad” knows this all too well, as they have been on both ends of heartbreak. They’ve regretfully had to end a relationship that was past the point of saving, and they’ve fought and cried for a relationship not to end, even though they knew it needed to be over.
When I stood on a chair at that Bennigan’s and let those words come tumbling out of my mouth, my first significant relationship was on the verge of ending. The lyrics came from a real place of confusion and anguish. I was going through a terrible time, and so is the character in that song. But no one in that room looked down into their drinks with discomfort. “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad” couches heartache in exuberant balladry, so everyone in the room felt good. But also, everyone in that room had known and felt the same heartache. We were united, just as Meat Loaf wanted.