RIP Meat Loaf

I could probably count on one hand the number of celebrities whose death would sadden me. But Meat Loaf was one of them.

I’m not old enough to have grown up with him. I was still in grade school when he was sweating through “Paradise on the Dashboard Lights” on stage as a young star. But by the time I was old enough to start buying albums, everyone, and I mean everyone, had Bat out of Hell or a cassette tape copied from a friend’s album. We could all recite the “baseball” part. Conor Lastowka of Rifftrax said of “Crying Out Loud” that it just builds and builds until by the end it’s like they’re launching missiles off the stage. “It’s ridiculous, but that’s what I like about it.” That’s what I’ve always liked about his “biggest” songs too: the way just when you think they’re winding down, they build to a new level, until he’s wrung every ounce of feeling he can get out of it.

When Bat out of Hell II was coming out, it was pretty big news. It might have been one of the first CDs I bought. I think it was generally considered not as good as the original, but what could be? It was still pretty great, and songs like “Objects in the Rear View Mirror” and “Life Is a Lemon” carried over his style of operatic, intense rock.

When the Internet came along and made it possible to have all the music you ever liked, I discovered that he’d made several albums in between those two, and some of those songs are now favorites. They tend to be more conventional rock, less operatic, but you still get some 7-minute songs that build and build, like “Couldn’t Have Said It Better,” and just plain fun ones like “Los Angeloser.”

I don’t know anything about his personal life. I don’t think I ever wanted to, and not just because celebrities tend to be disappointing when you look too close. There’s a lot of pain in his music, and a man should be allowed to keep his pain to himself. The pain that comes through his songs is what he wanted to share, and that’s enough.

But it wasn’t just pain; that by itself wouldn’t have pulled me in. There’s a strength and optimism and heart that comes through his songs. And despite seeming to put everything he had into every performance, he didn’t take himself seriously. See his “Ode to Bagel Bites” with Jimmy Fallon for instance. Or his very, very bad movie, To Catch a Yeti. But be warned, it’s very bad.

One day I was listening to “Sweet Child of Mine” on the radio, and thought if I’m ever rich, I want to commission Meat Loaf to cover that song. Axl sings it fine, but it needs Meat’s power and heart. I guess I’ll have to wait on that.