“Then I’m down in the bottom of a pit in the blazing sun
Torn and twisted at the foot of a burning bike
And I think somebody somewhere must be tolling a bell
And the last thing I see is my heart,
Still beating still beating
Still beating still beating
Breaking out of my body, and flying away
Like a bat out of hell
From “Bat Out of Hell”
By Jim Steinman
Jim Steinman, the songwriter famous for the super-charged operatic rock epics he created for Meat Loaf and other artists is dead at 73. He was a songwriter proud of his lack of restraint in his songs. Subtlety was not the aim. It’s how he proudly earned and owned his distinction as “The Richard Wagner of Rock. ” Like Wagner, his songs were epic, operatic and always with a dark grandiosity.
“If you don’t go over the top,” he said, “you can’t see what’s on the other side.”
Wagner, however, never wrote any hit songs. Steinman wrote many: The grand statement was the entire song cycle of Meat Loaf’s Bat out of Hell. He also wrote Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” Air Supply’s “Making Love Out of Nothing At All” and Celine Dion’s “It’s All Coming Back To Me Now.”
In 2003, he did a remarkably expansive interview with Kerrang magazine which was never published in its totality until recently. It’s Steinman in his own words on music, creating Bat Out of Hell, and the big impact of Peter Pan, and also Alfred Hitchcock, on his psyche and songs.
JIM STEINMAN: I think every song is a story. It’s almost to me like if you take what I’m saying well Peter Pan is a great story. If you interviewed each of the Lost Boys they’d each have a song from Bat Out Of Hell, for each one of them. It’s basically a collection of stories. It’s like a mosaic.
But if you put it all together it’s part of the world that I love, which is the world of Lost Boys and Peter Pan and Neverland and a place where kids don’t grow up and what results of that. I mean, the thing that I loved about it is that I didn’t find that to be a light or a sentimental idea, I took it literally. I thought it was actually a great science fiction concept that if a kid was 18 for 80 years what would he be like? I thought that was a great subject for science fiction.
For one thing I thought he’d end up like Caligula totally insane and mad. Because if you’re 18 you got to have sensation and excitement and thrills like every second and everything is life or death and urgent and it’s all, you know, so primal and important. And if you do that for 80 years you’re going to be exhausted and you’re going to be almost totally insane trying to find new excitement, new thrills, new ways to ignite passion.
Bat Out of Hell speaks to the teenager in everyone. I think, to me, the teenage aspect of everyone is the most attractive element. Oe of the lyrics I wrote on Bat Out Of Hell II was actually very profoundly sincere: that a wasted youth is better by far than a wise and productive old age.
And I really believe that. I just think that the teenage aspect of people is the greatest thing. How it’s channeled is multi-varied, it can be horrible, great or whatever. But holding onto whatever that is, is to me really cool and valuable and important, as you grow older. And so I think it was simply speaking actually to the most primal elements of everybody.
I’m always amazed to an extent that Bat Out Of Hell is such a big teenage album because half the songs in it are ballads and to me pretty sophisticated and mature. I mean, my favorite song on the record is the final song “For Crying Out Loud,” which is hardly a teenage song but still fits into that world because it’s life or death and urgent and it lives in the moment. And, you know, The Grateful Dead needed pot, I guess, to fuel it, so this needed semen. (laugh) It’s just a different particular drug.
It’s just about very basic primal physical and emotional things, carried to an extreme. Basically to me the key to the record is I was trying to do something that was myth, mythic. And I love mythology and I love the mythology of rock and roll and there are different ways to approach rock and roll, obviously, a lot of them. And some rock and roll is, to me, what I call documentary or confessional.
I was writing this at a time that artists, singer-songwriters like Joni Mitchell, James Taylor and Jackson Browne were really big. It was the exact opposite of my world. I remember auditioning for Warner Brothers in Los Angeles with my show, The Dream Engine. It was one of the most excruciating experiences in my life. All my trips to Los Angeles were excruciating. It was like it was another culture.
And they were very offended and pompous about it, because they went to a whole other thing, they went to James Taylor and that’s that.
My heroes they were The Beatles, Little Richard, Jimi Hendrix, Hitchcock. And I remember when they all jammed together too. (laugh) It was an amazing scene. Hitchcock on bass, amazing.
But the thing about Hitchcock, his movies were so inspiring to me that I really think far more than any of the musical inspirations I construct my songs in a Hitchcockian way. At least I try to. I can’t reach his level.
But what was brilliant about him to me was that not one of his movies isn’t funny. My favorite film of all time is Psycho, I’ve seen Psycho 23 times now. I think that’s the only movie, it’s like I always think if you have to pick one thing to teach, I liked it as an exercise. And if you have to teach film, to me you don’t have to go anywhere beyond Psycho. You can watch that 1,000 times and each time find something new to tell people about.
Everything, more than Citizen Kane, to me, more than anything Spielberg will ever do, it’s in Psycho. And the great thing about Psycho is that it’s a comedy… a black comedy. A wonderful black comedy about America, about motherhood, it’s the best comedy about motherhood that I know of. And all his films are like that though, everyone I love. And they’re all comic in the same moments that they’re horrifying.
And partly because of his perspective, he’s always in a place where you didn’t expect, the camera was.
“Bat Out Of Hell,” the song, unfolds to me very much like Psycho unfolds visually. Psycho begins, if you watch it, with a long shot of Arizona. Long shot of Phoenix and then the camera goes into one area and then one building then one block.
And then through the window of that building, two, you see Janet Leigh and John Gavin in bed, nude, having sex. And it’s the voyeuristic thing, the fact that you start with what seems like a satellite shot of the whole city of Phoenix but you end up in this bedroom.
“Bat Out Of Hell” starts with a similar situation. You know, the sirens are screaming and the fires are howling way down in the valley tonight. And it keeps getting closer and closer until it ends up with these two kids, basically in bed, so to speak.
And I just find those things were probably, you know, not conscious, but to me the way Hitchcock constructs things is the greatest and part of it is the humor. Is that, you know, it’s not jokes, it’s just part of the fiber of it. And also it’s partly the extremism. I mean, my songs, whether or conscious or whatever, but they’re so extreme that to me they’re funny by definition ’cause they’re so beyond the boundary of where they should go. And I think that lunacy of comedy and lunacy of ecstasy are very closely connected.
I can never imagine Springsteen’s songs in color; they were always in black and white to me. in great black and white.
And I could never imagine my songs in black and white, they were always in lurid color. Kind of like the color of Fellini or anything extravagantly colorful. Just extreme. And hallucinatory and mythic as opposed to realistic.