On 20 January 2022 Heaven added a powerful new voice to the Heavenly Choir: Marvin Lee Aday, better known by his beefy stage name, Meat Loaf. Meat Loaf passed at the age of 74 surrounded by family.
Celebrity deaths don’t usually hit me all that hard, but Meat Loaf left his mark on me. My older brother played “Paradise By the Dashboard Light” for me when I was in high school—and I initially didn’t like it! But a friend reintroduced me to Meat in college, and by then I’d come to appreciate the cheeky melodrama of Jim Steinman’s songwriting combined with Meat’s gospel-drenched vocals.
As one of the early members among the ranks of Obese-Americans—now a protected class, I think—and a young man with ambitions to bring panache and humor back to rock ‘n’ roll (which in the early 2000s was moving from angsty grunge to angsty new rock), Meat Loaf left a big—no pun intended—imprint on my musical imagination. His powerful, sweaty vocals and Broadway-meets-rock-meets-gospel style really spoke to me: a perspiring, fumbling mass of dough and latent musical ability. I don’t go in for all that “representation” stuff, but if a dude like Meat Loaf could make it, so could I. Fat White Guy Solidarity!
The songwriting of his frequent collaborator (and legal rival), composer Jim Steinman, also captured my fervent imagination. The ironic lyrics (“but there ain’t no Coupe Deville hidin’ at the bottom of a Cracker Jack Box”), the hilarious titles (“Life is a Lemon (and I Want My Money Back)” and—of course—“I Would Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That)“), the bombastic composing techniques. Suddenly, Broadway, rock ‘n’ roll, and even Southern gospel fused into this incredible music that elevated doughy teenaged ennui and youthful passions to Wagnerian heights.
And, think about it—to a teenager, everything does take on operatic significance. Hard experience and normalizing hormones give adults a sense of perspective, but Meat Loaf’s music captured that sense that everything matters and that life is full of intense experiences.
Everyone remembers their first kiss (presumably); the 300th might be pretty awesome, too, but it’s not as full of Wagnerian intensity as the first (or maybe the second or third—sometimes you need to practice a bit first).
A few days before Meat Loaf shed this mortal coil, I recorded a short version of “Paradise By the Dashboard Light” just for fun (and with quite a few mistakes):
Little did I realize that Meat would be gone just a few days later. The second video, an abridged version of “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad,” is my small tribute to the great life of Meat Loaf.
This blog post is another attempt at paying homage, meager though it may be.
Oh, and “Paradise By the Dashboard Light” is now one of my favorite songs.
Rest in Peace, Meat Loaf. You will be missed.