Meat Loaf Hasn't Stopped Being Meat Loaf
Sixty-four-year-old singer and actor Meat Loaf (Michael Lee Aday) is bringing his "Mad, Mad World Tour" east of Tiger Mountain to Snoqualmie Casino. This past fall, Meat released his 12th studio album, Hell in a Handbasket, a somewhat autobiographical operatic rock album featuring Public Enemy's Chuck D, Lil Jon, Trace Adkins, and Sugar Ray's Mark McGrath. People who come to Meat Loaf shows know what to expect: indefatigable, fully dedicated, theatrical Meat giving all of himself to the performance. Meat tends to give too much, having suffered from a history of swollen and destroyed vocal cords. Meat is resilient, though, having sold nearly 120 million albums worldwide, the breakout being 1977's Bat out of Hell. As an actor, Mr. Loaf has been in more than 50 movies, including Wayne's World, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and Fight Club, where he played the breasted male, Bob. Meat recently moved from New York to Austin, Texas. Prior to the interview, his publicist said, "Between moving and getting ready to tour, Meat has been overworked."
Should I call you Meat? Or Mr. Loaf?
Do you know anybody named Chuck? Or Stew? Or Frank? They're all meat products. It's not that weird [laughs].
What was it like working with Chuck D and Lil Jon? Did they call you Meat?
For them, it was Meat. We went in the studio with Lil Jon, and he was expecting to be there for 12 or 14 hours. But he didn't know how we work. He was out of there in three hours and was thrilled. Before I met him, I didn't have the appreciation for hiphop and rap, which was my mistake. Now, my iTunes has been taken over by hiphop. I was an LL Cool J fan and I know him; we've been to hockey games and dinner, and we always talked about collaborating on a version of "Mama Said Knock You Out." But Lil Jon really made me appreciate hiphop. I think the rap and hiphop artists have more influence on culture right now than any rock or pop star. U2 used to, but not anymore. People go see their shows, but do they have that influence they used to have? No. Does Springsteen? No. Do the Stones? No. Does Katy Perry? No. Justin Bieber? No. The older acts, we're still playing, but are we relevant? I don't know.
You've sold 120 million albums. What do you think about people downloading your music for free on the internet?
And in the last 15 years, I've probably been downloaded for free three times more than I've sold. In Sweden, they passed a law that says it's legal to download music for free. So I guess if you're Swedish, you can go to the Louvre and steal the Mona Lisa and not be arrested. That's the equivalent.
For up-and-coming artists, though, is it to their advantage to give away some songs for free, to get their name out there?
No, that's not to anyone's advantage. Those musicians work hard. When it's free, you don't get publishing. You don't get paid for royalties. It's like you calling a plumber to come fix your pipes, and when they give you the bill, you say, "Oh no, I got this as a download, I don't have to pay." Or going to the grocery store and not paying for your food. This attitude of entitlement is ridiculous. I'll tell you what—go to a gas station and see if they'll let you fill your car up for free. See if the real world will give you anything for free. Work put into artistic endeavors is work just like a farmer who works to grow corn. Do you get corn for free? Or when your house is on fire, let me see you download a digital fireman to put it out.
I pay top dollar for my corn. I would like to download a digital plumber, though. Speaking of clogged pipes, I wanted to ask you about playing for George W. Bush. You played his inauguration in 2001. What was that like?
I'm independent. I played the Clinton inauguration, too. I've hosted Democratic dinners; I've hosted Republican dinners. At least Al Gore and Bill Clinton had a sense of humor. I think I just threw Bush a curve. See, he went to Midland High School in Texas, and I dated a girl who went there, Peggy Woodall. When Bush introduced himself to me, I said, "Hi, I'm Meat Loaf. Do you remember Peggy Woodall?" It was the night of his inauguration; he wasn't ready. The Secret Service just looked at each other like, Okay, this guy's crazy, mark him. [Laughs]
What was it like having big breasts in Fight Club?
I don't know. I was the character. I was Bob. You have to go find Bob and ask him. The breast suit weighed 44 pounds. It definitely gave me a new respect for large-breasted women. Nothing I could have done would have prepared me accurately to have breasts.
What makes a Meat Loaf concert successful?
It's all about tension. A very fine thread. I want to keep the audience floating. That's kind of a stranger description. Like when you go to a good play, after about 10 minutes, you start floating, you're so drawn into it. I don't ever want to break the tension. I want to draw people in.
What's your next movie? How do you get into character?
Moonbeam is the next one. It's about a guy who thinks he was a hippie in Haight-Ashbury, but wasn't. He goes to a garage sale and ends up being the family's nanny for 27 years. True story. He's a complete pothead, which I have no idea how to play. To get into character, I start with how they move. That's the old Brando school. Like Bob from Fight Club—he had a certain kind of walk. I made them shoot the walk, because that was integral to the character.
You've had a history of swollen and injured vocal cords. Doctors tell you that you shouldn't go on, but you still go on. Why continue to sing with destroyed vocal cords?
It happened almost every show I did in Australia this past year. I had the same thing Adele had, only hers ruptured. It's tough; three quarters of the show will sound like you want it to, then the last quarter you sound like a dead frog and you're miserable. You can't win. If you cancel the show, people are pissed off. If you do the show, you won't sound well. People expect me to sound like I did on Bat out of Hell, but I'll never sound like that because it was sped up. I sound like Alvin and Chipmunks. It drives me nuts when I hear it on the radio.
What about music has changed the most in your eyes over the years?
I don't think music is a part of people's lives the way it used to be. Or plays, or art for that matter. You go back to the early 1900s, and artists like John Singer Sargent, and William Merritt Chase, who started [what is now Parsons New School for Design]—Steven Tyler from Aerosmith stole his look, by the way—those were the rock stars before, and they affected culture. People don't know who they are now. People know Beethoven, and Wagner, but they were hired to compose for royalty. The first one to pull out of that and speak to the common world was Mahler. People walked out of Mahler's first public symphony in France. They thought it was the worst thing they'd ever heard in their lives. Hiphop of today speaks more to the common world in that way. Shakespeare is another artist who was more for the common person. We don't really have that these days. We have Madonna hating Gaga, and Gaga hating Madonna. We don't appreciate art for art anymore.
Shakespeare was more into doom metal, grindcore, and Jucifer than hiphop, wasn't he?
[Laughs] Art appreciation has gone out the window. The internet has become road rage times a million. It's a shame. People hide behind names. The other thing about the internet, and the news for that matter, is that lies become truths. If you tell a lie enough times, it becomes the truth. And the truth is no longer valid. You can be taken out of context, you can be edited, you can be quoted as saying something you never said.
What does that have to do with Jucifer?
I just think most people are more into themselves. But this homie don't play that. I'm about the work. I'm about trying to improve my show, and my music, and my acting. Trying to be a better person, trying to be kinder and more polite, and trying to help other people.
Do you like the biopic VH1 did on you, To Hell and Back? What was it like watching a movie about yourself?
I never saw it. My daughters told me not to watch it. There was no truth to it. How they portrayed my mother, and the time line, isn't right. My daughters called me and said, "Don't watch it, you're gonna want to kill somebody." Apparently, they portrayed my mom as a smoker who died of cancer. But my mother never touched cigarettes or alcohol in her life. It'll make me angry if I think about it too much. I'll want to get on a plane, go to LA, and strangle somebody. I'll go Busey on 'em [laughs]. That's a term now in the online slang dictionary, going Busey on somebody: Exhibiting anger, rage, overaggressive or incomprehensible behavior.
You just moved to Austin. How do you like it?
I love it. I live on the top of a hill out in the country. I can go places. I can go to the Subway, which is my favorite place to go. And you always find parking. When I can find parking, I don't go Busey on anyone.