MEAT LOAF: IN SEARCH OF PARADISENR
We could never have made it through the Summer of Sam without Meat Loaf. That 1977, while The Bronx was burning, disco was churning, and David Berkowitz was turning Fun City into Gun City, with repercussions rippling across a gas-strapped, inflationary nation, the bombastic debut album Bat Out of Hell elevated teen misery into melodrama. Mixing the fist-pump defiance of hard rock with high-school English angst, songs like "All Revved Up with No Place to Go," "You Took the Words Right Out of My Mouth," "Paradise by the Dashboard Light" and the title track promised a desperate escape tinged with tragic nobility, while the tortured-love ballad "Two Out of Three Ain't Bad" gave teenage heartbreak the sheen of destiny—no, no, that's alright, go on without me, ’tis a far, far better thing I do... The world may have been crumbling, but singer Meat Loaf, songwriter/conceptualist Jim Steinman and producer Todd Rundgren promised a better one, someday, for those who could push and stumble and cry through the pain.
Sure, we know how that sounds. We also know how the album has sold 37 million copies and counting. And we know, from this fly's-eye documentary about Meat Loaf's 2007 tour in support of Bat Out of Hell III: The Monster Is Loose, that that the 59-year-old singer himself is still pushing and stumbling and crying through the pain in reality.
You don't necessarily expect an official, authorized documentary such as this to proffer you that view, which any glance over Meat Loaf's biography will affirm. Born Marvin Lee Aday in Dallas, Texas, he and prime collaborator Steinman defied the truism that Meat Loaf's musical-theatre voice and the duo's operatic sensibilities would never make it in rock. And though better together than either ever were separately, the two Batted that truism around. Yet what we see in this portrait by producer-director Bruce David Klein—whose company produces series for the Weather Channel, the History Channel, the Food Network and the like—isn't a defiant rock-god trashing hotel rooms, nor even a music-industry businessman efficiently delivering arena product to consumers, but an idiosyncratic Lost Boy whom the music and the show are keeping alive. You truly get the impression, from both his offhand comments and his attempts at spin, that without those two things, he would, literally, die.
It's not his Felix Unger panoply of pains and pills that suggests this, though that certainly helps. It's more the nihilistic sense of fatalism he exhibits over airline-as-usual passenger hell (27 hours to get himself and the band from Los Angeles to Victoria, British Columbia, for the start of his tour), over a CD of the first night's performance getting lost or stolen, over critics adoring everything about his concerts except his "Paradise by the Dashboard Light" routine with ponytailed, jailbait-looking 28-year-old singer Aspen Miller, and over his push-pull blend of insecurity and perfectionism, which leads him to demur when complimented by anyone from the off-camera Klein to actor-friend Dennis Quaid. How genuine is all this, when even Meat's manager, Allen Kovac, calls him a Method Actor? Very much so, it does seem, through his unflattering, self-torturing desperation, his knifing back spasms, the limping as he walks. Just because you're a drama queen don't mean you're not in pain.
The documentary itself, shot in HD, keeps a good pace, and while it doesn't give much history or context, it does grow on you in direct proportion to the amount of time it spends on its subject. You can't help but love the Loaf, and that spills over into most anything he does.