Nostalgia is a powerful thing—here’s looking at you, Scott Stapp—but it takes a seriously wistful son-of-a-bitch to remember the good old days when pop cost a nickel as a twenty-something. I suppose there’s a word in Inuktitut or German for yearning for a time you’ve never experienced, but alas, nostalgia for nostalgia just might have to do (maybe meta-nostalgia, if you want to be that guy). If movies have taught me anything, high school in the ’80s was awesome—you got stoned before class in a van and synthesized models in your bathroom. We keep getting older, they stay the same age. Of course, we’re all rationalists here: we were more likely the kids painting “Save Ferris” on water towers and getting the piss kicked out of us by some Cobra Kai meatheads and not doing anything about it. We’re the 99% and the heroes of the ’80s high school are in some glass and steel skyscraper guffawing at us peons below.
Enter Meat Loaf, the high school anti-hero. In 1977, a husky dude named Marvin adopted perhaps the most unappealing stage name in the history of dork-rock and roared onto the scene on a flaming motorcycle of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll. And somehow, over 30 years later, something about Meat Loaf still makes sense. I’ve heard innumerable stories about the mythical first listen to Bat Out of Hell: birds-and-the-bees talks, road trips with pops, on and on. This is good, clean family fun: Meat Loaf weaves tales about growing up, learning about who you are, having sex in cars, dropping the L-bomb a whole lot, and then getting the hell out of that car when things turn sour. Did I say clean family fun?
Meat Loaf has a kind of appeal that transcends the test of time, even with Jim Steinman’s incredibly dated rock opera hijinks backing him. Cut through all the Spotify and the un-ironic substitution of a dollar sign for the letter s that makes music in 2012 what it is, and the communal power of music comes down to a resonating narrative, a shared affinity—something that despite your name, age, or background, sticks with you. Meat Loaf knows that.
At least for any male who, at some point in time, found himself amidst love interests in the locker-clad hallways of an American high school, Meat and the Neverland Express distilled all the confusion, ecstacy, and angst into sprawling power ballads that roll from emotional high to emotional low and back again over their seven-minute play time. It’s not surprising that Meat Loaf’s voice was classically trained—his powerhouse wail bestows “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” and “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad” with an operatic quality, which encompasses a full range of emotion in each glory-day-fairy-tale. Meat, sweaty and rotund, belongs on the stage. He turns fantastic, hilarious, heartbreaking, stupid nights into full-blown melodramas and sets them to anthemic bombast. The guy’s not just making songs; he’s telling stories. The aspiring Wagners and Andrew Lloyd Webber of the world take note—you’ll never capture that elusive spirit of the space between adolescent awkwardness and machismo quite like Meat Loaf did.