When I was a teenager, my father took me to see Meat Loaf perform at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center. We had amazing, front-row seats, and I remember being completely mesmerized for the entire show. Instead of well-choreographed dance moves that really have nothing to do with the song, or stoic, immobile singing, Meat Loaf Aday performed each song as if it was a short play. Even in my youth, I was exhausted just watching all of the heart and energy he put into it. Whether you're a fan of his music or not, this is one of the most dedicated performers that you can find.
All these years later, after wrapping up his tour for Bat Out of Hell 3, the unstoppable performer is the focus of his first concert documentary, Meat Loaf: In Search of Paradise, which was directed by Bruce David Klein and just hit New York theaters late last week. The film follows the last-minute preparations for the tour, and specifically focuses on his troubles with the classic song: "Paradise by the Dashboard Light." Stay tuned for my review, and continue after the jump to read Meat Loaf's thoughts on the project, as well as a few nibbles about his music and film career.
Cinematical: You've built your career on music and film work, but have kept them separate in the past. What made you agree to a tour documentary now?
Meat Loaf: Oh, I don't think that... It's still separate. The documentary is not playing a character. When I do film, I really take on roles and I take on characters. That's how I can watch them, because I never see myself. In these documentaries, it's hard for me to... I've seen it once, but it's not easy to watch because I'm watching myself. So, there's a huge difference. They don't correlate at all.
The documentary was just... We talked about doing various things before. There was a TV show called Classic Albums, and they went in and brought the tracks to Bat Out of Hell up and that was kind of a documentary / behind-the-scenes kind of thing. You know, thirty years after the fact. And I really liked it, and I thought it was really good. So I was doing a thing for the History Channel, and the two guys producing that said to me: "Look, let's do something." And so we just kinda, ya know, rode around with it for a while and we came up with this.
I didn't like it. [laugh] I have to tell ya, it's like... I laid pretty strict ground rules for them. There were no situations set up -- like on all those reality shows. They always set up situations, which doesn't make it reality. Everything was exactly what it was. I mean, there was a ton of footage that obviously is not in there because it's an hour and a half long. We shot for weeks.
They kept saying: "What's it about?" And I kept going: "Well, I don't know what it's about. Just shoot the footage without the storyline and it'll appear. It'll show itself." And, it eventually did. You know in the first day, you see me in the DVD sitting and talking to him. They didn't show you the whole piece. I said "You're outta your mind! We don't know what it is. Just shoot!" I wanted them to shoot more. We were going into Canada in the wintertime, and I said: "I'm gonna be stuck indoors." But.. It turned out. It's very good; I really like it. It turned out much better than I thought it was going to turn out.
You mentioned laying out rules for the filmmakers. What sort of rules were they?
They couldn't.... Well, they broke all the rules anyway. I told them they couldn't shoot any footage of the show, but they did, and it was really good. That's why I let them leave it in. So all that footage that you see of the show, that's like... they just got up in the stands and took that with a camera and a single microphone. We didn't do anything. It's just what it was. It's not mixed. It's just coming off this little microphone. And I thought it was really good, and I thought it was very real, so I let them... even though they weren't supposed to, they did and I let 'em keep it.
Did you watch any music documentaries in preparation, or are there any particular docs you had in mind for In Search of Paradise?
Umm.. you know what? I had my assistant order a whole bunch, and then I didn't watch them. I remember I wanted to see Truth or Dare, and I ordered some others, but then I didn't watch them.
Is being filmed for a documentary different than being under the celebrity spotlight, or your work as an actor and singer?
Oh yeah, because when you're doing a film, they don't follow you back to your trailer, except when they're doing those little behind-the-scenes packages. And they still don't. They go: "Well, can we have you for just fifteen minutes? For this thing?" "No." [laugh] They basically stay out of the way. They might shoot a scene being filmed, and they'll shoot you for 15 min for the interviews, and it's very different.
I know the documentary people wanted to come to my house, and I told them no. They said: "We want to see you live in your house and driving down the street." I said: "That's boring! It's a California freeway. It's nothing but cars." And so a couple of times they jumped into the car as I got close to the rehearsal. I said: "Well, just hop in the car 3 blocks before we get there and ask a couple of questions." But I let them come to the vocal coach, and you know, we did some stuff.
Was it a challenge to be recorded when you're not performing?
No, because you know what, once the cameras are around you for a few minutes... because I've done so much film, I ignore cameras. I can't pay attention to them. A lot of actors, they know the camera's there, and if somebody moves around or makes noise or whatever then they get all distracted, but I pretty much lock in. You can't distract me too much. Now there's a couple of times where I was doing stuff and the camera was going around me in circles, and I noticed that, and the next day I told em... I let them get away with it on Monday, and the next day I told them: "Don't think that you're going to do that again today."
The documentary shows that "Paradise by the Dashboard Light" is a song that has brought you so much fan love, but also a number of headaches. Have you ever considered retiring it?
Nah. Absolutely not. "Bat Out of Hell," "Paradise"... The songs are too good. That's the great thing about them. They're so well written, and they're structured so well, and the visuals are so great, and the images that they portray are so strong... They don't get old. They don't seem like you've done them before. Some of the songs, like [laugh] you know, "Anything for Love," does. It's a song that I go: "Oh, god can I take this out?" But you have a hard time taking it out because it's such a huge hit. But with "Paradise" and "Bat Out of Hell," those two in particular -- no, there's no reason to take them out. They're so vivid and the colors are so strong on them. There's no need to. They come to life every night. Some things you have to force. You have to force the issue to bring them to life, those just ["tohh" explosion noise]. They explode.
For the songs that do get old, what do you do to pump yourself up and inspire yourself to perform them?
I change the arrangements all the time. I'm constantly changing them. The only song that I've played consistently for 30 years, exactly like the record, is "Bat Out of Hell." Everything else has changed in some form. Like in "Paradise," there's always improv, and I'm always changing the situation in the play-by-play. I can't even tell ya how much different stuff I've done... girl on rollerskates, cars, mistresses, cheerleaders, prom dates... I don't even know. It's gone through so many... that whole middle section.
There is so much improv. I mean, I had "Paradise" last 30 minutes before. I've done a lot of stage acting and improv classes, and acting classes, so I'm pretty comfortable with doing improv on stage. The problem I had, sometimes, is -- the one girl who I worked with for 13 years got really good at it, Patty Russo, and Aspen who came in and replaced her this year, wasn't used to it. So, I could improv, but I always had to lead her. I had to lead the improv to a scripted line. So I could go off, but I couldn't anticipate or expect her to follow suit. She wasn't versed in that. With Patty after 13 years, I could go off and she'd go right with me.
After seeing the documentary, is there anything that you wish they hadn't included, or was there something you wished they had?
I don't remember right now, no. When I saw it, I just had them put my dogs in. I said [laughing]: "Where are my dogs!?" So they put my dogs in. My wife and my dogs appeared.
Your songs are incredibly character driven. Have you ever given any thought to making them into a musical, especially now that musicals are so popular?
Oh, Jimmy has been trying to make them into a musical, but... He keeps saying that he's going to, but I don't know what's happening with that, and I don't keep up with that.
You've played Jack Black's father in the Tenacious D movie...
Oh yeah, I did. Didn't I?
And there was word that you wanted him to play you in a biopic...
No... They did a biopic; it's called To Hell and Back, and I've never seen it. My daughter saw it, and told me not to watch it, because I wouldn't like it. Originally, Jack Black had agreed to play me, but the movie got postponed and his career took off. So, I think that's how the whole thing about me playing his father came about, because he was going to play me.
Your fan site says that you're gearing up for some shows in the UK this year. What else is on your docket?
Oh, I'm shooting an AT&T commercial. I've been hosting, on Direct TV, this game show, and we're doing another 15 episodes of that. I'm going to shoot a film down in Florida in May, and they're changing the title, so it doesn't do any good to tell you the title.
Maybe you could share something about the plot?
[laugh] Oh, it's a stupid plot.
And we're doing some shows in the UK, and starting another record, and hopefully, you know, I'll get another film.
One last question... If someone wanted to get better acquainted with the work of Meat Loaf, which one of your songs would you lead them to, and which one of your movie roles would you suggest they watch?
Oh, what film role... Um, I don't know... My favorite film that I did was shot in Toronto, with Bill Mason and Laura Dern and it's called... Oh, what's it called? [laugh] It was written by Arthur Miller. ...Focus. And that's probably my favorite role.
You know, most people know Fight Club or Rocky Horror, or some people [laugh] know The Spice Girls... Yeah, that was a joke. I was joking with the president of the label, going: "God, I can't believe you're filming the Spice Girls movie, and you didn't even ask me to be in it!" I was having breakfast with him, and I mean I was totally putting him on. That afternoon, I'm sitting in London and they go: "We're getting you into the Spice Girls," and I said: "I'm joking." And they said: "No, no, it's important! They fired somebody and we want you to replace him." So I said "Oh, great." It wasn't scripted. It was all improv. And it was very silly.
And then song wise? I don't know... "For Crying Out Loud." Yeah, last song on Bat Out of Hell.