Cult Heroes No. 7: Jim Steinman
In the latest of Classic Rock‘s ongoing series, Dave Ling explores the strange world of Jim Steinman – the man, the myth, the legend… the menu! And if you wanna check out all of the Cult Heroes we’ve written about so far, you can find them here.
Words: Dave Ling
As the man who wrote all the music and words for Meat Loaf’s Bat Out Of Hell album – with worldwide sales of 43 million and counting – Jim Steinman should need no introduction. And yet, in contrast to the array of artists that he helped to make famous, the 62-year-old New Yorker is something of a recluse. Consequently, many of the stories about the flamboyant Steinman are quite likely to have been exaggerated.
One that is often recounted – namely that Steinman loves to order the entire menu of the restaurants that he visits, taking a tiny bite from each course – was later confirmed to me by someone who actually saw it happen. Furthermore, said individual revealed that Steinman, just like a member of the Royal Family, sometimes conveniently ‘forgets’ to bring his wallet, leaving it to another diner to pick up the tab!
Steinman is also known to be nocturnal. “People often wonder if I’m a vampire, because I usually sleep during the day,” he once told an interviewer. “My nickname is P.O.D. which stands for Prince Of Darkness.”
As one of life’s genuine rule-breakers, we have come to expect such flagrant unpredictability of the man who Todd Rundgren, the producer of Bat Out Of Hell, calls: “The only genuine genius I’ve ever worked with.”
And quite rightly so. From the stark-staring mad monologue of Love And Death And An American Guitar (‘I took my guitar and I smashed it against the wall/I smashed it against the floor/I smashed it against the body of a varsity cheerleader’) to the wordiness of Objects In The Rear View Mirror May Appear Closer Than They Are, a Steinman composition tends to be recognisable within the first few bars.
Jim’s career began in the theatrical world, his musical direction having solidified as 12-year-old following a 21-hour session that paired Wagner’s The Ring Of The Nibelungen with a blast of Jerry Lee Lewis. “I just went, ‘Wow! These things go together!’” he recalled to Sandy Robertson of Sounds magazine in 1981, adding: “I used to listen all the time to rock’n'roll and classical (music); it never occurred to me that there was much difference.”
Having met Meat Loaf whilst touring the National Lampoon Road Show in 1977, Steinman began to lay plans for the album that became Bat Out Of Hell. Luckily, he had a thick skin.
“I think it was turned down by 18 record companies and 10 to 12 producers,” Jim later recalled. “Bob Ezrin was my first choice (as producer) but I couldn’t even get his phone number.”
The eventual success of Bat Out Of Hell served as the ultimate textbook validation of Jim and Meat’s belief in the project. Sadly, however, the pair would later fall out. It took them until 1993 to release a sequel. However, Bat Out Of Hell II: Back Into Hell reached No.1 in 28 countries, selling more than 15 million copies.
By the time of 2006 and Bat Out Of Hell III: The Monster Is Loose, Meat and Jim were feuding so badly that Steinman – who had registered a trademark for the name Bat Out Of Hell – tried to prevent the album’s release after it was produced by Desmond Child. All seven of the Steinman compositions that it featured had been written for other projects. The matter of the album’s title was eventually settled out of court.
The man who the L.A. Times once called ‘the Richard Wagner of rock’, Steinman has now served up hits for artists as diverse as Bonnie Tyler, Barbra Streisand, Air Supply, The Everly Brothers, Sisters Of Mercy, Celine Dion, The Opera Babes, Barry Manilow and even Boyzone. Clearly, he still has the golden touch.
But things haven’t always gone entirely to plan. In 1984, Steinman was hired to produce the follow-up to Def Leppard’s Pyromania album. The arrangement was abruptly terminated, neither side speaking fondly of the other.
“When I arrived, Leppard had no guitar amps and they didn’t know where to get them,” Steinman would recall of the sessions, later picked up again by Robert John ‘Mutt’ Lange and released as Hysteria. “They’d look at you like these little puppies, ‘Oooh, what are we going to do? We thought you’d have them…’”
Perhaps in keeping with the aforementioned ‘everything on the menu’ story, Leppard vocalist Joe Elliott dryly responded: “All that Jim Steinman knew about the studio was that he didn’t like the colour of the carpet.” The results of the recordings, assuming they even got that far, remain under lock and key.
What’s frustrating is that aside from all of his many collaborations, Steinman has released just one bona fide solo album, 1981’s Bad For Good – a set of tunes originally lined up as a second Meat Loaf record… until Meat lost his voice, reportedly recapturing it after a doctor prescribed the miracle cure of injections made from his own urine. Issued eight years after Bad For Good, the conceptual Original Sin album was the product of an alliance with the all-girl band Pandora’s Box. It was described at the time by Classic Rock’s own Malcolm Dome as follows: ‘Sheer genius. Baroque eroticism. The Shangri-Las invoked by the spirit of Ken Russell and Lord Byron.’
As an intended companion piece of Bat…, Bad For Good in particular remains an especially underrated album, full of fabulously overblown songs such as Lost Boys And Golden Girls, Stark Raving Love and Out Of The Frying Pan And Into The Fire that would have perfectly suited the Loaf’s inimitable delivery. Indeed, somewhat controversially, Steinman later claimed that he had to tutor Meat how to sing the songs on Bat Out Of Hell.
Since 2004, various reports indicate that Steinman suffered a stroke, a heart attack or even multiple strokes, but nobody knows for sure. For what it’s worth his lawyer has gone on record as stating that Jim’s health is ‘excellent’.
Steinman’s roots gradually drew him away from rock’n'roll and back to theatrical and cinematic endeavours. His film music includes Footloose, Streets Of Fire, The Shadow and Mask Of Zorro, and he also wrote the score for Tanz Der Vampire, a 1997 musical staged by Roman Polanski, and in 2003 was involved in an MTV production of Wuthering Heights.
Songs from Steinman’s ‘music performance group’ The Dream Engine still can be heard at a MySpace site– click here – which remains online although the project has been inactive since 2006.
Jim has also spoken of a theatrical show based on the songs from Bat Out Of Hell, which he called “like Cirque Du Soleil on acid”.
Check out Rock And Roll Dreams Come Through
In the meantime, a wealth of information can be found at the following website: www.jimsteinman.com
Steinman also has a blog – though it has not been updated since September 7, 2008.
Truly, he is a man of mystery. We wouldn’t have it any other way.
Tags: Air Supply, Barbra Streisand, Barry Manilow, Bob Ezrin, Bonnie Tyler, Boyzone, Celine Dion, Cult Heroes, Def Leppard, Desmond Child, Everly Brothers, Jerry Lee Lewis, Jim Steinman, Ken Russell, Meat Loaf, Opera Babes, Robert John 'Mutt' Lange, Roman Polanski, Sisters Of Mercy, Todd Rundgren