I will defend Mom to the ends of the earth on pretty much everything of consequence, but that doesn’t mean I necessarily share her taste when it comes to people and media. She had her share of crushes that I could never understand — William Shatner, Franco Harris, Kevin Nash — and although we shared a deep love for several musicians, we definitely had some favourites that were incomprehensible to the other. Mom was a huge Meat Loaf fan, and although I like some of his songs, I really don’t care for the vast majority of his creative output; I may never forgive him for his butchering of Tom Waits’ “Martha” back in the day. The man himself also doesn’t strike me as the kind of person I would want to spend any time with; I think it says something when someone can appear on that one “reality television” show whose name I refuse to mention any longer, and have people question whether or not they make Gary Busey look sane by comparison.
As I said, though, there are some Meat Loaf songs that I like (and others that I still listen to today just to remind me of Mom), and one thing that all those songs have in common is that they were written by Jim Steinman. Pretty much all of Meat Loaf’s well-known songs were written by Steinman, and the first Bat Out of Hell album may have been the most-played vinyl album in my house when I was younger. As much as Mom loved Meat Loaf, though, she definitely appreciated Steinman deeply, playing Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart” and “Holding Out for a Hero” repeatedly as soon as they came out (and for decades after that). She even held her nose and played Céline Dion’s “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now” more than a few times.
Although Steinman has never been my favourite songwriter, he’s always been high up on my list, and not just because his songs were played so much in my house back in the day. Music has always had an unnaturally strong effect on me (so much so that I often credit it as one of the reasons why I’ve never sought out illicit drugs), and Steinman’s strands of Wagnerian rock never fail to grab my attention. It’s a style that’s easy to parody — I still remember the note-perfect imitations of his work that aired on a Mad TV segment poking fun at Meat Loaf a couple of decades ago — but it still works for me, and even if Steinman’s songs didn’t remind me of Mom so much, I’d still listen to them regularly just for their own sake.
As I’ve been thinking about Steinman’s work since his passing last week, I have to wonder if the naked excesses of his songs may have influenced my own development. For better or for worse, I’ve always had very strong emotions, and equally strong impulses to act on those emotions, the latter of which got me into lots of trouble earlier in my life. As I was trying to figure out who I was in my early years, and how I should act, maybe I internalized all those high-octane songs that Mom was playing on our stereo, possibly more than I should have. (Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2” was another song I heard a lot on our stereo back then, and there’s no question that song had an outsized effect on me that continues to this day.) Say what you will about Meat Loaf — I certainly have — but there are reasons why Bat Out of Hell remains one of the top-selling albums of all time worldwide, and the fact that all the songs on the album have that Steinman touch are probably at the top of the list. (Having said that, Steinman’s relative lack of commercial and critical success with Bad for Good shows that Meat Loaf, and his iconic voice, deserve more than a little credit for the success of both Bat Out of Hell albums.)
This past Sunday was the fifth anniversary of Mom leaving our house for the last time, when what she’d thought was another attack of her diverticulitis turned out to be a rupture of her large intestine that almost killed her. She survived for another six months, but the anniversary of that horrible night still brings me down, remembering the horrors of the days and weeks that followed as her condition bettered and worsened until her passing that October. I may no longer vocalize, or even write, with the unbridled passions of my earlier years, but I still feel everything deeply, with emotions that I never truly learned how to harness. I’m pretty sure that listening to so many of Jim Steinman’s songs when I was younger had more than a little to do with that, and having spent time around so many people who lack those same passions for life, I’m sure that I benefitted a whole lot from listening so often to Bat Out of Hell back in the day. I’ve been listening to it again this past week, and I have a feeling that I should keep playing it in the weeks ahead, both to honour Steinman and to remember Mom.