This is from my new biography of Meat Loaf, Like A Bat Out Of Hell – out now.
The guy at the restaurant table looks like late-period Howard Hughes, when the mad old billionaire was holed up at the Desert Inn in Vegas, dressed all in white and scared to touch anything because of the germs. He has long, grey hair so dry it might snap off in your hand if you try and grab it. His pallor is somewhere on the colour spectrum between ‘haven’t slept for three days’ and ‘haven’t been outside for six years’. He is offended by the notion of fresh air. He has small beady eyes, pudgy hamster cheeks, a treble chin. He lives at night, rising about 1.00am, and works feverishly through the small, lost hours in a house filled with clutter and junk, so that when he’s forced into an accommodation with the rest of the world – like he has been today – and he actually goes out in daylight, he retains a vampiric quality, an otherness. He speaks in a melodious voice much lower than the one in which he sings, and for much of the time that he does, a smile plays on the edges of his lips.
As if all of this isn’t enough to get him noticed by the waiters that are dancing past the table, and the other diners, who pretend not to notice but stare unblinkingly when they think he is not looking, he is wearing a black leather bikers jacket that is decorated with studs and sequins in ornate patterns. On each upper arm is a death’s head, hand-painted onto the leather. He is also wearing aviator sunglasses, Fat Elvis style, even though the restaurant is as dark as winter.
As a kid an astrologist once told him he had an overwhelming desire to astonish people. But he didn’t need a sign-reader to tell him that. Unable to decide what he wants to eat, he has ordered everything on the menu – everything – which causes the waiters to commandeer another table close by and laden this and his own with dozens of silver bowls full of food. He talks and talks, and as he does, he tries a little from each of the bowls using his fingers to feed himself. His fingernails are long and white, but they quickly become stained by the different sauces he’s dipping in and out of.
Talk, talk, talk.
Dip, dip, dip.
Talk, talk, talk.
Dip, dip, dip.
‘I love eating…’ he says, somewhat unnecessarily.
After ten or fifteen minutes no one else is, because no one else at the table can be sure which bowls have had his fingers in and which haven’t. He is oblivious to this, and to all of the stares and the circling waiters. The conversation roams over his obsessions like high birds circling. One of those obsessions is wine, which he collects and drinks at night at his desk, he says. He writes about it in a journal, describing exactly how it tastes and how it makes him feel, the journey it takes his imagination on.
‘How much of this stuff have you got?’ someone enquires.
‘Oh, pages and pages, maybe thousands of them. If it was published it would be the greatest book on wine ever written…’
Another obsession is motorcycles. He has dreams of seeing one driven wildly up the stone stairs of a church bell tower, he says, crashing through the roof down to the ground just as the bell strikes the hour. He doesn’t own a motorcycle, though, or even a driver’s license, and he can’t drive. A third obsession, the great obsession of his life, is music, specifically his music, which everyone agrees is like no one else’s.
‘Almost every song I write,’ he says, ‘has a line… A line that’s explicitly, specifically sexual…’
Oh, yes? Can he give an example?
“Like, ‘I know you belong, inside my aching heart… And can’t you see my faded Levi’s bursting apart…’ I’m very proud of that line. I call it the boner line. Or, ‘Surf’s up, surf’s up, surf’s up… and so am I…’ A boner line…’
He smiles happily at the thought.
No one at the table knows if he is married – unlikely, as he seems to live alone – or has a girlfriend, or has ever had one. He certainly has no children. He’s happy to admit that he’s, ‘a weird guy’. Maybe he’s never had sex. Who knows? Who knows anything about him at all? Except his name:
Jim invented Meat Loaf. He created him in song. He tried to do it with others, but it worked best when it worked with Meat. And when it did… Meat Loaf was Jim, and Jim was Meat Loaf.
They existed together, or not really at all.