On Wednesday night, a friend and I went to see the singer Meat Loaf in a concert at the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills. Yes, I have enjoyed some of Meat Loaf’s music, but the main reason I was going was because Trey had wondered if I’d join him. We have an unspoken pact to support each other in our musical tastes — he’s certainly seen Pere Ubu often enough with me — and so, yes, I agreed to go see Meat Loaf. While not especially a fan of Meat Loaf, almost 40 years later I could still summon up what a powerful impression he made on me with his performance on “Saturday Night Live” back in that show’s formative years. (To watch a video of “Two out of Three Ain’t Bad” from that 1978 SNL episode, click here.) No, I didn’t expect a return to that, but I figured it’d be nice to spend some time with a friend seeing an act I’d never seen but enjoyed.
Before I headed over there, my wife had questions.
“Where is this?” she asked.
“The Saban,” I said.
“Is that ‘Saban’ like the guy who owned the Power Rangers?”
“Yes,” I said. “Also the Saban who’s a major donor to the Democrats.”
“And this is Meat Loaf.”
“… Was I invited?”
Now, she’s frequently made a point that she doesn’t like to go to concerts. Yes, she gamely went to see A Flock of Seagulls with me several months ago — in the rain! — and we had a great time, but she has told me repeatedly that she doesn’t want to go to concerts. Not even to see The Who, a band she really likes. To wit, this previous exchange:
Me: “Happy anniversary! Hey — I got us tickets to see The Who!”
Me: “For our anniversary.”
Her: “Why don’t you take Trey?”
Me: “Um… because that doesn’t seem very anniversary-like.”
After which I reminded her of all the Who songs she likes, and promised what a great time we’d have. (The concert, which was supposed to be last month, has been rescheduled for May because Roger Daltrey was ill, so I foresee many more months of negotiation over whether or not she’s going. She’s still insisting that I should take Trey.)
With Meat Loaf on Wednesday night, the story was quite different.
Again: “Was I invited?”
Me: “Um… no…. Sorry, did you want to go?”
Her: “I love Meat Loaf. I’ve always loved Meat Loaf! Don’t you remember that in college Ski and I used to sing Meat Loaf’s song from ‘Rocky Horror’ all the time?”
Me, not remembering that: “Sorry, I thought you didn’t like concerts.”
Her: “But this is Meat Loaf!”
Me: “I can go online right now. See if I can get you a ticket.”
Her, with a sigh: “No, that’s all right. I need to stay home with the kids….”
Me: “I’ll stay home with the kids. You go see Meat Loaf with Trey and I’ll stay here.”
Her: “No, that’s okay. You have fun.”
When I related this to Trey, while we were sitting in the theatre waiting for the show to start, his brow furrowed. “Now I feel shitty,” he said. I countered, “Don’t worry about it — I offered to buy her a ticket, I offered to stay home, I offered for her to go in my place…” “But she could be sitting right there!” he said, pointing to an empty seat to my left. And it was true — she could have been.
Just then, the lights dimmed and people hooted and the band came on and started to play. As the seven supporting musicians started, I got excited — the mix of heavy drums with percussion and keyboards, and then twin layers of guitar on top, filled me with anticipation. This sounded great, and this was going to be great!
But then… Meat Loaf entered and started to sing. Or, more appropriately, “sing.”
As I was going to learn over the course of the next 90 minutes, the 2015 version of Meat Loaf can’t sing. As we discovered the only time he spoke to the audience, he can barely speak. When, three songs in, he announced a little birthday tribute to someone in the audience, his voice reminded of the metallic scraping of our in-sink garbage disposal, a gnashing and grating clamor that no one can endure. The reason Meat Loaf has seven supporting musicians became crystal clear — most of them cover for him on vocals. Not only can he not hit a single note, he can’t find one to make the attempt. He also, I suspect, is in some physical distress. Mr. Loaf has a large upper body, and legs that don’t seem to be supporting him too well; he ambled about the stage like a great rolling stink bug in a lurching, stilted way that convinced me he has major joint problems.
Outside after the concert, Trey and I ran into our friend David, an all-around great guy and a terrific actor I’ve seen in many shows over the years. Trey and David spent about 15 minutes talking each other into how wonderful the show was even though Meat Loaf can’t sing.
“It’s so great to see him,” David said.
“I know, it was really great!”
“Oh, those songs!”
“I think he hit one note!” Trey said with earnest good intention.
“No, he didn’t,” I said sourly. I honestly didn’t want to rain on their parade, but I wasn’t in for a round of self-delusion.
They went on with fond memories of Meat Loaf’s long-ago glory days, and how rewarding it was to see him.
“GUYS!” I said. “It’s great to see you both. And to spend some time with you. Really. But the ticket was one hundred and four dollars… to see a singer… who CAN’T SING! He couldn’t find a note if you stapled it onto his nose. The band was great, but he can’t sing, and he can’t move, so in this case, two out of three really is pretty bad.”
That somewhat took the air out of the encounter.
Then an ambulance pulled up, and we wondered if it were for Mr. Loaf himself, so we hung around and rubber-necked expressly to see if it was. (It wasn’t.)
Later, I googled Meat Loaf. A major thread of the search results:
“Meat Loaf can’t sing anymore.” (If you’re going to read just one, I recommend this one — because it explicates what happens when you don’t take care of your instrument.
“Rockers Who Can’t Sing Anymore.” (Guess who is prominently featured.)
Here’s a TripAdvisor review that includes this assessment: “The first note out of his mouth made me look at my husband and question him. Is that a stand in? Is the real Meat going to come out and say it was a joke, sadly no joke, he can’t sing a note anymore.”
And then, I found this, from The Guardian:
“I’ve had 18 concussions,” he says. “My balance is off. I’ve had a knee replacement. I’ve got to have the other one replaced. Two weeks before the knee surgery, I literally couldn’t walk from the bedroom to the kitchen. They took me to the hospital in an ambulance to get my knee replaced. And when they did, it was so damaged and torn up it’s going to take a year to come back. It’s just the travel. It takes it out of you. I want to concentrate more on acting. That’s where I started and that’s where I’ll finish. This time, they’re not going to rope me back in.”
To be honest, one hopes they don’t: Meat Loaf is reminiscent of nothing so much as a veteran boxer, moving awkwardly, talking slowly until he finds his rhythm. He’s had plenty of problems on stage in recent years – a Wembley show had to be abandoned in 2003, with him requiring heart surgery afterwards – and it’s him, not me, who observes that those of his contemporaries who are still touring hard are rather less substantial figures than he is: “All those skinny guys can keep going.” He certainly doesn’t seem to be yearning to do concerts. Most rock singers will tell you the two hours on stage make up for the 22 hours of tedium. Meat Loaf doesn’t. Sitting in a suite in a London hotel, he says how sick he is of hotel rooms. He bemoans the internet culture in which people say whatever they want about whoever they want, especially him: “If people don’t know what they’re talking about, why open their mouths?” Though he’s not cantankerous – he laughs often and talks freely – there’s a sense of Grumpy Old Man about him these days.
That’s from a piece about his “farewell tour.” It’s from 2013. That farewell is long overdue.