My Conversation With Meat Loaf
“I have to say, in my 30 years that was the freakiest moment I’ve had.” – Meat Loaf, after his “interview” with Kembrew
Because I write about music, I often get invitations to participate in “teleconference” calls with musicians who are shilling their latest album. Most of the time I ignore these solicitations. After all, they are dreadful stage-managed affairs that provide little insight into a musician’s artistry and are instead designed to keep the culture industry’s engine running smoothly.
For years, I hit the delete key, but I couldn’t resist when asked if I wanted to speak with Meat Loaf, who was promoting the Halloween release of Bat Out of Hell III. This 2006 album completed a bombastic trilogy that kicked off in 1977, spawning major hits like “Paradise By the Dashboard Light” and “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad.”
I knew I had to do something, and so I cooked up a concept: What happens when Meat Loaf’s brand of bombastic rock theater encountered a confrontational form of guerrilla theater? Also, I wanted to throw a wrench into the media machine by injecting random nonsense into a well-defined genre known as the celebrity interview. Speaking in an off-kilter cadence and a peculiar pitch, I introduced myself to Mr. Loaf.
KEMBREW: Helloooooo. My name is Kembrewwwww…
MEAT LOAF: How are ya?
KEMBREW: Goooood. I just wanted to tell you that I had interpreted your lyrics in a particular way and I wanted you to confirm it with meeeeeeeee.
MEAT LOAF: [laughs uncomfortably]
Here’s the full “interview”:
For the record, I didn’t do this to make fun of him, or to point out that Meat Loaf’s records were awful or stupid; that would be too easy, and not very interesting. I targeted the guy because he’s such a compelling figure, a sui generis cultural oddity.
At 350 pounds, Meat Loaf—affectionately known to his fans simply as Meat—was an unlikely candidate for a 1970s rock megastar. Bat Out of Hell, which ended up selling over 30 million copies worldwide, was released in the middle of the punk explosion, and his ascendancy also coincided with the rise of disco. At the time, there seemed to be little room in the music marketplace for an obese actor from The Rocky Horror Picture Show who recorded an absurd concept album about teenage lust.
Even more implausible was his 1993 comeback, Bat Out of Hell II, which was perhaps more campy than the first. Riding on the wings of “I Would Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That),” a massive hit song that clocks in at roughly twelve minutes, Bat II sold as much as the first album.
All this makes Meat the ideal ingredient for a Dada chemistry experiment: Meat Loaf + High Weirdness – Script = Total Madness. During the interview, I quoted from “Objects in the Rearview Mirror (Appear Closer Than They Are),” also from Bat II. From there I launched into an incoherent analysis of the song that involved the first Gulf War, Freud and what I referred to as “reality,” which I pronounced as “re-al-it-eeeeeeeee.”
MEAT LOAF: Well, ya know, if you believe that, and that’s your interpretation, and that’s your connection with it, then you’re absolutely right. And I would never disagree with you. … It’s totally against anything I believe.
KEMBREW: It’s telling me to run out into the street and take off my clothes, and roll around in my OWN FECES! Is that what I should do? Is that what you’re explaining to me?
MEAT LOAF: If-if-if-if-if-if that’s where your brain is taking ya—uh, well, ah, it wouldn’t take me there—that you should roll around in your, in-in-in your own feces, I mean, that’s an extraordinary, uh, uh, uh, I don’t, uh, that’s an extraordinary, um, vision. And…
KEMBREW: Have you, have you…
MEAT LOAF: …why you would interpret a lyric to that extreme, I would never understand. But I’m not going to argue with ya. But I don’t agree with you—that that’s the interpretation of that lyric, I can sure tell ya that—but that’s your interpretation of it, and I’m not gonna argue with ya.
KEMBREW: Have you ever tasted your own feces? It’s not as…
MEAT LOAF: You know WHAT? I’m…
KEMBREW: … it’s not as bad as you think.
MEAT LOAF: This is a STUPID conversation at this point.
KEMBREW: Nooooooooo, it’s NOT, it means something to meeeeeeee, and you said what’s important is…
MEAT LOAF: I know, but I’m not gonna go where ya wanna go now. Because if it means something to you, it means something to you, but it doesn’t necessarily mean something to me. So I’m not going to, uh, roll around the ground with ya.
KEMBREW: But it’s important that we share this.
MEAT LOAF: [pause] Well, ya know what? I’m sharing it with ya the best I can.
KEMBREW: But what about sharing it physically? Do you know what it’s like to hold your own feces?
MEAT LOAF: You know, ya know what? I think we need to STOP this question now.
And then … dial tone. Virgin Records then sent out a press release with a full transcript of the teleconference, but our exchange had been deleted from the official record. Even though his handlers erased our conversation, they neglected to scrub later references to it, such as the following:
MODERATOR: Our next question comes from Jamie Sotonoff from the Chicago Daily Herald.
MEAT LOAF: How are ya?
JAMIE SOTONOFF: Hi Meat, how are you doing?
MEAT LOAF: Good.
JAMIE SOTONOFF: I’m still a little rattled by that weird question from that weird dude.
MEAT LOAF: You’re rattled? Um, [inaudible].
JAMIE SOTONOFF: I was like, “What?” I know, that was freaky.
MEAT LOAF: Yeah that was. I have to say, in my 30 years that was the freakiest moment I’ve had.
The day after my interview, a journalist from a b-list gossip publication called Celebrity Week contacted me. Sean Daly, who was part of the teleconference, asked if I had anything to say to Meat, and so I said, “Yes, I’d like to invite Meat Loaf to Iowa City so we can roll around in our feces together.” Daly uncomfortably chuckled and said, “Oh, I was expecting an apology,” to which I replied, in a sarcastic tone, “He can personally call me and I’ll apologize, and then we can have a further conversation about it.” When Daly’s article appeared, it quoted only the second half of my “apology,” not the let’s roll around in our feces comment (which is clearly the most important part).
This teleconference quickly turned into a (literal) game of “telephone,” in that the words I uttered—and the things I never actually said—took on a life of their own. Every news article that reported on my intervention quoted my supposed request for forgiveness, which is like a movie poster that exclaims, “this movie is … great,” when the review originally stated, “this movie is a great big pile of crap!”
Speaking of crap, a European newswire later ran a story with the headline “Meat Loaf Lyrics Are ‘Like Feces.’” While I readily admit that my odd actions could be interpreted in many ways, I certainly didn’t claim that his lyrics were “like feces” (even though the wire service put quotes around the words, as if I said them). “Veteran rocker Meat Loaf,” the article reported, “has seen his song lyrics likened to feces by an American journalist who also asked the star if he had ever tasted his own waste. Meat Loaf was the victim of notorious prankster Kembrew McLeod during a media conference call promoting his new album Bat Out of Hell III.”
To my surprise, the University of Iowa deemed my interview noteworthy enough to mention it in “UI in the News,” a section of the school’s Web site that publicizes significant media appearances by our faculty. Sandwiched between other equally important news items—such as a business scandal uncovered by a UI professor—was the headline “Prankster McLeod Confronts Meat Loaf.” Heady stuff. Of course, my employer sanitized the story by wiping away any reference to feces, and it also quoted my imaginary request for forgiveness. All this nicely illustrates the way that words, facts, and ideas can be twisted when fed into the distorting echo chamber of the news media.
I’m sure that my little prank may seem stupid and juvenile, and in many ways it was, most definitely. But it’s part of a more serious obsession that has defined my life since adulthood. You see, every now and then I like to throw a rock into the pop culture pond to observe what sort of patterns emerge, to study the ripple effect. After all, it’s fun, not to mention educational, to poke the popular media with a stick to see how it responds.