Shut Up, Meat Loaf
Jennifer W. Spirko
It is a truth universally acknowledged that any music is improved by being played in a fast-moving car at night with the windows down. When that music is metal ballad, the speed, the darkness and the loudness of highway wind are all but required to fully enjoy it.
That might have summarized my relationship with Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell in college had it not been for a classic Mustang and a good friend.
By the time I was in college, Bat Out of Hell had been in release for a decade or so, its singles soaring through the local rock station of my youth. But, I didn’t really listen to the whole album until a friend copied it on a cassette. Some songs, we insisted, were “car songs,” and these were the obvious examples, since the longest and most fun of the bunch was about having sex in a car.
That song, “Paradise by the Dashboard Light,” was what cracked open this album for me. The three-act story of a man trying to convince a woman to have sex with him is elevated to cleverness by the extended baseball commentary, which of course, as a teenager, I found hilarious: “Holy cow, stolen base! He’s taking a pretty big lead out there…. Here he comes, squeeze play! It’s gonna be close!” The woman takes control, however, with Ellen Foley’s almost triumphant, “Stop right there!”
That’s when the song’s playful misogyny becomes regular misogyny. In a trope that is much older than pop music, the woman insists on a relationship commitment before sex while the man resists. In this case, he finally relents, vowing “to my God and on my Mama’s grave” that he’ll love her until the end of time. Almost immediately, he begins “praying for the end of time,” so he can be rid of her.
The woman’s elegiac final lines keep this bitter masculinist humor from being funny. While he looks back at a past that was “so much better than it is today” – in the present with her, presumably – she echoes an earlier line, recalling “It never felt so good; it never felt so right, and we were glowing like metal on the edge of a knife.”
Most of the other songs on Bat Out of Hell give us the man’s perspective. Yet the sadness of Foley’s voice and the poignancy of those closing lines as “Paradise” fades out undercut the dude humor of the rest of the album.
It was that dude humor that fueled Bat’s place in my late-night college jaunts. My friends and I were young women who sometimes needed to yell-sing, with Foley, “Stop right there!” to our classes, our world and, most especially, to the young men in our lives.
Bat Out of Hell was our “We Hate Men” album.
My best friend M drove a tiny red hatchback. I had a 1966 Mustang, though, and some previous owner had defied the dictates of classic-car-restoration by installing a cassette deck. Late-night fast-food hours were a new phenomenon; fries and shakes proved to be good therapy. Better (and healthier) therapy were long drives up to the Foothills Parkway, a stunning highway along the top of the first high ridge in the Smoky Mountains. From there, at the many parking areas, we could see the whole town laid out in lines and scatterings of lights. The pine-scented air was cooler up there and less muggy than in the valley.
The Foothills Parkway was also where people drove to make out. A waste of scenery, it seemed to me. Pretty as it was, however, the view was just an excuse for me and M the 30-minute to drive along a dark highway for an half hour. Our drive was all about the album.
Blasting Bat Out of Hell, we would vent our frustration with boyfriends, ex-boyfriends, or would-be boyfriends. She was worldlier; I was nerdy. But we both knew that Meat Loaf (or his persona on that album, anyway) was a creep. When he sang that he wanted his girl and needed her, but “there ain’t no way I’m ever going to love you,” we knew he was full of crap. Worse yet, he consoles her: “Don’t be sad, because two out of three ain’t bad.” Shut up, Meat Loaf.
Is there one single song on the whole album that doesn’t hinge on a misogynist bro trying to scam a woman into sex, trying to guilt her into sex, trying to get out of a commitment to he made so he could have sex with her, or some combination of the above? What woman, M and I wondered, would want this guy?
Well, the voice was pretty sexy, as in the near-growl of the werewolf prologue to “You Took the Words Right Out of My Mouth”: “On a hot summer night, would you offer your throat to the wolf with the red roses?” But no amount of sexy growls could disguise the actual words. Having vocally seduced his target, the “werewolf” snaps, “I bet you say that to all the boys.”
Really? Slut-shaming the woman you’re seducing? Shut up, Meat Loaf.
M and I howled – not werewolf-like, but like warrior-princesses: “ASSHOLE!” We’d sing along with this oh-so-singable album. and, in our minds, The asshole with his red roses and squeeze plays was every guy who rejected us or didn’t, who disappointed us or pressured us. Meat Loaf was Everyman, and on those long drives through the Tennessee night, we hated him.
We gleefully and blissfully exorcised him with every sexist ballad we sang along with belted aloud. When we got back to campus, full of milkshakes and music, we didn’t hate him less, but at least we could face him again for a while.
Jennifer Spirko has had a variety of jobs in her life, from newspaper reporter and copy editor to graduate-school thesis advisor to middle-school teacher/administrator. Along the way, she taught literature and writing at North Carolina State University, Meredith College, Maryville College, the University of Tennessee and Pellissippi State Community College. She finally realized what she wanted to do when she grew up when she became a librarian three years ago; now she only awaits growing up. Jennifer holds an M.A. from the Shakespeare Institute of the University of Birmingham, England, and is ABD in literature from the University of Tennessee. Writing is the thread that has unified her academic and professional careers. Writing is also one of the threads that unifies her bookish family; she lives in East Tennessee with husband Rob, and adolescent children Hannah and Zeke. Their five cats care neither about writing nor reading.