ERIC SAWYER Hi everybody, thank you for coming, and it’s a great honor to be welcoming Jim Steinman here today. I’m Eric Sawyer, I’m chair of the music department, and… just a brief introduction to Jim: when Jim Steinman was a senior here at Amherst in 1969, he wrote and starred in The Dream Engine, a rock epic that was three hours long and performed largely in the nude. Needless to say, it attracted attention from a lot of people, including Joseph Papp, founder of the New York Shakespeare Festival, who worked with Mr. Steinman for several years thereafter.
1973 marked the first commercial release of a song Mr. Steinman wrote. He went on to write and arrange all of the songs for the album Bat Out of Hell, which, since its 1977 release, has sold more than 43 million copies worldwide, making it the second most popular album in history. As of the week of April 15, 2013, Bat Out of Hell was #9 on the UK album charts, 35 years later. Its sequel, Bat Out of Hell II: Back Into Hell, had #1 hits in more than two dozen countries.
It is safe to say that just about everyone in this room has heard songs that Mr. Steinman has written, arranged, or produced, not just “I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That)” and “Paradise by the Dashboard Light,” but also “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” “Holding Out for a Hero,” “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now,” among many other memorably dramatic tracks. In addition, our guest wrote the lyrics for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical Whistle Down the Wind, which premiered in 1996, and composed the score for Roman Polanski’s musical Tanz der Vampire, now onstage in Berlin for its fifteenth consecutive year.
A true liberal arts grad, Mr. Steinman has created music influenced by the operas of Wagner, Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, Barrie’s Peter Pan, and Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker. In fact, one of his works-in-progress is a heavy metal version of The Nutcracker, to be directed by Monty Python’s Terry Jones, and entitled Nutz. (Laughter) Mr. Steinman is also creating a stage musical version of Bat Out of Hell, to be directed by film, theater, and musical helmer Kenny Ortega next year. In June 2012, Mr. Steinman was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. Now he is here to speak with us.
Please give a rock epic welcome to Amherst’s own Jim Steinman!
JIM STEINMAN Did everybody get the copies of the articles? You can just throw ‘em out, really. It just was a way to justify the title of the whole speech. I should start with saying that — full disclosure — in 2004, I had a stroke and I lost the ability to speak, so I had to relearn that. I’m just saying that for the sake of you knowing it.
I thought I’d start with this article — it’s up there. (Gestures to projection) Actually, I wonder, as I’ve never seen the Amherst Student since then, are there any articles like this in the Amherst Student now? (Laughter) I’m serious! I mean, there were no computers at the time, so that was a big deal to me, the graphics, even, of the article, the layout. I was the arts editor and that was my first big piece. It was really a conglomeration of observations on rock and roll and politics, but, I think, after I wrote it, I read Frank Zappa’s quote, which was:
Rock and roll critics are people who can’t write, writing about people who can’t talk, for people who can’t read. (Laughter) And I sort of figured,
I don’t know if I want to be a part of that, so I decided I should actually write some music.
Now, since I didn’t know how, that was a drawback, so I had to teach myself how to write music, which I did while I was up here. That was the beginning. It wasn’t very good, but it was serviceable, and allowed me to do the production he mentioned, The Dream Engine, which was a remarkable production, which… there are people who were in it that are here now, including the director, Barry Keating, who did a brilliant job… and it’s still the best thing I’ve ever created. I’m totally positive of that. The only thing that was weak was the songs, ‘cause I didn’t have a fucking clue. (Laughter) But it was effective.
I think I picked that piece because that exact date (whatever it was, October 1968), when that article was printed, that was when I felt I was born, really. I became the persona that I am. It required that accomplishment. And it was important to me that… I haven’t been back to Amherst since then, and the amazing thing about Amherst is that I got so much out of it and I never went to class. (Laughter) I was such an asshole. I totally ignored every class, I slept through everything, I mean there was actually a friend of mine, Dave (last name illegible, sounds like “edie”), whose job it was to come… if they had spaghetti at lunch, he would wake me up at noon so I could get the spaghetti. That’s where my… I don’t think my love of Italian opera has any connection to that, but I just liked the spaghetti. So I think that article was very essential to me, to write that, and what’s amazing when you read it through now… I mean, it’s a bunch of bullshit, really, but it’s pretty spectacular bullshit… and it was the first thing, which is the hard — that’s the old quote —
The past is a different place, they do things differently there.
And everything was different. It was such a momentous time of change. Rock and roll was basically being born in that time, and politics was tumultuous. The Chicago riots had just happened that previous summer, and they were amazingly effective in affecting every person. In fact, if I look at music now, which I don’t — I mostly listen to classical, always have — but when it comes to pop music, to me it’s, like, lame, which I think is what old people are supposed to say,
it always was better then, and then
get off my lawn. (Laughter) But the fact is I do believe that rock and roll was at its greatest between ’65 and ’73. The music building here was brand new, and we would go there like sacraments to listen to new albums the day they came out, mostly The Beatles (I always remember the “White Album” by The Beatles, listening to that like it was holy), and… actually, that’s what it was. Albums that came out in those days seemed holy, and seemed like sacraments. It was a sacrament to a ceremony, I don’t have any idea what it was, but just formed itself, and it was such a flash of new brilliance with every album that it was stunning to live through that.
I would listen to those and opera. That’s all, period. I still mostly listen to opera, ‘cause my two gods in my life were Samuel Beckett, as a writer, and Richard Wagner, as a composer/writer. They’re my gods. I am so pathetic compared to them, so I have to live with that, but I think that’s the point — you have gods that are so much more splendid than you are. I’ve never achieved anything close to Wagner or Beckett but I still worship them.
The Dream Engine, as a work… I had very little idea what I was doing, because it was an Independent Study. I had no work to do in senior year except one project, which became The Dream Engine, and the only thing I submitted was that article that you have. I submitted that — I figured,
What am I gonna do with this article? and said,
Well, I’ll make it a musical. At the time, it seemed like a good idea, and then I had to figure out, how does this fucking thing become a musical? (Laughter) And somehow, I figured out a way to make it a musical working with Barry Keating, who is here, who directed it. Where are you, Barry? (Barry indicates himself) Okay, he’s here. Barry directed it and played one of the lead roles, I played the lead, and there are a few cast members who are here — hi Bobby, Ellen. It’s hard to describe how that went. It was such a fire bolt in the midst of everything, with all the politics going on.
The Amherst Student was so deadly dull, it was like a little junior New York Times, and it was appallingly bad. I mean, everything was… layout was never like the one I had for The Dream Engine, never had that kind of layout, not to mention there’d never been a mention of rock and roll or pop music ever. This is in ‘69! Ridiculous! So… I don’t even think there was an arts editor! So I became the first arts editor, and started going berserk. I remember the first comment I got from the faculty was
Amherst now has its premiere priapic purveyor of pornography. I was so proud, I really was. (Laughter) After a while, I found out what
priapic meant, and I was even prouder. (Laughter)
So immediately, from the start, it was very polarizing, and the faculty was more than polarizing. They basically despised me; they knew I despised them, so it was kind of a sycophantic relationship in a strange way. And actually, when the show was such a sensation, it caused huge ovations every night, like, 20-minute ovations, and discussion groups, the audience would mingle with the cast afterwards, a riot almost one night, the police were there one night:
Turn it down, close it down! All I was thinking was,
This is box office! This is the way to sell a show! I cared so much about commercialism; I used to go in Kirby Theater to the lounge and look at Variety and read the grosses of shows. I had no idea what I was reading, but the numbers… I liked art being identified, in the end, as numbers. That appealed to me.
This piece was so spectacularly revolutionary, politically and theatrically. To point out how it was so wild theatrically, it’s a big musical, about three-hour musical, and it opened with Barry Keating doing a twenty-minute monologue as an old man, which is not the usual way to start a musical, but it was spectacular at that time, and I had no idea not to do that, so… as Barry likes to say,
We had no idea what not to do, so we just did it.
And The Dream Engine was such a phenomenon that Joseph Papp, of the New York Shakespeare Festival, came up to see it that Saturday night. It was fantastic, he was enthralled, and at the intermission, in the dressing room at Kirby, the whole cast was there — most of us were nude, because the second act was nude — and Joseph Papp walks in to, like, thirty kids nude, which is not the way you usually see Shakespeare being done there, so he knew there was something unusual. But he actually signed a contract with me at the intermission to have rights to it, and that was… at that point, I didn’t care what happened with school. (Laughter)
‘Cause there was a big bet going on whether I’d graduate or not. (Laughter) There really was. People were betting, like, amazing amounts of money to me, like $100. So when I came to graduation, when I did graduate, I got a huge standing ovation from about 80% of the people who had bet on me graduating. I think the other 20% were pissed off. I was just amazed that I graduated. It was unexpected, even though it was graduation. (Laughter) I remember the last thing I had to do was qualify for gym requirements.
Amherst was so different then, you have no idea. The freshman year at Amherst was the most vicious freshman year in the country, it was notorious. In fact, it ended after that year. The school psychologist — Dr. Copeland, I think it was — he decided that it was so destructive. There were so many… I’m missing memory, ‘cause I just wandered the hallways ‘cause I never studied, I gave up… and wandering the hallways at exam time, all I could hear was crying from rooms, people crying. It was like… there was, like, 12 nervous breakdowns that… people had to leave the college. And it was partly because it was required to be this kind of a Marine Corps intellectual boot camp. It was vicious. I mean, I had never taken Algebra, and suddenly I’m taking Physics first year, and first year Physics at Amherst turned out to be equivalent of third year Physics at Harvard, so I’m completely, like, reading German, which I don’t know. (Laughter) So it was totally foreign to me, this whole concept, and I just pretty much gave up.
But when I did graduate, I just owed the gym requirement, which, I forgot to mention, I did graduate at the end because I had to meet with the gym professor, and I remember him asking,
Don’t you have anything I haven’t put down? Anything at all? And I said,
I don’t… no, I’m not on any teams. And he said,
Do you run a lot in the summer? I said,
No. It got to the point where he said,
Do you toss and turn a lot in your sleep? (Laughter) That’s a quote. That’s an actual quote. And I said,
Oh yeah, I’m a very restless sleeper. It’s exhausting. (Laughter) And he wrote that down. I think that’s what got me, finally, the first one to be on the team for restless sleeper. But I had nothing else to say.
I also remember applying for an Independent Study was terrifying, because it was only given to a few people. This was the second year it was ever done. And I had terrible grades; I’d been kicked out of school twice. I got back in simply by my grandmother dying, which she did twice… (Laughter) …because I got kicked out twice, and I figured,
She doesn’t give a shit, you know? So the second time she died, I got in the second time, but it was pretty awful being thrown out, but I was here every year, in the end. It was just a question of would I graduate. I did, and so that was pretty amazing, but all I was thinking about was, what can I do with Dream Engine, and what can be done with this.
I thought, back to when I applied for Independent Study, it was like Judgment at Nuremburg. There was, I don’t know where this was, but there were three people on an elevated platform that really seemed like the Nuremburg trials. And I have no idea why, but they were elevated, which was the scary part. Three people I don’t even know, three professors, and they interrogated me. I gave them the article, which they kind of brushed aside, and I talked pretty good about it, and I bullshitted my way through it, and they seemed pretty likely about giving me an Independent Study.
And then, all of a sudden, out of the blue, one of them says,
Well, Mr. Steinman, we do have to deal with reality. And I thought,
I’m fucked! (Laughter) ‘Cause if there’s one subject I really was bad in, that was it. I had no connection to reality at all, so I thought,
I have no way to talk my way out of this. They brought up a huge stack of folders, which is, I guess, reality. (Laughter) And they looked at me very sternly and said,
We see here that you got a 34 in Physics and a 19 in Calculus. How do you explain that? And I said,
I was always better in science than math. (Laughter) Honest to God, that’s what I said, and I think, despite themselves, the three of them, they all sort of laughed. It was such a good ad lib — it was right on the spot, it was totally true. And by the way, it’s still on my record, 34/19, because I had a wonderful talk with the Dean the second time I was kicked out. He said,
You realize that we don’t give less than 30 at Amherst. How did I know this was such a discriminatory college? (Laughter) To stop at 30 seems outrageous. So on my record it says… the lowest they give is 60… so they wrote 60*. So I’m kind of like, what’s his name, Sosa from baseball — I have an asterisk. I didn’t take steroids, but I took a lot of acid. (Laughter) That’s another funny thing. I never smoked marijuana in my whole life while I was here, but I took so much acid and mescaline, which was incredibly good by the way. I thought it should be required. I still feel that, I think that drugs should be required. With supervision. And discounts. (Laughter)
So I did get that Independent Study, and I am totally convinced it was for that ad-libbed comment. And their comment was:
Keep us informed about how you’re gonna transform this article into a musical. And I never sent them a fucking thing, so they hated that, and the people who graded me at the end, this phenomenal piece, Joseph Papp and all that, and I get a D Minus grade, which is made of… one professor, Donald White, a professor of German no less, gave me an F, the other two gave me D’s, so it averaged out to D Minus. That was my grade. Barry got an A. (Laughter) I don’t know who he had to fuck to get an A, but… (Barry, from audience:
They sympathized with me.) Yeah, I guess so, ‘cause you did a great job directing it and in it, but I created the whole thing, too, and I was in it, but I got an F. (Laughter)
I could care less, though, because I had a career. I knew what I wanted to do — I wanted to do rock and roll, and theater. And I never knew that till then. I didn’t have a concept of what it was until I did Dream Engine. And so, for that alone, Amherst was the most magnificent treatment I received, you know? It was, like, the equivalent of ten years of therapy, I suppose… if therapy allowed you to get up at noon and eat spaghetti. (Laughter) Which I don’t think it does, but… I’m sure there is some school that allows that…
The time then was spent — Barry knows this well, the two of us — trying to do Dream Engine. And Papp’s idea was a brilliant idea: he wanted to take the whole cast and move them all to the Delacorte Theatre at Central Park in New York, and do it just as it was here in Amherst. And had that happened, it would have been the most amazing, sensational thing ever. I really believe that. Hair had just happened Off-Broadway, and he saw this as, like, ten steps beyond Hair, and it really was, but unfortunately… the Delacorte never got approved by anybody, ‘cause it was always Shakespeare, but this time it was the first new work they were gonna have at the Delacorte, so I had to give the script to Papp, and he had to give the script to the City Council. And John Lindsay was running for mayor in 1970, and there was no way they were gonna allow this to be done. They thought it was incredibly sexually raunchy, explicit, obnoxious… it was all of that, but it was really fun, too. (Laughter) So it just fell apart, and that was such a shame, because it would have been thrilling. And I think 80% of the cast would have actually come, they were actually hanging around for that, but it just didn’t happen. And then a long series of stories of trying to do it with Papp in other places… he was wonderful to me, I mean he was a wonderful man, and we just never could get it done, really. It just… part of it was, it was so hard to transfer the zeitgeist, the aura up here, where everything was so combustible, down to New York City, and keep that same thrill. And it just never happened.
So I had to learn how to just write music and keep writing theater, which I did. And writing music was the hardest part… (Coughs heavily) …excuse me… ‘cause I hadn’t done that. (Someone gives him water to clear his throat) Oh, like magic! (Laughter, he drinks) Ah, that’s vodka… (Laughter) I remember thinking to myself,
What do I want a song to be? I had no idea. A hit, I guess, but I had no idea what that meant. And I listened to all the Motown I knew, I had no idea what the chords were. I knew what Dylan’s chords were, but I couldn’t write the lyrics that well. I was stuck, pretty much. I finally realized that, to me, a great song should be an erection of the heart. And that became my mantra to myself:
An erection of the heart. I thought a great song should be that, a great play should be that, Beckett created erections of the heart, Wagner created erections of the heart, and I hoped that I did. The problem was that my songs were very long, which resulted in… I think they need the same warning as Cialis has. (Laughter) But that’s okay too, Cialis is fine. So I learned to write music that way — lyrics first and music after that — and I just wrote what I wanted to write.
I met Meat Loaf auditioning for the first show I did at the Public Theater. (Coughs, jostling his sunglasses) I should take these off; I just realized I had ‘em on. (Removes them) Oh my God, it’s in color! (Laughter) Is all the world like this? But one thing… if anyone wants to go into show business, the best thing I can do is simply quote someone else. William Goldman is a great writer who wrote a book called The Season about a Broadway season, and he has an amazing chapter… as I remember, Chapter 13 ends with a long paragraph saying,
Above all else, if you remember nothing else, you must never forget this. This is the one thing you have to know every minute of your life, and never, ever, ever ignore this. And that was the end of the chapter. (Laughter) And you turn the page, and there’s Chapter 14, and I’ve never seen this before… the font, which is a normal font, changed to the biggest font I’ve ever seen in a book, two pages, and all it said is:
Nobody knows anything. That was Chapter 14. And that was the one thing not to forget. And I’ve learned that’s totally true — if you can remember that nobody knows anything, you’re in good shape, ‘cause that’s really the hardest thing to keep in mind. And one of the most destructive is that you think people do know something, and they don’t. That’s all I can say as advice is, just remember, nobody does know anything.
So I started writing these songs. The first one was the album Bat Out of Hell, and it was considered a complete joke. It was seven songs; a lot of them were ten minutes long. There was one I wrote to be
a single, as they said. They said,
Can’t you write something short? So I wrote something… it was still five minutes, but it was shorter than anything else… and that became the only one that got airplay, except for the FM stations. This was also the birth of FM radio at that time, which is such an antiquated thing to talk about now — it’s like I’m talking about the old Roaring Twenties or something. But you couldn’t get airplay of long songs, except on a few stations, and there were two very long songs, “Bat Out of Hell” and “Paradise by the Dashboard Light,” that were about ten minutes apiece. And one station in New York, WNEW, played them (they were the only station that did that), and one station in Cleveland played them — the only two in the country, which was pretty horrifying. I was really… I would have the radio on for hours, just… there’s nothing more exciting than hearing your song on the radio. It really is the truth. In a car, especially, but I didn’t have a car, so… (Laughter) I was just listening to the radio. And eventually I met the program director, a guy named Scott Muni, and I went up to him and I said,
Thank you so much for playing those songs! And this is exactly what he said to me, he said,
Well, you know what I love about those songs? They’re so long I can put them on, go into the bathroom, take a long dump, and come back and they’re still playing. That’s why I love ‘em. (Laughter) I thought,
Well, I guess if this is music criticism, this is a great review. (Laughter) I mean, ‘music to take a dump by.’ It’s functional, at least. But having grown up with Wagner, I thought these songs were short, you know? I was used to five-hour, six-hour things. I still am.
I think I didn’t really master songwriting until I wrote, in 1981, a song called “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” which really became, probably, my best-known song, and I’m very proud of it. I have no idea how I did it. I have no idea how I did any songs. I know nothing about musical theory. I’m always amazed. ‘Cause there’s a YouTube of a guy analyzing “Total Eclipse of the Heart” musically, very brilliantly, about a 25-minute video. I’m watching this, I think,
Did I fucking do this? (Laughter)
Amazing! There must be something good somewhere in me! But it’s very impressive, you know, about chordal modulations and keys and things that I’d never thought about. I was so busy just thinking about lyrics, which is another good piece of advice, I think, if you’re going into music. Everyone always asks,
What do you do? To me, the best thing is always write lyrics first. I just think it lends itself to a better song, ‘cause if you write music first, the lyrics tend to be diluted ‘cause you’re working with the music. But it’s different for everyone, so that’s sort of take-it-or-leave-it, but I did feel lyrics were the key.
I didn’t work with Meat Loaf again on a record for sixteen years, which to me was the right time between records. I just had a different point of view. So that’s when I did the second Bat Out of Hell album that had “I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That),” which, to this day, amazes me that everybody I meet says,
What was ‘that’? What is ‘that’ that he won’t do? And I thought it was so obvious when I wrote it, but it’s this great trick — not an optical illusion, an aural illusion I guess, a mental illusion. The words somehow trick the listener into not knowing what it is, even though it’s spelled out. So I won’t get into what it is… (Laughter) …‘cause it’s much better if it’s a mystery. The best comment came from Meat Loaf’s manager at the time, who said,
We’re gonna be huge with this song. I said,
Really? It’s gonna be a hit song? He said,
The title is #1. And that was a great comment. And it did become a #1 song, and that was exciting, too. That was my first #1 after “Eclipse.”
“Eclipse” was cool because, at that time, to rest on some laurels — I need some laurels to rest on — I had two songs that were #1 and 2 for five weeks in Billboard. “Total Eclipse” was #1, and “Making Love (Out of Nothing at All)” with Air Supply was #2, for five weeks. I’d wanted “Total Eclipse” to be the big one anyway. And what was amazing is no one had ever had 1 and 2 together, individual, in history. Still hasn’t happened. Prince had #1 and 2, but he didn’t sing them — I think The Bangles sang one. And The Bee Gees had 1 and 2, but they didn’t produce them. I had written, produced, and arranged, and everything, on the records, and that was the first time that ever happened, and still, I think, to this day, it’s the only time. So that was kind of exciting.
Basically, I kept wanting to do theater and film. And another thing I learned is you can’t mix these things. If you want to do film, which I really wanted to do, you have to live in Los Angeles, or you have to be there a lot. You have to follow up on everything. And I just kept coming back to music, and that was a mistake, in that sense, because if you jump around, you can’t keep it going. You have to… L.A., and television, and film, is so much based on networking and pushing things forward, and it’s really promoting what your work is, and I couldn’t do that, so eventually I just became theater and music.
And in the theater, my greatest experience ever was working with Roman Polanski on Tanz der Vampire, which was done in Vienna, and then moved from Vienna, where it ran for three years, to Germany, where it’s run for… ever, it seems like, you know. All I know is Hitler was gone, so it was after that, but… (Laughter) It was an amazing experience, and every… Steven Rinkoff, who co-produces with me, is here… my engineer; he’s a brilliant guy… every day, we’d go to see the show, and he’d whisper to me,
It’s still in German. (Laughter) And I said,
Yeah, it still is in German. And I had no idea, I mean I sort of knew what they were saying, but I never really heard it right. And when they did it in English, they fucked it up so badly that I won’t even think of it as being in existence, really, it was so pathetic, which is another lesson about nobody knows anything, was the case. But it was enough to do the one in Germany, which is still playing in Berlin after all these years. And then I did Whistle Down the Wind with Andrew Lloyd Webber, which was… what was cool about this is, I did the lyrics for that (he did the music, of course), and Tanz, I did the music but not the lyrics, which are in German. I wrote some in English that were changed to German, but mostly I did the music. So I like that I did one show, music, one show, lyrics, I like that kind of versatility.
Actually, this seems like a good time, Barry, for you to… Barry can do a short excerpt from the opening of The Dream Engine, which opened with this speech by an old, ancient historian.
BARRY KEATING (Coming out of audience) I’m the only person who can still play the same part they played 40 years ago. (Laughter) So you have to imagine me even more old and wizened than I am. Jim wrote this… I was the character guy at school, so he kind of put a conglomeration of, like, Professor Irwin Corey, Ludwig von Drake…
JIM STEINMAN They were real professors here, weren’t they? (Laughter) I remember them at Amherst.
BARRY KEATING So, yeah, this is the beginning of our musical.
(Barry assumes character, goes over to blackboard, and writes ‘KETCHUP OR BLOOD?’ in big letters as if beginning a lecture, which draws laughter.)
Ladies and gentlemen, I am an historian. Ketchup or blood? Yes… No… Yes… Ketchup or blood? And which is which? Yes… No… Yes… Ketchup or blood? Does it matter? They both disgust me. Ketchup or blood? Does it matter? Ketchup or blood? I asked you a question. Ketchup or blood? Ketchup or blood? KETCHUP OR BLOOD? Does it matter??
We pour one on our meats to make our meals more colorful, we pour the other on our flesh to make our deaths more colorful, to make our wars more colorful, to make our stockyards shine brighter with red, to make our burial grounds run richer with red… let the food be seasoned with ketchup, let the stockyards be seasoned with blood, and let us all take it wherever we can get it! Yes… No… Yes…
We pour one on our meats to make our meals more colorful, the other on our flesh to make our wars more colorful, to make our slaughter more colorful for the movies (and yes, we do have colorful movies, yes). Do you like the movies? I find them immeasurably more entertaining than the theater, don’t you? You do? Then get out!
Ketchup or blood? We enjoy them both. Ketchup or blood? We love our movies. Ketchup or blood? We love our lives. Ketchup or blood? We love our dramas. Ketchup or blood? We love our meat. Well, don’t we? Don’t we love our meat, now? Don’t we? All together now, look at me! — all together now:
Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes we love our meat! So why do we smother it with ketchup? Why do we drown it in blood? Yes... no… yes… yes, yes…
I am an historian. I have to keep reminding myself; something that hideous, you try to forget. I deal in life. Life… so little to do, and so much time to do it in. I think I’m going to puke. SHUT UP!
Where was I? Oh, yes. The young. The young! The fine young boys and the fine young girls. First the girls: the girls who submerge themselves night after night in long strenuous swims beneath the hard stiff undertow of young boys’ waves — and don’t give a damn if they drown or not. Well… how long do you think it’ll last? How long before you find yourself sweating from one filthy supermarket to the next, looking with horror at your own flabby, irrigated flesh? I can see you now; I can see you waddling down the street… your fat tits erupting in front of you — your fat, hideous tits, bouncing hysterically like two middle-aged cheerleaders trying desperately but hopelessly to arouse enthusiasm for the tired antique body that follows far behind… I use the word ‘body’ loosely. I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt, to say the least.
And the fine young boys. The blue-eyed boys. How proud they are, hurtling themselves through space, in the middle of a clear green field, legs tightly wrapped around a pliant apple tree. How long do you think it’ll last? How long before your shattered remains are found in some enemy swamp, somewhere far off in some enemy swampland, and sent home to Mother on a tin-pan coffin with your name inscribed on your ass and the lid opened wide? How long before that lovely head of yours explodes in a blaze of blonde chaos, after just one golden overdose more than you can stand?
You can’t escape. The battlefield of eternal, undeclared wars is unbounded and endless. There are no limits there, there never will be. And terrified young men, just like yourselves, will continue to lob one another’s skulls across the wings of strange birds that are burning themselves alive — just like you are. There’s no way out. And after that, how soon before you find yourself trapped in a business suit… a prisoner in your own nightly bath, with pink soap balls for eyes, and nothing to see, and no reason to try. The perfect American marriage, perhaps: the vegetable husband and his vegetarian wife! (Laughs) SHUT UP!
Well, I could go on, but I won’t. Tonight is a festive occasion and I… I… I let myself get carried away. The fine young boys. The blue-eyed boys. Fools! I warn you, but you never listen. FOOLS! All of you! (Sobs) I suppose I seem to be crying… (Suddenly harsh) Don’t let it fool you, shitholes! I admit it. There is nowhere else. I’ll admit it. (Pause) Can’t you see how much I hate you?
Ladies and gentlemen, without further ado, tonight’s history!
JIM STEINMAN It seems to me every musical should open like that.
BARRY KEATING A senior in college wrote that.
JIM STEINMAN Yeah. And the first song I wrote, actually, was “Who Needs the Young?” It was during the riots in Chicago. I found it easier to write from the villain’s point of view, which was very helpful, because it showed me how to write character songs. So I wrote a sung hatred of young at the age of 19, and it was a great exercise when I look back on it. But that was amazing… that was just an excerpt of that speech, just 20 minutes, but it was pretty amazing the way you did it. Very good, Barry. (Applause) Just such a wild way to start a musical! (Laughs) I just can’t believe this… as we often say, the stuff we did, we had no idea we couldn’t do this, so that’s what we did. And the opening number was a really long, spectacular opening number, so… pretty wild show. It deserved the response it got; I mean that’s why I’m proudest of it. Better than anything I’ve ever done in my life, was at Amherst my senior year. It’s an amazing thing to look back on.
But now, get off my lawn! (Laughter) I sort of revel in being an old geezer now, you know, what the fuck? (Someone in the audience reminds Jim to ask if people have questions) What? Oh yeah, questions. Oh, I thought you had a question! Uh, what’s… questions… does anyone have questions?
AUDIENCE MEMBER Do you still eat spaghetti?
JIM STEINMAN Yes, actually! That’s actually one of the only things I totally eat all the time — I never got over that — since I was a little kid, actually. Any other questions? That was a challenging one. (Laughter)
AUDIENCE MEMBER What was working with Meat Loaf like?
JIM STEINMAN Oh… it’s like a rider working with a bull at a rodeo. (Laughter) And I don’t have to tell you who’s the bull. (Laughter) And a little less behaved than the bull. That was what it was like, working with Meat Loaf. Actually, at the time I met him, he was not at all like he is now, or became. (He was directed to become Meat Loaf, a character.) He was a farm kid… really came in as a farm kid, just
aw shucks and (rough Southern accent)
Oh well I dunno, I dunno what I’m gonna do. And he… once I heard his voice, I just thought,
He’s a heldentenor! He’s a Wagnerian heldentenor! Which means a raw tenor. I thought he could be great. And everyone else was disgusted, you know,
He’s big and fat, what do you want? But we… I got the writer, Michael Weller, to write a part for him in that show that Barry was in, too. And he was on stage with Meat Loaf. What would you say Meat Loaf was like then?
BARRY KEATING He was mesmerizing. He was like a force of nature. It was a cameo part, but I never forgot there was a song for him.
JIM STEINMAN Yeah. I wrote a great song for him. And I remember he was so scared of everything. He kept saying for the first show, he said,
Jimmy, I can’t go out there! I can’t go out there! There’s people out there! I can’t go out there! I said,
This is gonna be tough, Meat. There’ve gotta be people out there, but all I can tell you is they will stand up and cheer after your song.
No one’s gonna do that in the middle of a show! There’s only 60 people in this little tiny place! And I said,
Well, they’re gonna do it. (I had no idea if they were gonna do it, but I had to say it.) So he sang the song, and, honestly, 60 people stood up and cheered! And I knew I was right. I knew this was a great talent.
It took a lot of work. We rehearsed every day for, like, two years. I had to teach him all different voices. And I taught him, even, the mannerisms. And what happened is he became the character of Meat Loaf, it’s sort of fascinating. He became impossible, so to speak, with the help of a lot of cocaine. (Laughter) But that’s why it was 16 years later that I did another album with him, where I had to teach him how to sing again, but still… it was… I still… I was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, and Meat Loaf did the induction. It was kind of wonderful to have the full circle, and it was kind of nice being inducted. It wasn’t as painful as I thought, the induction. (Laughter) Induction seems more painful than it actually is. Any other questions? Yeah?
AUDIENCE MEMBER Thanks for all of this. My math may be off, but it occurs to me you might have overlapped for one year with the legendary Marshall Bloom here. Did you meet him, or was he gone by the time you got here?
JIM STEINMAN Who?
AUDIENCE MEMBER Marshall Bloom.
JIM STEINMAN (Confused noises)
BARRY KEATING He was here. We weren’t that political (inaudible), but Marshall Bloom, yes, he was here.
JIM STEINMAN Yeah, I remember him now. Marshall Bloom. But I was political, you weren’t. You weren’t then. But I was doing marching with… I went on a great march with Allen Ginsberg in New York. I was beaten up twice by the police. Anti-war movement… you know, I tell you, this is… the biggest regret I have is that they abolished the draft. Not for political reasons, but for aesthetic reasons. It totally made rock and roll what it was. It was the primary force… you can’t believe what it was like, knowing you might be killed every day. Even at Amherst — we were supposed to have student deferments, but they were taking 23 people out of Amherst. And my hometown… I had no choice; I mean I was definitely going. And that kind of urgency and desperation and anger fueled so much power in music, and the whole culture sort of was exploding — the drugs, the music, the social mores. It was an astonishing time, brilliant time.
But the draft was the reason, and what musical acts now, besides Steve Jobs coming up with iTunes, which, you know, I can’t knock it, but it destroyed my profession of being a producer… really, there are no producers anymore, there are no albums, it’s all singles ‘cause of iTunes… but… and digital, I hate digital, I mean I can’t even describe to people… all I can say is, if you never heard analogue records, you have no idea what things should sound like, if you grow up with CDs and DVDs. It was all about analogue and the power of analogue. So, the draft and Steve Jobs… they’ve both died since then, but they really were the forces that controlled things.
I miss so much the music of those days. Not just The Beatles, but I would cry hysterically listening to Pet Sounds by The Beach Boys; I mean just sob and sob. Same way with Beckett. I was very fortunate; at the age of 8, 9, and 10, my parents would take me to Off-Broadway shows, so I saw Albee, Edward Albee’s one-acts, American Dream, Zoo Story, Death of Bessie Smith. Beckett, I saw Endgame, Krapp’s Last Tape, Happy Days… incredible play, Happy Days. If you haven’t read Beckett, read Beckett. He’s the only playwright you have to read, that’s what I would say, a genius, and so much better than I can even dream of, but, I mean, miraculous. And the fact that he wrote everything in French, and he’s Irish… to write it in French and then translate back, I mean, that’s awesome to me.
Because that always reminds me… for two years, I ended up wanting to be a record producer primarily, ‘cause I thought it was an easy gig, and you could make a lot of money, but it was… I hated it. And my first group I did was Def Leppard, who are probably now, like, such antiquated people, but at the time they were the hottest rock and roll group. And I had to go over to Ireland to meet with them ‘cause they were expatriates, ‘cause they couldn’t pay the taxes in England. And the weirdest experience of my life was meeting with Def Leppard.
And I spent months with them, but they… the thing I really treasured was, at one point we all had a conference, and the lead singer said,
Look, we apologize that you had to come to Dublin, Ireland, but we can’t be in England, so I’m sorry about this. I said,
Sorry? Are you kidding? Ireland… Dublin? This is the home of Synge, O’Casey, George Bernard Shaw… who are the others…
Yeats, James Joyce. (Yeah, I named everyone.) I said,
Just being here is amazing. His comment was:
Well, we haven’t really played with these local musicians yet. (Laughter) So I figured I wouldn’t pursue that train of thought, but… it was the same…
And the drummer whispered to me one day,
I really want to be on this record. And I said,
Well, you’re the drummer, right?
Yeah, but I really want to be on this record. There’s something more to this that I’m missing. (Laughter) It turned out the previous two records; he had never touched a drum. It was all done by the producer, Mutt Lange, who ended up married to Shania Twain. Very strange way to end up. (Laughter) But he was doing, then, things like The Cars and Def Leppard, and… he was a great producer, but insane. Totally insane. And he had never allowed real drums, he was one of the first to only use drum machines — but not like dance music, not like drum machines like I used in “Holding Out for a Hero,” he used them to simulate real drums. But he wouldn’t let the drummer play, and the drummer was upset about that.
And so, this poor guy, the drummer, my favorite guy in the band… he… this group had no idea how much money they had. They had millions and millions of dollars, but they had no idea. They just knew how many cars they had, that’s how they judged things. You know,
I have nine cars. Okay. (Laughter) That weekend, he went over to… we were in Holland at that point, recording, and he went over to Sweden for some reason, and bought an incredible Corvette, a new Corvette that was all black and just gorgeous, and he drove it onto the recording studio lot to show everyone. I said,
That’s an amazing car. It’s like a death car. It looks like a car of death. And I was kidding, but one month later, that New Year’s Eve, he got in a car accident and lost his leg… (Audience member corrects him) His arm, his arm… I knew it was one of those things. (Laughter) Details. He lost his arm, and so I called him up — the tour manager, I couldn’t talk to him. But I said,
How is he? And the tour manager says,
Well, not good. They finally had to amputate. I said,
So he has no arm? He said,
Yeah. Luckily, it won’t affect the drumming. (Laughter) That was an eye-opener. And he still plays with the one hand… I mean the one arm… and the rest is all triggered. Something… I don’t know what the moral of that is, but that’s just a good story.
Any other questions? Yeah?
AUDIENCE MEMBER How did you guys get Rizzuto to do [“Paradise”]?
JIM STEINMAN Oh, that’s a good story. That was my idea, to get Phil Rizzuto. Both Meat Loaf and I were fanatic Yankee fans, and when it came time for the sex scene, I figured it had to be… it couldn’t be actual sex, so it’d have to be a baseball play-by-play of first base, second base, third base, home. And I thought,
It has to be Phil Rizzuto doing it. So Phil Rizzuto’s manager was Art Shampski, of the Mets. (Coughs) Outfielder for the Mets. (Drinks) Excuse me. (Coughs) And Art Shampski got him the worst fucking deal, like, $1,000 period. He could’ve gotten him a point or a half-point, he would have made millions, but… a thousand bucks.
And he wasn’t there… Todd Rundgren, who produced it, forgot to bring the tapes when we recorded Rizzuto, so we had to do it wild, with no music. It was hilarious, ‘cause I had to direct Rizzuto, who started off terribly. He started off by going — it was all written out — he started off by going: (Stilted reading)
Okay, we got a real pressure cooker going here, two on, bottom of the ninth… I said,
No, no, Phil, one second. You got… it’s got to be more urgent and fast.
Urgent. Fast. Well, I don’t know… what kind of game is this? I said,
Well… I’m thinking, this is a real method actor all of a sudden. (Laughter) I’ve got to give backstory, I can’t believe it. I said,
Well, it’s a Red Sox game.
Ah, the Red Sox, that’s our… most evil rival! I said,
There you go, Phil, like a Red Sox game! He said,
Okay. (Stilted reading)
Okay, here we go, bottom of the ninth… I said,
No, no, Phil… He said,
Well, you got to tell me more! I said,
It’s the playoff game, the championship playoff game, bottom of the ninth.
Championship playoff game! And then he finally got it. And then, also, I was holding up time cards to show him how little time he had, so… (Drinks) …with some splicing when we got it… but it was a thrill for us.
And we ended up going to Yankee Stadium, and presenting the Yankees with a platinum record, and a platinum record for Steinbrenner, and for… And all I remember is that Meat Loaf was talking to Reggie Jackson in the locker rooms, and he totally was hogging the conversation. I had no part in it. So I sort of wandered over, and kind of nudged Meat Loaf, like
Hey! and he said,
Oh yeah, this is Jim Steinman, he wrote everything, to Reggie. And trying to be funny, which was a mistake, I said,
So… you play ball around here? (Laughter) And Reggie said,
Yeah, I play ball around here. He didn’t laugh. It wasn’t… he didn’t get any joke in it. And I said,
Well, I make records. And he says,
Oh yeah? I break records. (Laughter) I figured I’d better shut up. (Laughter) And then, when Meat was talking to Reggie, it was fascinating. I just listened in. And all Reggie was talking about was business. It was like,
How do they pay you? Every album? What do they do about discounts? What about the record clubs? A long list of things about business; that was basically his interest. And Meat got along great with him. That was my encounter with Reggie Jackson and Phil Rizzuto.
And when it got time, we had to give the Yankee team a platinum record, and they asked us in the dugout,
Who do you wanna give it to? (Coughs) And I said,
Reggie. And they said,
Nah, forget it. I said,
Okay. They said,
Who else? And I said,
Bucky Dent. They said,
Oh, no problem! Bucky! And Bucky came running like a… bat out of hell, you know? (Laughter) And he was so excited; it was great to meet Bucky Dent. He was my favorite Yankee anyway.
So that was kind of thrilling, because baseball is my great love too, and my only love of the sports, the one I worship. And the most musical of sports — to me, it’s incredibly musical. I don’t know how many people… are many people baseball fans here? (Counts show of hands) Oh, that’s, that’s, uh… does anyone else find it to be very musical? I mean, what’s thrilling to me… when I say musical is that, it’s like Martha Graham in that it’s all about tension/release. You have the tension of the batter, and everyone’s in the field; it’s just a moment of stillness. And the minute he hits the ball, it’s a convulsion of energy that permeates the whole field, with the movement and everything. And, to me, that was a ballet — it was, like, thrilling, the dynamics of baseball, and wonderful. Very different than football, which I don’t like as much, nearly.
Well, that’s that one. Any other thoughts?
ERIC SAWYER I think we have time for one more.
AUDIENCE MEMBER You mentioned your parents and you mentioned your hometown. Can you talk just a little bit about how you were brought up?
JIM STEINMAN Um… This is… (Laughter) Again, I have to look at that binder of reality, and I have to search for that. I was brought up in Hewlett, Long Island… well; the best thing is that my mother took me to all those shows Off-Broadway. That’s what really stayed with me.
And I picked up opera by myself, really. I just got… I was about 7 years old, and I woke up for a baseball game, Little League. And I turned on the radio, and there’s this station… I had no idea what it was… there was something playing, I had no idea what was playing, but it was mesmerizing. At 7 years old, I was… I couldn’t… I was so mesmerized that I stayed in bed for fifteen hours. It was the Ring Cycle, being broadcast on WBAI in New York. And I was just enthralled by the Ring Cycle. I had no idea what was going on, but still, to this day, it’s the greatest thing, to me, ever created in music and theater. And that was my first experience with it, as a child, so I had no preconceptions or… no thoughts at all. I just experienced it. And it was wonderful.
And so that… I really owe my parents for that gift, of taking me and exposing me to those… Beckett and Albee and… I did the opera… but otherwise, pretty conventional suburban life, except… I was nobody, really. I really wasn’t anybody. I say that, not glibly… I had no persona; I didn’t know who I was until I did that article. It was… there were trends… but until I did that article, I really… that’s when I feel I was born. 1968. And from then on, it’s what happened.
(Applause, end of tape)