The Mechanism of Imagination

Richard Corben: “It’s just the German within me.”

Richard corben

Richard Corben is the artist responsible for the mind-blowing pictures that adorn the covers of Bat Out Of Hell and Bad For Good. When the latter was going to be the second Meat Loaf epic instead of the Jim Steinman Solo debut he (according to Mr Loaf) also developed a sleeve idea on the theme of the then-title, Renagade Angel. Says Meat, “It’s a high-school girl in a gymnasium, nude in the corner, while this angel hovers over her. He’s got exhaust pipes coming out of his back!”

Corben was born in 1940, and does comic art for Heavy Metal magaazine and other outlets. He’s a quiet man, quite unlike the heroic figures he paints who are always accompanied by an array of swollen-breasted Amazons, and leads a happily married life in a Kansas City suburb. He worked as an animator at Missouri’s Calvin Studios, is getting into body-building, lists his favourite symbols as “The circle, the moon, women, and the lion”, and his books so far published include Neverwhere (no relation to Steinman’s Neverland) and New Tales Of The Arabian Nights. His characted Den is featured in the Heavy Metal movie.

Jim Steinman says: “Certain words immediately come to mind in regard to Corben’s art — heroic, majestic, multidimensional, tactile, cinematic, erotic, obsessive — but for me, most of all, his images seem not so much created as ‘unleashed’. They possess the muscular density and abandon of rock ‘n’ roll as well as the formal stylization and luxuberant turbulence of opera. In Corben’s worlds, the ‘acoustic’ has been banished — everything is gloriously amplified. Every frame seems to be born either directly before, during, or after an ecstatic moment of action — and the specific nature of the action is ultimately far less important than the explosive release it provides. The sexual richness of Richard Corben’s work is overwhelming — this is a world that is endlessly horny for wonder and magic.

“The intertwining of light and dark forces here, of love and decay, of unknown altars and inescapable tombs, of unchained gods and insatiable demons, of unending dreams and unyielding nightmares — all this is dazzling. With Corben, not only anything is possible — it is inevitable. And, to use some of my own lyrics:

“Everything is permitted,
Nothing ever is taboo,
And there is always something shattered
When there is something breaking through.”

The Mechanism of Imagination

Bat Out Of Hell was better than anyone deserved; it was the exposition of rock ‘n’ roll as gothic panavision. Steinman’s cinematic conceits and Meat’s operatic voice got misconstrued. Existentialist motorcycle ballads maybe, but the presence of some members of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street mafia drew stupid accusations of plagiarism of The Boss. They were wrong, though. It was pure fantasy, love, violence, blood, sex … From the Wagnerian dash of the title cut to the showbiz classicism of the Sinatra-esque ‘For Crying Out Loud’, the narrative trilogy of ‘Paradise By The Dashboard Light’ (with Ellen Foley) … in a world of fragmented tastes, Meat Loaf united the mob by being all things to all men.

Meat: “You get it your way, they get it their way, I get it my way, she gets it her way. I’ve seen these Hell’s Angels sit down and fuckin’ cry, his name’s tattooed on his lip, JIFFY! We thought it was universal.”

And some gum-chewing vice cop said all the boys at the station loved it too. Bikers, HM fans, pop addicts, cops, The Who, John McEnroe, rock critics … they all love the Loaf.

The world was conquered. Biggest album ever in Holland. UK charts for 3 years plus. Toppled Saturday Night Fever in Australia.

Bolero intro. Steinman peeling off gloves, black, then white underneath. Meat glaring, swigging booze, frilly shirt. Being given oxygen backstage. Encoring with ‘River Deep, Mountain High’, Spector’s lost masterpiece.

A live album was promised: “I’m gonna record everywhere I go and just take the best of whatever there is and just put it together, live around the world, from Toronto to Montreal, London, Paris, Germany, y’know, Tasmania!”

Such optimism was not to be transformed into reality.

The sequel to Bat Out Of Hell was to be released in June 1979, June came and went, and the release date was pushed back week by week. The album was Renagade Angel then Bad For Good then Rock ‘n’ Roll Dreams Come Through. Track listing changed constantly. Producers cited included Jimmy Iovine, Todd Rundgren and Steinman himself. As the delays wore on, the rumours grew more outrageous.

Meat Loaf had lost his voice.
Meat Loaf had gone mad.
The master tapes were lost/stolen/destroyed.
The songs stunk like a ten-day corpse.

Visiting the CBS conference via Concorde with his new wife Leslie, Meat laughed off all this as he told me in September ‘79: “We’ll have it out in January. I went in for about four weeks and did vocals, and we didn’t like ‘em ‘cause I haven’t lived with the songs … Steinman’s, they’re really different, so you have to live with the mothers.”

While not being entirely frank, Meat remained confident, on the surface at least. “I’m not even gonna be around when they finish mixing it. I might break up a bar, destroy a pub when the album’s through, go in and bust a few mirrors. The title song has cannons on it!” Meat, fresh from starring in an abysman film called Americathon, planned to play ‘Travis Redfish’ in another production starting October 22nd in Autsin, Texas. So while this movie (Roadie) was being made, test mixes of his new LP would have to be flown back and forth across the country for his approval! The whole deal was beginning to look like a grotesque mesh of Cecil B. DeMille and Brian Wilson’s sunken Smile. Jim Steinman, meanwhile, planned a solo LP. Nervous lawyers avoided signing the contract …