Bat Out of Hell, Hell in a Handbasket: An Interview with Meat Loaf

Meat Loaf
Hell in a Handbasket

Meat Loaf named his most recent album Hell in a Handbasket because that’s where the ’70s rock icon — who now prefers to be known simply as “Meat” — feels the world is headed.

“I keep hearing these stories about selfishness and ‘me, me, me, me, what I believe and all of you can just go to Hell'”, he said in a recent PopMatters interview. He heard a student sued a high school to remove a prayer that was on a wall. “It cost the school money and I’m saying to myself, ‘The money could have been better used in the school district by teaching students, helping students, supporting art programs’,” he said. “‘Go down and volunteer at the homeless shelter. Go to the Ronald McDonald House. Go to the kids’ hospital. Volunteer to help the homeless. Go do anything. Don’t just make it about me, me, me, me, me and this is my belief and I believe that I am right.'”

For Meat, Hell in a Handbasket is about humanity, compassion, dignity, and being truthful. Meat says this is his most personal record ever: “I want everyone to know who I am”, he says, projecting a straightforward, confessional honesty. In the first song, “All of Me”, Meat sings: “I caught a glimpse of myself today / It wasn’t a pretty picture / I must say / This is my anger / This is my shame. / These are my insecurities that I can’t explain”.

Meat’s 1977 album with composer Jim Steinman, Bat Out of Hell, sold over 40 million copies. Yet, in 1983, Meat filed for bankruptcy (as reported in the October 29, 2010 article, “15 Musicians Gone Broke”). His latest album parallels the real-life, tabloid headlines of many celebrities, including himself.

“Party of One” relates a cautionary tale: “I used to keep a lot of people around / Who had their hands over my eyes, ears and mouth / Just like the money and the buzz, they were gone in the morning”. “The Giving Tree” tells of being tempted by a neon dollar sign and told to sign a paper. Meat describes a mattress on the floor and no food in the kitchen. With passion, he sings of trading one pound of gold for 10 pounds of flesh, and selling “this old soul”. However, during the interview, Meat did not describe the song in terms of his bankruptcy. He says the song is a metaphor: “The Giving Tree is really about getting back to the true meaning of a human being. It’s like there are all these things around you that you can be tempted by, but what you really need to do is to get back and find out who you were before you went off on some tangent, some way.”

Although Meat does not belong to any faith-based institution, he is very religious. While growing up in Dallas, Texas, Meat attended church with his mother. He studied the Bible, which continues to influence his work. Several of the album’s songs, such as “40 Days” and “Fall from Grace”, have religious themes.

“I’ll be honest with you. I pray every night and if I skip a night, I apologize for skipping it”, he says. “I thank [God] for my blessings because I’ve been very blessed and I pray for my family and I pray for people who are ill, who I find out are sick or whatever.”

Meat wants to debate self-described “apathiest” Bill Maher, on the host’s HBO program, Real Time with Bill Maher. (In 2011, on CNN with Piers Morgan, Maher categorized his own religious views as not knowing what happens when he dies and not caring.) In a conversation with Maher, Meat would be open to discussing subjects beyond religion. “I like Bill Maher. I like him. It’s a weird thing, but I’ll end up yelling at the TV screen while I watch him and I watch his show. If I didn’t like him, I wouldn’t watch his show.”

Would an HBO appearance along with this newest album help the 64-year-old rock singer in the constant challenge of a celebrity driven industry — the battle to remain relevant and transcend stereotypes about himself? Meat cut his long hair years ago. He has lost weight and appeared on the reality TV show,Celebrity Apprentice. His most recent album includes rappers Lil Jon and Chuck D.

Yet, Meat says his music is not about staying in the limelight. “It’s like I don’t want to be a star. I don’t want to walk a red carpet. I don’t care if my pictures are in People magazine. I don’t care about that. I care about my work. My work and my audiences are the most important thing[s] in my life.”