Why Jim Steinman was my favorite songwriter
Jim Steinman got me in trouble with my youth pastor as a teenager.
I was sitting in the chapel reading the lyric sheet to Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell II: Back Into Hell, when Pastor Parr came up to me, admonishing me about bringing a “satanic” tape into the sanctuary of our church. I just stared at him blankly for a minute. There was nary a reference to Satan, just great lyrics that spoke to my tender teenage heart.
Meat Loaf’s nearly four octave vocal range, notwithstanding, it was the songwriting that first captured my adolescent heart. It was 1993 and Meat Loaf’s sequel to 1977’s Bat Out of Hell became a surprise hit, suddenly introducing a generation being forged in grunge and gangsta rap to Wagnerian rock. Bat Out of Hell II had a more profound impact upon me than Nevermind at age 16.
But it was the songs themselves that spoke to me—loud, bombastic, soaring anthems of teenage love, lust, and rebellion. When Meat Loaf sang “A wasted youth is better by far that a wise and productive old age,” I recall pumping my fists in my lonely teenage room, wishing I had the courage to spit those lyrics to my father.
The song “Objects In the Rearview Mirror May Appear Closer Than They Are” is one of the best songs ever written about childhood. The song describes the pain of losing a childhood best friend, living with an abusive father, and falling in lust for the first time. It was potent stuff and I saw flashes of my own life within these songs. I had just lost a friend to suicide two summers before, my father was a rageaholic due to his then-undiagnosed Vietnam-related PTSD, and I daydreamed about kissing my crush Christine to this opus of young love and pain.
I soon began collecting the albums containing Steinman’s compositions, including of course, the original Bat Out of Hell, and Sisters of Mercy’s Floodland. Hell, Steinman ever made fucking Air Supply sound amazing with “Making Love Out of Nothing At All.” Celine Dion’s cover of “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now” remains arguably the best song she’s ever done. And I’ve yet to find any rock music fan who doesn’t love “Total Eclipse of the Heart” by Bonnie Tyler. Steinman wrote that one, too.
VIDEO: Bonnie Tyler “Total Eclipse of the Heart”
There was nothing subtle about Steinman, and that’s why I loved him. He was the songwriter as a peacock, writing complicated songs about simple truths. Making out in a car will never be as good as Steinman made the ritual sound like in “Paradise By the Dashboard Light.” Masturbation may be great, but is it as good as Steinman made it sound like in “Good Girls Go To Heaven, Bad Girls Go Everywhere?” Not a chance.
As I got older and aged out of the teenage demographic, Steinman’s work became even more special to me. I hunted down the hard-to-find supergroup album Pandora’s Box that Steinman put together in the late ‘80s when he was on the outs with Meat Loaf. In the mid-90s, I made my local record store order the import CD of his stage musical Dance of the Vampires. And in the 21st Century, my appreciation for Steinman is kept readily accessible thanks to the miracle of streaming. And judging by the number of Jim Steinman-related playlists there are on Spotify, I’m not the only one out there who loved the guy’s songs.
Jim’s songs made falling in love and getting laid sound better than the real thing. And the guy never lost his touch, even at the very end. He reunited with his muse Meat Loaf a few years back, resulting in what will likely be Meat Loaf’s last album Braver Than We Are (Meat has retired from singing due to health issues). Even though the lyrics have a weird, conservative political bent that made me roll my eyes, the trademark Steinman touches are still in full effect. The piano. The drums. The over-the-top production. Simply amazing.
Steinman believed in the power of Rock ‘n’ Roll. His songs still hold up today. You hear a Steinman song, you know it’s a Steinman song. I loved the guy’s work. And I’ll miss him. Thank you, Jim, for making my own Rock ‘n’ Roll dreams come through.