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REWIND 2003: Oh no, I've really upset Meat Loaf

By Peter Holmes

Meat Loaf Q&A: Galaxycon Raleigh in 2019. Pic: Wiki Commons.

Dateline: 2003.

Of all the men in rock, Mr Meat Loaf settles comfortably towards the end of the spectrum marked Do Not Irritate.

Down there in the naughty corner with John Lydon, Lou Reed, Keith Moon and Axl Rose.

It's true that the Mr Loaf before me today is no longer the sweaty, crazy-eyed, long-haired man mountain from the Bat Out Of Hell '70s, clomping and wobbling around the stage like a vast, hirsute, demented musical blancmange.

No, he's older, and his hair is cut short.

His face has gained some lines, and he's lost some weight.

But he's still scary when he's not happy, and I have no idea whether the agitated man before me is Marvin Aday, or Meat Loaf, as played by Marvin Aday.

I am sitting in the back of a minivan. It is 2003.

Across the aisle is Mr Loaf. Behind him sits his backing vocalist Patti Russo, a New Jersey native who is 10 years into her stint with the '70s icon.

It's about a 45-minute drive from the singer's five-star Sheraton On The Park hotel in the Sydney CBD to Brookvale Mall, a vast shopping complex on the northern beaches.

Here, Mr Loaf will sign vinyl, CDs and books, and do the grip-and-grin with fans who are already patiently waiting his arrival.

Meat Loaf makes a sport out of verbal jousting. Interviews are combat, and you better be ready.

But even if you're prepared, you're never ready, because Meat Loaf will jerk the conversation this way and that.

He'll challenge you. He'll use sarcasm.

He'll throw a question at you like, "What is acting?" with such force you won't be sure if he expects you to answer, or whether he's just taking a breath into those big lungs before enlightening you with the correct response.

We're barely 10 minutes into the journey, stuck in traffic on Military Rd in Cremorne, when Mr Loaf turns on me.

The cause of his displeasure is my natty new Nokia 3100, which has started, and now won't stop, playing the Mexican Hat Dance ringtone.

It'll be the newsdesk at my Sunday paper, calling with a range of questions that at any other time on a Saturday morning, production day, might seem reasonable: Where are you? Have you interviewed Mr Loaf yet? Has the photographer taken the pix? When will you be back in the office? Can you file over the phone now?

But not today.

Today I am juggling a tape recorder, a notepad, a pen and a phone that won't stop playing what is possibly the most annoying ditty ever written.

Despite regular and tiresome nagging from the newsdesk, I have repeatedly put off buying a mobile phone.

I hate the damn contraptions, and it irritates me that I'm expected to buy it, pay for its upkeep, and put in a monthly claim for the calls that are work related.

Everybody knows only the most indolent or anally retentive news reporter can be bothered to fill out the paperwork every month for 10 or 20 clams, so I know this will end up costing me.

I reluctantly fork out for a Nokia 3100. And now look, the news desk is using it to turn Meat Loaf against me.

I press feverishly at the buttons on the phone but the Mexican Hat Dance has no intention of stopping just yet.

Time stands still, and I begin to perspire. I look up to find the great man glaring angrily at me.

This is not going to be good.

"That's the STUPIDEST phone ring I ever heard in my life!" he bellows at me.

And now the phone stops.

"It's my first proper mobile phone," I offer apologetically. "I've only had it two weeks."

Meat Loaf doesn't care about this. "If I was you, I'd change that immediately." He says this curtly, and it's not so much a suggestion as a directive.

I should let it go and move on, but Meat's got me rattled. "I wouldn't even know how to start changing that," I blurt. "I'll pass it to my brother. He'll know."

"Yeah," Meat snaps back darkly.

"Pass it on to your brother to change that. 'Cos all that's going to happen is people are just going to laugh out loud at you every time it rings."

There is a sudden meanness about the way he is speaking. It's unpleasant.

In a clumsy attempt to brighten the mood, I suggest that left unchanged, the Mexican Hat Dance ringtone could ultimately lead from laughter to violence.

"Yeah, it will lead to that," Loaf shoots back.

I ask Meat about his upcoming 2004 performances with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, and how he might avoid turning the extravagant, Wagnerian heartland pop-rock he created with Jim Steinman on 1977's Bat Out Of Hell (estimated 43 million copies sold) into mere Muzak.

"That I don't know, because I've never gone there," he says.

"But I guarantee ya, if it starts to-."

The Nokia 3100 is not done. The newsdesk has left a message, which triggers a series of bleeps. Meat Loaf's train of thought has been broken.

"I'M gonna start hitting ya!" he says as the phone finally falls silent.

We're still a good half hour from our destination, and I'm starting to wonder where along the way Meat might have the driver pull over and open the sliding door.


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