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July 29, 2014

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Q+A: Rock-opera perfectionist Meat Loaf previews ‘Rocktellz & Cocktails,’ reveals why only three shows a week

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Mark Weiss

Meat Loaf.

Meat Loaf at The Joint

Meat Loaf at The Joint in the Hard Rock Hotel on Aug. 20, 2010. Launch slideshow »
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Meat Loaf and Carrot Top attend the world premiere of “Runner, Runner” at Planet Hollywood on Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2013.

Meat Loaf is one of the most unique American musicians and actors. He’s appeared in more than 50 movies and TV shows, yet is known mostly for the cult classic “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” He’s one of the bestselling artists of all time with worldwide sales of more than 100 million, mainly for his “Bat Out of Hell” trilogy.

The original not only sold nearly 50 million copies, but 35 years later it still sells 200,000 copies a year and remained on the charts for more than nine years in a row, one of the bestsellers of all time.

I know him as my one-time neighbor when we lived in Connecticut. He always celebrated the day after Christmas — Boxing Day — with us.

To say there have been great highs and devastating, sometimes dangerous, lows would be an understatement. He says he’s lived eight of nine lives, cheating death several times. Meat admits that his career has been up and down at the top speed of a roller coaster.

He’s admitted to breaking both legs when he fell offstage. He’s revealed heavy cocaine use once upon a time. And he suffered a nervous breakdown and threatened to commit suicide by jumping off a New York skyscraper.

Tonight, he opens a three-shows-a-week run of 18 dates through Nov. 5 at Planet Hollywood. On Friday night, he’ll simply ignore the fact that it’s his 66th birthday.

He still has one of the most amazing voices in the business, able to hit the four high C’s that conclude “Bat Out of Hell.” In fact, other than a Wagner musical, it’s one of the few pieces in music history ending in four C’s, and he’ll sing it at every show.

During a break from rehearsals a few days before tonight’s premiere, I chatted at length with my old friend about “Rocktellz & Cocktails” at Planet Hollywood.

When you first heard this concept of baring all about your life and weaving tales of intrigue through musical highlights, what did you think?

To be perfectly honest, when they first brought it up to me, I was building another show, so I didn’t really think anything about it. So when I finally came back home, I would put little pieces together in my head and go, “Well, just tell them we’re going to do this, and they finally said to me nobody is understanding what you’re going to do.”

So I came out here and spent two days with the producers telling them how the show would run, and they go, “There’s no other show like that; the closest that comes to it is Old Las Vegas.” So I got them so excited, they tell me it’s going to change Las Vegas. I don’t know if I’d go that far. I don’t know that you can change Las Vegas.

They said it’s going to make everybody take a different route and put shows on a little differently. After two days, they wanted me to do four shows a week, and I knew I couldn’t because of the dryness of Las Vegas and the songs we sing.

Some of the songs I do come up 3 1/2 octaves, and most rock songs barely cover an octave. So on the third day I sent an email out to everyone going, “I’m sorry, I’m passing, I’m not doing the show.” I said I can’t do four shows a week; I can only do three. So they agreed.

Taylor Swift at Mandalay Bay

Launch slideshow »
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Meat Loaf and Lyssa Lynne during rehearsals for "Rocktellz & Cocktails" at Planet Hollywood.

I turned it down. They capitulated. They said four, you said three, and the deal was back on. It’s their idea, but I don’t think they could have pulled it off until I put together all the pieces. It’s not a putdown. There are very few people who can really communicate with an audience on a down to Earth level. I was watching Taylor Swift do a version of VH1’s “Storytellers,” and she was doing pretty good, but it was the obvious answers, and I’m certainly not going to give the obvious.

You weren’t pulling rock star diva — you were just stating the facts about the throat, the voice, the vocals?

Yeah, because the one thing you don’t want to have happen is “it’s a great show if Meat Loaf shows up.” I was on a plane from London to Las Vegas, and the flight attendant said to me that her tickets to see one star had been canceled three times. That’s exactly what I don’t want happening to me.

Is singing your form of rock opera tougher on the vocal chords than perhaps someone singing “My Heart Will Go On”?

It’s a lot harder. Girl’s voices are different than males. Freddie Mercury and Steve Perry from Journey have been the only ones that I know who covered that kind of range in the songs. Somebody completely blew out his voice singing Foreigner stuff. I’ve been asked many times to join other bands, but said I’m not leaving Jimmy (Jim Steinman). Jimmy and I have something that’s completely different.

So just days away, what’s the balance of the show at the moment? Forty percent talk, 60 percent music? It started out with a lot more talk than music.

I had to cut it back. The songs are long; that’s what people don’t know. People forget. They’re going, “You’ve only got this amount of time, and I’m going, ‘Well, OK, that’s fine, that’s three songs.” They asked what I meant. I asked if they’d listened to the songs? “Bat Out of Hell” is over 10 minutes, the way we do “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” is at almost 10. There’s also “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad” and “I’d Would Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That).”

Have you trimmed those songs?

No, I would never edit that. Those are untouchable. So we’re probably 65 music and 35 talk, ad libbed based on the audiences’ questions. They are free to ask anything. I have no safety net and no place to go hide. I’ve never done a show like this before. “Storytellers” was a whole other thing. Here we know what songs we’re doing in the show. So we have the setlist, but how we get to this piece and that piece is the unknown. That makes it totally different every night. It’s all off the cuff.

Worried where it’s going? Anxious what it will reveal?

I’m only worried about things like electrical and image size on the screens. I’m worried about that kind of stuff. I’m worried about getting this lobby taken care of. It’s like when you have a decorator, and they do it all and forget the finishing touches. I’m a real-life micro-manager. Do I drive everybody nuts? I’m a Libra. We’re not talking about my birthday the day after we open. I don’t do birthdays. I’ll take the day off.

Meat Loaf

The story that you’re going to lead up to for “I Won’t Do That”?

That’s in the lyrics. I will tell the story of me and Jimmy and what happened. In the studio, Jimmy said they’re not going to understand this, and I said they’re not stupid, of course, they’ll understand it. He goes no, they’re not. I said yes, they are, and he was right. I’m wrong a lot. When I make a mistake, it’s big. I don’t fool around.

What one question do you want them to ask you? To either set the record straight or to tell a story that you want to get off your chest.

I don’t know; I have no idea. I have videos and pictures and clips to handle 50 questions. I’ve got them all programmed onto an iPad. I just pull up the projections. I’ll find what goes with that question and put it up on the screen and we’ll scroll through it and we’ll tell the story as I go through it. Nobody has ever done that before. So much I couldn’t get it on an iPad mini. We’re breaking new ground here, things that have never been done. Things that people are not going to expect to see.

I’m very happy the way the show has come together during rehearsals. There’s a lot of funny stuff going on behind me. I can’t give the show away, but there’s great stuff going on behind me. This is no fireside chat with a bit of music. This is a full-blown rock spectacular. It’s got more stuff going on than you know what to do with. I can feel an audience, it’s a gift, and I know if they’re starting to like the image or we’re starting to drop a bit.

I’ll kick it so we never ever lose the audience. The idea is to start here and end here. How you build a show is the thinnest little wire or piece of silk that you can get and you stretch that little sucker as hard as you can and as far as you can, but it can never break. It’s gotta stay with that tension all night long.

I drive myself nuts being the perfectionist, but I try to very kind and polite and nice to everyone around me. Give them hugs and say yes even though it’s driving me completely crazy.

How’s the voice holding up? Are you sleeping with humidifiers?

It was good today. I’ve got four of them in the bedroom, and I’m getting ready to put the fifth one in. We’ll have two running onstage by my monitors. We’re doing water-based smoke for the lights, which creates more humidity, which is a good thing with all the dryness. That’s real trouble for singers out here.

Could you extend past November if you wanted to? Do you have any other commitments?

No, I don’t have any other commitments. I had a film that I was supposed to shoot in June, and they pushed it back to now and it was one of the best scripts — “Relative Strangers.” But they’re shooting it now, and I couldn’t do both. This took priority.

So it there a “Bat Out of Hell 4” somewhere in your mind?

No. Jimmy physically can’t do it. I don’t want to say anymore about that. We are doing an album called “Brave and Crazy.” Now we’ve got two songs, and I’m going to push him for the third one. All I need is one verse, and I’ve got another song.

Why do you think after all these years that “Bat Out of Hell” still has this extraordinary long-lasting appeal? Why has it lasted since 1977?

Meat Loaf

2013 Keep Memory Alive 'Power of Love' Gala at MGM Grand

Quincy Jones, Stevie Wonder, Whoopi Goldberg and Sir Michael Caine at the 2013 Keep Memory Alive Launch slideshow »

There are only a couple of albums that do it. The reason is because it reads like a great novel. It allows the person who’s listening to it to know it doesn’t belong to me; it belongs to them. I was watching a Michael Caine interview, and I’d been saying the same thing for years: What do you want people to know when they’re watching a movie, and he says I want them to be able to remove me and let them go into my shoes and walk my shoes rather than watching me.

I thought that’s what I’ve been saying forever because that’s what “Bat Out of Hell” is. When I went in to record the vocals, that’s what I was striving for. That’s why I don’t like my photos on covers. Same reason novelists don’t put their picture on their books. I don’t want you to think of me. I want you to be able to be in that song. Take me out of it completely, and that’s what people have done. I pretty much have succeeded with that on every record I’ve ever done. That inhale was a magic moment of the right time, right place.

I want to close this by asking you a question that you might get from the audience. Even if you don’t get it.

If I haven’t thought of it, I’m going to have to build more pictures on the iPad.

So this is the question from the audience: Meat, to say the least, you have had one hell of a ride, a very checkered career that’s gone up, gone down. How do you look at it all?

I look at it the same as you look at life. Everybody’s life goes up and down. You have good moments; you have bad moments. You have moments that you are embarrassed about; you have moments that you’re really happy about. The one

thing that I always want to try and do is continue to be just a human being.

When they were doing the advertising for all this, they had the word superstar in all the ads. I made them take it out. I said no, you can’t have that in there because I don’t want that. I don’t want legend, I don’t want star, I don’t want superstar, I don’t want any of that because I am just a human being, and I’m doing a job just like the bus driver does his job.

I hope that the guy is happy doing it. If he’s not happy, he needs to go somewhere else. So it’s like life. You have ups and downs … I am a drama queen. It would be pretty boring if it was just even keeled. Boring in fact if everything worked perfectly every time.

The ups and downs have been life building. You learn you can’t go back and change anything, so you’ve got to go and you’ve got to understand that you had a good moment; you have to learn from it. You gotta learn, “OK, I love this moment, how can I improve this moment?” You have a bad moment, you go, “That sucked.” OK, how do I not make this happen again, and how do I improve that? So no matter whether it’s good or it’s bad, you’re always looking to make an improvement.

So what did you learn from locking yourself up all alone for four months when you had the nervous breakdown?

You’re going to find this really interesting. When I started to become famous and all these guys who I knew and played softball with eventually came up to this hotel and said, “Boy, you’ve changed,” and I said no, I haven’t changed, you know what’s changed, the way you guys are acting toward me and are reacting to me. I’m the same guy; you’ve changed. They all looked at one another and went, “You’re right!”

All of a sudden, you think something else, but I’m still the pitcher. I’m still the same guy who you were playing softball with in 1974 and ’75, and I’ll be the same guy who we’re going to play softball with next year together.

So that’s what I learned by locking myself up. I analyzed every moment that went behind that “Bat Out of Hell” tour and everything that went on and how it happened. I was going to a psychiatrist five days a week; it drove me crazy. I believed in it so much, and it was one of the most frustrating things to have people constantly … it’s like being eaten by a piranha.

So you put yourself into this four months of isolation, to understand what was going on because the piranhas were attacking?

No, the piranhas had already attacked, and I had already given them another piece of chicken somewhere else. We were over it. Everybody was my friend, and everybody was giving me advice, and that drove me crazy. All the people who were putting me down suddenly became my friend and tried to give me advice. I went, “All you people are all screwed, man.”

But you understand from that period of analysis why pop stars today go off the rails?

It’s a piece of cake. We’re aged biased, so they’re getting younger and younger and younger. These are kids, and all of a sudden you put them in the spotlight, the same as kids on TV, they go off the deep end. Few survive it. Some go through it and come out of it on the other side. I did.

Justin Bieber's 'Believe' World Tour at MGM

Justin Bieber performs during his Launch slideshow »

We’ll see about Justin Bieber; we’ll see where he winds up. We’ll see what happens to Lindsay Lohan; I have no idea if there’s any hope for her. I hope and pray there is. The public doesn’t understand the trials and walking through the fire that you have to walk through and everybody wanting to be your friend and everybody wanting a piece of this and a piece of that, especially when you’re successful.

Then when you’re not successful, everybody’s putting you down. Like the old Don Henley song “Dirty Laundry”: “Kick them when they’re up, kick them when they’re down.” Truer words have never been spoken because they want to kick you when you’re down, praise you when you get up there, and then once up there they want to kick you again.

And what song does that lead into?

Oh, that leads into “Out of the Frying Pan (And Into the Fire).” See what I’m saying!

“Rocktellz and Cocktails” plays PH Showroom at Planet Hollywood every Thursday, Saturday and Tuesday through Nov. 5. Tickets are $69 to $149. A meet-and-greet with an autographed red scarf and a photograph is $750. Producer Adam Steck says Meat Loaf is the first of a series of singers and musicians who will take part in the perform-and-talk format.

Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.

Follow Robin Leach on Twitter at Twitter.com/Robin_Leach.

Follow Vegas DeLuxe on Twitter at Twitter.com/vegasdeluxe.

Follow Sun A&E Senior Editor Don Chareunsy on Twitter at Twitter.com/VDLXEditorDon.

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