Paradise by the Dashboard Light

Meat Loaf loads into the Texas Film Hall of Fame Awards

Meat Loaf, “Roadie”
Meat Loaf, “Roadie”

Monday night, the Austin Film Society screened 1980’s Roadie at the Alamo South in conjunction with its Texas Film Hall of Fame Awards honoring Meat Loaf tomorrow at the Moody Theater. I’ve seen the film – shot here in Austin – at least twice, and own the DVD. Nevertheless, I was floored.

First off, that AFS had the Standing Waves perform a short set before the movie flashed me back to director Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused 10th anniversary “party at the moontower” at Walter Long Park in 2003 – easily one of the best beer bashes of my entire life. Standing Waves played that night almost a decade ago, and because they’re in Roadie big as life, they got the call again this week.

As always, the locals from Austin’s vaunted New Wave of the period nailed it, but what will stick in my mind from that night forward is the scene in Roadie when Meat Loaf literally throws Standing Waves frontman Larry Seaman across his shoulder in a scene in which the band is supposedly playing onstage at L.A.’s Whiskey A Go-Go.

Meat Loaf, my newest hero.

Truth be told, my honey works for AFS, and in was Agnes introducing the evening, band, and Chronicle doyenne Margaret Moser and actor Sonny Carl Davis, who talked about Roadie’s local history. Moser’s scene in the film couldn’t be more memorable, and Davis got a choice part with loads of face time.

In fact, Roadie’s Austin quotient remains absolutely off the charts, very much like Linklater’s Slacker and Dazed and Confused, in which you not only recognize your hometown, but fall in love with it all over again. Standing Waves, Roy Orbison, Asleep at the Wheel, and Alvin Crow all appear, and the opening credits as soundtracked by Joe Ely’s “Hopes Up High” gets you singing from the get-go. Blondie and Alice Cooper also make choice appearances, while the late Don Cornelius chews up scenery like Marvin Gaye lip-syncing on Soul Train.

Meat Loaf, though. Meat Effn Loaf.

Two weeks ago at home during Tequila Friday, Agnes had a music request, a rare occurrence at our house given the house DJ.

“Got any Meat Loaf?”

Before you could say Bat Out of Hell, the 1977 blockbuster was blaring. “You Took the Words Right Out of My Mouth (Hot Summer Night)” had us in a full-on Grease -like duet in no time (“You took the words right out of my mouth... It must have been while you were kissing me”), followed fast and hot by “All Revved Up With No Place to Go,” and “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad.”

The latter, a perfect bait-and-switch ballad in which Meat Loaf proclaims first “I want you,” echoed by a harmony of the same lyric, then “I need you,” again with the line repeated, only to finish it off with, “But there ain’t no way I’m ever gonna love you,” left me reeling. Perhaps only when you’re singing those lines to someone you love dearly does the tune’s anti-hero sentiment then somehow reverse its true bottom line. And “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad” ain’t Bat Out of Hell’s last word.

The moment “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” followed “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad,” my mate’s shoulders started moving up and down, her hips forward and swiveling, and feet tap, tap, tapping – shuffling, scooting. I leapt up and our full-on Snoopy dance began.

The song, a three-part suite penned by Jim Steinman, who, as conceived with Meat Loaf, wrote the entire LP, which was then produced by Todd Rundgren, begins with its “Boy” (Meat Loaf) and “Girl” (Ellen Foley) proclaiming their lust:

Ain’t no doubt about it
We were doubly blessed
Cause we were barely seventeen
And we were barely dressed

And just as they’re “gonna go all the way tonight” – as called play-by-play by legendary baseball announcer Phil Rizzuto – Foley’s screech “Stop Right There!” to begin the second part of “Paradise” echoed harmony shouts in our kitchen:

Stop right there!
I gotta know right now!
Before we go any further....

Do you love?
Will you love me forever?
Do you need me?
Will you never leave me?
Will you make me so happy for the rest of my life?
Will you take me away and will you make me your wife?

For two people getting married in June, we sang, screeched, shouted. Even when Meat Loaf is pleading, “Let me sleep on it. Baby, baby let me sleep on it,” our two-person Broadway chorus was hoofing and harmonizing. And when the third part finally explodes....

I couldn’t take it any longer
Lord I was crazed and when the feeling came upon me
Like a tidal wave
I started swearing to my god and on my mother’s grave
That I would love you to the end of time
I swore that I would love you to the end of time

Lover’s rock, full bore, and then comes the twist – us still singing, dancing, clutching:

So now I’m praying for the end of time
To hurry up and arrive
Cause if I gotta spend another minute with you
I don’t think that I can really survive
I’ll never break my promise or forget my vow
But God only knows what I can do right now

I’m praying for the end of time
It’s all that I can do
Praying for the end of time, so that I can end my time with you!

Laughing, howling, we sang these lines as well, the song’s romance/anti-romance bursting with pure, unadulterated bliss.

That’s what I was thinking the following Friday, 8:45am, driving back from Cedar Park and blasting the song in my car when I burst into tears the moment Foley shouts “Stop Right There!” Was it the way her voice cracks? Definitely, because Merry Clayton on “Gimme Shelter” and Clare Torry crowning Pink Floyd’s “The Great Gig in the Sky” came to mind.

In that moment, I also remembered writing my entire Master’s thesis to a cassette of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, another one of Meat Loaf's cinematic greatest hits. Whatever made me overflow emotion, I thanked God for Ellen Foley, Meat Loaf, and Agnes Varnum.

Meat Loaf isn’t a performer tomorrow at the Moody, but all the bats under the Congress Avenue bridge couldn’t keep me from going to see him. Next Wednesday, Mar. 14, he’s playing something from his new LP Hell in a Handbasket on the Tonight Show With Jay Leno, but seeing the Band’s Robbie Robertson and later maestro Quincy Jones deliver South by Southwest keynote speeches rather than playing didn’t lesson those experiences one iota.

Michael Nesmith accepting his Lifetime Achievement Award at the Texas Film Hall of Fame Awards two years ago remains a singular moment in oratory history for me personally, right there with watching onetime New York governor Mario Cuomo deliver a state of the state address one cable access 3am when I couldn't sleep.

I don’t expect the same from Meat Loaf tomorrow only because I’m not sure anything could replace the final image of him in Roadie, a full-frame close-up in which his blue eyes and baby face light up with 1000 watts of silver screen charisma. Star power, from another good Texan, born Marvin Lee Aday in Dallas, bringing me ever closer to rock & roll’s eternal “Paradise by the Dashboard Light.”

Thanks Meat. I’ll love you and Ellen Foley forever.

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Meat Loaf, Roadie, Standing Waves, Sonny Carl Davis, Roy Oribison, Asleep at the Wheel, Alvin Crow, Blondie, Alice Cooper, Jim Steinman, Ellen Foley, Todd Rundgren, Richard Linklater, Austin Film Society, Texas Film Hall of Fame, Michael Nesmith

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