WHAT ARE WE GONNA DO?" THE BIG man bellows to his troops. "Kill!" comes the roared response.
"What do we always do?"
"What do big dogs do?"
A squad of Marines on maneuvers? Nope, just Meat Loaf and his band, the Neverland Express, preparing to attack the stage at Boston's Orpheum Theater. There the gutsy 42-year-old vocalist will try to prove that after 15 years in the deep freeze, he is no mere '70s leftover.
Much to the SRO crowd's delight, Meat Loaf performs the hits—"Paradise by the Dashboard Light," "Two Out of Three Ain't Bad"—from his 1977 debut album, Bat out of Hell, as well as songs from its recently released sequel, Bat out of Hell II: Back into Hell. Meal has much to prove with the new CD. With 25 million copies sold worldwide, Bat I is the third best-selling album ever, and 16 years after its release it is still selling 15,000 copies a week.
Its follow-up may be another whopper. Propelled by its No. 1 single, "I'd Do Anything for Love (But I Won't Do That)," Bat II surprised critics, fans and Meat's long-suffering accountants by reigning No. 1 on the Billboard chart for a week in October. "I don't care if it never goes back to No. 1," Meat says. "It was there."
And that alone is a redemption of sorts. Just one year after Bat I hit, Meal had quit the music business, his voice shot. "I didn't know how to deal with what was going on around me," Meat says. "For about five years I couldn't work. I didn't want the responsibility anymore."
To escape the ensuing depression, Meat went on a nine-month booze bender and suffered an emotional breakdown. Psychotherapy—four sessions per week for a year—and the support of his wife, Leslie, now 42, brought him out of it. He then retreated to their home in western Connecticut to try a comeback, releasing five slow-selling albums and playing as many as 500 shows during the 1980s.
The labor did little to reduce his enormous debt, incurred while battling his manager, publisher and other business associates in a staggering series of 22 lawsuits, which totaled a hefty $85 million. Bankrupt by 1983, Meat supported his family by performing and, on some occasions, even acting. Down time was spent enjoying home life with Leslie and daughters Pearl, now 18, and Amanda, 12. He even coached a local baseball team. "I was much happier taking a Little League team to 10-0," he says, "than I was selling 10 million albums."
Happy early memories are rare for Meat, who was born Marvin Lee Aday, in Dallas, the only child of an alcoholic salesman, Orvis Aday, who died in 1968, and his wife, Wilma, an English teacher, who died in 1966. His father weighed 350 lbs., and an uncle crushed the scales at twice that, while Marvin was himself so heavy (240 lbs. by seventh grade) that his friends' parents wouldn't let him play with their kids. "They were scared I'd hurt them," he says.
Shortly after he graduated from high school, Meal Loaf (so named by his football coach) suffered the death of his mother from cancer. When Orvis flew into an alcoholic rage, chasing his son with a butcher knife on the day of Wilma's funeral, Meat left home. He drifted from L.A., where he formed his first band, to Detroit and New York City, where he tried acting, landing Off-Broadway roles and a part in the cult favorite The Rocky Horror Picture Show. At an audition in 1971 he met Jim Steinman, a young playwright and songwriter, who helped create Bat I.
During the legal squabbles that followed the album, the two drifted apart. A 1986 reunion led to their plans, hatched in 1989, for a Bat follow-up. It was just like old times, except for one smaller thing, namely Meat, who had dropped 75 pounds. Steinman, fearing Meat lite wouldn't work, left boxes of doughnuts around the recording studio. "He was afraid that if I wasn't as big as I was before, my presence wouldn't be the same," Meat says. "But, luckily, it is." As for his diet strategy, Meat, now a scant 239 lbs., keeps it simple: "Hey, put the fork down."
To keep Bat II sales from following the fork, Meat has launched a three-year world tour, accompanied by Leslie and, occasionally, the kids. The couple met in 1975 al a Woodstock, N.Y., recording studio Leslie managed. They were married 21 days later. Despite the ups and downs, life with the Loaf has been good—except for one thing, says Leslie: "I don't mind being called Mrs. Loaf, and I don't mind Mrs. Meat Loaf. But I hale Mrs. Meat."
From Meat himself, however, there are no complaints. "I'm unbelievably happy," he exults. "T have my kids, and I have a wonderful wife who I'm very much in love with."
"Plus," he adds, no doubt mindful of the empty-pocket '80s, "I get paid pretty well for my work."
ANDIEE PAVIOUR in Sydney and JOHNNY DODD in Los Angeles
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