"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 26 June 2000. Updated every WEEKDAY.


Loaf vs. Boss

A lot of people — not just cops who'd rather stay home and moonlight as pundits instead of going out and working overtime ignoring traffic at a Con Ed manhole — have twisted themselves into soft pretzels coming up with excuses for why New York's Finest put 41 bullets into an innocent street vendor. Even nutty over-the-hill-and-through-the-woods rockers hot to ride shotgun on ghetto safari can toss off a dozen justifications for declaring hunting season on the brothers. But it would take a James Ellroy to figure out the psychology behind going on record as the public servants who called America's most beloved musician — a humble anti-star generally regarded as this flag-kissin' country's greatest guy — a fucking dirtbag and a floating fag.

As rushes to judgment go, unleashing bizarre epithets against the writer of a song you haven't heard may not be as lethal as deciding a wallet is a gun. Still, two things are certain. One: despite the new-model, love-in-a-vacuum Rudolph Giuliani, supporting the cops in their campaign against Bruce Springsteen's "American Skin (41 Shots)" is a public relations Hindenburg. Two: the cops, who have conveniently forgotten that the Boss understands their pain so intimately that he plays benefits for the families of their fallen, are going to need a new rocker to head up their pantheon.

Is there a tireless, anthemic musician who can take Bruce's place underneath their badges? Is there a man so filled with ordinary angst that he can turn even the most paltry teenage scenario into stadium-shaking opera? Is there a performer who knows what a motorcycle can do for your image when most of the world sees you as someone who's had too many donuts to deliver the goods? And was he a varsity tackle and a hell of a block? Yes, there is, and yes, he was. He is Meat Loaf.

The Boss makes for a prickly hero. For one thing, he keeps coming up with new material. Meat Loaf (or Meat Loaf Aday, as he's billed for his character turns in movies like Fight Club and Crazy in Alabama) can be counted on to blaze through the same classics over and over. After his Bat Out of Hell set, what is there? It's not like he's going to dismiss his band and go solo and introspective like the Boss does. Sure, Meat Loaf fronted half the E Street Band on Bat, that back-catalogue workhorse, but with or without them, he's never going to record a Nebraska (although there may be a smaller state, maybe a Delaware, lurking in the fat around his heart). He's Springsteen without the sincerity — thunderous showbiz flash completely divorced from earnest social realism — and he still pushes every empty-milltown/hopeless-lovers-going-nowhere-fast button that arena rock can find in the folds of its stomach. That's right, even if his shows are as grandiose as Springsteen's, one thing helps Meat Loaf keep the Boss's brand of committed empathy at bay: his weight. Meat's got more American skin, that largest American organ, than two Bruces put together.

Both Meat Loaf and Springsteen are known for the sweat that pours from them while they perform, but Meat sweat is an entirely different bodily fluid than Bruce juice. It's sex goo, not the honest perspiration of hard work. Meat Loaf is outside the kind of domestic bliss Patty Scialfa enjoys with her husband on stage every night. The evil geniuses who've guided their careers (creepy Jon Landau in Springsteen's case; full-tilt nutjob Jim Steinman in Meat Loaf's) understood early that their protégés each represented a different face of rock 'n' roll: Springsteen is the archetypal skinny rocker cleaned up to represent what's best about a whole social class; Meat Loaf is the fat pervert who lives in that skinny rocker's soul. It was obvious as soon as America glimpsed the back cover of that first Meat Loaf album. Meat, in his late, late, late Elvis sunglasses, with his mitt on singer Ellen Foley's ass, wanted to be the Barry White of the stadiums, not the Woody Guthrie of the beach bars.

Fat rockers don't get much respect these days. They never did, really, but at one time they represented a vanguard in rock 'n' roll. Bill Haley and the Big Bopper come to mind as fat rock's most obvious early heroes, but even future fat man Elvis Presley never would've made it if fat blues shouters like Big Joe Turner and Big Mama Thornton hadn't preceded him. For a long time, it's been taken for granted that rock 'n' roll was heisted from black people; specifically, it was stolen from fat black people. Elvis never would've made it if he'd only been a countryfied Dean Martin imitator with spartan electric backup who liked rhythm-and-blues. Sam Phillips thought he was looking for a white man "with the Negro sound." He was really after a skinny white rocker with the soul of a big black guy. And that's what he got. This reveals a truth about Elvis that's heretofore been hidden. The mystery behind why someone would want to eat fried peanut-butter-and-banana sandwiches that called for two sticks of butter every day gets, well, clarified here. It was a form of aesthetic discipline; the King was preparing to become the fat rocker he knew was his destiny. The fat man preceded the sandwiches, not the other way around. Similarly, Elvis's study and appropriation of the moves of the older, heavier, and less talented Tom Jones makes sense now, too. Elvis had to find a way to move from a skinny rockerdom that leads nowhere — and in which he'd dead-ended — to a mature state of fatness that was all burnin' love. Is that pathetic lump in Blues Traveler all that's left of this grand, fat tradition in rock 'n' roll?

Skinny rocker archetypes like Jagger and Richards still dominate desire in the fashion mag version of indie rock; the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion is the distressed and degraded, rubbed-off other side of Blues Traveler. Skinny goofs are sexy, fat men don't get the respect heft might confer, the whole thing is bony-ass backwards. Springsteen plays himself in High Fidelity, and if that film shows anything (beside the fact that even playing himself the Boss will never be the actor Meat Loaf Aday is), it's that the skinny reap the rewards sown by the chubby. Fat Jack Black — the obnoxious soul of rock 'n' roll in all its uncompromising, asinine glory — may heat 'em up with his music, but in the end beanpole John Cusack lives happily ever after with a Swiss babe. Or Danish. Anyway, a blonde.



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