Love and Death and an American Songwriter

I’m part of the Countdown Generation. That comprises the callow youth growing up in Australia in the second half of the 1970s and the first half of the 1980s, when Countdown was the ABC’s most popular show, probably the only thing the ABC had which could compete with the commercial networks in terms of ratings.

We got our colour TV with the superior reception which made it possible to get the ABC and start watching Countdown in early 1981, and I was just about to start high school. That’s when Jim Steinman’s solo album Bad For Good came out, to great fanfare. Rock and Roll Dreams Come Through remains one of my favourite rock songs, although I eventually came to the conclusion that Meatloaf’s 1993 cover of it, on Bat Out Of Hell II, was a better version.

But despite Steinman’s comparatively weak vocalisations, the Wagnerian Rock Composer’s lone solo album, Bad For Good, had so much good stuff on it that it is the only record I have ever owned in all three formats of vinyl, cassette, and CD.

So learning yesterday that he has passed away, aged 73 (he was 33, way younger than I am now, when he did that solo album), does make me a little sad.

His best work was what he did for other artists, who could sing better than him. Obviously, Meatloaf would not be the success he is now (AFL Grand Final fiasco aside) if it were not for the Wagnerian Rock Steinman composed. But the work he did boosted a lot of other singers, such as Bonnie Tyler’s 1980s revival, and even Barbara Streisand.

Wagnerian Rock could be cliqued to a high degree. When I first heard Barbara Streisand sing Left in the Dark on the radio, I suspected before the DJ said anything that it was a Steinman song.

However, there is one spoken piece on Bad For Good which does not require singing talent, and which I indeed recited (in part) from memory in the office yesterday after some colleagues had sung part of Total Eclipse of the Heart as we mourned Steinman. And that one piece is Love and Death and an American Guitar (which was inexplicably renamed Wasted Youth and covered by Meatloaf when they reunited in 1993):

I remember everything!
I remember every little thing as if it happened only yesterday
I was barely seventeen, and I once killed a boy with a Fender guitar
I don’t remember if it was a telecaster or a stratocaster
But I do remember that it had a heart of chrome and a voice like a horny angel
I don’t remember if it was a telecaster or a stratocaster
But I do remember that it wasn’t at all easy
It required the perfect combination of the right power chords
And the precise angle from which to strike
The guitar bled for about a week afterward
And the blood was ugh dark and rich, like wild berries
The blood of the guitar was Chuck Berry red
The guitar bled for about a week afterward, but it rung out beautifully
And I was able to play notes that I had never even heard before
So I took my guitar, and I smashed it against the wall
I smashed it against the floor
I smashed it against the body of a varsity cheerleader
Smashed it against the hood of a car
Smashed it against a 1981 Harley Davidson
The Harley howled in pain, the guitar howled in heat
And I ran up the stairs to my parents’ bedroom
Mummy and daddy were sleeping in the moonlight
Slowly I opened the door, creeping in the shadows
Right upto the foot of their bed
I raised the guitar high above my head
And just as I was about to bring the guitar crashing down
upon the centre of the bed, my father woke up, screaming “Stop!”
“Wait a minute! Stop it boy! What do ya think you’re doin’?
That’s no way to treat an expensive musical instrument!”
And I said: “God dammit daddy!
You know I love you, but you got a hell of a lot to learn about rock an’ roll”

Jim Steinman created Wagnerian Rock. It dies with him. We are a little poorer for its loss.

Published by Ernest Zanatta

Narrow minded Italian Catholic Conservative Peasant from Footscray.

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