Rock stars, he says, are just expensive call girls. Mr Loaf is a modest man, but he would like to teach Noel Gallagher a thing or two

the interview MEAT LOAF TALKS TO BEN THOMPSON photograph by david sandison

eople talk about Edith Piaf," says Meat Loaf. His voice is calm, though a storm may be brewing. "To me, even though people would never think of her that way, she was completely over the top. Billie Holiday, phew, way over the top ... Louis Armstrong, Glenn Miller - over the top. With all these alternative bands the perception is that they're not over the top. Bullshit. You're so over the top you don't know where the top is. At least I know where the top is and I know how far I'm over it. I also know," a meaningful pause "that there is a line over the top where you don't go."

Meat Loaf - Marvin Lee Aday, aged 48, to his lawyer - talks a lot of sense for a Texan. In fact, in a poll to find the world's best talkers, it is hard to know who would come above him. Sitting down in the "library" of a Birmingham hotel, framed photos of previous famous visitors Charlton Heston and Dudley Moore prompt a wildly inaccurate summary of the plot of Heston's Soylent Green and a couple of spot-on Derek and Clive routines. There is pathos as well as playfulness. When the photographer asks him to move into the light, he initially refuses on the rather poignant (and in fact wholly unfounded) grounds that he "looks better in the dark".

Meat Loaf got his first break in the musical Hair and, despite having subsequently sold more than 55 million records, he still finds it easier to "relate" to actors than musicians. Why does he think that is? "Actors tend to be a little more understated. When actors get on a plane, they kind of blend in with the seat. When rock people get on a plane, forget it, the airplane's ours."

How does this sense of ownership manifest itself in the case of the Loaf entourage? "We probably tend to be a little loud, but we're funny - we make people laugh - and we have manners. It's always 'yes please' and 'no thank you'. If anybody has too much to drink and starts being obnoxious, they're going to hear from me when we land."

Showbusiness brings no exemption from the normal rules of civilised behaviour. "Exactly. The only reason you're here is because somebody's paying you. You might as well face it, you're sort of a - it's not a pretty word, but your kind of an expensive call girl ... call person I guess it is in the Nineties." But isn't there a big difference? Showbusiness people get to do what they want. "Oh yeah, right. In your dreams."

What sort of things does he have to do that he doesn't want to? "Get up at 11.30 and talk to you, how about that?" Meat Loaf guffaws genially, realising that not for the first time in his life, he may have gone too far. "I mean, now I'm down here it's fine, but you have no conception of what it's like. They tell you you've got a photo session and also a flight. Oh man, what am I supposed to wear? They pack your bag before you take your shower, so you've got your toothbrush and all that stuff with no place to put it, right? I know this seems ..." he tails off apologetically, "but once you've done it a certain number of times it really is a pain in the ass."

Meat Loaf would be the last one to play down the contribution of the smaller cogs in his touring machinery. "What's that lead guy with Oasis? Noel Gallagher. I was watching him on the Chris Evans show and I liked him. I really liked him; he was very witty and intelligent, but there was one thing he said which I didn't like and that was 'I don't need anybody else'. I'm not sure if he was serious, but it seemed like he was, and at that point I thought [at this point Meat's tone gets stentorian] 'hmmm, aaah, Father Loaf must go and have a chat with this young man'. What you've got to realise is [an expansive hand-movement takes in make-up artist, press officer and road manager] without these people, it doesn't exist."

Meat Loaf's endearing determination to connect with the culture in which he finds himself does not stop with watching TFI Friday. When he appeared on the National Lottery draw, he stunned the watching nation with an uncannily accurate impression of Mystic Meg. "That was nothing," he insists. "There's this woman on Spanish TV who's been on with this stupid sock puppet for like 30 years. She's really old now, and the sock needs help. So I got the drummer to take one of his white socks off and I drew a face on it and made my own sock puppet and then hid it behind my back, so when this woman comes over and starts talking to me with her puppet I pull my own out and start talking right back to her." Wasn't she upset? "She loved it. She asked me out on a date." Having been married for more than 20 years, Meat Loaf could refuse this invitation ("Thank God'') without giving offence. When Meat first met Lesley, the future Mrs Loaf, she was running the studio where he was recording ''Bat Out Of Hell''. They were married within three weeks and have been together ever since. One of their two grown-up daughters will be singing with him on tour in the summer. A protective father by all accounts - amusing stories abound of terrified teenage suitors being shown in to Meat Loaf's lair to have their cards marked - he is refreshingly unsentimental about home and hearth.

"My family always comes first with me, and when I say that I mean it, but this is how it works. I tell them what I'm getting ready to do and they have a chance at that stage to say 'we wish you wouldn't, we really need you'. But once it's all set and I'm on my way, then if someone over here is a little needy or whatever, well ... tough." Meat Loaf looks a little shame-faced. "If they're ill or they've got problems at school or something, then I'm on the phone and I'm dealing with it, but I can't stop what I'm doing."

His own family background was organised on rather less rational lines. Meat Loaf's maternal grandfather was a minister in the Church of Christ. Is that close to southern baptist? "Real close. Here's the difference: baptists have an organ in the church but the Church of Christ doesn't because there's a passage in the Bible that says you sing and make music in your hearts." He rolls his eyes. "I love religion." Despite a prevailing view that "showbusiness was the root of all evil", Meat's mother and her three siblings were encouraged to perform as a gospel quartet, The Hukel Sisters, with their engaginly clunky name testifying to Germanic origins.

The other side of the family were "real redneck hillbillies", Meat Loaf says with a shudder. "I mean like Deliverance." He left home, allegedly at the point of his drunken father's knife, when he was 16, shortly after his beloved mother had died from cancer. "Her death had a horrible effect on me. I don't remember doing it and I sometimes say I didn't, but people tell me I literally pulled her out of the casket at the church because I didn't want them to take her away ... I know what she looks like from pictures but I have no memory of her: it's like she's headless. I'm a little kid and I can only see feet and shoes and table legs."

It would be the epitome of crassness to suggest that Meat Loaf might be ''using his pain in his work'', but anyone who has ever wondered where his legendary reserves of emotional intensity come from could be forgiven for wondering if this awful adolescent trauma might have had something to do with it. Meat is sceptical.

"Sally Field describes herself going into a picture as taking razor blades to her insides and cutting herself - she has to feel the pain. When I heard her say that I thought I wonder what that feels like and I've been trying to do it, but," and the suspicion that he might be taking the mickey here is probably valid, "it kind of hurts."

Has he ever sought professional help? "I'm not gonna go to some psychiatrist who's gonna say 'okay, we're gonna hypnotise you'. I don't need that. I'm not neurotic: I'm fine about everything, I'm very grounded and very realistic ... I have an ego just like any performer, but I know who I am and I know what I do and I know," Meat Loaf smiles with a modesty that is all the more admirable for being wholly unfounded "that I am not a necessity."

8 Meat Loaf's new single, "Runnin' For the Red Light (I Gotta Life)" is out tomorrow on Virgin and he tours until the end of this month.

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