Creem - February 1980
MEAT TO THE BEAT:
Doin' It In Roadie with
BLONDIE & MEAT LOAF
Written by: Dave DiMartino
Photography by: Neal Preston
AUSTIN, TX - Talk about incongruity. Here we are speeding down a Texas highway, sun blazing overhead. We're in a van, naturally - the only way to travel here - and we couldn't be a more unlikely group of passengers. In the front sits a Mexican-American Teamster, smiling, happy to be driving us around. Next to him is Blondie's Jimmy Destri, looking out the window and laughing at the hand-scrawled sign promising "TURKEY SHOOT THURSDAY." In the back seat, lead guitarist Chris Stein fiddles with his grey cowboy hat and looks closely at my beaten-but-still-functioning cassette recorder. At his right sits this lonely Detroit boy, representing CREEM and recovering from a heavy night of Texas-style beverage consuming.
And we're on our way to Montgomery Wards. To buy a gun.
We're all here to be part of Roadie, a United Artists film being shot in Austin with a projected release date of Summer 1980. Incongruities once again: the cast features Meat Loaf, Art Carney, Blondie, Alice Cooper, Roy Orbison, Hank Williams, Jr., even Don Cornelius, and more. Even less likely, this film is supposed to be serious - Smokey and the bandit won't be showing up, in other words - and considering the director involved, serious it will likely be. Alan Rudolph, protege of Robert Altman and director of Welcome To L.A. and Remember My Name, is the man assigned the unenviable task of making the whole thing cohesive. How he's going to do it remains a mystery. Deep down inside, I have the feeling that somebody someplace is going to end up throwing the whole thing against the wall and hoping it sticks.
Roadie is the story of Travis W. Redfish, described somewhere in my notes as "an energetic, hell-raising, beer truck-driving Texan who thinks Rolling Stones ar large, rotating pebbles." Honest. Travis, played by the honorable Mr. Loaf, falls for a hot-to-trot groupie named Lola Bouillabaise (Kaki Hunter); eventually she coerces him into joining Mohammed Johnson's Rock & Roll Circus. Mr. Mohammed is actually Soul Train refugee Don Cornelius, and it's at this juncture Roadie becomes incomprehensible to the untrained eye. Travis is apparently a mechanical genius, Blondie is apparently the band for which Travis roadies, and Roadie will apparently make a lot more sense when it's on the screen this summer.
DAY OF ARRIVAL: A driver at the Austin airport takes me to the Stephen F. Austin Hotel, conveniently situated in the heart of this university/capitol city right next to a Dunkin' Donuts and Woolworth's department store. Met there by the film's publicists, we eventually join a small party of waiting journalists and photographers.
Soon we're taken by van to a race track 20 minutes out of the city, the shooting location for the three day's we're scheduled to be there.
The race track is surrounded by police cars and several guards, functioning mainly to keep curiosity seekers away from the set. We leave the van and walk toward a cluster of one hundred to one hundred fifty people. All are gathered around several movie cameras. Facing the cameras are Meat Loaf, various members of Blondie, and some of the hottest-to-trot female extras this Detroit boy has ever seen.
While we sit and watch, the crew attempts to shoot a single scene maybe 11 or 12 times, an extremely boring, meticulous process. In this particular scene, cast members shovel horse shit into a blazing fire - truly a meaningful gesture - and it all ends with Debbie Harry planting a wet one on Meat Loaf's kisser. By nature a symbolist, this writer decides to explore the race track.
INSIDE THE TRAILER: While Blondie plays Johnny Cash's "Ring Of Fire" on the stage outside, Meat Loaf and I sit inside a nearby trailer and discuss the meaning of life. Meat's wearing your standard Rory Gallagher flannel shirt and a big white cowboy hat; he's also chewing a lot of gum. Major lesson of the day: when they make movies, you have to wait around a lot. He chews his gum and smiles.
Meat, I ask, are you playing the part of Travis Redfish right now, even as we speak?
"Yeah," he chews, smiling. He looks out the trailer window toward the stage. "Of course I am. Have been since August. You know - chewin' gum. I started chewin' gum in August. Travis chews gum all the time. Certain moments he talks and it hangs out the side of this mouth." He illustrates. "It's sorta classic, sorta my Ted Nugent pose, ya know?"
Well, I continue, would you consider this Travis character to be smarter or dumber than the real Meat Loaf we know and love?
No Hesitation. "Travis is supposed to be a mechanical genius, so he's much smarter. Especially as far as mechanics, and how things work." Meat shakes his head. "I don't know anything about that. Travis can fix anything. My little girl, Pearl, she's four. She asked me, 'Daddy, can you fix this?' I said 'I dunno' and she said 'Travis Redfish can fix anything!' So then I started fixing things around the house." Satisfied, he looks out the window again. "It's called method acting."
Outside, Blondie play "Ring Of Fire" for the fourth time, maybe the fifth.
INSIDE THE VAN: Chris Stein, Jimmy Destri, the driver and I leave the set during a lunch break. We're looking for a sporting goods store. Because the band is on call, the union requires Blondie to be on the set regardless of whether the scene they're needed for is actually shot. It gets very boring waiting around. Chris - who assures me that he's a peace-loving boy from Brooklyn - wants to get a pellet gun. It's for target practice, he says. For when the band sits around with nothing to do.
Stein and Destri are open and talkative; they may be a little bored too, but from all indications they're happy to be in the film. We talk about music, the press, the differences between England and America, the band's future plans, and the usual.
I bring up an old Chris Stein quote I read somewhere: "I really admire Andy Warhol, because he manipulated the media. I think that's the hippest thing you can do." I ask Chris about it.
"Yeah." He shrugs. "That was grossly blown out of context and proportion. I never meant that in the sense that we want to control the people that write about us. I certainly don't care what people write about us as long as it isn't idiotic or totally moronic.
"Like that last CREEM story on Debbie." (to those unaware, Nick Tosches' fab interview in CREEM, June '79, featuring tuna fish, leg shaving, and piss-on-his-fingers) "I really thought that was funny and I liked it. Some of the people at our press office were horrified, but hey, we liked it. Debbie liked it. I liked the piece, 'cause it was like a satire of all those dumb interviews that she always does, you know? But it was done on a conscious level."
Up front, Destri voices his agreement.
"It's almost impossible to color what people write about you," Stein continues, "but it's always a lot easier for inaccuracy to appear in print. Like a guy can quote you and leave out one word, and that'll be enough. He'll be quoting you out of good faith, but just leaving out the one word will take the meaning out of what you said."
The van zooms toward the outskirts of Austin. We look for likely gun shops.
"No," Stein says, "the media is there to be controlled. That's what I meant by that - that it's there to be manipulated. That's what it's for. If you didn't give the media stuff to write about, or make films about, what'd they be doin'? Nothin.' Nobody would have a job.
SHOWTIME: On the second day, Blondie performs before an audience of Austin kids. All were given free tickets through a radio and record store promotion. The race track slowly fills with curious townies, all dressed to their Texan hilt with leather boots and vest. A sign greets them at the race track entrance: BY ATTENDING THIS CONCERT YOU ARE GRANTING US PERMISSION TO PHOTOGRAPH YOU.
A member of the film crew emerges onstage. He explains to the audience that they're actually to be part of this film. There's much applause. Please be patient, he announces, this might take a while. Minutes later, Blondie cheerfully greets the crowd. They run through "Dreaming," "Ring Of Fire," and "One Way Or Another." Everyone's in fine form; the audience loves it. As the film crewman had explained, the band leaves after their third song. The audience calls for more. Next up: the Standing Waves, an Austin-based band that owes more than a little to the Talking Heads. They manage a respectable set nonetheless.
A friend points out Roky Erickson, late of the Thirteenth-Floor Elevators, standing in the audience. I stroll on over to say hello.
INSIDE THE TRAILER: Curious, I ask Meat Loaf about the status of Bat Out Of Hell's follow-up, an LP supposedly due last June. I'd heard things weren't quite working smoothly.
Meat Loaf continues chewing and turns in his chair. "There were just a lot of problems, ya know? I had problems with my voice, I had problems because I'd toured so long - it was just all crazy."
Any long-term health problems?
"I sure hell hope not."
Outside, Blondie continues with still another "Ring Of Fire." It's getting monotonous.
Meat considers. "Because I was fine, I was in the middle of doing some vocals, and when I went back to redo 'em, I couldn't sing. I didn't know what it was - I went to a hypnotist and a psychologist and all kinds of shit. All the tracks are done, all the background is done, half the vocals are done." He shakes his head gloomily. "I just couldn't finish it. I dunno, there may even be songs I have mental blocks about at this point. I got one called 'Stark Raving Love' that I don't think I can ever sing. I mean it's an incredible song and all - I just don't think I'll be able to sing it..."
"Why? I don't know why!" He gestures outside the trailer. "That's what they wanna know, that's what they ask me. They called me last night: 'Listen, what are we gonna do about this?' - I dunno, I told 'em, I'm doin' a movie, gimme a break!"
He looks outside the trailer again. "I don't know - it's like I fought with it, ya know? I wasn't around for the creation of it when it happened. For all of Bat, well, we created it all together - and the title song for this one, too, 'Bad For Good,' we created it all together. But there's some on this record that weren't created together, that we didn't finish. And all of a sudden here's Bittan and all those guys from Springsteen's band, and they're recording the tunes, and I'm walkin' in saying, 'Well, what're ya doin'?' and they say 'We're doing "Stark Raving Love"' and I said 'Never heard of it before'... And it got too weird..."
INSIDE THE DRESSING ROOM: Clem Burke and Frank Infante are utterly bored, on call for the day and waiting for something, anything exciting to happen. And nothing will. Members of the film crew and a small security staff walk around the room looking at each other. Outside Meat Loaf screams his tenth Travis Redfish yell of the day. The waiting is getting dreary.
We sit down at the table. I ask them how they'd compare yesterday's performance in front of the Austin audience with today's complete boredom.
Infante grins. "That was the best. When we played those first three songs, that was the best time I've had since we've been here. Like playing, actually playing without having to think about whether we're gonna have to do it again 20 million times, or tryin' to think about cameras and all that shit. Just playin' and not thinkin' about nothin', man - that was the best feelin' I had since I got here.
"I think it's just the hanging around and the boredom, man. It just gets ya pissed off. You get real irritable when ya gotta sit around all day doing nothing..."
"Actuallt," Burke leans over, "we told them to get us six Space Invaders games, which I really didn't think would be that hard to do. A couple of dirt bikes and some Space Invaders games. I'm surprised they didn't - especially because we have to be here every day..."
Jimmy Destri walks up to the dressing room, Nigel Harrison steps in for a moment, and outside Meat Loaf is still screaming. A member of the film crew looks at his watch. Someone asks where the new television is.
SHOWTIME: Empty plastic cups inscribed with the word "Budweiser" are passed out among the audience. A film crew instructs audience members to raise them above their heads. Gonna be a great effect, they're told. So the cups are raised.
Soon the boredom becomes contagious. Don Cornelius struts onstage and runs through his rap while the cameras shoot away. The audience, instructed to give Mr. Soul Train a lukewarm reception, bombard him with their Budweiser cups en masse, plus bonus beer cans. Which bothers Cornelius greatly. After the shot, he returns onstage and announces ominously, "If I find out who's throwing all the fucking cans up here, we're gonna get together later."
The audience is unsympathetic.
INSIDE THE VAN: We discuss the trappings of success, Chris Stein, Jimmy Destri, and I. What would they be doing right now if they could be doing anything they wanted to? Destri ponders.
"I don't know," he says. "I think on the musical level we'd probably be doing more research into the tangents that have popped up along the line so far..."
You mean stuff like "Fade Away And Radiate" with Robert Fripp?
"No. Not necessarily that. Things that by association we got into..."
"Oh," Stein says, "you mean like the control of bodily functions through sound..."
Destri nods. "Yeah, that's one thing, research into that, research into audiophysics, research into television - I'd like this group to become a media corporation, I really would. Because there's probably more brains for that in this band than any other band around. I mean two art school dropouts, three fashion-conscious young men, and Debbie - there's probably enough resources around to start a whole media
The van pulls into a shopping mall with two likely gun-shop prospects - a sporting goods store and a Montgomery Ward's. Chris Stein speaks quickly:
"On the political level, one of my goals is to try and synthesize different kinds of music that'll bring people together. I definitely see a return toward R&B and soul music. I think the fuckin' anti-disco movement is a bunch of bullshit with very heavy racist overtones. And if you'll remember correctly, back in the late 60's, all the great black music that people now accept as the best - the Supremes and the Four Tops and all that stuff - was considered sort of the same way that disco music is considered now. People saying it's just background music, but Procol Harum or whoever is really happening.
"It's exactly the same mentality, and people now realize that all that great fuckin' black music is now classic. There's a lot of great disco music, but there's a lot of shitty, disgusting disco music. There's also a lot of shitty rock'n'roll music, and I think that people should realize that if someone came out with a fuckin' anti-rock'n'roll or anti-country music movement, people would be horrified..."
Things continue to drag on. A few members of the press lingering backstage are told that some new extras are needed. Turns out that of all things, these extras are supposed to portray members of the press. One of the casting people nabs a reporter from the New York Daily News. Looking the reporter up and down, he glares at him doubtfully. "Hmmm... We're gonna have to get you in the right clothes first..."
INSIDE THE TRAILER: Interview time with Meat Loaf is almost up. An outgoing, very friendly guy, he talks non-stop and proves impossible to dislike. How could anybody give this guy a hard time? Wondering, I ask him if he thinks he's been given a fair shake by the press. He thinks for a minute. Then he nods his head.
"There are only two things that have ever happened," says Meat, "that have ever made me really angry. One happened in Australia when a guy asked me 'When are you gonna lose weight and give us a real show?' I almost killed him.
"The other one was about four days ago. I don't know whether is was in CREEM or Circus. It was in an article about Todd Rundgren by somebody named Toby - "
- Oh yeah, say I. It was in CREEM. Toby Goldstein.
"Yeah, Toby Goldstein, it was in CREEM and it was about Rundgren, it was - uhh, is Toby Golstein a girl or a guy?"
- Uhh... a girl.
" - Yeah. Well anyway she said that before Rundgren got with me I was a 'longtime loser.' That really made me mad. I just wanted to know where she got her references. I mean if it's true then it's true, ya know? Seems like ya need references for that. And my comment is: if before Bat Out Of Hell sold nine million copies I was a longtime loser, then that means Bruce Springsteen was a longtime loser, the Rolling Stones were longtime losers - hey, anybody but the Bee Gees and Fleetwood Mac are longtime losers, ya know? Like the who - 'cause their album didn't sell nine million they're longtime losers, right?
"I dunno, I never pictured myself as a loser. Just because I didn't have a record that sold nine million copies didn't make me a loser. Was she a loser before she started doing articles for CREEM? I'm sure she doesn't look upon herself as a loser. It's one of those - aww, I dunno, it just caught me, it struck me..."
Suddenly Meat perks up. "Hey, I did Shakespeare in Central Park, and I never read Shakespeare. To me, that was one of the biggest wins in my life. I was doin' Shakespeare with these cats who've been doin' Shakespeare for 20 years!" There's a knock at the trailer door. Meat keeps talking. "I mean, this is a huge rush. If this film is a total failure, this is a winner. If it doesn't gross two dollars it's a fuckin' winner. Because here I am, I'm doing this, I'm learning..."
The door opens to Meat Loaf's parting words:
"Success isn't measured in dollars and cents," he says, "success is measured in your mind..."
And it's time for someone else's Meat Loaf interview.
It's almost time to leave. Chris Stein and Jimmy Destri have managed to wrangle a pellet gun out of Montgomery Ward's, we're back at the race track, my plane to Detroit takes off in two hours - and I'm still waiting to speak to Debbie Harry. She's been tied up all day with a shot she's in, I'm told. Things are truly out of the band's hands.
My ride to the airport's scheduled in 15 minutes and I finally get the word: Let's do it. Now.
I'm introduced to Debbie, who isn't exactly thrilled with the prospect of an interview. We walk into her dressing room. I sit down and turn on the tape machine, anticipating the tremendously deep, meaningful interview I'll get in the 10 minutes I'll be able to stay.
"Well," says Debbie. "Ask away."
Okay. Time to be non-comittal.
Does all the time you spend waiting between shots bother you at all?
"I don't think anybody really enjoys the wait," says Debbie, "it's just - " Suddenly members of the band walk in, loud and oblivious to the interview.
"Hey shut up, willya?" shouts Debbie. Another minute ticks away.
Another tack. You had any other serious film offers lately?
Okay. If someone did offer you something good, would you consider it?
"Yeah. If I liked it, I would do it."
Do you think that might lead to any kind of conflict of interest between you and the guys in the band?
"I don't see why. I did one movie already."
Oh yeah? Which one?
Has anything happened with that Alphaville project with Robert Fripp?
"No. We're looking for backers. We're looking for money."
Then it is still on?
"Well, whatever is on is on. If you can pull it off, it works."
Four minutes left. Time for open-ended questions.
The band's increased popularity affected you personally in any way? Any way at all weird?
She's silent. I'm silent.
"I think now it's become easier. Since we've had our new management everything's become a lot easier and a lot clearer. Everybody's becoming a lot more aware of what their responsibilities are. And everybody's much happier, I think. Much more relaxed..."
Time to take advantage of this sudden rash of verbosity. I probe further.
Did you enjoy being on the cover of Us magazine?
A reaction. "I thought it was really a shitty piece of smut. Actually, I think it's a cheap scandal rag. Us magazine does not stand for we."
A brief silence. Thoughts of the airport.
Does it bother you at all that your picture is plastered in every magazine imaginable?
"I don't even think about it. There's nothing to think about. I take it for granted now. I dunno, maybe I shouldn't, maybe I should. I dunno. If I like the picture it's great, if I don't, it's tasteless. What can I do?"
So much for ten minutes.
Debbie, I gotta go. My plane leaves in an hour. This isn't exactly the best way to do an interview.
"Yeah," agrees Debbie.
Chris Stein pops up from the background. "He's really okay, you can talk to him, Debbie."
Debbie looks at Chris. "I wasn't not talking to him..."
I dutifully agree. I'm burned-out. I have to leave.
Then Debbie speaks, to me and to Chris:
"No, I just don't know that - I mean I like CREEM magazine, I just know that whatever you say, it's always turned into some kinda slapstick thing. So I'm just being short and lettin' 'em do their worst with whatever I say..."
Well, I ask, why do you think that happens?
"They do it to everybody, that's their thing. I mean, I'm obviously an educated consumer, right? So I'm not gonna be that open, I'm not gonna be serious. Of course I'm not gonna be serious with you, 'cause that's who you're writing for..."
In the remaining minute we discuss CREEM's merits, CREEM's faults, Japanese music and Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine.
I stand up. Debbie adds a final word.
"This whole business about Blondie and what they are and who they are - I think that rock fans know who we are, and they don't really need an explanation. Because they hear our records and that's it. That's what we are to them. And that's what we are, take my word for it."
Ten minutes are up.
AIN'T LIFE STRANGE ADDENDUM
Made it to the airport in time to have a beer at the bar. Lost my luggage for two days though.