Not every rock album is memorable decades after it is first released.
Bat Out of Hell is one album I will never forget. The local rock station played “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” a lot in the early 1980s and my mom always cranked it up when it came on the car radio. I wondered if she knew what this song was about.
But it wasn’t until my mom put an 8-track tape of the album into the tape player that I really discovered Meat Loaf and a new side to my mother.
We laughed at first because 8-track tapes were old technology by then – the joke being that it was the grandpa music format. She told me that the music store employee had smiled when she handed him the tape to ring up and told her, “Ma’am we have this in a cassette.” Our old station wagon didn’t have a cassette player and my mom wanted traveling music.
She played that album almost every time we got in the car, on errands around town, running me to various activities and on road trips to see relatives. Here was my Catholic mother, singing along to the rocking rhythm of the title song, “Bat Out of Hell,” as I watched her from the front passenger seat. Was she having some sort of a delayed childhood rebellion, or did Meat Loaf’s music bring out the real her? This fast-paced song about embracing life and dying in a fiery motorcycle crash had us nodding our heads and singing any words we could pick out. And “hell,” a word she called profane and did not allow me to speak in any context, was now okay to sing loudly in the car.
I was about 14 at the time, still looking at my mother through a narrow lens as caregiver. I hadn’t begun to think about who she was as a person beyond that role. The emotions that Meat Loaf expressed in his music, his ability to convey sadness and loss in songs, like “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad” and “Heaven Can Wait” bonded us with common emotions for a few moments even though we were at different stages of our lives. It was my first glimpse into the idea of my mother as someone more complex – someone beyond the label I assigned her was singing those words.
I never got to know my mother on a deeper level. She became ill when I was finishing my last year at a local college. I was still dependent on her. At the time, she was working two jobs, a 60-hour work week. Still being the hard-working caregiver.
But I have Meat Loaf to thank for singing music that helped me bond with my mother. Back then, I didn’t know our car sing-a-longs would be memorable decades later. But hearing of Meat Loaf’s passing brought back the image of that orange album cover, its paper edges starting to peel off the top of the 8-track tape. And in my mind, it still sits halfway out of the tape player, just waiting to be slid into place again.