Reflection: Meat Loaf Has Left the Building

That’s Mr. Loaf to you, as one reporter evidently addressed him years ago during an interview. Or call him Mr. Salacious, or Mr. Lugubrious, they’d make good monikers for him. They both popped into my head when I heard Marvin Lee Aday, a.k.a. Meat Loaf, had died last week at age 74. Meat Loaf, he said, was a childhood nickname and he kept right on using it as a stage name. The Goo Goo Dolls took their band name impulsively when they saw it in a store window, said they wanted to change it, but then poof! suddenly they were famous, Goo Goo Dolls forevermore. Wonder whether Meat Loaf ever yearned for the world to know him simply as Marvin Lee Aday. But where would be the fun in that, after all.

Seems so young, somehow, age 74, and I immediately did that thing one does, googled him to find recent images. He ironically looked healthier in the near past than he did in his heyday as a rock icon. Those were the years I’d have been getting into trouble of various sorts with my high school homies. You couldn’t flip on the car radio back then without hearing one of Meat Loaf’s cult-classic ballads or raunchy anthems. When the news mentioned the “tributes pouring in,” I heard Andrew Lloyd Webber’s name float by, which at first struck me as unlikely. An instant later, I realized, of course: Meat Loaf was nothing if not a theatrical performer. Makes complete sense.

I never cared for his music, though, just tolerated it so I wouldn’t appear out of step with my peer-pressuring pals. (Looking at you, dear friend in the yellow Buick that started without its keys in the ignition.) I did howl one day at work a few years back when an irreverent colleague printed out that pie chart up there and tacked it onto the outside wall of his cubicle. Maybe you’ve seen it—the pie chart, not the cubicle.

Anyway, here I am again, thinking about mortality, thanks to the likes of Meat Loaf, Betty White, et al. My ex has a somewhat irksome habit of sending me Legacy posts whenever somebody we went to church with, or knew well during our marriage, has died. I call these missives ‘The Daily Dead,’ and not long ago chided him for them. He apologized but sends them anyway, which I suppose is a thoughtful gesture. Most of them are in fact obituaries for people I knew and loved during that chapter in my life, and I do appreciate knowing so I can send a note or write something in their guestbook.

Sort of. There’s another piece of me that prefers a constant state of blissful ignorance. Those 25 years of life in Knoxville, Tennessee now live only as memories, but painted with crystalline clarity still in my mind’s eye. I imagine the people I knew then just living on and on, ageless, in perpetuity somehow. Maybe tonight they’re sitting down to dinner at the neighborhood Italian eatery (never mind that it’s gone now), or the silver-haired ladies will be in the cathedral kitchen on Wednesday evening prepping for family church supper (looks like they’re not even doing those anymore, but who knows). I know darn well so many of those people are gone now, though—I did the math. And the two families who were the closest to us, whose children grew up with ours, have relocated to far corners of the country, as have I.

It’s just life, and that is all: People die, people’s lives change, and time marches on. Which is why it’s important not to linger too long in nostalgia so you don’t get stuck there. Speaking only for myself, I think once you get a little age on you, life takes on a kind of urgency maybe it didn’t have before. All the more reason to live in the moment, to go on and do those things you once thought about doing way, way, way in the future, and all that. Because here we are, some of us, suddenly way, way, way in the future. One George Balanchine famously once put this sentiment to his cadre of New York City Ballet dancers:

Why are you stingy with yourselves? Why are you holding back? What are you saving for—for another time? There are no other times. There is only now. Right now.

I’m long finished toilet papering people’s yards with my Meat Loaf-listening pals, but maybe I’ll at least take Mr. Balanchine’s observation to heart and buy a certain pair of shoes I’ve been longing for. And while Balanchine might not have been speaking of material things, there is only now, after all. Right now. And I want to enjoy them (and so, so many other things) now, before it’s time for me to leave the building.

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