National Commentary

He Wrote ‘Total Eclipse’

In homage to the end of the pandemic for now in the U.S., or part of it at least, renewed explorations into “the first time in 15 months” of doing things resulted for this writer in a brief visit to a karaoke gay bar and the inevitable reprise of one of the most sought after hits since that genre began.

I refer to Bonnie Tyler’s 1983 smash hit, “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” It’s one of a handful of tunes that when it’s played at a gay club late at night, the entire crowd, whether on a dance floor or saddled up at a bar, sings along to with feeling.

There have been very few other songs with the same passionate appeal in such venues, other than the kind of dance tunes that Madonna, Cher and Lady Gaga have made popular. I recall that there was Diana Ross’ “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” back in the 1970s, always the choice just before “last call” when all the lights went up, and much more recently, “This Is Me,” the anthem by Keala Settle from the movie, “The Greatest Showman.”

But in my humble opinion, “Total Eclipse” is in a class by itself. Who is “Bright Eyes,” by the way, and what does that person’s “turning around” have to do with the story? Answers being unknown to the masses, they matter little.

My bigger point here, beyond the joy of doing such a simple thing forbidden during the pandemic such that it will always be so much more meaningful now, has to do with the origins of that iconic song. Who, other than an expert, can say who wrote it?

It’s a curious thing about this modern era. When it comes to classical music, what everyone knows about a work is its composer, and the particular performing entities, an orchestra or a quartet or whatever, are far less significant.
What mattered was that it was Beethoven, not Wagner, Schumann not Mahler, or Franck and not, God forbid, John Cage.

Sadly, in the case of “Total Eclipse,” this writer found out about its author by way of encountering his obituary, a big one, in fact, on April 22 of this year. Jim Steinman, 73, described in the headline as an “Eccentric Songwriter (Who) Composed Meat Loaf’s Popular Hits.” Author Matt Schudel’s lengthy obit in the Washington Post gave Mr. Steinman due credit as a gifted writer of hit songs.

Schudel wrote, “Mr. Steinman, nothing if not eccentric, woke up late in the day and worked all night, writing songs that combined the power of opera, Broadway extravaganzas and the rock-and-roll wall of sound of producer Phil Spector.” My kind of guy, even without the lyrics.

Schudel wrote of Steinman, “His songs often had the dramatic presence of miniature plays, with lavish arrangements featuring keyboards, thundering guitars and, most memorably, the dynamic voice of Meat Loaf, a heavyset singer who rode Mr. Steinman’s songs to fame.”

A lot of the obit focused on Steinman’s relationship with Meat Loaf, noted for his “operatic singing voice and uninhibited performing style.”

Myself a big fan of that music, especially Meat Loaf’s last big hit, “I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That),” yet another mystery, I was particularly struck to learn of Steinman’s other songwriting achievements named, “Total Eclipse” and another of my all time favorites, Celine Dion’s 1996 rendering of “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now.”

What the best of his compositions have in common is that they are all telling stories, evoking memories or sensibilities and cloaked in the passions where millions of us have been and felt. He was a big fan of the operas of Wagner and Verdi.

In “Total Eclipse” you get it all. “Once upon a time, I was falling in love, now I’m only falling apart,” and “Once upon a time there was light in my life, now there’s only love in the dark,” stories told by one who gets “a little bit nervous that the best of all the years have gone by.”

The “Bright Eyes” evoke a young, more innocent time, a rejection of the jaded shadows we’ve become.

Nicholas Benton may be emailed at [email protected]