Writer Drew Magary on why he hates “Paradise By The Dashboard Light”

Writer Drew Magary on why he hates “Paradise By The Dashboard Light”

In HateSong, we ask our favorite musicians, writers, comedians, actors, and so forth to expound on the one song they hate most in the world.

The hater: As both a correspondent for GQ and a columnist for Deadspin, Drew Magary has written countless stories about sports, dude life, and pop culture. He’s also penned several books, and his latest, Someone Could Get Hurt: A Memoir Of Twenty-First-Century Parenthood, is a smart, amusing look at what it means to raise a kid in the age of both head lice and iPads. He’s also a prolific Twitter user and a pretty funny guy.

The hated: Meat Loaf, “Paradise By The Dashboard Light” (1977)

The A.V. Club: Why is this the song you picked?

Drew Magary: Well, first of all, it’s not a song.  It’s a horrible little Broadway musical tucked into six minutes. Everything I hate about Broadway musicals is jammed right into it. It’s like you had to sit through all of Rock Of Ages while you were listening to one horrible seven-minute song; I fucking hate it. 

AVC: It is really long. 

DM: It’s so long, and it has all these working parts and they all suck. 

The other thing is that when people are drunk at a bar and they hear it, they act it out. You know, like whenever they get to the “Stop right there!” part, all of the girls hold out their hands like, “Oh! This is the part where I get to musically cock block a guy! Woohoo!” It’s just so horrible, I fucking hate it. 

AVC: It is definitely theatrical. There are three acts to it. 

DM: That’s the thing: It’s like a suite. It’s structured like a horrible prog-rock song, and it sounds like some Rock Of Ages-type stuff. They sing the chorus once and then they go into the Rizzuto thing. Ugh. The Rizzuto thing sucks, too, because there will be one guy at the bar that does the play-by-play along with it like he’s Phil Rizzuto or some shit. 

AVC: As a sports fan and writer, does having Phil Rizzuto in this song strike a special hate chord with you? 

DM: It does. I don’t want a celebrity cameo in my song; I just want it to be normal and traditionally structured. 

The other thing is that they play that shit at weddings. They’ll play it at a wedding, and the end of it is so awful. Like, “We had sex and now we hate each others’ guts, right? Now we’re going to die. I’m praying for the sun to just die and collapse so I don’t have to spend another second with you.” And people are like, “Play that at my wedding!” Why would you play that at a wedding?!

AVC: The song wasn’t even that big of a hit when it came out. It didn’t chart anywhere near the Top 10. 

DM: Because people were smart back then! They were like, “I don’t want to listen to that.”

AVC: Do you like Meat Loaf in general?

DM: I guess I’m okay with Meat Loaf. I just hate that song. Actually, I guess I hate Meat Loaf, because I can’t think of another song of his that I like. I like the video for “I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That)” but only because I was a teenager and there was a really hot chick in it and I just liked looking at the hot chick. So that doesn’t count. And that’s another one that’s not really a rock song. Songs like that are just “Broadway rock,” not real rock. They’ve been composed. I think the cover of Bat Out Of Hell says Jim Steinman composed the music. That makes it sound all airy like, “Oh, he composed it,” like he sat at a piano and took out a parchment and a quill and drew the little quarter notes one by one. When you use the word “composed,” that’s what you’re suggesting and that makes me angry. [The Bat Out Of Hell cover says “Songs by Jim Steinman.” —ed.]

AVC: “Paradise By The Dashboard Light” makes you wonder whether Meat Loaf ever really wanted to be a rocker. Maybe he just ultimately wanted to be an actor and this is how he got there. 

DM: [Laughs.] He’s like, “This is how I’m going to get into Fight Club!” I don’t know. 

I have a funny story about Meat Loaf. I was with a friend of mine and an old ex-girlfriend. She was not a good girlfriend, and we were at some bar at Chelsea Piers. I got into a fight with the girlfriend, and my friend who was the third wheel was like, “Well, this sucks.” So we’re walking along and the girlfriend is still fighting with me and she’s finally like, “I’m leaving!” And I was like, “Please leave! I’m tired of fighting with you.” And my friend and I are walking along the west side of Manhattan, and we see a stage and we see this concert going on behind a chain-link fence and we’re like, “What the hell is going on?” We looked closer and we’re like, “Is that fucking Meat Loaf?! Yeah, it is Meat Loaf!” And we’re like, “Wow, what a turn of the day! I was fighting with my girlfriend and now we’re at a free Meat Loaf concert.” So whenever I think of Meat Loaf, I think of me fighting awkwardly with my ex-girlfriend in front of my friend who hated her. 

AVC: The other song you said that you were thinking about doing was Don McLean’s “American Pie.” What do you have against that song? 

DM: It’s not a song. There are 80 verses to it, and everyone at the bar seems to know the words. I don’t know why they know the words to it, and I just don’t need to hear all of it. It could be three verses and it could be two to three minutes, and I could get the whole song. It doesn’t need to be seven minutes. It’s not some epic tale of American life. It’s just a shitty song that they made extra long so that you just never stop hearing it. 

AVC: Both “Paradise By The Dashboard Light” and “American Pie” have this false sense of nostalgia.

DM: It’s like you listen to “American Pie” and think, “I’m pining for America!” It’s the wistful memory of being young and American and, “Oh! I saw you guys dancing in the gym and we were sitting on the bleachers eating corn together!” Just cram as much shitty Norman Rockwell imagery into one song as you possibly can. And people eat it up and they buy shit! It’s terrible. 

AVC: The idea that everyone in America tried to get to third base in the back of a car is also kind of bullshit.

DM: Totally! It’s that “Oh, things were so much more fun when we were young and everything sucks now” idea. You can tell when you’re listening to “Paradise By The Dashboard Light” that this is supposed to be a classic American tale of youth and boys and girls in America. Everything The Hold Steady did right, that song does wrong. 

AVC: And boys and girls are always looking to get some.

DM: “I want to go all the way! That’s what my friends in the Jets want me to do with you, baby!” And she’s like [Girlish voice.], “Whoa, hey, I’m wearing a sorority sweater, and I don’t do that sort of thing. We have to go steady first.” And you just picture people roller-skating around. I bet it’s George Lucas’ favorite song. I could see it at the beginning of Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull where there’s a greaser on a fucking bike. Lucas so clearly still pines for back in the day when every fucking restaurant wasan Ed Debevic’s or some shit like that.

AVC: Ed Debevic’s is about two blocks from Onion Inc., and there are always buses of teenagers being dropped off outside.

DM: Yeah. Go listen to Elvis at tables and have a waitress in roller skates yell at you. That thing has been so co-opted now that if you walk into a Johnny Rockets today, it’s the most depressing restaurant you’ve ever walked into in America. It’s weird and awful and anyone who fetishizes that anymore is just bizarre to me. It’s nice to watch American Graffiti once in a while, but I don’t need it to be an ethos. 

AVC: Did you know that “Paradise By The Dashboard Light” did well in Europe? Particularly in the Netherlands?

DM: Goddamn Europe.

AVC: Have you seen the Rock Of Ages movie?

DM: No. I won’t see it, I can’t, because I grew up with Def Leppard and it’s oddly something I have fond memories of and I don’t want to watch Tom Cruise singing it. 

AVC: Don’t. 

DM: I can’t. I can’t do it. I don’t like it when they think Def Leppard is the same as Night Ranger, even though one is hair metal and one is Bud rock. It’s clearly Broadway people who don’t know they put the wrong fucking bands together and think it’s all the same era, and it’s not. 

AVC: It sounds like you don’t like Broadway. 

DM: No, I hate musicals. I really hate musicals. It’s all just so unreal to me. I hate when they sing the dialogue. Most of the songs aren’t real songs. They just have choruses and stuff like that. I just can’t; it drives me up the wall. 

AVC: Do you think it’s possible to make a good musical?

DM: I’m sure The Book Of Mormon is good. I would love to go see that because it’s funny. I think it’s possible to make a good musical, but it’s weird the connection that musicals have with comedians. Seth MacFarland loves musicals and the South Park guys love musicals and all these comedians love musicals and it’s like, “Why?!” Shouldn’t all comedians hate musicals? That would make much more sense if they were all nihilistic, but if they all secretly love Grease, then I don’t get it.

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