The blog doesn’t do obituaries, but hard-rocking writer Jim Steinman could probably have chosen a better day to be remembered than when we’re deluged by media reaction to the Derek Chauvin trial and the collapse of the proposed football European Super League. Both of these things are undoubtedly important, but it’s probably likely that Steinman’s legacy will get a little less attention than deserved in the circumstances. Steinman’s lengthy, epic songs leant themselves to interpretation by larger-than-life showmen (and women) including Meat Loaf, Bonnie Tyler and Cher, but he also created a little bit of cult film history with a couple of songs for Walter Hill’s neglected Streets of Fire.
Taking a leaf from the Terminator’s look, Streets of Fire also harks back to The Warriors and other stripped-back urban Hill dramas; cult hero Michael Pare plays ex-soldier Tom Cody, often seen with pump-action shotgun in hand and raincoat billowing in the wind. His ex, singer Ellen Aim (Diane Lane) is kidnapped by a motorcycle gang led by Raven (Willen Dafoe) and Cody steps in to bring her home. This being the 80’s, there’s roles for Bill Paxton, Rick Moranis and Amy Madigan, but the real star is the retro production design and the film’s deliberately dated MTV look.
Streets of Fire was not a hit at the time, misjudging various trends and satisfying few, but the ace in the pack was the two songs written for the film by Steinman, Tonight is What It Means To be Young and Nowhere Fast. Hill had aimed to make a comic book film without reference to any existing comic books, and Steinman’s songs play a similar role in establishing Ellen Aim and the Attackers as a band in their own right. Both songs are perfect examples of Steinman’s unique art, towering Gothic monstrosities with building choruses breathlessly soaring over each other, drums like gunshots and soaring vocals. And the sentiment, live hard, die young, caught the mood of much of Steinman’s work; glorious, epic, dynamic. Both songs clock in at over six minutes long, short by Steinman’s standards, but an ideal centre if they ever make a musical theatre version of Streets of Fire.
I’ve put links to both these songs below, recorded by Fire Incorporated for the soundtrack and with regular contributors Holly Sherwood and Laurie Sargent on vocal duties. Of course, given the nature of his musical contributions to the world, it’s simply impossible for someone like Steinman to actually die; right now he’s probably exploding into either Heaven or Hell on a giant souped-up motorbike powered by angels, demons and flaming beads of sweat. For most people, writing two songs this good would be a career highpoint, so in amongst the other news of the day, it’s worth taking a moment to remember Steinman’s astonishing gift for song writing. Steinman seemed to write only stone-cold classics of love and loss; the rest of us can only read ‘em and weep.