Once the whole world has heard you going all the way, what do you do for an encore? Ellen Foley became a wife, mom and latter-day rocker.
Foley, 62, had her first go-around with rock stardom in the late '70s. Most memorably, she dueted with Meat Loaf on the epic Paradise by the Dashboard Light, in which a high school boy tries repeatedly to get his girlfriend to "go all the way," a request she won't grant until he promises to "love me forever.”
Foley also recorded three solo albums and background vocals on hits such as Joe Jackson's Body and Soul and The Clash's Sandinista! (Fun fact: the Mick Jones-penned Clash hit, Should I Stay or Should I Go? is about his on-again/off-again relationship with her.)
A New Album After Three Decades
After releasing her three solo albums between 1979 and 1983, Foley went three decades without a new one. But late last year, she released the appropriately-titled About Time, which inspired her to hit the road again and muse on the new attitude she brings to getting up on stage.
"I feel more secure in my life now, so it's a little easier," says Foley, who lives in New York with her husband, writer Douglas Bernstein. They have two sons in their early 20s.
"It's not completely the way I define myself now, which it certainly used to be. When I was single and out there, floundering around in my personal life, music was who I was as a person. When your career takes a dip, as they always do, there is a period where you feel a little lost. But now I'm a mother, a wife. I have houses, I plant gardens and have long-time friends. So it feels a lot different."
Discovering New Meanings
The songs — at least some of them — remain the same. But Foley finds their meanings have changed.
"We do a bunch of the songs from my first record and that has been really interesting," says Foley. "We Belong to the Night was a song about working-class young kids and how their lives are so hard and unfulfilled but they have each other, which I could relate to. But now I'm looking at it from the perspective of someone who has kids who are that age and seeing how heartbreaking it is as I watch my children and my friends' children live through stuff that I feel I know something about. You'd love to teach them but, of course, that's not going to happen. They have to find out for themselves."
Foley — whose acting career has included roles on the '80s sitcom Night Court, the movies Married to the Mob, Fatal Attraction and Lies I Told My Little Sister and Sondheim's Into the Woods on Broadway — is doing new songs, as well.
And, although she did not write the songs on About Time, songwriter Paul Foglino was inspired by what it's like to be a sexagenarian rock-and-roller. Which is not to say that Foley has taken to singing My 401(k) is Shrinking or Do You Know Where I Put My Fiber Supplements?
"It's just that (Foglino) knows a lot about my life: where I came from, where I am now, what my sense of humor is like. We have a song called, I’ve Been Around the Block and Back, which is about coming from a place of acceptance, of 'Hey, what are you going to do? This is what it's like being this age,’" says Foley.
Learning Without Role Models
She says there's no way she'll return to the '70s rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle. "Those really tight clothes, I wouldn't put them on now. The crazed lifestyle — drinking and running around … I certainly don't do any of that anymore," says Foley.
(MORE: Ringo Starr and Other Rock Stars Reflect on Aging)
That calmer, more comfortable Foley, is also reflected on About Time.
"There's a song on the album where the lyrics are, 'If you can't be good/Be careful/If you can't be careful/Be tough,'" says Foley. "It's about how you maneuver things, how you figure out how to make things work, how to survive. I didn't know how to do any of that when I was in my 20s, I'll tell you."
Back then, there were no role models for being a rock singer of a certain age — a present-day reality Foley says she never even contemplated when she was young.
"People who came up with me are still around, but I can't think there was anybody back then like the Jaggers or the Springsteens today, the Stevie Nicks and Christine McVies (all of whom are older than Foley)," says the singer. "I mean, Jagger always said he wasn't going to be singing Satisfaction when he was 30 and now look at him."
‘Meat, if You’re Out There…’
Speaking of which, there is one song Foley doesn't perform anymore, although not for lack of trying. She and her new band have tried to figure out how to do Paradise by the Dashboard Light, either by just sticking to her part of the song or by having someone else fill in for Meat Loaf. But they haven't found a way to make it work.
"I still think Meat Loaf should have me come up on stage and sing it with him," says Foley, who hasn't seen her former duet partner in years but does keep in touch with him, and Paradise by the Dashboard Light songwriter/producer Jim Steinman, via Facebook.
"So, Meat: If you're out there reading this, get me on board."
Not long ago, Steinman told Foley he has written a new song for her and Meat Loaf. A Paradise sequel, perhaps?
If so, one day we may find out if the Dashboard Light lovers, like Foley's career in rock, are still chugging along more than three decades later.
Chris Hewitt is a movie and theater critic who has written for MSNBC.com, Today.com and The History Channel magazine and whose reviews have run in newspapers across the country.
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