IM THE OTHER KIND OF ANT. I PUSH THE ROCK UP
AND IF I SEE THAT THE ROCKS NOT GOING
I GO, FUCK THIS ROCK. OKAY, IM
FINDING ANOTHER ROCK.
The Tones of Pat Benatar:
Did you know that Pat Benatar got her start in an off-Broadway sci-fi musical composed by Harry Chapin when she was twenty-two? Its true. It was called The Zinger. After that, of course, Benatar put out a non-stop procession of Top 40 hits, among them Love is a Battlefield, Heartbreaker, and We Belong.
The gal with the four-octave voice grew up in Long Island,
New York, and started singing in elementary school. At the age of nineteen, she married
The gal with the four-octave voice grew up in Long Island, New York, and started singing in elementary school. At the age of nineteen, she married herhigh school sweetheart, then several years later divorced him but kept his last name (Benatar sounded slightly more rocking than her given name of Andrzejewski). In another fortuitous twist of events, she decided not to attend the Julliard School of Music, which, she reasoned, would just delay her career as a rock singer. After some stints in theater, including the aforementioned Zinger, she was discovered by a record agent while singing cabaret at the New York club Catch A Rising Star.
Now Benatar is fifty and is, as you will see, still a Long Island rock chicktough but good-hearted, very funny, with an impressive command of swear words. As you chat with her, the years fall away and soon youre back in high school, sitting in the cafeteria with the defiant girl who was never afraid of the teachers. At five feet tall, shes slightly built, and when we met she was sporting a fetching sort of homegirl getup: track pants, a large red warmup jacket, a bandanna tied on her head, hoop earrings, and long, wavy hair (which was probably extensions, come to think about it). Our rendezvous took place last August in Minneapolis, a stop on her summer tour, which was a low-key meander of outdoor festivals and casinos. Refreshingly, she insisted on paying for lunch, which never, ever happens.
Benatar will go on the road again this summer in support
of a June album called
Benatar will go on the road again this summer in support of a June album calledGo! As usual, she will be accompanied by her husband and collaborator, Neil Giraldo, her two daughters, Hana and Haley, a spinning bike, and an on-bus washing machine. Benatar doesnt like using anonymous washing machines (I cant let anyone touch my laundry) and has been known to throw a load of clothes in as she is being urged onstage.
THE BELIEVER: Why do you think gay men love you so much?
PAT BENATAR: Cause I wear big eyeliner. I
dont know. I have no idea.
PAT BENATAR: Cause I wear big eyeliner. I dont know. I have no idea.
BLVR: Do they often approach you?
BLVR: What do they say to you when they see you?
PB: They say, I dont just love you, I want to be you. Im just assuming its the eyeliner. I dont know. Theyre the best, thoughwe just did Gay Pride in Long Beach and in Tampa. And theyre the best audience. Theyre so enthusiastic. They come dressed upits really fun. Theyre crazy and I love them. Theyre sweet as can be. Even my macho husband, he has a great time, too. Hes so cool, he doesnt care. He loves them.
BLVR: What do you hope to be doing in ten years?
BLVR: What do you hope to be doing in ten years?
PB: I hope to be on the Hana Highway selling leis and pineapples or something, wearing a muumuu. Thats what Id really want to be doing. I have no idea, because I had no idea I would be doing this. At fifty. I thought I would be done. I thought Id be finished by now. So I have no idea. I just leave it.
BLVR: And why did you think you would be finished by now?
PB: Because when I started it still wasnt okay to be this age and still make this kind of music. And believe me, I consider our stuff to be much poppier thanwere not on like cutting edge, that kind of thing anymore. And even though were not doing Britney Spears music or Nsync, its still what I consider to be pop music. So that does give you a little bit more longevity, I guess. But if somebody told me Id be getting up there and singing Heartbreaker at fifty Id laugh. So I dont know, I have no idea.
I figured I would have my kids and I would be married andhow long could this possibly last, popularity-wise? I dont know what the hell I thought I would be doing but I didnt think it would be this. Im surprised. Im very happy. I feel grateful as shit that I still get to do it.
BLVR: And theyll always be glad to see you.
PB: I guess. Its great fun, it is, because they arethe audience is really diverse, I meanit goes in these cycles, too, which, you know, you just have to relax and not worry about this shit. No, really, you do, because it goes through cycles and not every record needs to be a hit record. Its not meant to do that, and peoples careers go through cycles and if you want to be the last man standing, you have to be fierce and tenacious and you just have to stand there and you have to let it do its thing. If you try to force it, then it wont go in the natural progression that its supposed to. If you just leave it alone its really interesting, because I got to tell you, it used to piss me off that people used to say that what we did was manufactured and things like that, because I swear that we always just let it flow And I always leave it like that. And it really works because this way theres no fabrication. If you try to chase it, if you try to follow trends and anticipate what the next thing is going to be, you will fail. You just have to leave it, you have to go with what it is. You have to be true, you have to be honest. This is the most important thing, this is what I tell Haley. I say, You know what? Dont even think about, or listen to whats out there. Dont do anything, just figure out what it is that is true to you, what makes you happiest to do and be out there. And if it doesnt work, then you just have to call it a day and go find something else. But dont make it up. Dont go out there and pretend to be something you arent. They will smell it on you and they will know. And its wrong, too. Its wrong to do. Because this is about conversation, what we do for a living. I want conversation back and forth. I want the common thread. I want to knowdo you feel this the same way as I do? If you dont, tell me what you feel, cause I want you to know what I feel, and I want to know what you feel and I want to do it back and forth. And thats why if youre not honest, you cant get the answer. So it makes...
BLVR: . . .a real dialogue with your audience. Does she recognize that as good advice?
think so. I mean, Im her mother, so she always takes everything I say with a grain
of salt. A lot of the time, she thinks Im full of shit.
PB: I think so. I mean, Im her mother, so she always takes everything I say with a grain of salt. A lot of the time, she thinks Im full of shit.
BLVR: I have to say, talking to you is so much easier than trying to coerce answers out of some of the younger bands that I interview. Younger bands can be really difficult.
PB: Oh yeah. Well, they have to try and be cool.
BLVR: Theyre scared underneath, I think.
PB: They are scared . Were all scaredare you crazy? You never know what the hell to say. I was talking to my daughter this morning, and I said, The greatest thing about being almost fifty is that you get to this point in your life and you dont give a shit. Its really great. I said, You kind of know that when youre young, but youre so freaked outon the outside youre being so hard-ass and so cool, and on the inside youre going, [Sharp intake of breath], What am I supposed to be doing now? What am I supposed to be saying? What the fuck am I supposed to be doing right now? That kind of thing. And you get to this part and you dont even give a shit anymore.
PB: Yeah, its really liberating, and you know what? Its really fun. Its unbelievably fun.
BLVR: Do you have to condition your voice in any special way?
PB: No. Because I just sing.
BLVR: What motivates you creatively at this point?
PB: Kind of the same stuff. I still get crazythis thing that just happened with this little girl in California, I spent most of my adult life as someones mother and the rest of my life trying to make sure that children are safe. So this to me iswe wrote Hell Is For Children in 1979. I had hoped by this time that it would have no relevance, you know what Im saying? And I go insane, I justI cant even tell youso the same thing that motivated me then motivates me now. I cant stand what people do to each other. I think were brilliant as a species. I think we are amazing. I think that God is incredible, that He just gave us everything. Everything in our face. Everything for us to use. And sometimes were such shitheads. And it makes me crazy.
I read somewhere that we are all more than we know. And I really believe that. Everybody is worth something, and think of all the amazing things that you could be to each other, to people you dont even know, of all the things that you could accomplish. So I get crazy. And thats the same thing that motivated me when I was twenty-six. It doesnt change. Its just that I understand it a little bit better now, that doesnt make me any less hyper about trying to make it better. I have different reasons for the way that I react to things now that I have kids. Its not about me, its about my children going out into this world that makes me say, What the hell are you all doing? You know, that kind of thing. I have to put them out there, and then I have to worry. I try to do the best I can but then I have to worry about some shmuck that she meets and she falls in love with, and did his parents do the best they could do? And whats their story? All that stuff. Andyou have kids?
PB: Live it up now, okay? Because this is the bestits like the Peace Corps. You probably dont remember, youre probably too young, but there was a commercial on TV when I was a kid about joining the Peace Corps. It said it was the hardest job youll ever love.
BLVR: Oh, sure. I remember that.
PB: This is what parenting is, as far as Im concerned. This is parenting. That is the friggin Peace Corps. Because you dont love doing thisthis is the thing you love the most in your life, its the best thing you ever do. And then you want to kill yourself because its so hard. Its so hard and no matter how old you get and how experienced you get youre always scared youre going to screw it up and youre going to make a mistake. Every day you wake up and its something else, they find some other way to drive you insane.
BLVR: Has your daughter Haley turned eighteen yet?
PB: Almost. Almost. Its horrible.
BLVR: On your last tour she did a mini-set with the band. How about this time?
PB: No. Uh-uh. Shes on hiatus because she has to get in focus. Shes going to be a senior this year and the singing thing and all that, thats really nice, but she has a job. Her job is school, okay? She has to figure out what shes going to do and I dont care if she takes a year off next year and travels, tries to figure it out. But we have a job to accomplish here and I want her focused. So theyre on hiatus. Thats it.
BLVR: Does she want to go to college?
PB: I dont know what she wants to do. Shes trying to figure it out. Because she really wants to be a musician. Its really hard for me to stand there and say, you have to go to a four-year school and blah-blah-blah-blah-blah. Because I know that in reality its not really necessary. But I want her to have a life and I want her to figure it out. So, as her parent, I have to help her figure out where she wants to go and if she wants to take a year off and decide, thats okay with me. I dont care. I think its ridiculous that kids have to try to decide at eighteen years old what the hell they want to be. I was going to befirst of all, I was getting married, okay, thank you I was getting married, my husband was going into the Army because he got drafted. And then I was going to be a school teacher at this stage. At eighteen. Thats what I was going to do. So this has nothing to do with anything I wound up doing. So to me Im okay with her taking a year and trying to figure it out.
BLVR: Lets talk about your upcoming album, which youve been working on for a while.
PB: Its really hard to make records and concentrate and have a free mind, because I have this whole other life. If you dont have kids its a whole other thing. I think you can be fifty and still have a rock and roll lifestyle; you can still perpetuate that. But when you have children [Haley, eighteen, and Hana, seven] your lifethis is my job and thats my life. So its a totally different thing. Theyre my priority, they have to be, and they always will be. I have to do them first. So this always gets pushed in the back. Neils working all the time, but he needs me and I cant be there all the time. So it takes a lot longer.
The great thing about taking this much time is that stuff gets to evolve better. Theres two schools of thought and sometimes one works really great. Theres that one school that you go in and just crash and burn and you get all these really incredible moments that would never occur again, because youre just doing them once and thats it. And then the other is that you take a really long time and you spend a lot of time reworking and then you move on to the next one, which is a pretty interesting thing that weve never done before. And the songs become something else. And I think that they grow more and they become further advanced. Pain in the ass, it takes a really long time. Its not my favorite thing to do.
BLVR: I know it will be your classic sound, but whats the boldest track on the album?
PB: I dont know that I would even say it is the classic sound anymore. People will know its us, obviously. Its very guitar-driven, this record, as opposed to the last few that have a little more keyboard and stuff in them. But you use so many different ways of doing things now with looping and everything. A lot of the time we dont use real drums, a lot of the stuff is mechanical, so its different. I dont know that I would say that it sounds classic. It just sounds like us, but I think it sounds modern. I do. Were trying to do this independently. I really dont want to sign to a label to do this. I want to put this out ourselves. God bless Ani DiFranco is all I got to say But we did play it for somebody and after one song we played, he said, Lets try putting it out under another name and see what happens. Because he thought it was so current and modern sounding. He thought that we could actually just put it out under an assumed name and that we could actually do something with it. I thought that might be interesting. Maybe we will do that with some of this stuff. But I dont know. So that to me is a good indication that its not too retro-sounding. Everything that we do I pretty much want to be organic, so if that happens, then thats okay with me. But Im not interested in trying to recreate what once was. That doesnt interest me; its boring.
BLVR: Youre very forward thinking, it seems, Pat.
PB: Yeah. I play ten, twelve weeks out of the year, five times a week, and I really still love to do it. But thats not what Im interested in doing now Even though I love it. Its not one of those things like Oh, I dont want to ever hear that shit again. Its not like that. Cause I do love that stuff. I love Heartbreaker. Heartbreaker stands up for me still. It still works to me. The sentiment is still timely and it just works. But I dont want to do that again. Im not interested in re-creating that. That was great and Ill just leave it there. Its like making Men in Black 28. Why bother? You had a great thing. Just leave it.
BLVR: You and your husband Neil first started working together in just a professional capacity, right?
BLVR: I was wondering if you remember specifically when sparks started to fly...
PB: The minute he walked in for me. I was just mad. I went crazy. I called up my girlfriend, I was living on like 81st Street and 1st Avenue, in this little apartment. And I was getting divorced and everyone was really happy. Because it washe was a problem. And they didnt want everything to get screwed up. We could see that it was happening, the record was made and it was going to happen. And I was excitedI had been married since I was nineteen. I was twenty-six, and I had spent all those years of my life in this marriage that wasnt so great. And I was about to be famous. I was young, I was going to be single, that kind of thing. I was probably going to be rich, I was like, yeah! All my friends, my family, everybody was like, Oh, thank God. Shes going to go out and shes just going to have a blast. He walks in to join the band, I called up my girlfriend, I go[sigh1 I met the father of my children. She slams down the phone, comes over to my apartment, and says, are you an idiot? What do I have to say? What is wrong with you? I go, No, no, no, you dont understand. She goes, I do understand. She goesand this is the bestshe goes, its 1979, you dont have to marry him to sleep with him. But I knew. I was in love with him instantly. I was crazy for him.
BLVR: You once said that you two are very in sync in the studio, and its when youre talking about what youre going to have for dinner that you squabble.
PB: Actually, the only time we ever fight is about music. We never fight about personal stuff, ever. No, we fight about music. So we get it all out of our system. And we pretty much get along really well, which is a plus. Cause we have to spend twenty-four hours a fuckin day together. But we get along really well on a personal level. And the big issuesthis is key, girls, too, one of the things you really need to knowthe real secret is, talk this out. Dr. Laura is right. Okay? Spend time, talk it out before you get married. And figure it out. Make sure your really big issues you agree on. How youre going to raise your kids. If youre going to have kids. Your religion. All this kind of stuff. What do you think about money? Your morality? All these things. The big shit. Make sure you talk this stuff out, because this is the stuff that counts, not whether or not he picks up his clothes. Does he think hes still going to be a single guy and go out with his friends every Friday night and blah-blah-blah? All those things count. And on those things were allied. We fight about music because I have opinions, and so does he. And theyre very strong.
BLVR: What kind of reaction did you get after you were on Behind the Music?
PB: Everyone was really happy because were the only people who didnt go to rehab. So they were really happy, they were like, Wow, look, an uplifting version.
BLVR: Apparently, you were ambivalent about the whole thing.
PB: Thats what I said to them, They approached us
five years in a row. We said, What are you going to talk about? I dont
have anything. I dont have any of this I know how these things end up:
...and they lost everything, and the shit hit the fan. I dont have this,
what do you want me to tell? I said, And you can dig too, baby, cause there
aint nothing, you aint gonna find shit. My life is very boring. So they
scrambled to try to find an angle. They used the angle of how difficult it was in the
PB: Thats what I said to them, They approached us five years in a row. We said, What are you going to talk about? I dont have anything. I dont have any of this I know how these things end up: ...and they lost everything, and the shit hit the fan. I dont have this, what do you want me to tell? I said, And you can dig too, baby, cause there aint nothing, you aint gonna find shit. My life is very boring. So they scrambled to try to find an angle. They used the angle of how difficult it was in the beginning.
BLVR: Have you ever thought of quitting entirely?
PB: Oh yes. Actually, this morning I was thinking that there were two really low points. That was during the making of Seven the Hard Way, which is the reason it was called that. The record company wasif you look up dick in the dictionary; their faces will be there. They are so sickening. It made my life so difficult. Id just had a baby, I didnt know what the hell I was doing. This was the worst time of my career, I think, because I was scrambling and trying to do the right thing for everybody. Thats when I still cared. But I wanted to do the right thing as a performer. I felt I had a responsibility to do the right thing. And then I wanted to do the right thing by my family and there was no handbook. I mean, Chrissie Hynde had a baby and she wasnt talking.
Im sure she was struggling the same way. It was like, what do you want me to fucking tell you? I dont know what the fuck Im doing either. So no one cared. No one had any sympathy that your life was totally changed. No one looked at you as a human being, no one looked at you as a woman, no one looked at you as a person. And it was just horrendous. They didnt care, it was just like, okay, great, you had the baby, thats nice, can we just get on with itthat kind of thing. And they wanted the record immediately. We had nothing done. I was not in the frame of mind to write songs. I was not in the frame of mind to make a record. It is a huge mistake to force somebody. But we had the contract from hell and a record had to be made every nine months and
BLVR: Like a baby.
PB: Yeah. Except that a babys much cooler, trust me. It was a nightmare. Thats why we had to go to court. We had to do all this stuff because they just were crucifying us. And we werent ready and they forced us into it. They had a really nifty little clause, thanks to our legal system, where they could put you on suspension if you didnt comply. And that meant no royalties, no money. So you were virtually unemployed, that kind of thing. And you couldnt go anywhere else to sell records or anything. Thats it. They held you like this, unless you made the record. So we made the record and it was a nightmare and it was an awful record and there were probably two songs on there that belonged there and the other ones should either never have gone on there or they should have been left alone to wait to evolve into a better thing than what they were. And you know what? It was the costliest record we ever did and it sold the least. And they got exactly what they deserved: shit. Okay? Unfortunately, I did also. So that was a nightmare. And it really hit the fan then and we were at each others throat. We put out Wide Awake in Dreamland and that did semi-okay; I had a better grip by that time. But still, it was the same thing. We were fighting and fighting and fighting. Then the blues recordit was Gravitys Rainbow and then the blues record.
Chrysalis was a revolving door. A president stayed maybe two years and then split. And the only person that had been there as long as the company had was me. So youd get these young princes. Once I had kids, my whole attitude changed. I was like, You make a spinal cord from scratch and well talk. And these young bucks would come in and start telling me oh, you should be doing this and that... All that kind of stuff. And I would just say Well, thats really great, but in two years youll be gone and Ill still be here. And so it was unpleasant. And then these two new guys came in, and we could smell blood. And I knew that they didnt have any grip. And I said, Heres the deal. Neil wanted to make this blues record for years and I was terrified to do it. And he said, Come on, come on, you can do this. So we went in and we said, You let us make this record or we quit. Thats it. So that was the first time that we were going to quit. And they were like, No, no, no, no, nothese are two new guysthey said, You are the record company And theyre standing there, they just gotits like buying the store and then you tell them you have no merchandise to sell. So they said okay. Cause they had no idea. So this worked in our favor. We did a blues record. And the blues record did exactly what it was meant to do. It wasnt meant to be a commercial record. We knew full well when we started it that it wouldnt be that. It was meant to kind of inspire us again to play. Otherwise I was out, and then we made Gravitys Rainbow, and that wasnt an unpleasant experience but it wasnt the same thing. And then we just split. That was it. So we wanted to quit a few times but after Gravitys Rainbow we knew that we had to go independent cause at my age and after all that time that had passed and all that water under the bridge, there was no way that I was going to stand there and let a twenty-five-year-old tell me what to do. That wasnt going to happen.
And they werent getting
And they werent gettingit and I didnt want to pretend I was twenty years old. I wanted to go to the natural place that I was supposed to be. I wasnt interested in fabricating things and altering what I did to make hit records. They dont want to hear that.
BLVR: No more big labels from here on in, then?
PB: Im pretty much through. If I can. If I dont have to do it, I wont do it, cause I dont want to do it. I dont even care about that. The unfortunate thing is that sometimes you need their muscle to get things played. And of course, youre not making records in a vacuum. Im not making them for myself. It would be nice if I could get more people to hear them. But if I have to sell my soul to the devil to do it, I wont. Ill take less of a population. Ill take it. And Im really a relentless motherfucker. I am. And if you tell me that I cant do it this way, I promise you that I can. And I will.
BLVR: Radio has such a stranglehold on the playlists now with Clear Channel and so forth...
PB: Yeah, but you know what? My whole thought about the world is that the world is divided into two kinds of people. Just pretend that we are ants, there are two kinds of ants. Theres an ant who just puts his nose to the ground and says, I am an ant and I am meant to push up rocks and Im going to push this rock up, even if I die. Im the other kind of ant. I push the rock up and if I see that the rocks not going, I go, Fuck this rock, okay, Im finding another rock. So thats the reason that I justthats how I do it. Dont forget, I started like this. They told me I couldnt do this to begin with. They said, What are you talking about? You dont want to be like Grace Slick, you want to be the band? You want to sing this music, you want to get up there and scream and point your finger andyou want to do this? So this is how I started. This is the only way I know how to do things. Thats it.
Listen, its the same age-old shit. For some reason, somebodyand I dont know who it is, probably some geeksaid that when a female gets to a certain age, all her sexuality goes. Shes not a vital person anymore. If youre somebodys mother youre not vital. This is such crap, because youre still a person. You still have all the things that you came into childbearing with and all that kind of stuff. And Im not saying that there arent women who do that, and thats fine too, if thats what they want. Thats cool. But Im saying, dont lump everybody together. People still have lives. People still have ideas and thoughts and ambition and things like that. You just have to temper it because you have a really important job to do. My most important inspirational job that I do is raising those kids. Thats my job. And thats where my ambition goes. But I have a life. Im not only their mother. Im still who I was before, I just dont get to be it all the time. I tell my girls, I say, You got a long road ahead of you all, but thankfully you have your mother in back of you whos going to counsel you and help you with all the things I have learned I say, Its tough out there. Things have really changed, but not everything. I know, I see these things I cant even believe. I already did the gauntlet. Youre doing it now. I did the gauntlet, now Im telling you that it was fucked up. It was hard, it wasI was a woman who with so much power making this record company $15, $20, $30 million dollars a year. And back then when you sold 5 million records, this was a lot of shitthis was a lot of records, okay? And I would be at a table with all these men and wed all be sitting thereeducated people. Businessmen. Old guys, not twenty-year-olds, fortyyear-olds. I was twenty, they were all older men. I was thinking, okay, they have life experience, they know what theyre doing. Theyd lean across with that lecherous look and go, What are you going to wear for the video? And I would look at them stunned, like Youve gotta fuckin be kidding me. I just made you guys like $25 million fuckin dollars, you ask me what Im going to wear in the video? I used to go nuts. I would go nuts. So it was justit was so disgusting. And I know its better, I know its changed, but its not enough.
BLVR: What do you think about some of the clothes young girls wear now?
PB: Unbelievable. On the Glow tour last year, I said I saw more butt crack than a plumbers convention. On stage the other night, I woreI have these little rider pants that I wear. I have my pack on and the packs heavy so it pulls them down. I wear it on the side cause otherwise it pulls them down in the back. Im in really good shape but we dont need to see that. And Im out there and Im constantly yanking my pants up. I sat down on the stool because we were doing the acoustic set and I said to the audience, You know, I wonder how these frigging teenagers are keeping these pants up, because Im, like, constantly pulling them up. They were hysterical.
Believer, May, 2003.