Pat Benatar:  Strong, Albeit Feminine
-Dave Voelker

  Neil Giraldo was livid. “I just called the desk and told them I’m going to move everybody over to Bond Court if they don’t get some heat up here,” he said, rubbing his hands briskly. It was the afternoon of Pat Benatar’s recent Sunday concert here, and when she emerged from an adjoining suite her eyes went to the television, upon which the Minnesota Vikings were doing their damndest to catch up to the Pittsburgh Steelers. “I wish they’d get beat,” she said, frowning. “Everybody’s getting tired of them.”Pat and Neil, Scene Magazine '80

For the next forty minutes, Benatar’s guitarist/fiancé/advisor (and Cleveland product) Giraldo sequestered himself in the next room to watch the game, and Benatar chatted affably about her career in between sips of tea. An alert and candid conversationalist, she interrupted herself only once, to betray her New York roots by announcing she’d spotted a brown cockroach crawling up the room’s brown dresser at a distance of ten feet (“When I first moved out of the city, we had little spots in the design of the counter of our new place, and if I would move my eyes fast I’d swear I saw one move”). A genuine talent for whom everything seems to be going right, Benatar talked freely about the joys and the incongruities of rock and womanhood.


SCENE:  You said in a recent interview that you’re really not cut out to be a star. Yet you are a star, or practically so. How do you reconcile that?

PB: Now that it’s beginning to happen, I don’t know what to do about it. I guess I’ll have to find a way. This second record especially was like real quick- like gold ­in 13 days quick. You get real scared real fast. I think in a little bit I’ll slow down. I was just talking to my manager the other day and told him I thought my whole problem is that I think I can have anything I want and then I get it.

SCENE:  Is the dream beginning to fade yet?

PB:  I don’t think you ever get tired of it. You get tired of the bullshit part of it. The work part of it tends to tarnish the dream part of it. When you go on to play, though, that seems to rectify anything that went on all day. You forget about it. You can be so mad when you go onstage, and by the time it’s done, everything is so smooth. It really isn’t anything except pressure, and that goes away.

SCENE:  Did your efforts to get Chrysalis to stop pushing your sex kitten image make you feel that control of your career had slipped out of your hands?

PB:  I always feel that you know best what’s going to hurt you in the long run. You do what you can,  it’s a big corporation, and you’re just a little person, but you have a lot of power. If you just use it right and don’t go overboard, people are pretty cooperative. When Chrysalis found out what they were doing was really upsetting me, they put a lid on it. You won’t ever see these kinds of things again (gestures to pert ballet poster). They thought I wanted that, so they did it. They won’t totally stop, ‘cause they’re not stupid. They know it sells records. But they promised to compromise.

SCENE:  How come there’s all kinds of ways to market a male artist, but the marketing of women always seems to, make their femininity an issue?

PB:  That’s just the way society is. I’m really in favor of everybody being equal, but I know they never will be. It’s been too long. Maybe it will level out a little. They put you into stereotypes, and rather than me be the Patti Smith stereotype, they decided it was better to go the other way, it was more saleable and believable than trying to make me look like a guy.

SCENE:  It must be frustrating to be forced into such a confining role.

PB:  It’s a pain in the ass, is what it is. When you begin it never enters your mind. You don’t realize that when you put your leg up on a speaker people go wild. And then when people make you aware of it, it makes you inhibited;  afraid to do it, because that’s never what you intended. So I found out I became real inhibited, and right now I’m trying to stop being that way.

 The first thing they do when you go to a radio station is... “Can you sign my little poster?”  Let’s talk about the record; give me a break. If I was a guy, they wouldn’t be asking me to sign their stinkin’ poster. So what I did is I took my tights off, I put a jacket on, I cut my hair, and that’s my way of saying “I‘m not gonna do it no more, please stop.” The middle is very hard to stay in, but that’s where you wanna go. Because all you’re trying to portray is a modern woman who does not have to be ugly to be talented; can still have some kind of looks. I hate that “pretty girl who can sing” thing. I mean, gimme a break; I can’t help it. You wanna find strength, but still be soft and feminine. To me, that’s what a woman has always been. Just something in between, and that’s hard to do.

SCENE:  It can probably be more like bouncing from side to side than steering straight down the middle.

PB:  That’s it exactly.

Pat, Scene magazine '80SCENE:  Do you think women rockers are finally coming into their own?

PB:  From my point of view, they’ve always been there. Janis Joplin did it; those girl groups did it. It’s just in the last ten years there’s been a drought, but I think the cycle’s come back around. I don’t know if it’s already passed again, and no more new people will come out. I don’t know if we did the year and now it’s gone and all the new ones are not gonna happen. That would be a shame. It basically depends upon material, and how you put it across. If you don’t have good songs, and you’re a great singer and you look great or bad or whatever, you won’t make it.

SCENE:  Of the women making music today, whom do you like?

PB:  I like Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders a lot, because she is the harder side of me. She’s like real left of me. I wouldn’t ever wanna do that, because I prefer to stay this side, but I’m glad that somebody did it. I like her songs, I think she’s a really good writer.

SCENE:  To me, your style and Hynde’s are direct opposites: you were trained classically, by the book, and she’s so earthy and self-taught. Do you think you might envy her naturalness?

 PB:  I guess a little. I don’t think you can learn how to rock and roll. You can learn how to project it, but it’s gotta be in there. The only thing I don’t envy is that she’s probably a slave to it,  she probably lives the riff. It’s better for me that I can turn it off and go home.

SCENE:  Is a smash debut album a scary thing to follow?

PB:  It’s the worst experience I’ve ever had. We’d make tapes and I’d be crying, “It doesn’t sound like the first one! They’re gonna hate it!” It was terrible. I hated every song. I hated every vocal. I hated everything.

SCENE:  You wouldn’t be a perfectionist, would you?

PB:  To a point. Neil is too. He’s nuts; we’ve recut whole songs again and again. You’re all tense, and nobody knows what they’re doing.  You really do, but you’re so much more afraid and nervous.   Neil was really cool, he was at the helm;   he was saying, “Don’t worry;   everything is fine;  it’s gonna be great” and I’m going, “It’s gonna be shit!”  I was really scared.

SCENE:  Do you feel better about it now?

PB:  Yes. I’m one of those Monday morning quarterbacks. I’ll wait until people say they like it and then I’ll like it. The one thing I did like about it right from the beginning was... I didn’t know if it was gonna be good or bad, popular,  but I thought it was much more like we are really. You know, it was a better example of what the band was about. I just didn’t know if it was gonna do well.

SCENE:  How much of you was concerned with pleasing yourself, and how much with pleasing the public?

PB:  Probably about 75/25. I think you mostly always try to please yourself and pray that they like it too. I’d think about it, but I would never change anything to make ‘em like it.

SCENE:  So then why weren’t you-sure about how you felt about it until you saw others’ reactions?

PB:  It’s like anything else. You can paint a picture and you like it, but it’s a little harder to put it in a gallery. You’re vulnerable,  you love the picture, but you don’t wanna say you love it, ‘cause then you’ll really get killed. Thinking it is bad enough,  saying it out loud seems to be worse.

SCENE:  You’re an impressive singer, but your band contributes a lot to what people have come to identify as the Pat Benatar “sound?’ Do you ever feel that they don’t get enough credit, since everyone always focuses on you?

PB:  It’s a terrible-thing. To me, it’s so obvious. It’s just that a lot of times people can be so narrow-sighted about things, thinking, “It’s her name; it must be her thing.” That’s not true at all; I do so little of everything. When you see us on stage, you can see that it’s a band. It always was a band. No one knew, though, when it began that that’s how it would be— including us. That’s what I wanted, but I didn’t know if that’s what was gonna happen because I’ve played with side people for so long and nothing ever came together, people had such egos and they were assholes. But this band just went right together immediately. It was great, because it wasn’t left up to me to do everything. I couldn’t anyway. I mean,  to hold a whole show by yourself is like.. it’s horrible. It’s much more fun to have people to play with up there.

SCENE:  Do you like to tour?

PB:  No. I like playing; I hate touring. I would probably like it if we went out less, like two months instead of four or six. It’s really grueling; I mean I know why more women don’t do it. It’s very tough. It’s different for a guy, I hate to say that, but it really is. There’s a lot of things I like as a female that I can’t have when I’m in a hotel room. It’s just something about not being home that makes me crazy. You have things; women are attached to things, and animals; I mean I love animals and stuff.

SCENE:  That’s an interesting point.

PB:  Thankfully, at least I have my man here, and that’s easier. I can’t imagine what it would be like to be a single-woman on the road... I think you’d be slitting your wrists a lot of times and be crazy. There’s no people that you’d wanna meet. A man can be a little more callous toward that sort of thing.

It’s great to go all over the entire country, though. And playing makes up for all the hassles. When people say, “Your record’s no. 6,” it’s like: “oh great; who cares?”  But to go out and see throngs of people... I don’t think you realize it ‘til you see them and know they’re there, and they’re really coming.

SCENE:  Is there a special challenge to having a successful relationship with someone under the kinds of conditions you’ve had to get used to?

PB:  It’s pretty difficult. You know that under normal circumstances, everything would be very easy. But you’re forced into a situation where you’re together 24 hours a day.

SCENE:  Most people don’t care to be together that much.

PB:  Nobody does. It’s unnatural. That’s why we have separate rooms on the road, so he can go in his and I can go in mine and do my things. You need time to be by yourself. But it’s better than being away from each other for five months out of the year  I don’t think he would like that either.

Because you’re human, you fail a lot. But it’s something that’s worthwhile, because you know that’s more important than any of this. So you work at it, because you know that if it’s really right, ten years from now you’ll still be there. This may not.

The interview was over, but Pat Benatar did one more thing to demonstrate she’s a normal human rather than a fluffy marketing concept; a gesture mentioned here as proof that her desire to be accepted as a flawed but real person is more than empty talk. When offered a cardboard cutout of her famous ballet pose to sign for a friend, the one with her eyes seductively wide, arms stretched forward and derriere poised invitingly, she took the pen and reached automatically for the armpits. “I always want to put hair here,” she chuckled.

Cleveland Scene, October 16-22, 1980.