An Interview with Pat Benatar

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An image of Pat Benatar is seen in the following figure, highlighting the 2003 interview conducted with the singer.

At the age of twenty-two, Pat Benatar began her music career with an off-Broadway sci-fi musical by Harry Chapin called _The Zinger. _This was the start of her incredible journey, which led to the release of numerous Top 40 hits like “Love is a Battlefield,” “Heartbreaker,” and “We Belong.”

The vocalist who was gifted with a four-octave range was born and raised in Long Island, New York and began singing in her childhood years at school.

At the age of nineteen, she married her high school sweetheart, and later on divorced him, but kept his last name (since “Benatar” had a more rock vibe to it than her birth name, Andrzejewski).

In a fortunate turn of events, she chose not to attend Julliard School of Music, which she thought would only slow down her rock music career. After a few years of performing in theater, including Zinger, a record agent noticed her singing at the New York nightspot Catch A Rising Star.

Benatar is now fifty, still exhibiting the same qualities that made her a Long Island rock chick in her youth: tough and kind-hearted, and with a remarkable gift for profanity.

When you talk with her, it feels like you’re back in high school again, conversing with the fearless student who didn’t fear the faculty.

She’s a petite figure, and when we met she had on a streetwise outfit: track pants, a red warmup coat, a bandanna around her head, hoop earrings and voluminous, wavy hair (which was likely not her own).

Our encounter was in Minneapolis during her summer tour, which consisted of low-profile outdoor festivals and casinos. She made sure to pay for the meal, which never happens.

This summer, Pat Benatar will again be touring in support of her June album, Go!. It will be a family affair, with her husband and collaborator Neil Giraldo, as well as her two daughters Hana and Haley, a spinning bike, and a washing machine that travels with them.

Benatar isn’t a fan of using public laundry services (“I can’t let anyone touch my laundry”), so she oftentimes will throw a load in the washer as she is being called to the stage.

–As expressed by Jancee Dunn

What is it that you believe causes gay men to be so fond of you?

Pat Benatar confidently states that she wears bold eyeliner, though she does not know why.

Are people commonly approaching BLVR?

PB affirmed in the affirmative.

When people encounter me, what do they typically remark?

PB commented that when people say to them, “I don’t just love you, I want to be you,” they assume it has to do with their eyeliner. They recently did Gay Pride events in Long Beach and Tampa and noted that the audience was the best.

They were incredibly enthusiastic and came dressed up, making it a really fun experience. PB characterized them as “crazy” and “sweet as can be”. Even their “macho husband” had a great time, despite not caring about it, and ended up loving them.

BLVR: What aspirations do you have for the next decade?

PB: My dream is to be on the Hana Highway peddling leis and pineapples in a muumuu. This was never part of my plan at fifty; I had anticipated being done with everything by now. I’m just letting it be and not having any expectations.

BLVR: What made you believe the task would be completed by this point?

When I initially started, there was still a stigma attached to making music at my age. I view our tunes as much more pop-influenced than those that are on the cutting edge.

Even though we are not focused on the same kind of music as Britney Spears or Nsync, I still consider what we are doing to be pop music, so that gives us a chance to stay around for a while.

If someone had told me in the past that I would be singing “Heartbreaker” at fifty, I would have laughed. So I am not sure what the future holds in store.

I envisaged having children and being married and pondering how much longer could this fame last? I had no idea of the future I had imagined, but I never anticipated this. It’s astonishing. I’m delighted and truly thankful that I can still carry on doing it.

BLVR: It’s always a pleasure to be welcomed back.

PB: It’s a great experience, because it’s a very diverse audience. It goes through cycles, and it’s important not to be concerned with trying to make every record a hit.

You just need to let it flow on its own and not try to force it. It used to bother me when people said what I did was manufactured, since I was always honest and stayed true to what I was doing.

That’s the most important thing, and that’s what I tell Haley. Don’t worry about what’s popular and just be yourself and be honest.

That way you can make an authentic connection with the audience, and you can have a genuine conversation. That’s what I want, to be able to have a conversation and to know that someone else feels the same way.

BLVR suggested having a genuine conversation with the viewers. Does she consider this to be sound advice?

PB: My opinion is that this is likely the case. As her mother, my daughter tends to take what I say with a pinch of salt. Oftentimes, she believes I’m exaggerating.

BLVR: Interacting with you is much simpler than attempting to get answers from certain younger groups I converse with. In some cases, those who are just starting out can be hard to deal with.

PB remarked that people strive to be seen as cool.

I suppose that beneath the surface, they are rather apprehensive.

PB: They’re scared and it’s totally understandable; we all are. It’s crazy. You never know what to say. I was talking to my daughter this morning, and I said that the greatest part about being almost fifty is that you don’t need to care anymore.

It’s great. When you’re young, you may feel like you know this, but on the outside you put up a tough face, while on the inside you’re freaking out, thinking ‘What do I do now? What am I supposed to say? What the hell should I do?’.

But once you reach this stage in life, you don’t have to worry anymore.

BLVR: Liberation!

PB: It’s so freeing, and you know what? It’s really enjoyable. It’s an absolute blast.

BLVR: Is there any particular way you condition your vocal chords?

I don’t do anything else but sing.

What drives you to create new things currently?

PB: Pretty much the same thing. I still get angry–like with what recently happened to the young girl in California. I’ve spent most of my adult life as a mother and the rest of it ensuring that children are safe.

This is why I wrote Hell Is For Children in 1979. I was hoping that by now it would have no bearing. I become livid, it’s hard to explain–the same thing that inspired me back then is still inspiring me today. I can’t stomach what people do to each other.

I think humans are remarkable. I think God is remarkable for providing us with everything we need. But sometimes we can be real jerks and it drives me mad.

I recently read that we all have potential that is beyond our understanding. This thought really resonates with me. Every individual is valuable and capable of achieving remarkable things.

That same sentiment that motivated me at twenty-six still applies today, I just understand it more clearly. Now that I am a parent, my reactions to different situations are driven by my desire to create a better world for my kids.

I want them to be able to go out into the world without fear. I try to do the best I can to ensure their safety, but I still worry about the people they might meet and fall in love with. Do their parents do the best they can? What’s their story? Do you have children too?

BLVR responded with a “No.”

PB: Make the most of your life right now. It’s kind of like the Peace Corps. If you’re too young to remember, there used to be an advertisement on television about the Peace Corps. It said it had “the most challenging job you’ll ever be fond of.”

BLVR: Yes, I recall that very well.

In my opinion, this is what parenting is – it is comparable to the Peace Corps. Although you don’t necessarily enjoy it, it is the most important thing you will ever do.

Despite gaining experience and growing older, you are constantly afraid of making the wrong decisions and causing harm. Every morning brings something new, and it can be incredibly overwhelming.

Have you had the pleasure of celebrating Haley’s eighteenth birthday yet?

PB commented that it was “horrible”, and that it was “almost” there.

BLVR: Will she be performing a mini-set with you guys again during your next tour?

PB: Absolutely not. She needs to take some time off to get her priorities in order. She’s about to start her senior year and while it’s great that she loves singing, she has to remember that school is her job right now.

I don’t have a problem with her taking a year off if that’s what she needs to do to figure out her future, but right now we have a goal to focus on. So she’s taking a break, that’s the end of it.

Does the individual have aspirations of attending college?

PB expressed that she doesn’t know what her daughter wants to do and her daughter is trying to figure it out. She wants to be a musician and it’s difficult for her to tell her daughter to go to a four-year school.

As a parent, she needs to help her daughter decide where to go and if she wants to take a year off it is okay with her. She believes that it is ridiculous that kids have to decide what they want to be when they are eighteen.

She mentioned that when she was eighteen, she was getting married and her husband was being drafted into the Army and she was planning to be a school teacher. She concluded by saying that she is okay with her daughter taking a year to figure it out.

BLVR: Could we discuss the record you’ve been crafting for an extended period of time?

PB: It’s very difficult to commit to the making of records and focus with a clear head, given my other life. Even at fifty, one can still pursue a rock and roll lifestyle, yet when one has children, priorities must be set and they have to come first.

That is my job and that is my life. Consequently, my involvement in music has to take the backseat. Neil is always working and requires my help, but I cannot always be available to him, so the process is a lengthy one.

The advantage of taking a lot of time with something is that it has a chance to evolve.

There are two approaches to this: crash and burn, where you get these unique moments that can’t be replicated; and taking a long time to rework and then progress to the next one, which is something we haven’t done before.

The songs usually become more intricate, even though it takes a really long time and isn’t my favorite way to work.

BLVR: What is the most daring track on the album, although it still has the same classic sound?

PB commented that he did not think the sound of the new record was classic. He went on to explain that it was very guitar-driven compared to their last few records which had more keyboards and looping.

Some of the drums were mechanical, rather than real. He then highlighted that they were attempting to release the record independently, referencing Ani DiFranco. After playing a song for someone, they had suggested putting out the record under a different name as it sounded modern and could potentially do well.

PB felt it was a good sign that it was not too retro-sounding. He stated that he wanted the sound to be organic, and he was not interested in re-creating the past, as he found it boring.

Pat has a forward-thinking attitude, BLVR observed.

PB stated that he still plays ten to twelve weeks out of the year, five times a week, and loves it. However, he does not have any interest in doing the same thing again.

He expressed that he still adores the song “Heartbreaker” since it has a timeless sentiment. He then concluded that it would be pointless to try and recreate something that was already great and should just be left as is, like making Men in Black 28.

BLVR: Initially, you and Neil only collaborated in a professional way, correct?

PB affirmed positively.

BLVR: Do you remember when the connection between us began to become more noticeable?

When he stepped into the room, I went wild. I phoned up my girlfriend who lived with me on 81st Street and 1st Avenue in a small apartment.

My divorce was being celebrated because it was assumed he was a problem and everyone wanted to avoid things getting messed up. I was 26 and had been married since I was 19. I was about to be famous, young and single and probably wealthy.

Everyone was relieved and I was ready to have fun.

My girlfriend answered the phone and I told her, “I have just met the father of my kids.” She angrily hung up and came to my place, asking me why I was being an idiot. I tried to explain but she stopped me and said, “it’s 1979, you don’t need to get married to sleep with him.” But I was already in love with him and couldn’t help feeling crazy.

In the studio, you both have an understanding of one another, but it’s the conversation about food that sparks a disagreement.

PB states that the only time he and his partner ever argue is about music, which is a good thing because they are able to ‘get it all out of their system’.

He also emphasizes the importance of talking about the ‘big issues’ before entering a relationship, such as how to raise children, religion, morality, and money.

He suggests that these conversations are the key to success in a marriage and are more important than trivial matters like picking up clothes. Lastly, he mentions that he and his partner disagree on music due to their strong opinions.

BLVR: After appearing on Behind the Music, what kind of response did you receive?

PB and the others experienced elation as they were the only ones who did not have to go to rehab. This seemed to be a positive occurrence for them, as one exclaimed, “Wow, look, an uplifting version!”

BLVR: It seemed that you had mixed feelings about the entire situation.

PB: That’s what I told them. Every year for five years they’d come to us asking what they should discuss. I had nothing to contribute.

I knew how these stories usually ended: “…and they lost it all, and the situation became bad.” I had nothing of that sort. What did they expect me to say? I said, “You can search all you want, sweetheart, there’s nothing you’ll find.

My life is fairly mundane.” They tried to find a different perspective and went with how hard it was when it all started.

BLVR: Have you ever pondered leaving it all behind?

This morning, I was reflecting on two particularly rough patches I had experienced – one of them being the making of Seven the Hard Way. The record label was unbearable and made life very hard, especially since I had just had a baby and had no idea what to do.

I believe that was the toughest time of my career. I wanted to do the right thing as an artist while trying to make sure I was also taking care of my family in the best possible way – but there was no guidebook to follow. Similarly, Chrissie Hynde had a baby and she was not speaking about it.

It was clear that she was having difficulties. Like, what was she supposed to say? She had no idea what was going on. Unfortunately, no one had any sympathy or even looked at her as a person. It was terrible. Everyone just wanted to get the record out quickly, despite the fact that she was not ready to write or make a record. But because of the contract they had in place, they had to force her to make one every nine months.

BLVR: As if a newborn.

PB: Indeed. However, a baby is much better, believe me. It was a horrible experience. That is why we had to go to court. We had to do all this stuff because they were harshly criticising us.

Our legal system had a clause which allowed them to suspend us if we didn’t obey, meaning no payments and no money. We had to make the record, which was a disaster and only two songs were appropriate and the others ought to have been left alone or reworked.

It was the most expensive record we ever did and it sold the least. Thus, they got what they deserved – negative results. Unfortunately, I did too. Then it got even worse and we were arguing a lot. After that we released Wide Awake in Dreamland, and it did somewhat okay.

I had a better handle on things by then. However, it was the same problem – we were quarreling and quarreling. Then came Gravity’s Rainbow and then the blues record.

Chrysalis was a revolving door; presidents would come and go quickly. I was the only one who had been there since the beginning, so I had to deal with young “princes” who thought they knew everything.

I soon changed my attitude after having kids, thinking that they’d be gone soon while I’d still be there.

Two new guys then came in and I could tell they were desperate; so I offered a deal. Neil had wanted to make a blues record for a while and I was scared, but I finally said we’d do it or we’d quit.

Surprisingly, the two new guys agreed, not knowing what they were getting themselves into. The blues record was successful and inspired us to make Gravity ‘s Rainbow. After that, we knew we had to go independent and not let young people tell me what to do.

I wasn’t eager to pretend I was younger than I was, I wanted to stay true to who I was and make music that was genuine. I was not keen on changing my style to make popular records, that’s something that people don’t typically enjoy.

Do you mean there won’t be any more major record labels from now on?

PB has nearly finished, and if it’s not necessary, they won’t do it. They don’t feel strongly enough about it to make the effort. Unfortunately, sometimes you need assistance to get things done. The artist doesn’t make records for themselves, but it would be nice to get the music heard by more people. Nevertheless, PB won’t make a deal with the devil to do it, and would rather reach a smaller audience. They are very determined and if someone tells them they can’t do something in a certain way, they are confident that they can and will make it happen.

Radio airplay is firmly controlled by organisations such as Clear Channel, in the modern age.

PB: When I look at the world, I see it divided into two types of people—like ants. There’s one kind of ant that will keep pushing a rock even if it means death, and that’s not me. I’m the other ant who, if I see the rock isn’t going anywhere, I’ll move on to something else.

That’s how I do things. I was told I couldn’t do this when I started, and people said, “You don’t want to be like Grace Slick, why would you want to be a band, sing this music, point your finger and scream?” But that’s how I got started, and it’s the only way I know how to live.

It’s the same old story. Someone, probably a nerd, said that when a woman gets to a certain age, her sexual energy is gone and she’s not a vibrant individual anymore.

This is completely false, as people still have ambitions and ideas even when they become parents. That said, one should temper their desires because parenting is a very important and inspiring job.

I tell my daughters that the world has changed and it’s not always easy, but thankfully their mother is there to help them with what she has learned in her life.

When I was younger, I was making record companies millions of dollars, and I had a lot of power. Still, I would be at a table with older men, all of them educated businessmen, and they would ask me what I was going to wear for the video. It was so disgusting.

Even though it’s better now, it’s not enough.

BLVR: What is your opinion on certain garments that young females are wearing nowadays?

PB: It was unbelievable. Last year during the Glow tour, I said I had seen more butt cracks than at a plumber’s convention. On stage the other night, I had on my “rider pants” which were a bit too low. I had my backpack on and due to the weight, it pulled them down.

Despite how in shape I am, I didn’t want to show that much. So I was out there, continually pulling them up. I then sat down on a stool for an acoustic set and asked the audience how teenagers were able to keep their pants up when I had to keep yanking mine up.

Everyone in the crowd found it hilarious.

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