Pat Benatar has survived by being the hard woman of
the music industry, Scott Kara, of the NZ Herald discovers.
Pat Benatar says her husband, Neil Giraldo, is responsible
for 'getting all those high notes out of me'. Photo by Beth
Dressed in black, with a shock of big hair, and revealing the
occasional pouty sneer, Pat Benatar looked smoking hot and
pretty damn tough back in the late '70s and early '80s.
And she needed to, because the male-dominated music world was
not a welcoming place for a stroppy 20-something with
aspirations of being a rock star.
''Every day was tumultuous, but it was fun and I was up to
it. It was like sport,'' she laughs.
''I used to call it the gauntlet, because you used to wake up
every day and think, `What else could they [the industry]
possibly throw at us today?'. It was a time when females were
really fighting for position and a lot of men didn't know how
they were supposed to behave.''
She recalls going to radio stations where sleazy programme
directors would be after a bit of slap and tickle from her as
a pay-off for playlisting her songs.
''He would pat his lap and say, `Why don't you come and sit
down over here and we'll see if we can get that record
played'. I was like, `F*** you. I don't think so, pal'. I
wanted it to be played because it deserved to be played, not
because I was going to sit on someone's lap.''
And her songs, such as 1979's Heartbreaker, off debut
album In the Heat of the Night, and Hit Me With
Your Best Shot - still her two most famous songs - did
get played without her having to do any dodgy favours.
From 1980 to 1983 she won four consecutive Grammy Awards for
Best Female Rock Performance, thanks to songs such as Love
Is A Battlefield and Fire and Ice from
second album Crimes of Passion, and she was repeatedly
nominated through the decade for tracks such as Sex As a
Weapon and Invincible.
''I had an idea in my head and I wasn't going to quit. I was
militant and warrior-like and there was really nothing they
could throw at me that could keep me from doing it. And in
1980 the women's movement was in full bloom and everyone was
going crazy. I was just basically part of that movement that
was happening then.
''It was a great time, knocking down all the barriers, and
I'm happy I got to be part of it,'' she says on the phone
from her home in ''sunny California'', before her first tour
to New Zealand later this month.
''We had little kids for a long time. It's a long trip down
there [to New Zealand] and we took them touring every time we
went, but they're all grown up now,'' she laughs, by way of
an excuse about never making it here during her 40-year
Although the '80s were Benatar's heyday, with 1985's Seven
the Hard Way her last big-selling album, she has
continued to tour and release albums. But how does the
60-year-old relate to some of her early hits these days?
Because clearly love is no longer a battlefield - she married
her guitarist husband Neil Giraldo in 1982. She calls him by
his nickname, Spyder, and he's the man behind most of her
songs' most famous riffs, including Hit Me With Your Best
Shot. The pair will celebrate their 31st wedding
anniversary in New Zealand.
''Songs like Heartbreaker, Promises In the
Dark, Battlefield are still relevant to me ... because
just because we're married doesn't mean there aren't
confrontations,'' she jokes.
''Some of the lyrics of Hit Me With Your Best Shot are
a little juvenile now, but if I do it tongue-in-cheek then
it's not a problem. And people still love it so much that I
find a way to do it every night. Remarkably,
Heartbreaker, which was the very first song we
[Benatar and Giraldo] recorded, is as relevant today as it
ever was - I love singing it.
''When we [ she and Giraldo] played Heartbreaker for
the first time, that's when the lights went on. It was
exactly what I was going for. And it was the song that was
the catalyst for everything. I sing it every night and when
it first starts it makes me smile every time, because I
remember 1979 and how important it was back then.''
Benatar and Giraldo met following a conversation she had with
In the Heat of the Night producer Mike Chapman
(Blondie) about not wanting to be like a rock chick, ''where
it's all about me''.
''I wanted it to be more like a band, like a partnership. I
wanted someone who was going to be as equally involved as I
was in the music. Mike said, `I have this kid. He's 22 years
old. He'd be perfect'. I had no idea he would be so handsome.
And so he walked in and first and foremost I thought, `Oh,
you're so hired'. But he was also exactly musically what I
was looking for - and we became each other's muse from the
first moment we met each other.''
She says Giraldo was the one who pushed her to sing higher
(check the range of songs such as Invincible and Hit Me With
Your Best Shot) and more powerfully.
''I wanted to get the balance of really raucous and blasting
guitars underneath really pristine singing. But I'm kind of
lazy, because it's easy for me to do well, but for me to be
great, I needed to be pushed and he was great in that he knew
I had far more in me and really pushed me like crazy, and I
would do anything for him. So he's responsible for getting
all of those high notes out of me.''
See it, hear it
Pat Benatar (with guitarist and husband Neil Giraldo),
Bachman & Turner and America play Gibbston Valley
Station, Saturday, February 23, 1pm.
Essential listening: In the Heat of the Night (1979); Crimes
of Passion (1980); Precious Time (1981); Get Nervous (1982);
Seven the Hard Way (1985)