All Fired Up
Over the course of 25 years and 25 million albums sold, feisty rock icon Pat Benatar has made a habit of hitting audiences with her best shot. On the brand-new Go, the little woman with a big voice returns to rocking form.
Pat Benatar showed an entire generation or two of women how to rock, but she has to laugh out loud when sheís called a living legend.
"On one hand, itís really great because it feeds your ego, and itís tremendous," she says, after getting an attack of the giggles under control. "On the other hand," she continues, "itís just a funny, silly thing. I mean, itís great. Itís very flattering."
As if one of the most idolized female rockers of the last 25 years hasnít been on the receiving end of enough flattery. She has sold more than 25 million records worldwide, she won four consecutive Grammys for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance, and she has enjoyed the continued adoration of so many fans. Anyone who listened to the radio or watched MTV in the Ď80s knows the words to her monster hits "Love Is A Battlefield," "Hit Me With Your Best Shot," and "We Belong." Go ahead, try not to sing them the next time youíre rocking the mic in a karaoke bar.
Itís a lot to live up to as this icon of female rockdom readies the release of her eleventh studio album, Go. On the phone from Hawaii, spending time with her husband and musical co-conspirator Neil Geraldo before embarking on their annual summer tour, Benatar is quick to point out that she is just one of many who blazed a trail for women who rock hard.
"Iím very proud to have been part of such an era that began all of it," Benatar says of the late Ď70s and early Ď80s, when she was a key player in a female rock movement that boasted Chrissie Hynde, Deborah Harry, Joan Jett and other visionaries. "I never think for one second that I went single-handedly. I remember who was there with me, and we all went together. It was great to be part of that. You know, you canít ever recreate that.
"I always try to explain to my daughter whoís 18 that every group of people have their own special place in history. Like Bill Gates, who did all these amazing things, but you really have to go back to Thomas Edison to really get it. You gotta go back to the guy who came up with the initial idea. Thatís how I feel. I feel like Iím the lady who had the initial idea, and Iíve watched it become just this other whole thing, you know. Everybodyís got their place. Itís a good thing.
"All of us that went before made a little dirt path out of the bushes, and they went and they found a way to put down the concrete. Theyíve got a road now, and thatís good. We had to get out that machete and that sickle and cut down the bushes and the weeds. It was such a small increment of time that we spent doing it, but [it was] a very important thing, because if you hadnít cleared the bushes, you wouldnít have realized there could have been a road."
And while Benatar surely appreciates being recognized by the public and her peers, after all this time she finds artistic satisfaction in the same place that Deee-Lite found the groove: in the heart. "You guys care about Grammys," she says, "and you guys, I mean the public, care about who gets into the Hall of Fame. None of us care about that. I mean thatís fun, too, butÖitís certainly not where the passion is validated. All of your validation comes from inside."
Benatar has followed that inner muse as she has evolved. Having conquered rock throughout the Ď80s, in the Ď90s she made a foray into the blues on True Love and took a more acoustic-flavored turn on Innamorata. It all comes full circle with the release of Go, a straight-out rock album that is her first collection of new material in six years. "The guitar is very aggressive [on Go]," she says. "Itís not like Innamorata. This is completely opposite."
Not that returning to her hard-rockiní roots was a conscious plan. "Itís really an organic thing," she explains. "We donít go in and say, ĎYou know, we should make a guitar-driven record.í Neil and I have worked together for 25 years, so itís an unspoken thing. We really donít sit down and discuss any of it. We just kind of just let it evolve naturally the way that it does. And weíre usually very close in our ideas of how it should be.
"We just go in there and start writing songs, and everythingís pretty much based on whatís happening in your life. I basically write lyrics, and Neil basically writes music, but we switch back and forth. Heís a little bit more disciplined in that he goes in and works everyday, but I have other obligations, like kids.
With so many responsibilities to juggle, Benatar takes advantage of any small window of precious time she finds for writing. "I have to write in the strangest circumstances: the parking lot, the shower, washing dishes, whenever I can have a moment where my mind is free," she says. "And it has to be mindless in order to get to that place where I can find lyrics.
"[Neil is] very much the visionary, and Iím very much the implementer, so these two things work well. You know, he just throws out a title or a guitar lick, and then I spend the rest of the day, whether I want to or not, stuck with something from his little old spark."
And Pat Benatar realizes the power her music has had on her audience. "When you write a song like ĎHell Is For Children,í and you get Ė even after all this time Ė so many letters and e-mails from the people that you wrote it about, abused children that are adults now, thatís the part that is really amazing. Itís really hard to put that into words and understand the impact of it.
"Thatís the most important thing, because you donít write in a vacuum. Itís not about you. Partially, itís just a very narcissistic thing. Partially, itís about your thoughts and your feelings, and blah, blah, blah. But the truth is that unless itís conversational and youíre putting it out there for somebody else to relate to, it makes no sense Ė [thereís] not as much pleasure [in] it if you keep it to yourself."
The fruitful Benatar-Geraldo partnership has yielded more than two decades of music--as well as two daughters--and the whole family goes on the road for the summer concert tour. "Itís the best part of the year," Pat says enthusiastically. "The rest of the year we really stay home, and we are either writing or doing our parenting thing, and all that. So itís really fun to get out there for ten and a half weeks, and crank it up, and get on the bus. Weíre road dogs."
But these road dogs donít survive on Puppy Chow. One of Patís favorite pastimes is cooking, and itís an outlet that keeps her grounded while sheís on tour. "I get a bus with a stove and an oven, and I bring my pots and my knives that I like," she says with a hint of pride. "Iím smelling the basil. Iím cooking it myself. My husbandís Italian. He canít live without good sauce." Pat even plans to publish a cookbook of her favorite recipes in the near future.
Ambitious, yes. But Pat Benatar doesnít seem overwhelmed by the dual demands of career and family. "I want to focus on this [album] and take it as far as it can go. And then I hope to sit down and drink a lot of wine and read a lot of books and work on my cookbook and do that kind of stuff." There will be more music, she says, to be sure, but sheís not thinking that far ahead just yet. "These days, in my life, itís really about having fun and going after the muse."
BONUS MATERIAL Ė previously unpublished.
Sheís also very cognizant of how the harsh light of celebrity can warp othersí perceptions of you. In light of Britney Spearsí now-infamous comment that she released a cover of Joan Jett & The Blackheartsí "I Love Rock ĎN Roll" because, "Well, Iíve always loved Pat Benatar," Pat thinks the young Spears should not be judged so harshly for allegedly mistaking Benatar as the singer of Joan Jettís biggest hit.
"When I did one of my first interviews for Rolling Stone," she recalls, "they asked me who did I listen to growing up, and I said, ĎWell, I listened to the Stones and the Beatles, Led Zeppelin.í The next question was who are my favorite male singers, and I said, ĎIíve always loved Lou Gramm [of Foreigner],í and they made the quote that, ĎI love Lou Gramm from Led Zeppelin.í [laughs] I never said that. I knew that he wasnít in Led Zeppelin. So I feel bad for [Spears], but I really donít know that she ever said that. But you know what, sheís a kid. I would say cut the child some slack."
BONUS SIDEBAR Ė previously unpublished.
WWR HITS PAT WITH ITSÖOH, YOU KNOW WHAT KIND OF SHOT
WOMEN WHO ROCK: I almost hate to ask about "Hit Me With Your Best Shot." Iím sure youíve talked about it 20 jillion times. I do feel some responsibility to bring it up because this is a magazine focused on women, and some people through the years have implied that the song encourages violence against women.
PAT BENATAR: Itís bull. I mean, what is your problem with this? If youíve got this much time to care about these kinds of things, you donít have enough to do. Um, yeah, itís ridiculous. I mean the song was certainly meant as tongue-in-cheek. And itís about empowerment, not the opposite. I would say that one of my other purposes in life, particularly because I have daughters, is to lift up other women. I mean that they should stay together always. I would never, ever sell out a sister.
WOMEN WHO ROCK, 2003