Feature article from Record Review, December, 1980.

Pat Benatar: Rock's Reluctant Sex Symbol
-Boni Johnson

To quote another writer, "when the music begins, her transformation into a vampish, sensual bitch everyone wants to love (and make love to) is complete."

But offstage I found Pat Benatar open and down-to-earth, with a streak of self-deprecating humor that makes her instantly likeable. She obviously understands the difference between the stage and the street.

Pat was born in Brooklyn, reared on suburban Long Island, and has spent most of her 27 years in the New York City area.

Record Review coverShe paid her dues in cabaret and theatre work and has held down a slew of mundane jobs, form bank teller to singing waitress ("I used to sing Liza Minnelli songs with bleu cheese dressing on my outfit.").

In 1975 Pat was 'discovered' at Catch A Rising Star, a talent showcase that you might remember from the film Fame. Word spread quickly about this 90 pound, 5-foot soprano to Chrysalis Records.

Pat's first album, In the heat of the Night, was almost instantly successful, and her songs were soon favorites on both sides of the radio dial. The follow-up Crimes of Passion at this writing is already gold.

We talked on two occasions: first in Los Angeles where Pat now makes her home with guitarist Neil Geraldo, and a couple of weeks later by phone.


Can you name some of your influences?

I can but I can't name too many women. I still don't listen to a lot of women because I tend to get easily influenced. If I listen to Chrissie Hynde for three hours I start unconsciously picking up her vocal things. I listen to a lot of weird stuff, a lot of Jeff Beck because I live with Neil. I listen to a lot of people: Joe Jackson, Warren Zevon, and a lot of Springsteen.

I notice that a lot of lady singers name Ronstadt as an influence…

Oh Linda's great. But if I listen to too much of her I start throwing things in at the end of my words like she does. Like I said, I feel like I am easily influenced.

Your operatic training, has too much been made of that?

Oh yeah. I did it for such a short time. I was 19 years old and I was training.

Yet it probably has something to do with the way you sound now…

You never lose what you learn. I don't get real tired and I don't wreck my voice. I'll probably be able to sing for a long time which is good.

Once you recorded it didn’t' take long to break radio and start selling records. That first album took offRecord Review line art almost immediately. It must have been shocking to a lady who was trying rock for the first time.

It was shocking. My album was the last of a bunch by female singers to come out so I was told not to expect much, even though Mike Chapman was producing. But people caught on and took to us pretty fast. Some people thought I'm a new waver, which I'm not, or a pop singer, which I'm not.

Chapman was such an important part of In the Heat of the Night: he co-produced with his protégé Peter Coleman and he wrote three of the tunes. Why was he replaced by Keith Olsen on Crimes of Passion?

There were two basic reasons. Chapman's contract with RSO doesn't allow him to do too many outside projects. He's only allowed to do a certain amount of groups and he has to do Blondie and Suzi Quatro.

We also thought working with him a second time could be a mistake. We don't want to get Chapmanized, identified with a particular sound.

Seems to me that you're taking a chance. The partnership on the first album was so successful….

It's a big chance, a scary thing, but it is something you have to force yourself to do. I don't know if I could work with Peter and Mike again because they influence what an artist does so much. I know I couldn't have worked with them on a third album! (laughter)

As you grow and get more experienced you don't want to be under someone else's thumb- and that is one reason we chose Keith. He doesn't do that. Keith lets you do what you want until you make a mistake and then he puts you back on the track where you are supposed to be.

Chapman's a real scream these days. He's calling himself "the Commander" and making all kinds of wild claims about the people he works with…

He's nuts, he's real obnoxious but he's always that way. You just have to love him as he is. He's great.

On the other hand Olsen's reputation reads that he's calm, easy to work with…

Keith's real California. (laughter) It's great. He's calm and quiet in the studio and he leaves you to make all the noise. Unless you are making a big mistake it's your ball game.

Olsen's gaining a fine reputation. He's cut Fleetwood Mac, the Babys, Santana, Grateful Dead….

He gets good sounds- different sounds from Chapman but good sounds. Chapman has his won sound and most of his records sound the same, but Keith doesn't have his own sound in the same way. I feel that with Keith the artist's personality comes out more.

Easy question…Is Crimes of Passion your best yet?

It's different. I like it better. (laughter) It is more like we are live with a lot of guitars, more rock 'n' roll. I like it better although I really love the first one. For better or worse this one is more us.

Pat and bandYou say this album is more rock 'n' roll. Is that what you wanted to see?

Yes, because when we came out everybody said we were new wave which is ridiculous. We just did a few songs which had something in common with new wave. I hate the labels, they make it tough on someone who just wants to get up there and play. We always write modern melodies but I like guitars- which are the whole point of rock 'n' roll. I like to do some dinosaur stuff every once in a while and when we play live I like to crank it up. We don't want to do sixties rock 'n' roll. This is the eighties ya know.

You sound like you enjoy being a rock 'n' roller, that you don't want to be identified with the pop sound….

Well, when I record I can get my voice very precise, get just the sound I want. But live I just sing. I'm less interested in being precise. I like to rock it up.

You co-wrote a number of tunes on Crimes of Passion. Could you explain what "Hell Is For Children" is about? It sounds like it's a little off the beaten track of usual rock subject matter.

I don't know where my ideas come from. I can't write love songs so I have to write about weird stuff, clones and stuff like that. "Hell Is For Children" is something I took from a newspaper story about child abuse, it was the headline. I'm not a crusader but I do comment on things I see.

Can we look for you to write more in the future?

It depends. I don't spend a lot of time writing. Neil is the real together songwriter in this band.

Do you write mostly words?

I usually write words although with "Hell" I wrote a lot of the music. I can't just sit down in a room and write songs. I have to hear something, like on an airplane.

But I imagine that you will always do cover songs…

Oh yeah, I will always cover songs. I love to cover songs! There are so many good songs out Now having said that my next album will probably be all originals. (laughter)

But I do love covers. Billy Steinberg has written so many good songs. He did "How Do I Make You" on Ronstadt's Mad Love and "I'm Gonna Follow You" on Crimes of Passion. And if Bruce Springsteen had a song for me I'd do it in a second. He's so prolific. It's not that way for me, songs come to me slowly.

How did "You Better Run" get into your repertoire?

This is such a silly story. I have a girlfriend back in New York who has a huge record collection. She's not in the music business or anything but she has records, some still in the 45 boxes. She played the old Rascals' cut and I remembered it and liked it. And then the Roadie thing came up and I was asked to pick a song that wouldn't be used on my album. We didn't know that we would end up using it.

I understand that individual singles from Roadie are doing well, but both the soundtrack album and movie aren't moving….

Yeah, it's too bad. (Rascal) Eddie Brigati wrote me a note of thanks. He's so happy that somebody is doing his song. The Rascals have a lot of great old songs. We are looking for tunes now.

How did you come to record the old Sweet song "No You Don't". Chapman and his partner wrote that one of course…..

I'm trying to remember. I think we got it on a demo from a publisher and then when we decided to go with Chapman he confirmed it so to speak. See what happened with In the Heat of the Night was that we started it with another producer but it wasn't going well. We had three songs done when we quit.

Who was that original producer?

I can't say. Anyway when we finally got ready to go with Mike we had a lot of great songs picked.

The words have flowed fast and furious about you among the fans and critics. People are saying all kinds of nice things. Some want to call you the best singer in rock….

That's kind of silly. There are a lot of good female singers around. How could I be the best? Ronstadt is still alive!

Who is your audience?

It's real strange. When I started I though this was going to be a totally male trip, which I didn't want but I didn't know what to do about it. It never really happened. My audience is mixed. There are women right up front screaming their heads off, right up there where they can touch.

The guys get silly. They take their shirts off, like they are guy groupies or something, which the band hates because they are playing for a bunch of men. Neil and I are very close but he still likes to have a girl egging him on from the audience.

When I do "I Need A Lover" girls raise their fists in a sisterhood thing, which is great. It means they are getting the point.

A lot of people have picked up on the sensuality, sometimes outright sexuality, that is a part of yourRecord Review photo image. For instance the promotional poster used along with the first album was eye catching. Do you feel comfortable with that side of you?

As far as the poster goes, I wore the tights because I like to wear them. I can't stand wearing "clothes" for pictures. You can spend your whole life just deciding what to wear. I was wearing the tights on stage so we decided to use them.

But publicity is such a stupid thing. I hate it so much. Sometimes I think that if I have to take one more picture, or one more person says my hair looks darker on the album I'll go crazy. It's so silly. And because I am a woman everybody makes a bigger deal out of everything.

Being a female rock 'n' roll star carries so much weight with it. I imagine that you have to be constantly conscious of your sexuality because the record buying market is mostly heterosexual men.

It's a real pain in the ass. You don't care personally but everybody makes you care. I have to keep up an edge all the time when all I really want to do is play. Being a girl is tough. It's like my mother said, "Pat, one thing you will learn in life is that being a woman is tough." She was right.

The hardest thing for me to put up with is all the sex symbol stuff. Van Halen practically goes out there with no pants and spends the whole night humping the stage. I come out and do a few moves and everybody is up in arms.

Another factor in your favor is AM radio, they love you. You've had two top twenty singles and "You Better Run" is moving too.

Yeah and I hope it continues to be that way.

Are you impressed by radio's recent changes?

Yes, I thought last year's radio was doing real good. They took a lot of chances on new bands like us. I think radio is healthier now that disco is mostly over, although disco did a lot for rock whether people want to admit it or not.

You can hear some good music on AM radio here in Los Angeles…..

Yeah. I don't want to spend 24 hours a day listening to pop music, but it's great to hear stuff you buy on the radio.

It's great to hear good singles. I remember the good ol' days of singles….

Me too. I used to buy singles. Kids often can't afford to buy an album so they buy your single and if they like you long enough they save their money and then buy the album.

And sometimes they come and see you. Are you headlining this tour?

Mostly. They wanted me to go out and play big arenas but we weren't big enough to go it alone yet. We did some big dates with Journey.

What was that like?

It reminded me of the sixties. A lot of ponytails, and people on blankets. It was great but those kind of dates have their own set of problems. It's tough to look out on 30,000 people and know that only 8,000 are there to see you. You gotta work twice as hard. But it helps me maintain my perspective. I don't get too cocky. How could I get cocky when I got 15,000 people in front of me who don't care that I'm alive?

I have a feeling that you converted a few people before you left the stage….

Oh yeah, when we finish up with "You Better Run" and "Heartbreaker" and "no You Don't" we get a good response. But until then I could have lit myself on fire.

The word is that your new show is a little more controlled, less crazy than previously….

It's not the frenzied thing of last year's because everybody's a little more relaxed. I want it relaxed. We have some midtempo stuff but it cranks too. A hell of a lot of guitar. I also think the songs this year are harder to perform.

When you are on the road do you feel the pressure? I guess there is plenty of opportunity for someone to go crazy….

There is a lot of pressure when I'm on the road because I have to be Pat Benatar sex symbol a lot of the time, and when I'm not I spend a lot of time thinking about it.

Having Neil there must be a stabilizing influence….

Yes and no. (laughter) In a way it is because we can talk to each other but when your girlfriend is also your employer and the two of you are together all the time it can be trying.

Sounds like all this togetherness could really test a relationship….Record Review photo

Oh yeah. Being together as much as we are lets you really know the other person.

Did you meet him in this band?

Yes, I was married when we first met. I was in the process of divorcing. We started seeing each other when I was free.

Neil is a very important part of your sound, particularly in your live show. He is a real fine player.

Yes he is very good and he knows his role in the band. I don't think of this as just the Pat Benatar trip. We are a band not just a girl singer.

Neil's rather reserved in his movements and dress on stage.

When he was in Rick Derringer's band he had real long hair. He was the pretty boy and the girls loved it. Now he's a lot different, he's been through that trip.

You mentioned Jeff Beck before. You can almost hear that influence in Neil's playing.

Oh yeah. He's into Jeff Beck a whole lot.

Through all this you don't sound like you are consumed by rock 'n' roll. At least not in the way that people seem to live it, and sometimes, die with it.

I'm not a real rock 'n' roll person, except when I play. My roots are somewhere else, in the theatre, although I listened to rock as a person. But not as a musician. I don't live rock 'n' roll but I love it. I don't wear black clothes all the time. I try not to live it because I think it will make you crazy. I don't want to be fried and I don't want to be dead. That part of rock is alien to me. I don't live it in the day. I don't walk around in black leather. I wear sneakers, I play baseball. Of course compared to my mother or even some friends back East I live rock. But I really don't.

You seem to live quietly. Pat Benatar isn't seen around town much, making scenes and hobnobbing with celebrities.

That's because I wouldn't feel comfortable doing it. I don't see myself sitting with Lauren Hutton, I don't think of myself as famous.

I went to one thing- I think it was the Xanadu premiere- and I remember all the craziness. I didn't feel comfortable. I thought is Mick Jagger here, or Bruce Springsteen? Well, what am I doing here? I shouldn't put it so negatively because in a way I get a kick out of all the craziness, but generally I avoid it.

Your background is theatre. Can we look for you to make the move into acting soon?

Probably not, so far all the scripts I get are silly stuff about rock 'n' roll. If I do go into acting I want something a little more serious.

Is this business like you thought it would be?

Yes and no. Touring is a hell of a lot of work, a lot harder than you can know until you do it. But some things are better. Knowing people appreciate what you are doing- making money at what you want to do.

As you become more successful can we look for you to become more private? Tour less often?

Probably, but I will always tour some. You have to tour and I don't want to disappear completely, become some sort of recluse.

All the above pictures were included in the article.

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