By Carol Anne Szel
Pat Benatar has garnered success in every aspect of music. With a ravenous fanbase sticking with her all these years, Benatar is a four-time Grammy winner and a classically trained mezzo-soprano. During the ‘80s, Benatar had two RIAA-certified Multi-Platinum albums, five RIAA-certified Platinum albums, three RIAA-certified Gold albums and 19 Top 40 singles, including the Top 10 hits, “Hit Me With Your Best Shot,” “Love Is a Battlefield,” “We Belong” and “Invincible.”
Along with her longtime husband, guitarist and muse Neil Giraldo, Benatar is in the midst of a nationwide U.S. tour in celebration of their 35th musical anniversary and the release of “Pat Benatar & Neil Giraldo: The 35th Anniversary Tour” CD/DVD.
Goldmine had the chance to catch up with this musical female pioneer, and also with Giraldo, while on tour. What ensued in our interview is nothing short of an opening of mind, soul and, of course, music.
Goldmine: Your 35th musical anniversary, is that sort of surreal to you?
Pat Benatar: Yeah, it’s pretty crazy! I mean, it’s just crazy. We’re not the kind of people … I mean we don’t spend a lot of time examining what’s happening. You know we are so present. And I really try to be present. I’m really in the moment because it’s about what’s happening now. I don’t ruminate a lot. I don’t go back and say “Wow, this is crazy.” I mean for a second it’s exciting, and it’s unbelievable sometimes. We thought it would be four years, get four records out and whatever. We never gave it a second thought, and the time went really quickly! So you’re basically standing there and you’re going “What?” And it’s fabulous, I mean, there’s nothing about it that isn’t great. I think if we were tired of it … And it wasn’t like every bit of it was fun because it wasn’t. It was not fun sometimes, but most of the time it was.
Neil Giraldo: It’s remarkable in the number. It’s not remarkable in the fact of it happening. Because when I started playing guitar when I was six years old I always thought I’d be doing it for the rest of my life. I always thought I’d be a musician because I couldn’t do anything else. I was horrible at everything else! So the year, the number is remarkable, but the idea of getting there isn’t as remarkable because I was kind of hoping we’d be there. Maybe at 40 it will hit me then!
GM: Do you think it’s harder to break through now than it was back in the day?
Benatar: No, I absolutely think the opposite. I think there’s such a glut. I mean, it’s so easy to get noticed now. Now staying is a different story. But getting noticed now is much simpler. There are more outlets to accomplish it than recording and touring 101 that we had to do in the old days. So I think that you can certainly get yourself out there faster today, but staying current is another thing, you know?
Giraldo: I think the global span, certainly that’s the one thing I can think of with YouTube and all the social stuff. I mean, to reach 30 million views on a YouTube video in a matter of a week is pretty global. You know, I think it’s fantastic. But the one thing I think it does do is, because it goes so fast and reaches so many areas, that the lifespan of things sometimes gets shorter. People get tired of things quicker because there’s always something new. The mystique of not knowing creates the rock star image. If you know everything then it kind of makes you on the same plane, and I don’t think people like it that much. Like waiting at the record store to have the record come out, how exciting that was! Jimi Hendrix “Axis: Bold as Love” was the first record I ever bought, even though I listened to the Kinks and the Yardbirds and all that stuff. And the idea of opening that album jacket and seeing all the lyrics printed and the artwork on the outside. I liked the artwork as much as I loved the music. And imagine a kid that never went to the store to buy a vinyl record? An album was bigger than life.
GM: What is your take on the resurgence of vinyl?
Benatar: I’m really happy because I love vinyl. There’s just something; there’s an ambiance to vinyl that you can’t get with digital. Not that digital is bad, because digital is great. But there’s just that sizzle that only happens when it’s on that record. And I love the size! It’s kind of like slow cooking as opposed to just throwing stuff together. We’re huge foodies and we cook like crazy, and there’s still something about not using the food processor and chopping things with your hands. It’s the same kind of thing. You can always move forward but you should always maintain the beauty of what it was before.
Giraldo: Well, you know, what I think is like any generation, they always want to step back to what it was like in previous times. Like growing up in the ‘50s and early ‘60s, even like going back to Count Basie in the 1940s, I enjoyed that type of music. I think vinyl is kind of cool for the kids. Certainly vinyl always sounded better than anything that was digital. I’ve kept all the records that I ever bought. I have test pressings of all the stuff that we’ve ever done. And all the other people that I’ve produced, I have all the test pressings.
GM: What is the secret to your collaboration all these years?
Giraldo: The secret is … well, if I tell you it won’t be a secret! But the mantra that we stay with is very simple. Between Patricia and I, we are each other’s muse. Number one. Two, we started together as professionals, so we were in partnership from day one. People don’t know that. It was a partnership from day one, that’s the other thing. So once you establish what you are, nothing should ever infiltrate and destroy that. The other thing is you have to respect one another, which we do. The day-to-day part, Patricia basically takes care of the family and home life, even though I am with my children and do all that stuff. But I constantly create. I’m creating every second of every minute of every day. She leaves that to me and then I just … it’s not that she doesn’t create because she does. But I am the instigator. I am the person who never stops. And we rely on one another.
And here’s the last thing. The last thing is that it’s not an easy situation if we didn’t get along. Not only would we lose each other but we lose our profession where we’re almost the same person, you know? So you have to try harder. The other thing is that I don’t like to fight. It’s not worth it to me. I mean I just don’t like it.
GM: How do you handle the balance between your professional and personal life?
Benatar: It’s something in the universe! We just got really lucky and we have this affinity for what we do and it just so happens to be with each other. You know, he is my muse and I’m his muse. We were lucky enough to find each other and then to recognize it when we had it. And it doesn’t change, which is something that happens when it’s pure and genuine. It just kind of “is.” There’s no sort of maintenance to it. It’s just a thing that you can’t put your finger on how or why, you just go with it. And that’s what we do, we just enjoy it, that’s how it works. Sometimes you get really lucky and people just belong together and that’s it, you know? And it kind of just runs by itself.
When you’ve been married a really long time and you have a successful relationship, it is not without its challenges. It’s not a perfect situation but it’s a really good one. Lots of young people think, and ask me, “Am I ever going to find anybody?” and “In this day and age is marriage really important? Does any of it matter anymore.” Then there’s people like us who have a relationship that is ongoing. We work together and live together and everything else. We’re lovers, we’ve raised children, we did all of this. People want to know the secret. I don’t really have it, I don’t have the answer. Except that I can tell them that it just kind of “is” and you have to work at it. But you also have to have the benefit of recognizing it when you see it.
It’s pretty incestuous. It’s hard to separate the human beings, the mom and dad, the husband and wife, the lovers, out of the musicians and the songwriters because everything is so intertwined. But at the same time we are rabid about protecting our family and our coupledom. We’re crazy about this! I mean, we have lots of hideous rules that everyone hates us for! Like we don’t take phone calls about business after 5:30 p.m. And not working on the weekends unless we’re performing. And everyone just has to get with the program because we really guard our family and we always have. I mean, we went through all the things that every family goes through with crazy teenagers who go off the rail, and you just want to choke them! All the trials and everything, it’s not like it was perfect or anything. The only thing is, that we are just very dedicated to working through it, you know?
GM: If you could collaborate with any musician now or in the past, who would you choose?
Benatar: Some people are really good about giving on-the-spot answers to these questions and I suck! I still love k.d. Lang’s voice, I think she’s brilliant and I really enjoy her songwriting. John Lennon, YES! There are so many people it would be hard to choose.
Giraldo: Singer-wise would be kind of hard because I like to have that writer aspect involved, too. You know someone I’d like to write with, then produce and have them sing — John Lennon would be one. And then I’d say another one would be Frank Sinatra. C’mon, those pipes were spectacular. I get inspired by great singers, and Patricia is one of the greatest singers in the world. So I kind of live the dream by working with one of the greatest singers in the world.
GM: What music do you listen to at home?
Benatar: Well, you know I’m really awful because music for me is work when it’s contemporary music like pop music and rock ‘n’ roll and stuff like that. And I can’t really enjoy it unless it is completely removed from my genre. You know what I mean? So I tend to listen to really quirky stuff. We listen to a lot of blues, and I still listen to musical theater, I love that. And just different stuff. I’m not really a pop aficionado because for me it’s like work and I can’t really enjoy it. I can’t really listen to it for pleasure anymore. But I have other genres of music that I listen to. I have a daughter who’s a musician where everything is about hip hop and this and that. I know all that stuff but I don’t necessarily listen to it at home. But, I’m always plugged in.
Giraldo: I love listening to old Muddy Waters and blues stuff because I love that. I listen to a whole span of all kinds of different things like Luciano Pavarotti. I listen to a diverse amount of music because I don’t want it to necessarily penetrate, I want it to be an ambiance. And Iggy, I love. I love anything Iggy Pop does.
GM: How do you stay musically relevant to this day?
Benatar: You can’t think about it. It isn’t something you think about ever because it has no bearing on anything you do. I think that the moment that became an issue with your mindset you immediately lose whatever was your chi, whatever was what you actually do. Spontaneously, everything would go away because you start thinking. You make music because you have to. You want to but you also need to. It’s like breathing, you do it because you’d die if you don’t. Everything else means nothing.
Giraldo: I don’t think that has changed from day one for me because the way I look at it is, I want to write a great song, number one. And in the process of that I want to screw that great song up. I want to mess it up, I want to tear it apart and then put it back together again. And then hopefully it’ll be different enough. Because I don’t always want to sound the same. If you listen to our music you’ll hear so much diversity in it.
GM: What were the best things and things that were tough over all these years?
Benatar: Well, it was tough just navigating. I mean you’re a female trying to navigate on a path that maybe a few pebbles had been thrown out by the people who had gone before. But you had to try to make a freeway, a highway. And it was not easy to dig that road. That was hard. You were trying to turn a path into a concrete road, and that wasn’t that easy. There were a lot of mistakes and a lot of pitfalls. Just navigating that was difficult.
Navigating a relationship, too — hello! There was no handbook for that! Trying to be in love with your musical partner and surviving that, that was difficult. And then having children. You didn’t know what the hell you were doing; you had to make it up as you went along. And just the business itself sometimes sucks. But the rest of it was great! It was just like stuff, but stuff is aggravating. All the other things that make up the reasons of why you do it, why you continue to do it, all of that was always really good. So that kept you going. It was difficult and it was a blessing to be in the relationship with your partner and your lover and in a musical relationship. Because some of that made it really difficult, but most of that made it really survivable. In every way.
GM: Pat, do you consider yourself a musical legend?
Benatar: I’m just interested in what’s happening in the moment. I think everything that has gone before has been phenomenal. I’m grateful and I think it was wonderful. And if it did one-tenth of what I hoped it did — helped one person through a tough time or made them happy at a wedding or whatever, you know that kind of thing — I’m happy that we were there with them. I love that sharing part of it. You don’t make music in a vacuum, you make music so that it can be heard by others and you’re imparting ideas to them and you’re getting the feedback. It’s a conversation. That’s what it’s about. So that’s the most seductive part of what we do is that constant connection and conversation back and forth. If even 10 percent of that did what it was supposed to do I would be grateful and happy. If more has happened, even better. GM