High Times Greats: Pat Benatar

A very ’80s interview with the very ’80s superstar.
High Times Greats: Pat Benatar
Harry Benson © Time, Inc./ People Weekly

In honor of Pat Benatar’s birthday January 10, we’re republishing Liz Derringer’s interview from the January, 1982 issue of High Times below.

High Times: You rose from unknown to superstar in an incredibly short space of time. How have you handled the changes?

Benatar: If it happens slowly, it’s easier. Once it started it went like a blinding speed. No time to grow into the situations you’re constantly confronted with. You start out and all of a sudden you have “Heartbreaker” go up the chart and then the next record comes in and |umps eighty places in the chart and you’re not ready for that. Then when it goes to number two, you’re certainly not ready for that. Then the third comes in and goes to number one, I mean you’re just not ready. The band spends most of our time running behind what’s happening to us, running to catch up. We’re number one and I think it’s going to take us a while to realize that.

High Times: What’s been the biggest change you’ve had to deal with?

Benatar: Losing anonymity was the biggest change. It was being recognized and having people come to your house and try and steal things from your front yard that was hardest to get used to. Having people all of a sudden want your physicalness, your watch, jewelry, hair—whatever. I remember the first time I was recognized in California, where I live. I pulled up in the car, I wasn’t wearing makeup. I had sunglasses on and the store I was going to was near a high school and the kids were getting out of school. I was in the store and there were forty kids there also. I started to get nauseous. I started to get nervous and I said to one of the kids, “How could you possibly know it was me?” He goes, “Your lips, your lips, I’d know your lips anywhere.” I knew this was over the edge.

High Times: When did you first start singing?

Benatar: In school they find out when you’re eight or so how much range you have or if you have a voice. They put me in choir when I was about twelve. I had a very big range for a kid my age so I received special treatment. My voice was so legit, I mean really classical, it was amazing, you wouldn’t believe it. I was listening to the Beatles or the Rolling Stones and singing Puccini. My brother sounds like Pavarotti.

High Times: I read somewhere that when you first started out you didn’t want to dress up in the black leotards that have since become your trademark. Is that true?

Benatar: It began as a Halloween joke, dressing in tights and boots. I was dressing up as this creature and I went onstage and sang. Because of the clothing, my attitude changed and the attitude went over so well that I said there must be something to this. So I tried it again. I was real timid about doing it but I kept on so I could get the attitude without the clothes. The clothes and the makeup is the release for me; it puts the other character out onstage ’cause the one sitting with you now is so different. This girl cannot rock. She gets up there and does sound check in sneakers and the voice comes out and it’s the same voice but this girl is not rocking. As soon as I put the outfit on I get the attitude, I even stand different.

High Times: By “attitude,” do you mean sexuality?

Benatar: I didn’t know it was so overtly sexual, until I saw it on videotape; then I got paranoid because that’s not what I had intended. I only did it to get that power-strength feeling, the aggression feeling I needed to have. Not that sexual feeling. I didn’t know that if I put my leg on the monitor that people would lose their minds! When they started to exploit it I got really upset because it was never my intention to be real obvious. I want more dimension. I’m not a one-dimensional, cold-hearted bitch.

High Times: But when you get up onstage aren’t you making a conscious decision to play it tough and get that image across?

Benatar: I’m much better onstage being aggressive and tough than I am being soft. It’s very difficult. It’s like opening up too much. I want to learn how to do it, but it’s taking time. I think now that I’m secure up there I could do it. At the Bottom Line I was frozen-like-a-stick scared.

High Times: You said the second record was so hard because you were trying to imitate the success of your first, but the new one was much easier because you had a grasp on what was happening.

Benatar: The second record came at a bad time. You know, like Elvis Costello said, “You have your whole life to get ready for your first album and have five months to get your second.” That’s the way it is. We just get off a ten-month tour. We had two songs written; we were not prepared. Plus we changed producers and didn’t know what to expect. On the third record we had seven songs written and you go into the studio feeling a lot better with seven than with two. Even though “Crimes of Passion” sold four and a half million, we were under pressure. But once we started working on it we forgot all about it. Not like the second one where I was thinking about it all the time; we have to have another “Heartbreaker”; I can’t write another song like that. With this one I could care less, and when we finished, I really liked it. But I didn’t care whether anyone bought it. It was the greatest feeling to be satisfied and not care commercially one way or another.

High Times: Who do you like that’s around today?

Benatar: I love Kate Bush; I think Chrissie Hynde has a great quality to her voice. I love guy bands. I love Elvis Costello, Springsteen, I like Squeeze a lot too. I like Ronstadt, not her material. I think she does great songs, but not for me, but I think she’s a fantastic singer. She’s got that great vulnerable quality that I don’t have.

High Times: What are some of the things other than music that you enjoy?

Benatar: Me and Neil [Neil Geraldo, her lead guitarist] have dogs and stuff like that. We don’t have a lot of time off so we don’t get to go away. We love stuff like fishing, anything that’s totally opposite of what we do. We stay home and just play house, watch TV, make barbecues, swim in the pool. I love to cook and he loves to eat so it’s a great thing; it’s like going to a psychiatrist. For a few months of the year I get to go home and be normal; you don’t have to go through the problems of “am I a pretty girl?”

High Times: One last question: Is it fun being a rock ‘n’ roll superstar?

Benatar: In the next five months we’re having twenty-six covers coming out. Now this means I can’t go to the grocery store anymore, no more 7-11s, no McDonalds. That’s what it means. I cannot go, and it’s real depressing. The adjustment to it is so difficult. But what we do every night is worth it no matter what anyone says. You get the money, you get the fame, you get the position, and all that bullshit that goes with it, the only thing that still matters is the ninety minutes that you’re onstage. That’s the only thing that you wait for all day, the only thing in your mind, the only thing that gives you great pleasure. And it’s the truth.

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