Lunch with Benatar: Our 1985 Pat Benatar Cover Story

Interviews are a battlefield, and no one is invincible. Pat Benatar dares punk poet Lydia Lunch: Hit me with your best shot.
Pat Benatar
(Credit: Pete Still/Redferns)

A version of this article originally appeared in the September 1985 issue of SPIN. In honor of the announcement of Pat Benatar‘s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, we’re republishing it here.

Ballsy! Gutsy! Bitchy! One hard-rockin’ mama, right? The little girl with the big-big mouth. The girl who invented black tights and short-shorts. The wet dream of every honest, hard-working, beer-guzzling, God-fearing, red-blooded, normal white male this side of the Rio Grande River, huh, folks. Gimme a break, assholes. Let’s start at scratch and work our way back. Pat Benatar began her career as a singing waitress in the NYC comedy club Catch a Rising Star. She was conveniently discovered by the proprietor, who went on to become her manager, just like in the movies. Only I never go to those kind of movies. And I never won six Grammys, didn’t have six consecutive platinum records, or sell 20 million copies of anything. Thank God, I never made one rock video. Pat Benatar has made 13, and we’re still counting. She’s beginning her first tour in three years, has a new LP, 7 The Hard Way, and has finally “proved” herself, winning more freedom than ever just to be… herself.

Popularity Is So Boring

I wake up and say, “I’m Pat Benatar, so what!” The great thing about doing this—and they hate when I say this—is that I can shut it off. I don’t have to be it all the time, only when I wanna be it. That’s good, because if I wanna go home and look fucking horrible or I wanna be fat or a pig or give my dog a bath … whatever I wanna do. I can do it and I don’t have to feel guilty about it. I don’t give a shit. I don’t care. All I have to do—when I go onstage for 2 1/2 hours—is do my job and do it good. When I make records I do the best I can. [I’m waiting for the worst. . .] That’s my obligation. My stage persona is just one tiny part of the whole me. Sometimes—I know this sounds ridiculous, but—I like being “normal.” I mean, not normal like they are. . . but it’s what I miss most. [Who doesn’t?] As you go on, you look at this image you’ve created that’s gonna plague you the rest of your life. It’s so absurd, because you keep moving and can’t relate to it anymore, to what they envision you as. You keep growing and moving, and you’re stuck with your black tights [wrapped firmly around your neck]. It’s awful. [If ignorance is bliss, we died and went to heaven, but isn’t, so didn’t.]

Assumption Is the Root of All Ignorance

To me, the worst thing you could do with your life is be bored. There’s so much opportunity, you’d have to be a shithead. Then there’s these nouveau visionaries. [They’re never bored, just boring.] I hate them. [Any names, sweets?] The people who always think they know where everything is going all the time. Of course, people are going to assume—they’re probably assuming right now—that we’d be mud wrestling each other three minutes after we’d met. But when we take to the ropes … any and all challengers! [Pat!] You have to be fearless and ready at all times. Anyway … I don’t know … I was never afraid of rapists. If I bit them, they’d die. Blood everywhere.

What Does Pat Wear to Bed?

I hate clothes. I don’t shop anywhere that’s trendy or anything. I think the minute you put something on, it says too much. I’d spend everything on shoes. [No, she doesn’t wear them to bed. I asked.] I’d rather wear the same thing every day. Right now I wear clothes because it’s against the law to run around naked. [Go for it, Pat.]

Aren’t You Ever Afraid of Having Your Clothes Ripped Off on Stage?

No! I’m afraid of the real violence on stage. We have a lot of bomb threats and gun threats from the audience. We get that a lot, and being a woman, you’ve got the anatomy that invites trouble, so it’s pretty scary. They get so crazed, they leap on stage and grab you. I don’t think they’re trying to hurt you, but they’re strangers no matter how much they think they’re your best friend. And it just doesn’t feel good to have strangers all over you, touching you. [Maybe not to you, Pat.]

Pat Benatar
(Credit: Pete Still/Redferns)

Life in the Movies

I wanna wait ’til I can play something more than a glamorous face. Something with a little more body. Someone in struggle, conflict, because that’s what’s most interesting to me. I think I’ll have to wait a little while. You have to be able to throw yourself into it as much as you do with music, and I’m not ready for that yet. I’m too selfish. I don’t have enough time as it is. I gotta wait ’til making records slows down a bit. I wouldn’t wanna do it halfway. [For the record, Pat was in “Union City”, which featured another Chrysalis recording artist, Debbie Harry.]

Please! Don’t Feed Your MTV!

Sometimes you become the vehicle for someone else’s genius or lack thereof. It’s such a ridiculous thing, because so much money is spent on video, and when the time comes . . . if you hate it, tough. [You bought it, you eat it.] I think it’s criminal for the artists to have to pay for the video if they want complete control [I do it all the time, Pat], because the record companies are the ones that profit from it anyway. [So why do it, other than to sell more records?] For those that like that kind of thing, I think it’s great. [I think it’s sinful to fill up people’s empty lives with stupid wastes of time, but that’s what it’s all about: filling the void they create so they can love you for being everything they are not.] You’re making it for the rest of America, and the rest of America likes them. [Because the rest of America loves wasting its time on all things boring and stupid and prefabricated, and what better way than video?] I love middle America … those old women, they’re so rich. They know from cooking and cleaning and raising kids, and I love them … they’re so real.

The Baby

I could not have done this at 20, because I was such an asshole—not that I’m not an asshole now, but you have to be ready for kids, because you have to give up everything, every selfish part of you. And in return … unconditional love. [You wish.] That’s what I want. It’s such a pure love. But just wait ’til she’s 15 and I’ll have to start slapping her around.

Hypnotism

I would be frightened. But I would like to learn about the process. I think it would be interesting to find out how we got to this place and what we did before this life, if anything. I wonder whether I have a young or old soul.

The Life/Death Situation

I can see so much more than I could 10 years ago. In this life there isn’t enough time to find out all I’d like to know. There is never enough time. I think the saddest thing is that it is over so fast. I think I hate dying most because this life is over, not because I’m scared to die. I hate the separation of death, being separated from the people you love. The thought of it makes me sick. I’m real attached to people and things. I spent most of my life being closed in and selfish, and now that it’s not like that, I have a lot more room for other people. Growing up, I was never close, but I was never not close, to my family. I spent most of my time wanting to get out, to leave. Then, the first time I went to NYC [from Long Island] in the late ’60s, as a teenager in Central Park I saw all those stoned-out hippies and all the bag people. Everyone was so filthy. I swore I’d never go back; of course I did. All I ever did was spend the whole time irritating my father by saying, “So what if I married a black man if I loved him?” Instead I married an Italian, but what the hell … it’s a short swim….

I would rather spend my life failing and learning than just staying there and thinking it was good. I’d rather make every mistake in the book. It’s amazing to me, this lifestyle. It makes me laugh. Every day there’s a new joke. [There’s one born every minute.] I don’t wanna sound naive, but when I first started out, I didn’t know it would take off like this. I had no idea. I just wanted to make records and perform and stuff. But all the shit that goes along with it … it’s all so meaningless. I mean, how much money do you need? [Well, Pat, a small loan of a quarter of a mil would be fine for starters.]

(Photo by Lester Cohen/Getty Images)

Rewards

Sometimes I get rewards that I deserve, but I think I have a few more times to go. I don’t think I’ve got it all, but it’s getting better.

Success

We thought it’d be over after the first record, so we’re real happy to still be here. It gets progressively more difficult—not the singing or the songwriting, but take “Invincible” [the new single]. I know I’ll get murdered for saying this, but that’s a song I would’ve done five years ago. After doing Tropico [the last LP], I didn’t really wanna do that type of song anymore. But you have this other thing inside you that says, “Don’t be a schmuck. It’s a good song, what are ya, a jerk? It’s not absolutely going against your principles or anything. [Neither is skinning a cat.] So just do it.” But then I listen to the rest of the record (7 The Hard Way), and it’s like Frankenstein. It just doesn’t fit. They have nothing to do with each other. But it’s good because the less I continue to do that, the more I begin to think that next time I won’t.

Tropico was my favorite record. I won’t ever do records like I used to do ’em. From now on they will all be my favorite. Once you get to that point, there’s no reason to go back. Sometimes you’re a shithead, and it takes a while to get there, but when you do you just go, “Fuck you, that’s it.” My least favorite songs are always the singles. But I feel you just gotta give ’em [the record company] two songs, and on the other eight you can do whatever you want. They were upset with Tropico because there was only one real rocker, and besides, it only sold 1 1/2 million records, and that’s not enough. You gotta sell 5 million each time. When you’re making the record, and everyone loves it, you’re not thinking about that until they’re getting on you when it’s over and it’s not doing what they want it to… and they start going, “Well, what about Madonna?” and you go “Well, what about her? I taught her how to fucking wear tights, man. Please let her do it for a while.” I’m so happy someone else is doing it. Let her have a good time. Now maybe they won’t look at the color of my panties, and they can concentrate on my singing. I mean, it made me so mad because one day I was at the record company and one guy turned to me and said, “You don’t really think they come to hear you sing, do you?” I mean, how insulting … [Face it, Pat, 15,000 boners at a crack and I wouldn’t be complainin’.]

If You Could…

I would love to have one more time to try it all over again, to erase and start over, to start another band. [You’re not dead yet, honey.] But you get into this cycle, this trap, even if you know better. It’s so hard to get out of it. You’re addicted to the things that happen when you’re in the top five. It’s stupid, but you can’t help it once that happens. And you also have this entourage of people whose lives become dependent on how many records you sell, on your creativity. That’s why I disappear when I’m done with it. I have no use for it. I mean, they’re all nice guys, but what do you do with ’em? [First, Pat, I tie their hands behind their backs and blindfold ’em.] You start feeling like Kleenex. It’s a strange existence. Nothing like what I thought. Then I look at the baby and think, “What the fuck does she think?” Ah, but she doesn’t give a shit. She’ll grow up and say, “My mother used to be Pat Benatar.”

Now, to add injury to the insult of my reputation from associating with a story as preposterous as Lydia Lunch interviewing Pat Benatar, I am doubly insulted that some people have the nerve to complain that perhaps there wasn’t enough vindictiveness, viciousness, assaultiveness, insultingness, accusation, or downright physical abuse in this article. I mean, I do have my reputation to live up to. In spite of this, I refuse flatly, sharply, point-blankedly to comment further about all of the things, yes indeed, that I do hate, that you would so love to hear me rant about—like rock music, women in rock music, new women in rock music, the problems of being a woman in rock. And other stultifyingly boring subjects.

In spite of your prying insistence and morbid curiosity concerning all the occasions—every event, every single minute, daytime, nighttime, lifetime—that led up to this one small occasion, I must staunchly say here and now that I refuse to let you in on one single, small, or fetid detail. They say that what you don’t know can’t hurt you, so let me now leave out who bathes in the blood of others, shovels shit, or has her nipples pierced. You need know nothing about which miss has a penchant for pushing wheelchairs in front of speeding automobiles, who best likes sticking firecrackers up a cat’s asshole, or which of us has the slightly retarded brother. You won’t get it out of me which of us danced topless, bottomless, and perhaps, yes, with a male partner in some sleazy dive on 42nd Street in the struggle on the way to the top. You leave me no choice but to delete some of my favorite anecdotes concerning the more intimate and—shall we say—deviant sexual practices of either of us. You’ll hear nothing, not one grisly recounting of hitchhiking repeatedly around Manhattan or standing topless under the Triboro Bridge. In short, there are no sad, embittered, and tortured tales concerning anyone’s incestuous relationship with all or any of the family tree. For that, I’m afraid you’ll have to wait for My Father’s Daughter, my autobiography to be out next summer. Until then, I’m afraid we’ll just stop this side of truth, beauty, and filth, because that, after all, isn’t that what we all want?

IMPACT

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