“The other day I went out on a speedboat and had a blast and then I wanted to buy one. The scary thing is that I could.”
The voice is incongruously powerful emerging from such an elfin body—she’s 5′ and 90 pounds—and it masks a paradox. In her glued-on Spandex jumpsuit, Pat Benatar is a defiant strutter onstage, belting out the kind of heartbreaker rock that seems destined to make her more than a Ronstadt retread for the 1980s. In the two years since her recording debut, Benatar has sold more than six million LPs, won the 1980 Grammy as Best Female Rock Vocalist and propelled her third and latest album, Precious Time, to No. 1 in four weeks with the help of a mostly SRO North American tour.
Yet as Patricia Andrzejewski, the name written on her birth certificate 28 years ago, she is both vulnerable and outrageous. Success gives her “a weak stomach,” she says. “I get queasy before a business meeting. If I write a check for more than $200 I get nauseous; if it’s over a thousand I’m in the bathroom.” Her first reaction to her LP hitting the top? “I threw up for a long time.”
Benatar is sometimes self-mockingly irreverent, a star whose opinions never have the well-rehearsed tone of her peers. Her brazen stage persona, she explains, is necessary because “everyone’s first reaction is either to pick me up or pat me on the head like a 5-year-old. So I developed this character who always wears pants and is confident, sassy and sure of herself. But it’s hard. If you’re too tough with guys, they think you’re butch. If you’re too timid, they walk all over you. You’ve got to be strong and soft—a siren and a sweetheart.”
Her difficulty in being both is reflected in her turbulent romantic life. As stardom was arriving, her husband of eight years, video production assistant Dennis Benatar, passed it on the way out. “I became domineering,” she explains, and “I need someone who is dominant over me.” They split in 1979. Now, she says, “My success is hard on him because I’m out there with his name, but I don’t belong to him anymore. I suggested he change his name because I can’t change mine….”
Shortly after her debut LP, In the Heat of the Night, was released, Benatar began a live-in love affair with Neil Geraldo, lead guitarist in her band and her songwriting collaborator. That relationship, too, fell apart earlier this year. “It’s finished,” she says wistfully. “We were together so much that whenever we had a problem, it was the same problem and we couldn’t escape.” They continue working together amicably and are seeing other people, but there is tension. “I talk to another guy and I see the veins on his neck stick out,” Pat says. “He talks to a girl and I want to scratch her eyes out.”
For all her bravado—at 14, she remembers, “I had my heart broken by a guy and swore then that if there were some breakin’ to do, I’d do it”—Benatar admits she’s still looking. “I hate not having stability—a man, a boyfriend, a husband,” she says. “I’m not a playgirl and I’m not like Ronstadt, who can live just for her career. What’s she got? Nothin’! Some people are dog people and some are cat people. I like men. I know there are thousands of people out there who think I’m wonderful, but it’s been three months since anybody told me I had soft skin. Everybody cares about you—and nobody cares about you.”
Many seemed to be caring in the wrong way, too, because of the titillating marketing campaign of her record label that placed her unwillingly in the sex symbol sweepstakes. “I think I finally got that crap under control,” she says. “For a while I thought I was going to get stuck in the Marilyn Monroe trap. It’s a drag thinking you’ve got to look fabulous 24 hours a day—God forbid you should get a bulge! Besides, you can’t keep wearing Spandex pants when you’re 40.”
Since cooling down the temperature of her ad libido (though not her saucy stage manner), she says, “Now, instead of looking out and seeing naked lust on faces, I feel like their mother. There’s not so much of that look of I-wanna-rip-your-clothes-off.” Even so, she still avoids wearing dresses “because I feel too vulnerable in them; no one treats you like a human.” She’s also adjusted to seeing her facsimile on such merchandising artifacts as T-shirts, visors, belt buckles and programs. “After a while you get used to your name being just another brand name to be consumed like Chips Ahoy!” she says.
Debbie Harry notwithstanding, Benatar snaps, “Rock stars ain’t got no business doing commercials for jeans and stuff not directly linked to their music. Everybody from toothpaste companies to shampoo manufacturers have asked me to endorse products. I tell them all to take a hike.”
The only ads she would consent to do are public service messages against child abuse (the theme of one of her songs, “Hell Is for Children”). She has also donated the proceeds from a recent Detroit concert to the Vietnam Veterans of America, and there have been preliminary discussions among Pat, Bruce Springsteen and Charlie Daniels about sharing the bill on a Viet vet benefit in 1982. “Bruce is the one who got me interested,” she said, “but I was against the war from the beginning. My ex-husband went to Nam briefly while he was in the Army Special Forces, and I saw the negative effect it had on him and other people we knew. I hope we raise a fortune.”
The other cause in Benatar’s life has less to do with where her head is than where her stomach is. A junk-food junkie, she gulps down such high-calorie delicacies as Mallomars, Pixy Stix, Wiki Wiki potato chips, cream-filled cupcakes, pizza, White Castle burgers and cinnamon toast. Midnight snacks? Pea-nut-butter-?banana-?and-bacon-?sandwiches. “I’m going to buy a franchise of Häagen-Dazs ice cream with my next royalty check,” adds the woman who had 10 gallons of the brand’s chocolate-chocolate chip flown last August to Fort Wayne, Ind., where she was unable to find it. “I don’t see how people get through life without chili dogs and beer,” adds Benatar, who never puts on weight, she theorizes, because of a torrid metabolic rate, aerobic exercise three to five mornings a week and a frantic 90-minute performance almost every night.
Pat has pleasant memories of a less harried childhood growing up in Lindenhurst, L.I. as the daughter of a cosmetologist and a sheet-metal worker. “I guess I’m most like my father’s mother,” she says. “People who didn’t know her well would have called her a bitch, but if you got close to her, she was unbelievably loving.”
At 17 Pat started taking vocal lessons in classical music at her mother’s insistence, and later switched to pop after she had developed her stirring four-octave soprano. (Today, she jokes, if she doesn’t keep her voice in shape, “I sound like Janis Joplin after gargling with Ajax.”) Married at 19, she moved to Richmond, Va., where her husband was stationed with the Army for three years, and sang with a bar band in the evening while working as a bank teller by day. When she returned to her native New York in 1975, she was discovered at the famed Catch a Rising Star amateur club by its owner, Rick Newman, who signed her to a contract and remains her personal manager. “Patti has kept her values and a wonderful perspective on success,” says Newman. “Her only regret is having to have bodyguards when she goes out.”
Forsaking her Eastern roots for Los Angeles, Benatar bought a $400,000 house in the suburban hills of Tarzana in April and a house for her folks in nearby Reseda. (They keep a room reserved for their daughter’s souvenirs—”like a Pat Benatar Memorial Chapel,” she cracks.) Benatar reports that a neighbor told her recently, “When you moved in, all I could think of was long hair, drugs and wild parties. Now all I ever see you doing is vacuuming in yellow rubber gloves.” Pat’s only current housemate is her 26-year-old brother, Andy, who works for her.
She is ultimately interested in more than brotherly company. Fame, however, presents something of an obstacle. “Before it was easy to find a guy by going to the burger joint and saying, ‘Hi, you’re cute.’ ” Her type? “I’m drawn to big galoots who like baseball, camping, TV and chocolate chip cookies,” she says. “I don’t think I could relate to a guy who came home and said, ‘Darling, I have tickets tonight for the ballet.’ ”
While she searches for a man who doesn’t know from Gelsey Kirkland and is also “so secure he’ll never be Mr. Benatar,” she’s faced with another five weeks of the gypsy life on the road. After that she’ll start work on her next LP. At some point, she’d like to get into film and play Judy Garland or Edith Piaf. “Sometimes my biggest fear,” she says in a not uncommon burst of self-doubt, “is not that the bubble will burst, but that it won’t and I’ll be stuck doing this for another 15 years.” Is it really that bad? Well, she says, smiling, “It’s all so great, it’s stupid. I keep wanting to tell people my life is awful. But it ain’t.”