December 29, 1980 12:00 PM

Her lusty four-octave voice and tail-kicking lyrics aside, the Pat Benatar splayed below is surprisingly close to life-size. The belter behind such provocative cuts as Heartbreaker and Hit Me with Your Best Shot stands just five feet. But in the current music-biz depression—the word recession doesn’t do it justice—Pat is worth her weight (90 pounds) in platinum. That’s what her first two albums, In the Heat of the Night and Crimes of Passion, sold when very few artists were getting into that elite million-selling realm.

There was a particularly desperate dearth of red-hot rock mammas, now that Donna Summer has wandered off into super-slick pop rock and gospel, Debbie Harry is going Hollywood and Madison Avenue, and Linda Ronstadt has found Gilbert & Sullivan. As for New Wave, with the possible exception of the charismatic Chrissie Hynde and the Pretenders, it produced more hypes than heroes.

When other acts were staying home or playing to empty seats, a body-stockinged Benatar, with a sizzling five-man backup band, was filling arenas in 110 cities for five months. “Most of our audience is like 16 to 25,” she reports, “but we’ve also got eighth graders and dentists.” Of her success after five scrambling years, Pat sighs at 27: “I thought I was ready for it, but I wasn’t. I want to do well, but at what price?”

Born Pat Andrzejewski in Brooklyn, she trained in opera but opted for cabaret and lounge gigs. As she began to make it, her eight-year marriage to video editor Dennis Benatar dissolved. For the past year she has lived with Neil Gerardo, her lead guitarist and co-composer of many of their tunes. “It can be unbearable being together 24 hours every day,” she sighs, complaining at the same time, “There’s no privacy for us.”

They share a rented place in the San Fernando Valley, but are contemplating buying separate homes. “I need to decide what the hell I’m going to do,” admits Benatar. But she seems to be coping increasingly well with the conflict of a 1980s career woman. “People may find it odd,” she reflects, “that I’m up there strutting my butt around, yet saying I want to fix pasta, vacuum and have children. The tough, bitchy character onstage and the Gidget in me are finally coming closer together.”

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