Pat Benatar still going strong after 35 years

Musician Neil Giraldo and singer Pat Benetar. Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images/AFP

Musician Neil Giraldo and singer Pat Benetar. Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images/AFP

Jane Stevenson, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 5:17 PM ET

Eighties rock goddess Pat Benatar – who doesn’t remember her incredible soaring voice and sexy spandex attire? – and her lead guitarist-husband Neil “Spyder” Giraldo have made their rock and roll romance work for 32 years.

No small feat.

So why does it work?

“When we met, the first thing that came into my mind was, ‘Where have you been my whole life?’” said Giraldo, 59, seated beside Benatar, 61, of the moment he arrived to audition for her band in 1979.

“I knew we were meant to be together.”

Benatar, who was separated from her first husband at the time, got a divorce and married Girlado in 1982 and the couple eventually became parents of Haley, 29, (a jewelry designer who took to Twitter earlier this year to deny a secret romance with One Direction’s Harry Styles) and Hana, 20 (an aspiring singer-songwriter).

We caught up with the duo – who are playing select dates this month to celebrate the 35th anniversary of Benatar’s 1979 debut In The Heat of the Night – when they were in Toronto supporting Cher recently. Here are the highlights.

 

Pat, you were one of THE pioneers of women in rock. I can only imagine the amount of sexism you encountered?

Pat: In our inside camp it was never like that. Spyder says it never even occurred to him that I was ‘the girl.’ We were just players, musicians. But on the outside it was like that. And we had to deal with that everyday. And it was misogynistic and it was horrible. Radio programmers, journalists, promoters, everything, even the record company was a nightmare. They only reason they cared about it at all was that it was an angle for them, it was a marketing tool.

So the marketing aspect was just that – you were a girl?

Pat: At first it wasn’t a good idea but then when they realized they could make money and ‘We can use this as a marketing tool,’ oh yeah, then they were all for that. But that came with its own set of garbage. Then it was like, ‘Oh, the girl singer.’ And that’s not what we were doing, and it was insulting.

Neil: We were a partnership from the beginning. It was the two of us. It was OUR band. It wasn’t a solo act it was just really promoted as that. And when it got really about the girl thing, I thought, ‘Why are they doing that? We’re just a rock ‘n’ roll band. That’s all we are.’ It’s insulting to women I thought. Instead of saying, ‘You guys are a great rock band.’ It’s insulting.

The only upside, for me anyway, was that as a young girl who was really into music I had someone as strong as Pat to look up to.

Pat: That part wasn’t a negative. And that was the one thing that did help make it palatable because I knew that this entire group of women – there were a bunch of us at the same time (Heart’s Ann and Nancy Wilson, Blondie’s Debbie Harry, The Pretenders’ Chrissie Hynde, Fleetwood Mac’s Stevie Nicks) – everybody got the same idea. Everyone’s not that different so you kind of all move as a collective. That part was really great to see the effect that it had on young women while we were doing it. Because, you know what, that was genuine, the other part was fabricated, they were using it; they were behind it at all. So that fabrication and that just kind of disingenuous behavior and mindset that made it not fun and just creepy. The audience was different.

The spandex – a blessing or a curse?

Pat: I wore it because of being in musical theatre (before rock ‘n’ roll) all those years and you had to be backstage and changing with boys and girls together, and all that kind of stuff, you always had some kind of a leotard under your clothing. And this was like really comfortable for me and I wore it because it felt normal and I just tried to incorporate it into what I was doing. When we did that Halloween contest thing (at a Greenwich Village bar in 1977), I put the outfit on over all that stuff and it just worked and it was like really good. So I just kept it. It was easy. It felt familiar. And it made me relax.

Did you early female rockers get to swap war stories as you were all rising up through the ranks?

Pat: This is the only part that was very sad is that none of us ever got to spend any time with each other because everyone was working. I mean everyone thinks it was like this sisterhood thing and it was not. And it wasn’t a competitive thing either. It was just that everyone was so busy. And then later on when we got older, we did. Then everybody saw everybody. But not in the beginning. Plus I have to tell you that they made it really hard because they were making it a competition, like, ‘Well, we only have one spot for a girl.’ All of us tried not to get caught up in that and I don’t think really anybody did. But they kind of keep you away from each other too so it was kind of weird.

Are female music artists still subject to this kind of treatment in 2014?

Pat: (laughs) They have it SO easy, are you kidding? Listen, it’s not 100% changed but are you kidding? I still think there are problems, I do. But the thing is their mindset is different. You see, that’s the difference. This was uncharted territory (in my day). They, at least, have the model. They saw all of us do it. We went through all of that hellish stuff so even if it is happening there’s laws, there’s all kinds of things. You can’t get away with stuff now but you could get away with plenty then. But we didn’t because we wouldn’t let them. Even our daughters, their mindset is so great to watch them. They wouldn’t even dream of letting anyone talk to them that way or allow them to tell them, ‘Well, you should wear this or do that. What?’

So do you think someone like Miley Cyrus is fully in control of her image?

Pat: Listen, you’re influenced by everything. People can influence you, all kinds of things can influence you... but I think basically that they can control how they want to be seen and heard and everything better than we could do it. Not that they can control all of it because I don’t think anyone really ever can. It’s not about that. We always have this saying, ‘You have to pick a fish.’ You have to decide how much you’re willing to give up in order to obtain something else. But my point is that I think they have a better handle on how they can obtain it and what they have to give up. We didn’t exactly have that. But we fought for it tooth and nail, which was really exciting and worth every minute.

What modern artists do you guys like?

Neil: I‘m a big fan of Jack White because he’s really fearless and he doesn’t really care. And you can’t really care when you’re making music, you can’t care, you got to let it go.

Pat: I love Bruno Mars, I love him. That’s a perfect young thing going on there, just great, and just really talented.

When you first started touring in the late ‘70s there were no cellphones taking pictures and recording you during shows. What do you think about it happening now?

Pat: (jokes) Close your mouth when you’re doing it!

Neil: First of all they’re taking a moment in their life that could be really special to look at a little phone (Pat interjects: Instead of looking at the actual event.) and then YouTube it. It’s just not the same dynamic. So that’s the thing that worries me. I’m afraid they’re missing the moment...

Q. Do you ever say anything when it’s happening?

Pat: He does!

Neil: I say, okay, if you ever had a chance to look at yourselves, holding up these cellphones you would stop. If you do, just smile. Why don’t you actually be in the moment?

Pat: I’m not even bothered by the cellphones. I don’t even care. We had kids. I like give a basket when they come over. Like, ‘Give me the phones. Because we’re having dinner, put the phones (away).' So I’m so used to it. It really doesn’t bother me at all but I understand his point. But I remember when our kids were little we would be the only people not videoing their performances like their ballets because I wanted to burn it into my mind. I don’t want to burn it into our phone, you know what I mean?

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