It only takes a couple of bars to see, and hear, why Pat Benatar and her husband, guitarist Neil Giraldo, indeed “belong together.” Married nearly 40 years, they are among rock’s most enduring couples, if not at the very top of the list.
Correspondent Jim Axelrod asked them, “Collaborating with somebody for four years is a lot; 40?”
“That’s insane,” said Giraldo. “We’re basically insane.”
Only if you define insane as selling 36 million albums, winning four consecutive Grammys, and recording 15 Top 40 hits, from “Heartbreaker,” to “Treat Me Right,” to “Love Is A Battlefield”:
Axelrod asked, “Is it possible to articulate what is at the root of this successful collaboration?”
Benatar said, “We’re connected in so many ways, all of them combined together; you’re parents, you’re lovers, you’re husband and wife, you’re grandparents, you’re musicians, you’re writers. I mean, it’s so much!”
The daughter of blue collar Long Islanders, she almost never had the chance to hit us with her best shot … choosing young love over her gifted voice: “My boyfriend that I met when I was 16 years old got drafted, and I thought he was gonna go to Vietnam and die. And so, like an idiot, I got married. And he didn’t die! And I became a bank teller!”
And then the story might have ended, had some friends not dragged her to a concert. One of the greatest voices in rock history was born at a Liza Minnelli show. “My fabulous gay friends said, ‘Let’s go see Liza Minnelli at the Richfield Coliseum.” And it was packed. Stage lights came up. She started singing. I’m going, ‘I could do that. I could do that.’
“The next day, I quit my job, and I started looking for gigs. I had never done anything like that in my life.”
“Literally no Liza Minnelli, no Pat Benatar?” asked Axelrod.
“Yeah. It’s just the fact that I saw somebody doing what I really, in my heart, really wanted to do.”
Within a few years she was divorced and in New York City booking any club she could. Then came Halloween 1977, and her costume, taken from the B-movie “Cat Women of the Moon.”
Spandex – and her career – would never be the same.
Benatar said, “I had all this big eyeliner on, I had this little short thing with these black tights and these little short boots and a ray gun. So, I had been doing fine, having gigs and all that kind of stuff. But I sang in costume that night. It was a whole other experience. And I remember standing there thinking to myself, ‘Hhmm. What’s happening here?'”
What was happening was her first record deal in 1978, which is how she met a 22-year old guitarist from Cleveland.
Giraldo said, “All I was looking for was a great singer. I just wanted to find that, so I could write songs, produce, make great records.”
“I didn’t want to be a solo artist,” said Benatar. “I wanted what Robert Plant and Jimmy Page had together, or Keith and Mick. I wanted that back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.”
“She was looking for you before there was a you?” asked Axelrod.
“Correct,” Giraldo said, “and I was looking for her. And as soon as I got there, I go, ‘We gotta sing in a different key. This has gotta go up. There’s another part of your voice we’re not getting.'”
“We did ‘Heartbreaker’ first. And the minute we did it I was like, ‘That’s it. That’s it.'”
“I just knew it, I knew it,” Giraldo said. “I wasn’t looking back.”
They’d follow up “Heartbreaker” with three Top-10 hits in the next five years: “Hit Me With Your Best Shot,” “Love Is A Battlefield,” and “We Belong.”
And her tough-cookie persona would speak to a generation – an icon of female empowerment who, decades before #MeToo, didn’t take any crap from any DJ who held the power of playing her songs.
Benatar recalled, “The minute I’d walk in there, he’d say, ‘Why don’t you sit right here [patting her lap], and we’ll see if we can get that record playing.’ ‘Oh, f*** you.’
“In the beginning, I mean, I was still kind of, like, timid. And then I finally started to realize, ‘Wait. I have an opportunity here. If I change this for myself, it will start the ripple effect. I had power now. So, that changed everything.”
Almost instantly, Benatar and Giraldo had realized their connection went far deeper than musical collaborators.
“There was this sort of winning life’s lottery component to it,” Axelrod said.
“Oh, the chemical thing was ridiculous!” Benatar laughed.
By 1982 they had married, formalizing their two-against-the-world posture in dealing with the music business. “I didn’t start this by myself,” Benatar said. “He and I did this together, from Day One.”
Axelrod said, “It seems like it’s important to almost set the record straight. This was a partnership.”
“It was,” Benatar replied. “Somebody said, ‘I don’t understand why his name has to be up on the marquee, too.’ I said, ‘Because every song that you love and listen to is created by him, ass****.'”
That kind of pushback, they say, explains one of the great mysteries of the rock universe – that, given her influence, impact, and number of hits, how can Pat Benatar not be in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame? (She’s not.)
Axelrod asked, “Does it bother you at this point that you’re not in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame?”
“No,” she said. “Listen, when you win things, it’s really fun. But the point is, does this validate, not validate what we’ve done? No. It would be nice to have it for our children, for the fans, everything else. Do I need someone to acknowledge? No.”
“That sounds disarmingly healthy.”
“It’s the truth, again,” Giraldo laughed.
“Life’s not fair,” said Benatar. “What are you gonna do?”
Besides, they have better things to focus on: Two grown daughters and two grandchildren who live near their home in Los Angeles; and Giraldo’s started Three Chord Bourbon, a company that earmarks some of its sales to help struggling musicians.
And they may have just found the perfect next chapter for their rock & roll love story: using their songs as the foundation of a musical – a modern version of “Romeo & Juliet” they hope to bring to Broadway next year. “They’ve always called us Romeo & Juliet of rock & roll, because they tried to split us up so early on,” Benatar said. “The balcony scene is ‘We Live for Love.’ It’s gorgeous. It’s like it was written for that!”
What else would Pat Benatar and Neil Giraldo call the show, but “Invincible”?
“With ‘Invincible,’ with the musical. the whole point of the story is that the differences between us make us stronger, not weaker,” Benatar said. “That’s the point of the story, and that true love exists.”
“Romeo & Juliet, or Neil & Pat?” Axelrod laughed.
“Both,” she laughed.
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Story produced by Gabriel Falcon. Editor: Steven Tyler.