When Pat Benatar watched Billie Eilish documentary, “The world is a little blurry,” she was struck by the progress made by young singers.
“It probably never crossed (Billie’s) mind that she couldn’t do it. That was all there was to it,” Benatar says. his lexicon of thinking ‘I can’t be that person.’ ”
Benatar shares these postulations in the latest episode of Epix’s “Women Who Rock” docuseries, airing Sundays (9 p.m. EDT/PDT). She is accompanied by a parade of artists from various genres, including Shania Twain, Macy Gray, Sheryl Raven and St. Vincent, who offer incisive commentary on bodybuilding in the male-dominated music industry.
As a veteran of circus rock – debut album “In the Heat of the Night” landed in 1979 – Benatar, 69, is well versed in navigating the minefields of the genre.
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She was the first female artist to perform on MTV (“You should hurry”) more by chance than by design. But after 11 studio albums, a cache of co-powered hits by guitarist husband Neil Giraldo and impending induction in the Rock & Roll Hall of FameBenatar is still standing with a defiant smile.
She and Giraldo also go finally unveils the musical “Invincible” – using his songs and based on Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ – in November.
Calling from her bus heading to a show in Akron, Ohio, the candid Benatar spoke to USA TODAY about the misogyny she’s experienced throughout her career and why you won’t hear “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” during this tour.
Question: In the documentary, you mention the many obstacles you endured. What was the hardest thing about breaking into the music industry?
Pat Benatar: I grew up in a very feminine household. So my experience was that there was no difference between men and women. When I entered the world, nothing was more shocking to me than to see that it wasn’t quite true. People were patting you on the head but they didn’t mean it; they were lying. It was infuriating.
Q: What about when you decided to have children? (Benatar and Giraldo have two daughters.) Did you feel it would hurt your career?
Benatar: I was madly in love with Neil and wanted to have a baby and I thought to myself, we’ll get through this. The reality was terrifying. There was no help from the record company and management. They were absolutely furious that I (became pregnant). My manager said, “Why would you do something like that?” You knew the misogyny was there, but when it happened, it became incredibly clear. It changed everything for me. I got really, really fierce.
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Q: When you see some of your peers still on tour – like Joan Jett and Debbie Harry – do you feel a sense of brotherhood?
Benatar: Certainly now. It was really sad when we did. Deb and I were acquaintances as label mates, but the competition was very tough. The people running the boat have really pitted you against each other artistically. It was really sickening. We never had the opportunity to (celebrate other female artists) until Lilith Fair.
Q: You also have a major coronation in November with your Induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. It took 20 years since you were eligible to be nominated the first time and you are finally recognized. Did the delay bother you?
Benatar: Never. What’s fun for us is how excited everyone is – our family or our friends or the (DJ) in Seattle who put that first canister on his radio station with “Heartbreaker” on it. But listen, it’s great. It’s great for our kids. But the truth is that they recognize the work that has already been done, so it doesn’t change anything. It doesn’t do anything to validate me as a person, but it’s nice.
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Q: You sang these big vocal songs including “Heartbreaker” on this tour. You also played “Helter Skelter” (from the Beatles). Why this song?
Benatar: Because I want to have fun (expletively)! We do a lot of songs that we don’t always play like “In the Heat of the Night” and “I Need a Lover”. We have what we call the “Saints 14”, songs that if we don’t play them, you’ll give us (a hard time). And we don’t do “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” and the fans are having a heart attack and I’m like, I’m sorry, in deference to the victims of the families of these mass shootings, I’m not singing it. I tell them, if you want to hear the song, go home and listen to it. (The title) is ironic, but you have to draw a line. I can’t say those words out loud with a smile on my face, I just can’t. I’m not going to get on stage and in a soapbox – I’m going to see my legislators – but this is my small contribution to the protest. I’m not going to sing it. Hard.
Q: As an artist, how do these social traumas like the cancellation of Roe v. Does Wade and the mass shootings affect the tenor of the work you sing about 30 or 40 years ago?
Benatar: Well, “Invincible” is really important. I worry, like all of us, about basic autonomy rights. It’s a slippery slope. It’s not about abortion for me. I’m afraid people don’t pay attention to what that actually means.
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