July 7, 2010 / 10:06 AM / 9 years ago

Book Talk: Pat Benatar says she is a fan of Lady Gaga

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Pat Benatar is a fan of Lady Gaga.

Pat Benatar performs at the Entertainment Industry Foundation's Revlon Run/Walk for Women held in Los Angeles, California May 12, 2007. REUTERS/Phil McCarten

The singer, who earned her spot in rock history with songs like “Heartbreaker” and “Invincible” also loves the movie “Avatar,” the musical “Wicked,” and performing for new audiences — though she admits she sometimes gets tired of singing “Hit Me With Your Best Shot.”

Benatar’s annual U.S. summer tour is her 13th in a row. New, younger fans are discovering her opera-trained voice and her tough persona, while long-time fans come to hear the familiar singles that remind them of their youth.

Benatar, 57, has published a memoir, “Between a Heart and a Rock Place,” that describes her early break into stardom, the struggles with a record company eager to sell a sexy image, and years of balancing family life with performance. The book is also a valentine to her husband and collaborator Neil Giraldo.

She spoke with Reuters about her book, touring, and the singers who followed in her footsteps:

Q: Who comes to your shows? Are they open to hearing new material or do they just want to hear the oldies?

A: “Everybody wants what we call ‘The Holy 14,’ the songs we have to play every day. But you can plug other ones in there, most people there are willing to go anywhere you want to take them. It’s a very mixed crowd. Grown-ups bring their kids, then we have a whole crop of young college-age women who are discovering it for the first time, and we have the 10 to 12 year olds who play Guitar Hero.”

Q: Why do a book now?

A: “I always thought it was silly (to write a memoir) unless you’re 70 years old because I don’t have those personal catastrophes that I thought people want to read about. But Harper Collins’ whole take was about the beginning, the struggles of being female. I wasn’t a visionary but I literally had my finger on the pulse of the women of America.”

Q: In the 1970s, you created this persona of “sexual swagger,” but then resisted Chrysalis, the record company, when they wanted to keep it going. What happened?

A: “It has to be something you want to express. I made up this character, it worked, I didn’t mind it being a marketing tool. They were using it as the focal point as opposed to a focal point. It went against everything I believed about making music. I never looked at people or singing as commodities. I resisted it, and it became very one-dimensional to me.

“They exaggerated (the sexual swagger) more than I felt comfortable. I was a married woman. I was going to have children. I often think of Raquel Welch: it was ridiculous to be saddled with this for the rest of your days.”

Q: Was it also at odds with your feminism?

A: “As it went on, it was at odds with it. My purpose was to show power and strength and to say, ‘Look I’m a sexual being just like Robert Plant.’ They made it into a cartoon. It became this pin-up girl.”

Q: The book reveals that the initial look, with the heavy eyeliner, came from a 1950s 3D movie called “Cat Women of the Moon.” Have you seen it recently? Is it as good as “Avatar?”

A: “It’s this absolute cult, crazy, horrible movie. It’s the most awful thing. but I love sci-fi, and I love really junky sci-fi. I have to tell you, I saw “Avatar” seven times. I really love it.”

Q: What current singers do you like, and whom have you influenced? One hears your vocal style in Katy Perry and the Paramore singer, Hayley Williams, for example.

A: “I like (Williams) a lot. I like Lady Gaga because I like that she pushes the envelope. She’s brilliant in her production, the marketing of what she does. But I haven’t seen one of her shows.”

Q: Envelope pushing — like showing up at a Yankees game and taking off her shirt?

A: “No. That’s horrible, I hate rudeness. That’s awful manners. I just mean that she just doesn’t care. I like to see people going for it, doing things that stick out, like David Bowie. As for singers that I can appreciate are great singers: I think Sheryl Crow is an amazing singer. Amy Winehouse has amazing style. It’s not always about the material for me. I love Katy Perry, she is a wonderful pop singer. Beyonce is so classy and terrific.

Q: You started more than 30 years ago. You and your husband wrote some pretty good pop hooks. Is the industry fundamentally changed, or is your kind of mainstream pop stardom still achievable?

A: “People in our genre, who are iconic but not considered current, have a difficult time getting things out there. I don’t want to go through the hoops. I’m not that interested in what it takes to have a hit record. I’m not sure it’s even attainable. I’m absolutely willing to instead put out records in the time we like, the way we like. Probably the next thing we release will be solely online.”

Q: Do you still like performing? When I saw your show a few years ago, you made a gesture right before “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” like you were slitting your throat.

A: “It’s a long-standing joke because “Hit Me” was played ad nauseam. Every year I pretend I’m not going to do it, and of course I do it and I make audiences sing it. I love to go out and play every summer. I don’t want to sit home and make records in a vacuum. You write songs and make records for your pleasure, but you need to share. It’s seductive for me still.”

Q: It must be fun when fans sing along.

A: “It’s great when they sing along. The whole point is interaction.”

Q: What do you listen to? And how — iPod? LPs?

“I have all that stuff, I have an iPod Touch. I tell the kids, download this, download that. I’m listening to Louis Prima and Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin, Count Basie. I love all that stuff. I’m still listening to show tunes. (My husband says) ‘For God’s sake, how many more times can you listen to “Wicked?”‘

Reporting by Nick Zieminski, editing by Paul Casciato

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