Rockin' the Kitchen
So tonight The Mrs. and I were watching Emeril Live on the Food Network and Emeril's special guest was Pat Benatar. She and her husband/lead guitarist, Neil Giraldo, are apparently serious foodies, and by the end of the show, Pat was in Emeril's kitchen chopping pine nuts. That's a long way from the spring of 1980, when she was the newest pouty rock chick to take the country by storm.
Benatar's first hit was the iconic "Heartbreaker" in the spring of 1980. It broke first on album-oriented radio and rose to #23 on the singles chart, and it established the Benatar persona: the streetwise city girl who'd just as soon bust your chops as kiss your lips. Except I didn't buy it for a second because it looked and sounded completely false, as if it were more marketing decision than artistic choice. It seemed to me that she could just as easily have been the second coming of Olivia Newton-John, but since punk was in during her struggling days in late 70s New York City, she cut her hair short and wore dark lipstick.
When "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" made the Top Ten late in 1980, it seemed like Benatar was going to be one of the 80s' biggest stars. But it would be three years before she got back to the Top Ten, and in the interim, she kept recycling the same ideas over and over. You'd have to be a fan to care about the difference between "Treat Me Right," "Fire and Ice," "Promises in the Dark," and "Shadows of the Night." When she did break the mold, the results could be disastrous: her anti-child abuse anthem "Hell is For Children," from her second album, was probably the low point of her career, and 1984's "Love is a Battlefield," her most successful single, would be a worthy entrant in either the Tortured Metaphor Olympics or the International Cliche Festival.
Benatar's last Top 40 hit was another Tortured Metaphor Moment, "Sex as a Weapon," early in 1986. Since then, she's recorded an album of R&B and blues covers, an album of mostly acoustic material, and straight-ahead rock albums like back in the day. She doesn't look all that different in 2004 than she did 20 years ago, but the rest of the world has caught up with her look. Now, her look isn't all that different from the one that might be adopted by the hottest mom in the PTA. And because the baby boomer generation has made it unnecessary for rock stars to outgrow their youthful passions, Benatar is still out there touring, still doing the pouty rock chick bit. And chopping the occasional pine nut.