Between a Heart and a Rock Place: A Memoir - Pat Benatar (2010)
Chapter 11. IN THE BALANCE
IN 1999, EMI RELEASED Synchronistic Wanderings: Recorded Anthology 1979–1999, a three-CD box set of our music to mark the twentieth anniversary of our first release, 1979’s In the Heat of the Night.
This was a project we believed important after several years of EMI putting out one compilation after another. Sometimes the songs were put together in an inappropriate sequence, and sometimes the song choices were just off. But to the company’s credit, EMI approached us about how we’d like to be represented for a twentieth-anniversary release. As long as we had some say in it, we were on board. One thing we insisted on was the use of certain material we’d done that they didn’t own and had no access to. That way we could show the entire career and not just what Chrysalis had been involved with.
To celebrate the milestone we set out on another big tour and made a few changes in our usual set. During the mideighties we’d cut back on doing so many of our oldest hits. I believed in looking forward, in playing new music and trying new styles. Also, it gets old singing the hits like “Hit Me with Your Best Shot” every night. But now we brought back the whole hit parade, and the audiences loved it.
The box set was a collector’s item. For example, the box-set version of “I Need a Lover,” from 1979, was recorded at the Bottom Line just a couple of weeks after we put the live band together. It wasn’t the best version of that song in existence, but it was raw and authentic, which is what we wanted. “Love Is a Battlefield” is an original demo version with only one vocal, whereas in the final version, I recorded several. We included some things no one had heard. “New Dream Islands” was an unreleased outtake from Seven the Hard Way, the first song Spyder and I wrote for the album. But in the end, it did not make the cut. “Run Between the Raindrops” was recorded live in Philadelphia in 1988 and had been used only in one radio show. “True Hearts” was another previously unreleased recording, as was 1978’s “Crying,” the Roy Orbison song that I’d performed at my first (and only) showcase. I found an old cassette tape of “Crying” in a box of material that I used to take around to pitch myself to labels before I ever got a deal. It was amazing to find it and to be able to let the fans hear what had initially been turned down! We also included a song I’d done for an Edith Piaf tribute, “The Effect You Have on Me,” and “Rescue Me” from the Speed soundtrack.
There was talk of adding some of the old material I’d recorded with Coxon’s Army, but in the end we decided it was just too different from our music’s evolution. It was definitely cabaret-type music, and even though it played a role in my getting started, it had never been a part of my ultimate career.
Unlike the earlier retrospectives that EMI had issued, this process felt cathartic and well produced. It was a good encapsulation of everything that we’d done—everything that we were proud of. In talking about the record it was also a chance to clear the air about the vital contribution that Spyder had been making since day one. As we looked back at twenty years, it was the perfect time to eliminate the long-held misconceptions about how our collaboration functioned. When Jim Moret of CNN interviewed us about Synchronistic Wanderings, he introduced Spyder as “producer/collaborator/songwriter/guitarist and husband.”
“That’s too many titles,” Spyder said.
“You just have ‘entertainer,’ Pat,” Moret said to me.
“That’s because I’m smart,” I said with a laugh. “I’ve got one job. I like it. It’s good.”
AFTER FINISHING OUR LEARNING experience with CMC International, we thanked Tom Lipsky for the caring job he’d done and we moved on. We began writing material at our own pace. Eventually we’d put out another new album, but in the meantime, we would concentrate on touring, merchandise, and brand extension—all building up to the launch of an independent record label for our albums. Since 1995, we’d been touring consistently every summer, but now the goal was to raise our profile, increase our exposure, and rekindle the love affair with our fan base. The diehards were loyal (God bless ’em) and they never strayed, but looking to the future, we also wanted to capture a new audience.
With this in mind, we refined our set lists and made it a point to play songs that would get different kinds of listeners out to the shows. We wanted to focus in on the sound that had helped get us to where we were in the first place. The tour wasn’t a way to help sell millions of records or sell out the biggest venue in every city we went to. We wanted to play to audiences that knew us and give them a show that they wouldn’t forget.
And every summer without fail our kids came with us, along for the ride no matter where we were. It turned into a family tradition—every summer was a two-month-long road trip. And while being rock stars didn’t preclude being parents, ever, it did help when you had girls who were obsessed with teen bands. Just because we were rockers didn’t mean that we were above aiding and abetting our daughters’ teen pop obsessions. Every summer Haley and Hana would get on the bus armed with their favorite bands’ touring schedules, our itinerary, and an atlas, and then proceed to map out the number of shows they could attend while we were touring. Spyder and I each had to pay our parental dues, accompanying both girls to see everyone from Hansen and N*SYNC (Haley) to Miley Cyrus and the Jonas Brothers (Hana). Only kids can make you grovel to get backstage passes. We both spent many of our evenings off during those summers being trampled by hormonal, squealing twelve-year-olds.
For a short time during the boy band craze, Haley and two of her friends, Erin Potter and Molly Torrance, thought it would be great to have an all-girl band à la N*SYNC, so they formed a group called GLO. Molly was later replaced by Natasha Porlas. Spyder wrote a couple of songs for them, they got a choreographer, and they practiced day and night. After a little bit they got really good and we decided they should open for us in the summer. It would be a gentle introduction; they’d perform about three songs. They were always working on their stage personas, changing hairstyles and outfits constantly. They all wore those low-cut jeans; I always said that during that tour I saw more butt crack than there was at a plumber’s convention.
These consecutive summers on the road had exactly the kind of impact that we’d hoped for, so much so that by the time the millennium began, we were ready to be on our own completely, and we formally parted ways with our manager. From now on, we would be self-managed. We felt that after twenty-one years of making music there was no point to having someone guiding us. If we weren’t able to take charge of things after all this time, then we had no reason to be in the business anymore.
Armed with that, in 2001 we set out to change the way we did business. We would now take an active role in every aspect of our professional career. Back in 1993, we’d formed a company called Bel Chiasso to handle our eventual publishing program. Now that would become the name of our new label. “Chiasso” in Italian means “noise,” “uproar,” and “bel chiasso” means “beautiful noise,” which was what we planned on making after Innamorata. We had our business manager Gary Haber and our agent Brad Goodman to help us navigate. Spyder and I would be the CEOs of the company, and our trusted friend and tour manager John Malta would oversee to the day-to-day. The plan was to grow the brand that was Pat Benatar and Neil Giraldo.
And throughout 2001, that plan was in place and moving forward, but like most of America, all that we were doing came to a screeching halt for us on the morning of September 11, 2001.
We were on the road and had a gig up in Napa Valley that night. We were staying at an area hotel to be ready for an early sound check, and I woke up to a frantic call from my mother: “Patti, wake up, we’re under attack! Turn on the TV!”
It was one of those moments in everyone’s life where you never forget where you were when it happened, like Pearl Harbor or Kennedy’s assassination, pivotal moments in history that impact your life forever. We woke up, turned on the television—and were horrified at what we saw. It still seems surreal to think back on it all. There was my city—New York—attacked, smoke billowing from the streets, people screaming. How was this possible? I was trying to calm down our crying daughters and their friends who were traveling with us. I stared in disbelief at the images of the city I’d grown up in. Half of my family lived less than two miles from Ground Zero. It was too much to comprehend. We sat glued to the television, listening to the reports, trying to make sense of what had happened. As terrifying as it was, I felt, as many people did, a camaraderie with all Americans that morning. I knew we were all feeling the same shock, fear, revulsion, anger. It was one of those things that are so huge, so horrific, that you feel like the entire world has just been stopped in its tracks. I assumed everything would stop, including the concert. Surely the show was canceled.
The phone rang; it was John Malta telling us the promoter still planned on doing the show that night. Were they insane? How could they possibly think it was appropriate to go on with a planned performance in light of what had happened? Our country had been attacked! I went crazy.
“Absolutely not! There is no way that I’m going to perform after all this; it’s disrespectful! And who would come anyway? The answer is no!”
It made no sense to me that anyone would hold a concert on this of all nights. They had to cancel. Everyone was going to stop doing everything. But the promoter had a list of reasons why the show had to go on, none of which made a goddamn bit of difference to me.
“It’s completely inappropriate,” I told him. “I won’t participate.”
When the follow-up call came, the answer was the same. The show was going on.
“The guy says he’ll sue you if you don’t play.”
“So many Americans have died today! How can he do this?”
I didn’t know what to do and still hadn’t decided when I got another call. This time the tone had changed. The promoter had had a change of heart, and he was about to cancel the show when the phones started ringing off the hook. People were calling and asking if the show was still on, because they wanted to come. They wanted to be out together with other Americans; they didn’t want to go through what they were feeling alone. They wanted to mourn together, even if it was only for a few hours.
While a part of me thought he was full of shit and making it up so I’d play, if there was even a remote chance that what he’d said was true, I couldn’t walk away from people in need. I agreed to go on. Once the decision was made, I had to figure out how I was going to manage this. I was heartbroken, sickened by what had happened, and I was afraid. I was afraid for the people of New York, my family, America, and the impact of this on the world. How on earth was I supposed to justify something so trivial in the face of something so profound? How was I going to go out there and jump around and sing stupid love songs? I still couldn’t believe it. I kept thinking, Oh my God, don’t make me do this. I’m not that cool, not that good. Don’t give this to me while I’m feeling so torn apart. I just shook involuntarily at the thought of what I had to do.
I still hadn’t pulled myself together by the time I got to my dressing room. I paced and paced, praying I could make it through this show and trying to figure out how. What about the set list? Christ, every song seemed to have a reference to either war (“Love Is a Battlefield,” “Hit Me with Your Best Shot”) or fire (“Fire and Ice,” “All Fired Up”). I’d have to take everything out. But then I started thinking, What about “Invincible” and “We Belong”? These are positive songs about survival and brotherhood. What about “All Fired Up”? If this was done by terrorists, well, they can just kiss my ass. They can kiss all of our asses. You bet I’ll do “All Fired Up.”
Then I started to think maybe I could do it. It wouldn’t be business as usual; I’d have to talk to the audience first, get a few things worked out. We’d do this show together: if I felt uncomfortable with a song I’d stop; if they did, they could ask us to stop. We would go one step at a time and see how far we’d get. Maybe this could work after all.
I am never nervous about shows, but when I walked on the stage that night I was shaking. My teeth were chattering so bad I didn’t know if I could talk. I went to center stage and sat down on the stool I’d requested. It was a beautiful night. The stars were out. It was in a vineyard in Napa Valley—one of the most beautiful places. I’d played it so many times, and it had never looked any more spectacular. I asked that they turn the lights up at the venue, so I could see the audience better. I needed to see their faces.
When I looked out my heart broke, for all of us, for America. People had brought flags, hundreds of them in all sizes, and they waved furiously. They’d made banners out of sheets and spray paint that said “God Bless America.” I could see people in the front rows, and they had tears running down their faces. There was a collective weep that went out across the crowd. People were sobbing, and so was I. We all were.
The hairs rose on my arms and even more than ever, I believed I might not be able to speak to them or sing. My emotions were wound too tight. When I finally pulled myself together, I began to talk to them. I was so upset and worried that I wouldn’t be able to say anything that would be relevant or sufficient. I felt so anxious that I wasn’t up to the task at hand. Knowing how awkward I probably appeared only made me feel even worse—how could I let an audience see me like this? I normally have a boundary line that I keep between an audience and me so that I don’t get too emotional and lose control of the situation. In order to take them on a journey, someone has to be able to steer the boat, and that someone was always me. That night, I crossed the line. We sat there, the band, the crew, the waitstaff, and the audience, and we put our trust in each other and tried to make sense out of a senseless act.
I should also say here that I am personally a pretty political person. I have strongly held political beliefs. But I don’t talk about them publicly, and I certainly don’t try to influence anyone to think like I do. For one thing, I don’t want to put people off just because we think differently on one thing or another. For a second thing, it’s not my job to go onstage and be political. I don’t like the idea of people picking their politics because of a favorite star. For me to give a speech was the most remote of possibilities.
But this was not about politics; this was about the collective loss that America had just suffered. When I spoke, I tried to be as honest as I could. I’m not a big talker onstage. I’ll introduce songs and tell a story now and then, but I’d much rather be singing. I told them that I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t have a plan. I was feeling just like they were—shocked, confused, and afraid. I told them that doing this show was going to be very difficult for us, but we would do our best. We might make mistakes, choose songs that might be inappropriate, and that we’d stop if we felt weird.
We began the show with “America the Beautiful” they all joined in, and the words never seemed more fitting. As I looked at their upturned faces on that pristine early fall evening, I began to feel strong and defiant. I was sad but I was angry. Who were these people who did this, who’d murdered civilians? I told them we must stand up against the ones who did this. People who threatened democracy and freedom. This was the United States of America and we would not stand down. That our forefathers had a dream of freedom for all and nobody was going to destroy that. They could crash planes and knock down buildings but not our spirit. The people who died that day didn’t die for nothing.
As I said the words, I could feel a shift taking hold. Everyone started to rally; the energy was changing and we were moving from fear to pride. And just as the transformation of the crowd seemed at its pinnacle, we launched into “Invincible,” and the lyrics took on a whole new meaning: “We can’t afford to be innocent / Stand up and face the enemy / It’s a do or die situation / We will be invincible.”
We continued in that way for the rest of the evening, playing songs and discussing how everyone was feeling. So many of them worried that we wouldn’t be able to get back to normalcy any time soon. They worried about the upcoming holidays, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, and whether we’d be able to celebrate as a country.
“How are we gonna have Christmas? How will anyone feel like celebrating?” one person called out.
“Oh, we’re gonna have Christmas,” I shouted back. “We’re going to do what we do best: pick ourselves up and move forward. We are going to have Christmas!”
That night, when we got back to the hotel, the genesis of a song started rolling around in my head. The lyrics would come from the conversations we had with the audience at the Napa show. I would call it “Christmas in America.” Part of the song goes like this:
So keep your babies close tonight
Hug your husband, kiss your wife
Be thankful for this way of life,
We’re fortunate to share
And not forget the ones we’ve lost
Their memory lives on in our hearts
They’ll be forever in our thoughts
And always in our prayers
Unto this world a child is born
His gift was meant for everyone
The light of peace shines on and on
And never fades away
America, America indivisible we are
One nation under God
And that will never change
Coz it’s Christmas in America
Let the angels sing
It’s Christmas in America
Let freedom ring
Let peace resound throughout the world
Especially on this day
It’s Christmas in America
God bless the USA
That night, I was awed by the healing power of music. It wasn’t so much anything I had done as it was the crowd’s willingness to go along with me, to open and come together. Standing up there that night, I felt an intense sense of pride that our music had helped ease the pain of a terrible situation, if even for just a couple of hours. The whole thing was cathartic. I had never done any kind of a sit-down with an audience. To have that conversation on that night was exhilarating and healing.
As fate would have it, we played four more shows in quick succession, and for each of those shows, I repeated the give-and-take. I needed it and the audiences needed it. Every time it was the same, an audience filled with flag-waving, heartbroken Americans who rallied and stood strong as the night went on. What those shows taught me is that we do have a collective American soul. It was important for that audience to have a place to come on the night of 9/11, a place where they could interact and show their love of their country. Even as I write this almost nine years later, the memory of those days is so vivid and uplifting.
Most Americans acted with grace and exemplary behavior in the face of this tragedy, but there is always a group who just can’t seem to get with the program. This group usually needs a two-by-four across the face to get the point, and the promoter of our final show was precisely one of these people.
One of the conditions of our summer tours is that we always have to be home and off tour by September 15, because that’s when school starts. I’m a hands-on mom when it comes to the girls’ schools and so I’d always made that a priority. After those four dates following September 11, we had gone home to California so Hana would be there for the first day of school. We had a few days to unwind, and then we were scheduled for a final show in Florida that would have required us to fly. Of course, after 9/11 there was a ban on flying for several days. This fact was publicized in every newspaper and on every TV and radio station. You would have had to have been living underground not to know about it. It was assumed we would not perform, because no one was flying, the skies were not safe, and there wasn’t enough time to drive across the country and make the show.
Well, apparently the promoter in Florida didn’t care about any of that. The moment the ban was lifted, he demanded we do the gig. When John called me to tell me the news, I was incredulous.
“No way. You tell the promoter we fly with our children, and I’m not getting on a plane with them a week after terrorists attacked our country. Tell him we’ll reschedule when things calm down. When we can be sure it’s safe to fly. We’ll honor the contract and make up the date. This guy has to understand the situation.”
He didn’t. He was adamant that we play and threatened to sue us if we didn’t fulfill our obligation. What is it about human beings? Disasters either bring out the best in us or show the ugliness that we’re capable of. I was stunned but not surprised. So I decided what I was willing to do. I told our agent Brad Goodman to call the promoter and ask him if he had children. If he did, I asked him to put his wife and one child on a plane, not a private jet but a commercial airliner, so they could fly across the country to California to pick me and my family up. If he was willing to do that, then I would fly to Florida and do the gig.
You know what happened then. That was the end of it. He didn’t ask again, nor did he sue me.
One thing that I believe 9/11 did for people was to make them see just how precious and fragile life is, and to make family a priority. At least I hope it did. We’d tried hard to put our family first, and 9/11 simply reinforced the importance of those choices.
WHILE 9/11 LEFT EVERYONE reeling in emotion, I had no doubt that we would all emerge a stronger, more resilient country as a result of what we’d been through. But as it turned out, it wouldn’t be long until my personal resilience was tested again by tragedy.
On December 2, 2002, my brother, Andy, died suddenly of a heart attack at the young age of forty-six. He was driving my father-in-law and Haley when it happened, and even in the middle of it, he had the wherewithal to slow down the car so they wouldn’t crash. The instant Spyder and I heard what had happened, we sped over to my parents’ house and told them there’d been an accident. We all rushed to the hospital. I can still see the emergency doors swinging open and Haley leaning forward and shaking her head no. He didn’t make it.
My family was heartbroken. Andy had been my best friend since childhood. He was one of the great joys of my life—his humor, his gentle demeanor, his love of family. Just because we were all grown up didn’t mean that I’d lost my feelings of responsibility toward him. I was still on the lookout for him at all times, and now he was gone in an instant. Even now, all these years later, I still have dreams about Andy. In my dreams he’s alive and laughs at my surprise at seeing him. He’s still the joker, still my baby brother. He tells me that he is fine. I miss him every day.
In the aftermath, I just couldn’t stand it. Nor could my parents. It nearly killed them. I couldn’t make sense of how something like this could happen, how someone so special could be taken from me with such swift resolution. It was so awful that I found myself wanting to spend more time in Hawaii, wanting to get as far from the familiar as possible. When he died we were still building our house there, and though initially it was just meant to be a getaway, it was our dream to live there full-time. After Andy died, I started thinking a lot about the impermanence of life, and eventually Spyder and I agreed that we should stop talking about living in Hana and actually do it. And after all that happened, we decided that it would be the right time to just do it. We ended up staying for four glorious years.
Perhaps it was partly because we were looking for a way to channel our sadness over Andy’s death into our music, but in the year following his death, Spyder started wanting to get in the studio again. We hadn’t made a studio album since 1997’s Innamorata. So he said, “Why don’t we make a record?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “I’m feeling kind of lazy.”
“Come on, come on.”
“I don’t know. I’ve decided now that I’m an old woman in my fifties, I’m just gonna be opinionated and lazy.”
“You were a pain in the ass when you were young! Now you want to be an old pain in the ass?”
And so we ended up laughing and making a record titled Go. It’s a guitar-driven record, something we’d moved away from on Innamorata. It was great to be bashing again. It was the first album that we recorded completely digitally—no tape whatsoever. While I was intrigued by the new process, I was a little freaked out as well. All the tracks, all the vocals, weren’t on the twenty-four-track tape; they were numbers stored on air. It was strange to think that there was nothing physical that existed to prove what we’d actually made. It was all just space on a computer.
Making Go was a unique experience. It was the first time after twenty-four years of recording that we would make a record totally unencumbered. We weren’t just musicians anymore. Of course, the workload was enormous at times. There was no strolling into the studio at one P.M., Starbucks in hand. We were in charge of financing, distribution, marketing artwork, and while it was a daunting responsibility, it was exciting to finally realize the goal we’d been working toward for so long. All of the lessons we’d learned from our experience with Innamorata were put to incredibly good use, and they really supported our decision to learn the indie business from the outside before diving in ourselves.
We worked round the clock, and when we weren’t recording, we were doing any number of other necessary tasks, from writing to choosing artwork for the cover to making distribution deals. It was busy but gratifying. The idea that we were responsible for our own destiny was extraordinary. If things went south it was our doing. Likewise, if things were a success, that would be our fault too. Either way, it was so much easier to live our fate knowing that we weren’t at the mercy of someone else’s whim.
Recording was fun for me, although Spyder says that he got too deep into making it and couldn’t climb out—couldn’t wrap it up. Then when he did finish it, he scrapped parts and redid them. Consequently, he’s not a big fan of Go, but I think this all happened in part because our focus was spread out into so many areas. A big part of that record was learning how to manage and delegate duties when we were running the whole show. With a lot of that learning done, we’d have a better sense of things next time. In the end I think we made a good, solid record with some great stuff on it, but more important, we created the model for all future projects. We put “Christmas in America” on as a bonus track, and all the proceeds from the sale of the single were donated to a 9/11 charity organization.
After Go, we went on our annual summer tour, of course, but we also took on other projects as we kept ourselves visible. Of these, my absolute favorite was CMT Crossroads, a show on Country Music Television that pairs country artists with artists from other genres, and the two come together for a performance. We were set up with Martina McBride, whose work I was familiar with and had high regard for because of her vocal talent. As it turned out, I was even more impressed by her down-to-earth, no-nonsense personality. This was a woman I could relate to. She was much younger than me but was basically dealing with all the issues I’d dealt with throughout my career, save the sleazy program directors (there were laws against that now). But she, too, would pack up her daughters and take them with her, and she reminded me that juggling home, family, and career was alive and well. We spent an interesting and enlightening weekend together, comparing notes and swapping tips. The close bond that we shared ended up coming through in our performance, which went better than I could have ever anticipated, becoming the second-highest rated in the show’s history.
COMING OFF THE POSITIVE experience of the Crossroads performance, during the next several years, we concentrated on one thing: achieving balance. Discovering and then implementing a schedule that worked for us instead of against us. It was important to stay in the public’s consciousness and we had to stockpile cash to fund future projects. We knew what we wanted and that was to not have to deal with the pressure to record. If wanted to record, great, but if not, we wanted that to be great too. So we went about implementing a strategy that could help us achieve that.
The cornerstone of this plan was rethinking the way we toured in the summer. Touring would become the financial anchor subsidizing all our creative projects, but it would be done in a time frame that benefited our family life. It needed to be on an annual basis, but on our terms. And with kids in school that meant the summer—every summer. It wasn’t easy at first; agents and promoters balked, saying it couldn’t be done, that neither we nor anyone else would make any money. But in the end, it did work, and everyone profited both financially and on a much more basic level.
Part of the key to touring was making sure that my voice could go the distance. If touring was going to be the centerpiece of our plan, I needed to make sure my voice could make it. I didn’t want to be one of those singers who had to create totally new arrangements of her songs just so she could hit the notes. I knew that people came out to shows to hear their favorite songs, and while it’s one thing to inject new life into those songs, it’s another to revamp them completely. I wanted these songs to take people back. To remind them of what rock and roll sounds like. To do that I would have to take care of my vocal cords.
My classical voice training and my discipline over the years had given my voice longevity, and of course not smoking and not drinking had only helped my chances. (Not partying may have made me boring by rock star standards, but at least I could still sing.) While we always packed the tour schedule to the brim, we also made sure to build in days off so that I could give my throat a rest. I knew I had the stamina to keep singing like I wanted to. I just needed to be smart about it.
Touring by itself, though, would not be enough. We had to diversify, and so we branched out, doing more TV and more endorsements. A couple of years ago we’d shot an episode of Dharma and Greg, playing ourselves. We get stranded in an airport with Dharma and Greg and a couple that is going to get married. Dharma decides to throw a wedding for them, so Spyder and I perform the Carpenters’ “We’ve Only Just Begun.” Spyder got a kick out of the fact that the only other music person who’d appeared on the show was Bob Dylan. It was fun working with Jenna Elfman because she was such a nut, just as funny offstage as she is in character.
That experience went well enough that I thought I should do some more—not because I was looking to transition into an acting career at age fifty, but because it was an easy way to show people that I was out there. If they saw my face on VH1’s Behind the Music or A&E’s Biography, there wouldn’t be that same question mark about what I was up to now the next time they looked in the local paper and saw that I was coming to town.
We ended up doing a bunch of TV guest spots, usually playing ourselves. We were guests on The Ellen DeGeneres Show and on an episode of Charmed, with an assortment of music specials mixed in. Spyder and I also appeared as ourselves in a 2008 episode of The Young and the Restless, singing at the Indigo Club. Our buddy David Kurtz writes the music for Y&R (as it’s affectionately known) and he’d been asking us to come on the show for years. Finally, we agreed to do it. TV is such a strange medium, not really my thing. But everyone in the cast and crew was very sweet, and we did have a good time.
When we weren’t making assorted TV appearances, we were cross-marketing our recorded music, live performances, merchandise, and anything else we could throw in the pot. I let my entrepreneurial spirit take over and just ran wild with the possibilities now that we were calling the shots. We licensed our music, and looked for new ways to put it out there. With total power, I could keep the reins as slack or tight as I wanted. I soon discovered that while I made a pretty good rock star, I made an even better businesswoman.
All sorts of different opportunities popped up. We put out a few different video retrospectives that contained all of the videos we’d released. “Love Is a Battlefield” was featured in the movie 13 Going on 30, much to the delight of Hana, who was nine at the time. In 2007, we heard about an interesting opportunity coming our way: a video game called Guitar Hero wanted to use “Hit Me with Your Best Shot.” Never one to shun new ways to promote and market, I was excited not only that a whole new generation of fans would be listening to our song, but that for four minutes, everyone would get to be Spyder, playing onstage at one of our shows. I must say, it was not what either of us envisioned when we first sat down in that studio together, but it was pretty damn cool.
Spyder also started to branch out beyond music, beginning a new business venture, On the Rock Nutrition. Spyder is Sicilian and most Italians have terrible stomach issues; “acido” is a common ailment. After years of searching for a natural remedy, he decided to make one himself. His mission was to improve his health and vitality, which years of touring had compromised. He hired a group of chemists and they began formulating, under his guidance, a natural, food-based product that supports energy and digestion. The product Burn Out was born. Spyder currently runs a brisk and successful online site for his products and this year will begin retail distribution.
This wasn’t about squeezing every last drop out of our career; it was about making smart business decisions so that we could continue to create music out of passion, not necessity. A lot of people who’ve been in the music business as long as we have don’t always have the luxury of that choice. Sometimes it’s because of mismanagement, sometimes it’s because of recklessness, and sometimes it’s because of addiction, but more often than not, it’s simply that even with all the money you can make as a top-selling musician, a lifetime is a long thing to prepare for. Combine that with pop culture’s notoriously fickle nature, and it’s rare for any musician, save those in the absolute top tier, to simply kick back and rest on their laurels once their heyday has come and gone.
Since Spyder and I view our body of work as something that will provide for our family for years, we have long told our girls that when we’re gone from this world, they must look on what we’ve accomplished as their future. We’ve worked incredibly hard to establish a sound and image that are unique to us. If Haley and Hana are smart they will perpetuate that for their children. They should always have integrity about their choices for our music, but they should not be afraid to create new ways to expand access to our music for the public.
I often refer to Priscilla Presley and her brilliant reconstruction of Elvis’s legacy as an example for how to handle these things correctly. Priscilla, concerned for their daughter Lisa Marie’s future, took a hands-on approach to managing the estate. When Elvis Presley died in 1977, his estate was worth $4.9 million. Last year, Elvis Presley Enterprises generated $55 million. She was a mother who saw the potential for huge financial success that would benefit her child and made it happen. This is the model I use to teach our girls about business. I tell them, “Make it bigger than it was while protecting and preserving everything your father and I worked for.”
Years ago, when I first met Priscilla, I told her she was my hero. As it turned out, I was Lisa Marie’s favorite singer when she was growing up. Every now and then an interviewer will ask me to name some of the cool and crazy things that have happened to me over the years and I always tell them that being the King’s daughter’s favorite singer ranks right at the top.
Ultimately our plan was simple: to take our career and turn it into a successful family business, one we could pass on to our children and their children. As the decade came to close, it became increasingly clear that we’d not only met but exceeded this goal. And we’d accomplished this because we’d put our family first, not in spite of it. Our values and our love for each other had made everything possible. We’d picked our priorities and stuck with them. In Anna Quindlen’s book A Short Guide to a Happy Life, she says, “Don’t ever confuse the two, your life and your work…get a life, a real one.” And that’s what we did. We got a real life, one with time for barbecues, birthday parties, soccer games, and of course breathing.