Between a Heart and a Rock Place: A Memoir - Pat Benatar (2010)
Chapter 3. AN IMAGE PROBLEM
I FILED FOR A divorce as soon as I got back to New York. I didn’t know what was going on between Spyder and me, but I knew that those twenty-eight days we’d spent making In the Heat of the Night had been some of the best of my life. Dennis and I hadn’t had a real marriage for so long it just felt like a detail that needed to be handled. And it was a way to get my side of things rolling, whether Spyder was still involved with someone or not.
The month before Spyder came back to New York to rehearse was agonizing. With the record release and our tour with David Werner coming, we talked on the phone almost every day. But when he arrived from California, I didn’t know what to do with the emotions I felt. With each day I became more certain that this was a lot more than infatuation. This was not a man I was ever going to get over.
To hold it together, I kept having little talks with myself. Stay businesslike. Concentrate on rehearsing, on this first tour. Don’t be a dumb shit and throw all this away.
Spyder didn’t help matters. He teased me mercilessly in just the right way to make me think that he felt the same way I did, and I knew he was serious about the flirtation. It was that awful dance that people do when they are so attracted to each other yet, for one reason or another, can’t be together. It was exquisite agony. At first, my responses to him were more of the “Yeah, sure” variety. Then one day at he started playing the familiar chords of “Somewhere over the Rainbow” on the piano, and when I asked him why he was playing it, he said, “It’s ‘Somewhere over Montana’—me and you.” We were going on tour through Montana.
That did it.
“You know what? You’re full of shit.”
“Montana, you and me,” he said with a little smile.
“You’ve got a girlfriend. Don’t talk to me.”
Over the next week, he kept it up, mentioning Montana every so often, like we were going to head off into the wild and start a new life together. I became very blunt. Every time he mentioned Montana I’d say, “Figure out your own situation. Then we’ll talk about Montana.” I was trying to protect myself. His relationship with Linda seemed intact, and I wasn’t going to play the fool.
I couldn’t imagine what it was going to be like with him out on the road. It had been hard enough being around him most of the day while we were recording, but at least he went home at night. On the road we’d be together twenty-four hours a day. How was I going to do that? There was no way I could travel on a bus with this man and not really be with him. On the other hand, I couldn’t help thinking that something had changed, that whatever relationship we had was being taken to the next level, even if superficially nothing was different.
One evening toward the end of our rehearsals for the tour, Spyder asked me to have a drink with him at a little seafood restaurant named Pier 52 on the West Side of Manhattan. There wasn’t anything odd about his invitation, and I didn’t anticipate that anything out of the ordinary was happening. We sat beside a big aquarium, talking about the rehearsals, just making casual conversation. Finally he said he needed to have a serious talk with me.
Oh crap! He’s gonna quit the band!
“I’m having some problems,” he said.
God, no! What if he’s on drugs?
“I think Linda is cheating on me.”
I mentally raised my arms in triumph. I couldn’t believe it. She had screwed up. She’d cheated. How could she want somebody else? Was she crazy? Give him to me, I love him. I wanted to throw my arms around him and tell him to forget about her, but I tried to control how happy I was. I could see he was hurt. “Oh, I’m so sorry, Neil,” I said, barely managing to conceal my smile.
He had a solemn look on his face and just nodded.
I had my chin in my hands, and I leaned in toward him with my most sympathetic look and spoke very low. “What a bitch! I don’t know how she could do that to you. You are the sweetest person in the world. You don’t deserve this.”
But right under the sympathy, I was thinking, This is a done deal, Neil Giraldo. You. Are. Mine.
He nodded. I commiserated with him, thinking how everything that I’d been saying really was true. He really was the sweetest person in the world, and he really didn’t deserve to be treated like this. There was something grounded, moral, and Midwestern about him. Even though we were both rockers and we were both serious about our music, in his own way he was just as traditional as I was, which was no small feat.
It took a couple of weeks for us to take the next step. Like me, Spyder is a conventional person. So while the attraction between us was mutual, he wasn’t the type to end a relationship and jump right into another one. His attraction to me was real, but so was his hurt over being cheated on.
We went out with some of the band members as a group a few times, never addressing the fact that the sexual tension between us was building. He and I were together constantly. When we weren’t playing, we were shopping, listening to music, or running errands. We ate with each other every day. We were never apart, and it was getting intense. Then finally we went to Little Italy for the San Gennaro Festival, New York’s September tribute to its Italian immigrants—just the two of us. Every year they hold parades, dances, and cannoli-eating contests. It couldn’t be missed if you were an Italian boy and a girl who always felt like she should have been Italian.
We walked around Little Italy, watching people in costumes dance down the street, sampling some of the foods, and listening to the ethnic bands play. We stood there listening to the music, and the next thing we knew we were kissing. Neither of us hesitated or questioned it. We knew it had been coming, so we just let it happen. I thought back to all those morning car rides in L.A., the rehearsal sessions, how closely we’d worked with each other. Standing there in the middle of a narrow street in Little Italy, I knew this wasn’t just hormones—this was something else.
From that moment on, we were a couple.
In the Heat of the Night was officially released in October of ’79, around the same time that we started touring with David Werner. The shows were primarily in big clubs with big stages that gave us the chance to get our act down. It was a great time. We had our first album out, the road show was well received, and Spyder and I were madly in love.
When Chrysalis decided to take a chance and put out “Heartbreaker” as the third single that December, all hell broke loose. We’d only played ten shows with David when “Heartbreaker” exploded, but after that, we were fired from the tour. The crowds turning out were there for us, and when we left the stage, they almost rioted. Finally Werner’s people said we had to get off the tour. We were causing chaos, and it was hurting David’s show.
Though “Heartbreaker” gave us a ton of momentum coming off of David’s tour, it didn’t take long for us to be humbled. Shortly after leaving David’s show we opened a show for Journey, and out of the thirty thousand people out there, I knew that maybe eight thousand had come to hear us. It was good exposure to be in front of a much larger crowd, and it gave us experience in front of a massive audience, but it wasn’t always the warmest reception. The audience was mostly ponytailed hippies and they weren’t all that interested in us, which was their loss because we were putting on a really good show. We won them over by the end when we did “Heartbreaker,” but before that, they were all a bit too laid-back to get into it. We were way more aggressive and defiant than what they were used to. If the audience wasn’t ready for that, they would just have to deal with it.
From then on we were scrambling. We moved quickly through a process that usually takes several years: playing the big clubs like the Agora in Cleveland, then arenas and amphitheaters like the Universal Amphitheatre or Denver’s Red Rocks. Everything jumped so fast that we were always just trying to catch our breath. I never had a moment when I could pace myself or find the time to get a grip. Trying to keep up was stressful, because I was (and still am) such a perfectionist. I could not do things half-assed; every night, every show, was all-important to me. I needed to give the audience everything I had.
Long before I began playing arena shows, I knew what I wanted to do for an audience. Even when I was singing in cover bands, I wanted to give the people who came out to see me more than a performance. I wanted to take them out of their world. If they had bills to pay and pressures at work, I wanted them to put them on hold for a couple of hours. I understood that world and what those long nights at the kitchen table felt like. I knew how badly people needed some relief from the daily grind. I looked out into a sea of faces and wanted to grab hold of every one of them. I wanted to let the audience live out fantasies, go into some other time and place with me. I was living mine and I wanted them to come along.
But even though I wanted to take the audience on a journey, it was always on my terms. I became a completely different person onstage. I prowled around and played with the audience. I never thought of myself as sexy. I never thought about it period. Never. Growing up, I was skinny and flat chested, with big teeth and thin, straight hair; I left sexy to the Italian goddesses at my high school. Sexy didn’t even occur to me. I was a product of the women’s movement. I dressed the way I did because I liked it, not because I thought men liked it. I didn’t care what they liked. That was the point. I was much more interested in showing how strong-minded I was. It was all about not taking crap from anyone for any reason. I wanted the stereotypes to disappear. I didn’t want to be a female rocker, I just wanted to be a rocker. My look and persona were about freedom, strength, and power. The combination proved to be provocative.
I took to touring pretty naturally. Even though I was the only female around a bunch of guys all the time, nothing about it struck me as weird. Over the years, I’ve heard so many female singers say they had problems with it, but I never did. I loved it. I relished being female, but what I was after was respect as a musician. Despite the rampant sexism in the music business, remarkably the band never behaved that way. We were equals on every level, and those boys were close friends of mine. That made a big difference when we were touring; they always treated me with respect. The fact that Spyder and I were romantically involved was irrelevant. I wasn’t a “pop tart.” I was a serious, dedicated, formidably rockin’ lead singer who happened to be a girl. And that’s exactly how Spyder saw it, too.
Chrysalis was ecstatic when “Heartbreaker” hit big. But that excitement died when they found out that Spyder and I were involved. They were horrified. Each of us got a phone call.
“This is going to ruin your whole career. Don’t you remember what happened with Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham? They almost broke up Fleetwood Mac!”
We both had the same reaction: “What? Who the hell are you?”
They tortured us about it, convinced that we were on the road to ruin. We explained that we were making music that they liked and doing our job. Our personal life was not their business. They looked at our situation and saw the worst-case scenario: a rocky relationship that ruins the band. While I understood that there were other bands that had fallen into that trap, the truth was, band tension was always a variable—not just in male/female circumstances. A lot of all-male bands split up because of friction between members. It was ridiculous and intrusive.
Awkwardness in the band was just their cover story. What they really cared about was my image. It’s an old tale in the entertainment business that record labels—whether they’re dealing with men or women—want solo stars unattached and seemingly available. I’ve always found that train of thought insulting and sexist. I wasn’t a boy toy. My image was for my pleasure alone. I didn’t think my fans cared about any of this, and I certainly didn’t. This was 1979, not 1950. Women weren’t objects anymore. I wanted to make music, but I wanted to do it on my terms. I wasn’t in this to fit some male fantasy of what I was supposed to be. That meant living my life however the hell I wanted to live it.
This drama over our relationship was part of my introduction to fame that began following that first tour. It wasn’t overwhelming at first—nothing like later on and definitely nothing like today’s celebrities have to deal with—but I started noticing people looking at me or whispering to each other when I was in the market. I wasn’t sure what was going on for a while. I thought maybe they were looking at someone else, or maybe I just looked weird. Finally someone came up and said my name as if they knew me personally. It’s an unsettling feeling. You’re thrilled that people know you, because that means you’re being accepted. But I’m basically a private person, and it was difficult to comprehend.
We still didn’t really understand the magnitude of our career—not surprising, considering we lived in a vacuum. Traveling around on a bus was especially isolating in the early eighties, without cell phones or laptops. Billboard’s charts were not calculated electronically through SoundScan. If an album was taking off, it took longer for everyone to get the message. We were among the last to understand the impact of both “Heartbreaker” and the album. The world was a different place: no Internet, no daily glut of information.
By the time our tour reached Virginia Beach, we finally saw the scope of what was happening around us. As we pulled up to the club, we saw that it was surrounded with a police barrier, and there appeared to be a massive riot going on. We didn’t know what the hell had happened. An armed robbery? An explosion? Not quite. The club had oversold the show, and people who’d paid to see us couldn’t get in. It’s common practice for some clubs to oversell a show, counting on no-shows. But that night, the no-shows showed up en masse. They ended up cramming more inside than there probably should have been, and I’m sure the local fire marshal would have been pissed if he’d been there to see it. Still, I’m sure some ticket holders went home mad.
What made this sight all the more shocking was that back then there were few outlets for artist exposure. The television shows newer acts could get on were few and far between—Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert, The Midnight Special. There was no video exposure, no cable entertainment shows. You had radio play and your live show. The only way we knew something was happening was that with each performance, the crowds got bigger and wilder. You could feel the excitement building, escalating even more after the release of the next single, Spyder’s song “We Live for Love.”
That night in Virginia Beach, our hotel room faced the ocean and had a small balcony. After the show, we were standing on the balcony, admiring the view and looking at the cluster of bars down on the beach. The beach was covered in the gauzy haze of the various marquees, and one of them said spyder’s in black and yellow lights. At that point, we were really into giving everyone nicknames, partially because Spyder had always been a nickname guy. I thought he should have one of his own, so because yellow and black were his favorite colors, I started calling him Spyder James. It just had a way of sticking.
A few weeks later we were playing a club in Florida, and again the place was oversold and teeming with people. We’d just begun our set when our tour manager rushed up to the stage yelling something inaudible. Because we were extremely loud, I could barely make out his words beneath all the noise, but he seemed to be saying, “You have to get off!”
I looked at him in disbelief. What the hell was he doing? We were in the middle of performing. Get out of my face. But he was panicked.
Finally I heard him say, “You’ve got to stop, get off…” which was followed by something unintelligible that sounded a lot like “you’re bombing.” I shot him a look like he was a mental patient. The audience was going nuts. They were hanging on every note.
“What!? Are you nuts?” I shouted back. “These people are going crazy!”
And that was when he grabbed me by my jacket lapels and screamed, “There’s a bomb!” There was no mistaking those words.
It turned out that someone had called in a bomb threat and everyone had to vacate. Needless to say everyone filed out of the theater and stood in the street until the bomb squad gave the all-clear. Then everybody went back inside and we continued our show like nothing had ever happened.
That tour was all about having fun and enjoying the fact that we were actually getting paid money to do this every night. We couldn’t believe our good fortune that we were getting to live out our dream and we pretty much celebrated that every day. Zel sometimes celebrated more than he should have.
Zel was definitely the colorful member of the band. At over six feet tall, he was a huge Southern boy who loved women and drinking. He was a sweet soul, but he liked to get crazy from time to time. One night in particular, he partied a little too much, and as we were all going our separate ways for the night, he said he was going to take a shower and go to bed because we had a show the next day. The motel we were staying in was nothing fancy, and we all retired to our rooms ready to wake up and do it all over again.
In the morning, we were all going to have breakfast together before we got on the bus to go to the venue for sound check. We went to Zel’s room and knocked on his door—no answer. We called out to him and knocked again—still nothing. But we knew he was in there because we heard the shower running. We called our tour manager, Chris Pollan, and told him we couldn’t get Zel to answer the door, so he sent someone to us with a spare room key.
The instant the door opened a blast of steamy air smacked us in the face. The entire room looked and felt like a steam bath, and there was Zel, in bed, snoring away. He’d passed out and left the shower running the entire night. Everything was soaking wet, and because this wasn’t the classiest joint in the world, he’d even managed to steam all the wallpaper off the walls. It was lying in colored piles all over the room.
The longer we played on the road the tighter our show became. By the time our tour made its way to New York, my family members were beside themselves. Everyone showed up at the Bottom Line in the Village for a big show in November of ’79, and I can safely say that they were among the most enthusiastic members of the audience—no one more so than my mom. Both she and my father were ecstatic and proud, though he was so shy, he didn’t show it as much. I was the first person in my family who had a job that didn’t involve punching a time clock. And my cousins? They were roughly my age, so they were right there, screaming along with the other fans, jumping up and down, and yelling, “That’s my cousin Patti!” The aunts and uncles shook their heads and said, “We knew she sang good, but…”
Of course having my mother at a show meant she’d get to see my act firsthand. Not surprisingly, she didn’t really care about my outfit (after all, inside her conservative exterior beat the heart of the same wild woman who’d let my brother and me get a monkey). But she was horrified at my language onstage. She never swore, and saying the “F-word” was sacrilegious. For me it was like saying “the.”
Georgia Ruel got a kick out of it all—the success, the image, everything. She was as proud as my parents. At one point, someone asked her, “I thought Patti was going to be a sex ed teacher?”
“She is,” Georgia answered with a wry smile.
Truthfully, though it had only been a few weeks, I was already getting tired of the image. It was already becoming one-dimensional, a boring distraction and the focus of what we were doing. That was never my intention. The girl who’d hiked up her school skirt as high as possible and pissed off the Matron was long gone. In her place was a fiercely confident young woman who was only interested in making music on her terms. The image was mine; I made it up. Now I was done with it. It had served its purpose. I was ready to move on. The label was pushing the look so much that it was getting in the way of the music. The artist in me didn’t like that at all. Neither did the woman who was in a loving relationship.
Phrases such as “seductive vamp” have legs, especially when they are included in press releases that get picked up by radio and by print journalists. But every time I talked to management or the record label and said I wanted the sex-kitten rhetoric toned down, my words fell on deaf ears. I was being sold as much for my image as for my music, and I was not happy about it.
WE TOURED ALMOST NONSTOP during that time and even took the show to Europe, where the crowds were just as big and just as passionate. I’d never traveled outside of America, and I was like a kid seeing Disneyland for the first time. We didn’t have a moment to enjoy the success or rest on our laurels, though. The clock was ticking, and thanks to Chrysalis more recording sessions were just around the corner.
My contract had what’s called a suspension clause in it, meaning that I had to do my next album in a certain time frame or they else could hold back royalties and delay payments. Any royalties or payments I was due would be frozen. That is a terrifying concept to a band just starting a big tour and dependant on any and all monies they can put together. Our recording schedule was at Chrysalis’s discretion, and they wanted a record every nine months no matter what. It was unfathomable.
So while we were breaking our backs on tour promoting In the Heat of the Night, the label was already talking about a second album. Being the front woman for the band, I found this especially distressing. All the radio and print interviews fell to me. If we had two days off, it seemed like I was scheduled round the clock for publicity photo shoots and in-store events. I understood that press and publicity helped keep the buzz alive. But to even think about making another record in the middle of the craziness seemed impossible. No thought was given to my physical or mental well-being. I was treated like a machine built to serve the record company’s whims.
Touring and promoting an album are counterproductive to creating new material, and I’ve never been able to write when I’m in performance mode. Complicating matters was the fact that Spyder and I were just starting to seriously write together. It worked fine when we were off the road and had our heads clear. But writing wasn’t something we could do on the fly. Because I wasn’t a seasoned writer at the time, I didn’t care as much about having a lot of my own songs on the next album. However, that didn’t mean I wanted to rush the writing process. From what I’d learned so far, I loved the process of writing, and I wanted more time to hone that skill. Meanwhile Spyder was already an accomplished songwriter, but what he needed was to have his work heard.
I wanted this second record to be better than In the Heat of the Night. I wanted it to be more personal, more representative of us as a band and as individuals. We were determined that our next work would not suffer from sophomore syndrome. We would not be a band with a smashing debut album that can’t follow it up. Neither of us thought in terms of writing a hit song. We wanted to write songs that had relevance to where we were in our lives. If a hit emerged, that was great, but we wouldn’t focus on that. Back then, we looked to outside writers to provide the hits. It was my job to sift through the box-loads of song demos submitted by songwriters, since that wasn’t something that Spyder enjoyed doing. He always insisted that we were capable of writing commercial songs without compromising our integrity as songwriters. He was right, of course.
While we were on a short break from touring and getting ready to record in Los Angeles again, Spyder and I decided to move to California. I’d dreamed of beautiful beaches and tropical climates ever since the days I was on the grade school slide, making up stories about what my life would be like. So in February of 1980 we rented a small house in Tarzana. Our next album would be recorded at Sound City, which is located in Van Nuys. (It was not exactly a tropical paradise, but it was California!)
As far as Chrysalis was concerned, Mike Chapman was the obvious choice for producer. It didn’t matter to them that he hadn’t actually produced much of the first album. Because his name had been on it, he was tied to its success. But although Chapman had a huge impact on the first record, I didn’t think he would be the right choice for the next one. I hoped we’d record with Peter Coleman. After all, Chapman had turned the first record over to him when he’d left. Peter was never heavy-handed with us, providing the freedom we needed. Chrysalis didn’t want Peter to produce the new album, and instead they hired Keith Olsen. It seemed like a smart choice, because Olsen had an impressive background. He was an award-winning, platinum-record-selling, big-name producer who’d worked with bands like Fleetwood Mac and the Grateful Dead.
Despite the tight schedule, I was excited to get started and looking forward to working with Olsen. I was starting to write more, collaborating with Spyder and Zel, our bassist. Together, the three of us wrote one song I felt strongly about: “Hell Is for Children.” The idea came from an article in the New York Times. Until I read that article, I knew very little about violence against children. My childhood might have been a little crazy once in a while, but my parents were nonviolent. They barely raised their voices at us. Growing up, Andy and I seldom got spanked, and if we did it was just a little swat on the butt. I didn’t know any kids who got knocked around either. I’d never known anyone who had to hide bruises or slap marks. Kids at school would have suspected if something bad was going on with one of our friends. At least I hope we would have, even as sheltered as we were. Reading that story, however, opened my eyes.
That morning, sitting at the kitchen table, it suddenly dawned on me that I’d been asleep for too long about this. Where had I been? How could I have been totally unaware that all this ugliness had been going on? I was crushed that anyone could harm children like that. Writing had become cathartic to me, so I started working on some thoughts, putting them down free-form. I wrote and wrote. When I started turning the thoughts into lyrics, Spyder was busy preparing the recording schedule, so I went to Zel, who by that point was the only person left who had been with me from the beginning. We’d written songs before, and I felt comfortable sharing these thoughts with him.
Zel started to write lyrics as well. Together the two of us refined it. I kept thinking that if we could put a message out there in song, maybe it would help raise awareness. Maybe it would inspire people to get involved. I didn’t set out to be a crusader, but I did hope that people would listen. I just wanted to reach people and using my voice seemed like the best way to do that. When we’d written most of the lyrics, I talked to Spyder.
“Take a look at what Zel and I have been working on. I don’t know what to do with it, because it’s got nothing to do with the music we’ve been making. But I feel strongly about it and want to do something. Can you make it into a song?”
Spyder agreed and wrote all of the music, taking our words and creating a chilling, wailing melody that turned all the pain and suffering in the lyrics into a searing rock anthem. In its original form, the song was about ten minutes long. We cut it back to five to fit it on the album. Of all the songs I’ve recorded, it’s the song I’m most proud of. Over the years, we’ve received thousands of letters from people who were abused as children, saying how much it helped them and how happy they were that someone cared enough to write a song about them, a song that reminded them they were not forgotten. Even today, we play it at every concert we do, in a show of solidarity.
“Hell Is for Children” was the first song we cut when we got to Los Angeles. I went into the session hoping for the best, and coming off such an amazingly successful year, we could see we were on the ascent. We had a hit record, but we didn’t want this just to be a remake of the first album. This needed to have a new approach, a fresh sound. We had spent over a year performing live, and the sound that had evolved was grittier, heavier. My voice began to settle and work together with the band, which had become a thunderous and raw wrecking machine. We wanted to capture that intensity on the new record. In terms of both sound and subject matter, “Hell Is for Children” would set the tone.
Problems with the recording began almost immediately. While we’d entered poised and confident to make this record, the fact that we had to contend with a totally new producer complicated things. The rhythm that we had established with Peter Coleman and Mike Chapman was gone. We had to start all over again with Keith Olsen. This was unnerving. Even though we felt we’d made tremendous strides in our playing, we were still neophytes with a lot to learn. We weren’t ready to take on another record alone, and unfortunately that was what we ended up having to do.
At first Keith Olsen seemed like a great guy. His success was well documented, and it made us optimistic that he would bring us closer to our goals musically. We were eager to learn what this new “mentor” had to offer. But as I watched him put down tracks for the songs, something appeared off. For one thing, he didn’t seem to be paying attention to much of what we were doing. He was distracted and distant. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong. If this was just his style of producing, I didn’t like it. It was uncomfortable, as if there was no one at the helm. There always seemed to be something else going on that was commanding his attention, and that feeling of no one being in charge made me incredibly anxious.
One day Spyder was working on some songs, and he mentioned that he liked to write in his head while he’s driving. Olsen threw him a set of car keys.
“No problem. Take my Porsche. I’ll get Pat’s vocals down, then when you get back we’ll work on some overdubs.”
Spyder was only too happy to drive around in that Porsche and write songs. Of course, the instant he left, the session turned bad. Olsen kept getting up and leaving—disappearing right in the middle of my singing. Peter Coleman and Spyder had done such an excellent job of recording my vocals on the first record. They knew how fragile the atmosphere was when you were trying to coax a performance out of someone. Singing is such an organic process: no amps, no instruments, just flesh and muscle and psyche. I was panic-stricken. I couldn’t stand his half-assed attitude, and the longer I sang, the more I felt that the session was going south. The vocals sounded horrible. By the time Spyder got back from his songwriting trip, I was in tears and Olsen was nowhere to be found. Spyder took one look at me and freaked.
“What’s the matter?”
“I can’t work with this guy. He doesn’t understand my voice and he doesn’t stick around long enough to find out,” I said. “This album is not going to work like this.”
Spyder immediately took charge and calmed me down, setting up a vocal mix with Chris Minto, the engineer. Keith came back at that point. I went back into the booth and cut the vocal. Whether or not he was completely ready to take on the task, Spyder stepped up. Whatever anxiety he had about his producing talents was put aside for the good of that record. He knew it was going to be up to him. He continued his technical education on running the board with Chris Minto, taking everything that he’d learned from Pete Coleman and Mike Chapman and becoming a producer. Spyder never left the studio again.
As things progressed, Olsen showed up less and less, and when he was there, he was often asleep on the couch. Eventually we came to learn that his apparent disinterest stemmed from problems in his personal life that kept him perpetually distracted. It was unfortunate for all of us that it had to happen during our record. It wasn’t that he was a bad person; he’d simply gotten himself into a situation in which it was hard for him to maintain his professional duties and sort through the problems he was facing elsewhere. When he saw that Spyder could handle things and that we were capable of doing what needed to be done, he left us to it. Still, Spyder’s presence was no excuse for his detachment. We were all professionals, and we were supposed to be able to put personal things aside to get the job done. As the artists, it was certainly expected from us on a daily basis. He’d been hired to produce an album, not deal with his shit. Maybe the absentee-landlord technique works with some artists, but I loathed it.
It wasn’t a good way to make a record—in fact it was downright awful. But as maddening as his disconnection was, there was a silver lining. It forced us to mature musically and vocally, while also thrusting Spyder into a job he was born to do. More than anything else, though, it cemented my relationship with Spyder in ways that neither of us could have predicted. Things had been intense between us since the beginning, but dealing with the emotional drain of recording that second album deepened our connection in ways that Chrysalis would come to regret. Now more than ever before, we were partners in this. Everything I did belonged to him as well. Peter Coleman commented that he had never seen two people who connected musically like we did. It seemed like we were one person split into two.
Despite the drama with Olsen, those sessions led to some incredible material. Spyder might have just been starting out as a producer, but as musicians everything we were doing seemed to fall into place. “Hit Me with Your Best Shot” was a song that had been originally pitched to Rick Derringer. Spyder had liked it and kept a copy. It was written by Canadian writer/artist/producer Eddie Schwartz, and it would become his first big songwriting chart success. Chrysalis also had a copy of the song, and they pitched it to us. Spyder thought the song was catchy, but the demo didn’t really show its potential. He started working with the band while we were still in New York and had his own demo version by the time we got to Los Angeles. So this session came together quickly. Even though it was pivotal in propelling the album, I always joke about how much I hate this song. It comes from its being played incessantly when it was released.
Given our schedule, it’s surprising that any of us in the band were able to write anything for Crimes of Passion. In addition to the group effort that produced “Hell Is for Children,” Spyder wrote “Little Paradise,” and the two of us wrote “Never Wanna Leave You” and collaborated on “Out-A-Touch” with our drummer Myron Grombacher, who had come with us from the first tour. He was Spyder’s closest friend; they were like brothers. Myron was the perfect complement to Spyder’s guitar style, bringing the forceful drum sound that Spyder wanted for the band. Together the three of us made up the sound that became our signature. Rhythm guitarist Scott St. Clair Sheets wrote “Prisoner of Love,” and at Spyder’s suggestion, we did Kate Bush’s “Wuthering Heights” and Billy Steinberg’s “I’m Gonna Follow You.” We also did “You Better Run,” written by Eddie Brigati and Felix Cavaliere of Young Rascals fame, which had been one of the songs I used to sing when I was on my own.
Listening to the playbacks was enough to give you chills. After all the stress and horrible shit we went through recording this record, we’d done it. We’d made the record we needed to make despite all the obstacles. Crimes of Passion reflected more of what we were about than In the Heat of the Night. Between Spyder stepping in on the production end and our live band hitting its stride, it had turned out to be a great recording. The band was solid and intense. Every one of them understood the sound that we wanted and delivered it.
When we were finishing the album, I told Chrysalis that I thought Spyder should be listed as co-producer on the record. After all, he’d done a lot of the work. I kept telling them that it wasn’t fair to have him step in and save the record, then act like he’d done nothing. Not only did the label say no, but surprisingly Rick Newman agreed with them. When I asked Rick why, he was blunt:
“Keith Olsen won’t hear of it. Keith never shares producing credit with anyone.” And just like that it was an across-the-board decision. I was dumbfounded. After the way he’d abdicated his role during recording, the arrogance of this was intolerable. Olsen knew what had gone on, how he’d stepped aside and let Spyder do his job. Olsen knew that everyone in the band had witnessed his abandonment of this project, but he didn’t care. He was shameless. There would be no production credit for Spyder. Olsen had said no, and my manager and my label refused to back me up. I was livid.
While Chrysalis’s lack of support was nothing new, seeing Newman’s lack of support left me disappointed and confused. Suddenly my eyes were opened to how allied Newman was with the record company. In his mind, he was making necessary compromises, but I felt betrayed and angry.
When I started out in New York, I might have been young and somewhat naïve, but I was never ignorant enough to trust just anyone. I knew enough to be skeptical of people and keep my guard up. But once I let you in, that was it: I trusted you. And that was the case with Newman. For years he’d shown himself to be someone I could rely on. He was a guy I expected to have my back. Now it was like I’d fallen off a turnip truck, a girl from Long Island with no concept of how the world worked or that your own people see you as simply a cash cow.
I never saw this one coming. All at once, the harsh reality of the music business began to rear its ugly head. Of course, I’d seen it at a distance since the beginning through my run-ins with Chrysalis, but this was different—more personal. Sadness and disappointment turned into defiance and contempt. I don’t like confrontation and neither does Spyder. I’m normally an easygoing person. Just don’t cross me. And absolutely don’t try to hurt someone I love, because then I will jump right in the ring. I’d had balls ever since I was growing up with all those neighborhood boys, but this was different; this new level of vileness would have taken more than anatomical correctness. They were officially the enemy, and this was going to take unrelenting retaliation.
I said fine, if not production credit, then production payment. If not, then they could put the album on the shelf. Chrysalis didn’t like paying money, but they also didn’t like losing money. Shelving that album would have cost them, because after the success we’d had with In the Heat of the Night, they knew this album could be even bigger. So that was how the battle was won. Spyder got no credit publically, but he did get paid for producing. Of course, neither Chrysalis nor Olsen would foot the bill to pay Spyder. In the end, his payment came out of my royalties. Olsen wouldn’t even split the cost with me, and unbelievably, Newman went along with it.
It felt good for Spyder to be compensated, but it frayed relationships at all ends. I stayed mad and Spyder remained hurt. He didn’t say much about it, but I knew he was. He’s not the kind of person who demands praise or public recognition. He was never into self-promotion. It wasn’t the credit that was so important to him; it was the principle of why they would treat him like that. To be denied that production credit was a slap in the face. It was an insult because it was coming from our own people. Furthermore, it’s just not how either of us would have handled things. If the situation were reversed, we would have insisted the person be recognized for his work. No questions asked. Good work should be rewarded. That’s how we were both raised, and that’s how we wanted to do business.
This was the first time I started to understand just how different Spyder and I were from some of the suits in the music business. We were working-class people, with working-class standards. Treat us fairly and with some respect, and we’ll work our butts off for you. In their world, we were just another revenue source. And to think my family was proud I wasn’t punching a time clock. Working for this group of mercenaries was obviously nothing to write home about. I couldn’t trust the label. When they had been haranguing us about our personal life, I’d hoped things might change. Clearly I was wrong.
THAT WAS JUST THE beginning of the shit storm.
For weeks, I’d been asking Chrysalis when they were going to set up a photo shoot for the cover. I couldn’t figure out why they kept giving me the runaround and refusing to put something on the calendar. That started pissing me off, because I had some definite ideas about the cover. The label knew this. I’d told them that I wanted to capture the energy of the live show on the album cover. Remember, this was when we had large album covers, not CDs, and certainly not MP3s. You could really make an artistic impact with an album cover. Either a performance shot, or one of me and the boys. Either way, I wanted to establish what we were: a band. That’s what I believed this album proved.
“Wait and see,” label head Terry Ellis said.
Wait for what? I thought.
One day, while we were in the final stages of recording the album, Billy Bass, the head of marketing for Chrysalis, asked if he could come to our house to talk over ideas for the new album cover. It was a strange request, given that we still hadn’t finished the record, we hadn’t chosen a title, and I hadn’t formally even told them what the album was about. Normally, you choose a title based on the content of the record, which in turn dictates what direction the artwork will take. You don’t choose a cover in a vacuum. But that’s precisely what they had in mind.
Billy came to our house that day with a stack of photos from a recent publicity session. Spyder was sitting with us and together we pored over the photos, all of which were of me in a tight tank-type top with skinny little shoulder straps. I didn’t particularly like the pictures, but if they were just sending them out with a bunch of other press photos, I could live with that. He kept coming back to one in particular. Then he showed me a mock-up of the cover. It was the same photo.
While it was nice enough for what it was, it had absolutely nothing to do with anything. There was no link to the material on the record, and more important, there was no link to the collaborative process that had gone into making the record. My intention had been to elevate the band’s position on the cover because they were such an integral part of what we were doing on the record. The cover art he brought that day only had photos of me—good photos, sure, but totally irrelevant to the content of the record.
Saying nothing about it to me, the label had picked a cover shot from these supposed publicity photos. I was stunned. How could you make an album cover with no relevance to what had been recorded?
“We haven’t done a cover shoot,” I reminded him.
“You’re going to love it when it’s finished,” he said. The back of the cover mock-up was another shot of me. No mention of the band. No names. Nothing. Seated next to me, Spyder didn’t say anything, but we could both feel the tension building. I took a minute to keep myself in check before I really lost it.
“This isn’t going to work,” I said after a long pause. “At the very least, there has to be a photo of the band on this cover.” That was not what he wanted to hear.
“Do you have any idea how stupid and naïve you are?” he asked in his most patronizing tone. “No one wants to see the band. This is about you. No one cares about the band.”
For a split second, I was speechless. Did he really just say that out loud? With Spyder, a band member, sitting right here next to me? It wasn’t just the sentiment that surprised me. After all, everything the label had done told me they felt this way. It was the fact that he’d come here, to the living room that I shared with Spyder, and said those words to my face. In addition to being blatantly insensitive, it was disrespectful to both of us. There was absolutely no concern for Spyder and no concern for discretion. They were just dissing him to his face without an ounce of remorse. My anger, which had been building for weeks and months, boiled over. I threw him and his cover out of my house. We were done talking.
This was an issue for my manager to handle. It was his job to represent my interests in disputes with the label. Frustratingly, I got the same amount of cooperation on the cover issue as I had on the question of Spyder’s production credit. None. Newman would not support me. Coming so soon on the heels of the producing debacle, I could see that he was caught up in record label politics. Something had changed. Newman was making the huge mistake of trying to stay neutral. He’d protect me only so far and stop short of offending them. While he did his best not to hurt me, he thought that he could straddle the middle ground without jeopardizing his relationship with either side.
As usual the only person forced to compromise was me. The front cover would remain of me alone, and the back would be a photo of the band. Contractually they had the advantage. Normally, after a success like we’d seen for our first record, the manager would have gone back in to renegotiate the artist’s contract for the next album, giving the artist more control over things like artwork and song choice. For some reason, that never happened with us. Chrysalis had total control over this album cover, just as they did with the last one. I had no option but to keep the front cover they’d chosen, of me alone, and shoot the back cover with the band.
On the day of the photo shoot, the boys arrived dressed in the clothes they wore onstage, only to be told they were to change into the wardrobe some stylist had brought along. It was a bad day. The glammed-up outfits could only be described as lame. Rock and roll band? Please. The guys looked like they’d stepped out of the pages of GQ magazine. The expressions on their faces in that picture are priceless. They were all thoroughly disgusted. From then on, the band and I referred to what would become my biggest album as Crimes of Fashion.
It was too late to do anything about it, though. I didn’t have one bit of control over what was done with regard to cover art, or much of anything beyond the music, at that point. I was the resident star, but that status got me nothing.
I like to think that I have a pretty good asshole detector. But I realized then that I had been dead wrong about Terry Ellis. I liked him very much when we first met at Tramps. He seemed like a stand-up guy, interested in me as a person and in my music. Instead, he was turning out to be one of the most arrogant and overblown men I’d ever met. And with the exception of our one ally, Buzzard, Terry surrounded himself with people who were just like him.
The label wasn’t finished pissing me off. The biggest insult came as the new tour to promote the release of Crimes of Passion got started. I picked up a copy of Billboard in the Denver airport, knowing that Chrysalis had taken out a full-page ad to promote the album. With no advance warning, no hint of what was going on, I saw myself practically nude on the pages of the most important music trade magazine in the nation. I slammed the magazine shut and tucked it under my arm. I felt like I’d been raped.
They had taken the cover photo to the album and airbrushed off the tank top I was wearing. In its place, they’d put a sign over my seemingly nude chest that announced the release date of the new record. As if that weren’t enough, they’d also given me a boob job. So I was not only naked, but naked with cleavage. I am a very small woman. I do not have large breasts (I only weighed ninety pounds back then). In fact, I’m damn near flat chested and that’s just how I like it. But they’d drawn on breasts and cleavage, which was insulting and humiliating.
I kept thinking, Who approved this? Not me.
Aside from being embarrassing, the photo was stupid. Didn’t they understand that people already knew how I was built? All people had to do was take one look at me and they’d know I didn’t look like that. Were Billboard readers suddenly going to flock to my album because I’d miraculously grown new breasts? It was sexism at its worst, and I immediately broke down. Months of stress, exhaustion, and frustration came pouring out of me. I’d been going nonstop for so long. I’d toured relentlessly and promoted as hard as anyone could. In the face of numerous obstacles, I’d recorded an album that I knew had enormous potential. I was on the cusp of something great, but in that moment, all I felt was shame.
I called my parents. I had to prepare them.
“I don’t know if you’ve seen it,” I began, “but I promise you that I am not naked in Billboard!”
I was a long way from short skirts and matrons now.