Between a Heart and a Rock Place: A Memoir - Pat Benatar (2010)
Chapter 5. GETTING MARRIED-GETTING NERVOUS
THE TIMING OF MTV’S debut could not have been better. The “You Better Run” video brought interest in us to a fever pitch and fueled the launch for Precious Time. It also kept the focus on Crimes of Passion, which had been going strong for almost a year and continued to sell about two hundred thousand copies a week. In all, Crimes was on the Billboard chart for ninety-three consecutive weeks, eventually selling over five million copies in the U.S. alone. Despite this massive success, it never got to number one, instead getting stuck in the number two spot on the Billboard charts, right behind John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s Double Fantasy.
Although Crimes didn’t reach the top spot, I’d made Chrysalis about $75 million and in the run-up to Precious Time, it was clear that I’d garnered more than enough clout to renegotiate my contract. After all the issues surrounding the marketing of Crimes of Passion, I knew that I had to get more control over my name and my image. I wanted the label to understand that I didn’t like the confining role I was being given. Women had been rocking big since Janis Joplin—maybe there had been a lull in that of late, but we were still there doing our music. And we didn’t need airbrushed posters and ads selling someone who didn’t exist.
There was definitely an old boys’ club at work, and it was time to take a stand against the unlimited power the record company seemed to have over me. I wasn’t becoming a crusader, though. I didn’t think of it in political terms. Like any worker who’s been pushed around by their boss, I felt that the label was holding too many cards. I was just like every other girl next door who wasn’t getting the recognition she deserves. What was happening to me was happening to every other female in America. The only difference was that I was in a unique position to do something about it.
Before Precious Time came out, Newman tackled the long-overdue renegotiation of my contract, but unfortunately my moment to take a stand ended up as more symbolic gesture than actual power shift. For his part, Newman worked tirelessly on our behalf, but he was still trying to walk the fine line between doing his best for us and not ruining his relationship with the label. This impossible task overwhelmed him. While he’d learned a lot in his first couple of years on the job, he was still playing catch-up, and being in slightly over his head only made those tough negotiations even harder.
Sometimes his efforts were aided by the handful of good apples at Chrysalis who wanted to help us. One executive named Linda Carhart knew that Newman hadn’t managed a music act before and she put her job on the line many times by giving him advice on how to navigate the negotiations. Likewise, the president of the company, Sal Licata, was always trying to help us find compromises. Sal was in the difficult position of having to run the company and be a “Chrysalis guy” while also being fair and nonconfrontational. Sal adored Spyder and was often one of the few advocates for him at the label. As someone who loved the music business, Sal hated all the bullshit that went on as much as we did. He did his best to referee, but he had to answer to Terry Ellis and Chris, so there was only so much he could do.
In the end, my advance, payment schedule, and royalty percentages were increased, though not as much as they could have or should have been. While I got more control over song choice and artwork, I would have to “mutually” agree with the label on both of those points. In other words, I was still bound to their opinions. They couldn’t make unilateral decisions, but then again, neither could I. The one thing we didn’t gain any ground on was the suspension clause. They still retained the right to ask for a new album every nine months—whether we were ready or not. Given our success, it felt like they were just throwing us a bone with these “more favorable” terms. I was confident that we could have demanded just about anything we wanted and gotten it. We were in the perfect position to put them to work for us, but for some reason, we didn’t.
This relaxed attitude toward the negotiations was frustrating. We didn’t push for as much creative control as we could have, and I couldn’t understand why we were taking such an accommodating approach. When I would press Newman and my attorney, Owen Epstein, they always had some elaborate explanation as to why we couldn’t ask for more. I should have held my ground with my team and pressed the case, but I didn’t. Back then, I could only see the situation as a confusing problem that I’d grown sick of. I was tired of fighting. Terry played hardball, and though Newman did the best he could, in retrospect I never should have acquiesced.
Still, heading into the release of Precious Time, there was no doubt that we’d made strides. The cushion of success that we’d earned was enough to make everyone relax a bit. Spyder was getting a production credit, and because of our negotiations, the Precious Time cover did not elicit the same knock-down, drag-out fight. We weren’t novices anymore; we had proven ourselves completely. I was being called the “reigning Queen of Rock and Roll.” For the first time since In the Heat of the Night, we were all actually getting along.
Of course, there were moments when the worst would come out and the blatant sexism in the company would be readily apparent. Every few months, they held meetings with all of the execs to discuss strategy, marketing, and future album plans with us. Not long before Precious Time was released, we were at one of those meetings discussing ideas for a video—which song, who should direct, what the budget would be. It was a business discussion between eleven other people and me. Linda Carhart and I were the only females in the room, so I wasn’t surprised when one of the marketing guys leaned across the table lasciviously and said, “What are you gonna wear?” his voice lingering on the word “wear” as he licked his lips like a predatory animal. What was I going to wear? We’re in a business meeting talking about spending $350,000 on a promotional video and he wanted to know what I was gonna wear?
It was the same shit I’d had to deal with from the beginning; the only thing that was different was me. Instead of reacting with a crazed, militant response, I gave them reserved indignation. For a few seconds, I sat there silently, quietly looking at all of them with disgust at their behavior. Collectively they all shrank and became sheepish and apologetic. I stood up, accepted their apology, said, “Thank you, gentlemen,” and walked out. Meeting over.
It didn’t just feel good, it felt amazing. Finally, after almost four years of putting up with that crap, I was starting to take charge of my musical life. Not Newman, not my attorneys, not even Spyder—just me.
WHEN PRECIOUS TIME WAS finally released, it caught on quickly, becoming number one in the U.S. Billboard Top 200 chart and a Top 40 release in the UK. The first hit, “Fire and Ice,” landed on the singles charts about the same time as the album release. “Promises in the Dark” came out a couple of months later in October. That single, too, was a Top 40 hit. The reviews were great. The Los Angeles Times called it “layered, fiery rock,” even saying that one of our longest cuts, “Evil Genius,” with its four-saxophone horn section, was an “epic” recording. It was clear to reviewers and fans that with our highly charged arrangements we were finally coming into our own.
Though only a few months had elapsed since our video for “You Better Run,” we were all too aware that MTV’s power and influence had grown exponentially. In that time, making videos had gone from a quirky, optional experiment to an essential part of a record release. Once the label knew what they wanted your first single to be, you had to plan and shoot the video that would accompany it. MTV was a force to be reckoned with and it could not be ignored.
We decided to do “Fire and Ice” and “Promises in the Dark” as performance videos. We rented a soundstage in North Hollywood and invited the members of the fan club, radio contest winners, and family and friends. With that crowd of people, we filmed a miniconcert. For the title cut, we did a concept video that was a story about a rich girl who was a prisoner in her own life. (Sound familiar?)
With our faces all over MTV and two hit records on the charts, we once again embarked on a tour, only this time, with me and Spyder broken up, things were much more complicated. Chrysalis’s prediction came true: we made the tour a nightmare for the rest of the band. We argued, fought, and acted nothing like our old selves. It was like we were two different people. Even today Myron refers to that tour in support of Precious Time as the “Hell Is for Us” tour, “Us” being pretty much everyone who wasn’t Spyder or me. As everyone came to learn, it is not that much fun touring with a warring couple. We fought constantly, and the band and crew were ready to commit a felony just to get us to stop. If it wasn’t about the latest Chrysalis offense or insult, it was about an amorous fan thinking it was open season now that we had broken up.
As it became common knowledge that we’d split up, people’s lecherous qualities came out. When Spyder and I had been dating, the girls in the audience who were crazy for him had always kept a respectful distance. Now they were exposing their breasts during our show. At one concert in particular, some obviously drunk girl in the front row opened her blouse during our first set and proceeded to bleat, “Neil, Neil,” for the entire show. Occasionally she’d put her hands onstage, and when we got to the show’s closer, “Heartbreaker,” I stepped on them and stood there until the song was over just to shut her up.
Spyder didn’t have it much easier. I was constantly being approached by men in one way or another, and it took massive amounts of restraint on his part not to react. There were many nights onstage that Zel had to hold Spyder back from using his guitar as a baseball bat on some overzealous male fan. Guys came out of the woodwork with no rhyme or reason, thinking that I was fair game because I was single. Even my attorney, Owen Epstein, hit on me, which was just creepy.
Everything was torture. That tour was the only time I ever trashed a hotel room. Spyder and I were arguing, and I was screaming at him about one thing or another. We were both raging mad, and I went into the bathroom and slammed the toilet seat down, breaking it in two. I was horrified! It stopped the argument cold. It was such an out-of-character moment, but in an instant we both could see just how bad things had gotten. I’d like to think that all that tension made us rock harder, but we all could have done with a little less rock and a little more peace.
What made it harder was that I loved the road. Live performance was the reason I started singing and will always be my first love. I was never one of those musicians who dreaded the rigors of tours. People would ask me all the time if touring was difficult, and I’d tell them, “Life is hard, the road is easy.” Under most circumstances that’s true. Being on tour allows you to step away from everything in life and just focus on performing. On tour I’d sleep until noon, have room service, wear black leather, put on lots of makeup, perform, hear people cheer for me, get on the bus, travel to the next city, and do it all again. I’d show up to packed arenas and sing my heart out for people screaming my name. I’d see the enthusiasm in the faces of the fans in the swirling mass of the crowd, and I’d work as hard as I could to give them everything I had each night. There was no reality involved and that was the whole point. For twelve weeks, you could step away from your problems and return to the life that began it all.
That is, unless your problems happened to be on the bus beside you looking incredibly hot and emotionally distant, while reminding you that you never should have broken up in the first place. The fact that we’d had no downtime and no break from each other only exacerbated things.
There were funny moments on that tour, though. One night, we were playing a huge indoor venue when we had something of a Three Stooges moment with Myron. His drum setup that year included a cage and a large gong on a stand. Myron was a little guy, wiry and compact, probably 124 pounds soaking wet. We were playing the encore, and “Promises in the Dark” had a lot of breaks and rhythmic stops. The ending of the song had us playing a crescendo and Myron was supposed to blast the gong just before the last note.
Myron was a brilliant drummer and an amazing showman—well known for his acrobatics on stage. He’d routinely climb all over his drum set like a deranged red-haired monkey. As the end of the song drew near, he positioned himself on the gong stand in anticipation of delivering the final downbeat. The gong was much bigger than he was, and it certainly weighed more. He swung the mallet as hard as he could and hit the gong, and when it swung backwards, he turned to face the audience, raising the mallet triumphantly in the air.
While he was facing the audience, the gong swung back, knocking him off the drum riser and onto the stage. He was out cold. We too were facing the audience with our backs to him, so we didn’t even know anything had happened until we heard scuffling. Zel, Spyder, and I turned around to see Myron lying on the ground, unconscious, with his drum tech and assorted crew members waving towels and throwing water on him. Like a badass, he woke up and immediately staggered to the drums to play the final beat and end the song. In spite of what had happened, the whole scene was pretty comical, not worrisome at all. Not to mention it displayed exactly the kind of dedication we’d come to expect from Myron.
But that laughter and camaraderie came sparingly. By and large, the only time that we put the fighting with each other on hold was when we were dealing with the label. We would make this band work even if that meant that we couldn’t be together. Even if we fought on the road, we’d do the right thing when it came to dealing with the label: put personal problems aside for the good of the whole. We argued our case together, stood up to them when we felt they were being unfair. Spyder and I are both Capricorns, confident, driven, and goal-oriented. When we are working toward something we can get tunnel vision. And we are very loyal people. Chrysalis made us dig our heels in. When we did have to meet with any label executives, we didn’t walk in with Pollyanna attitudes, thinking everything was going to be sweetness and light. We knew better and we went into warrior mode, together.
Still, we were all too aware that the status quo was not sustainable. Neither one of us said anything about it but we both knew that something had to change. We just didn’t know what.
AT THE END OF 1981 and early 1982, following the tour for Precious Time, we were finally able to take a few months off. For the first time since we started making music, we were on break. It turned out to be the best thing we could have done. Spyder produced the first solo album of British rock singer John Waite, who had made a name for himself with the Babys. For all the fights that we’d gotten into with Terry Ellis about Spyder’s contribution and credit, Terry was incredibly pleased with Spyder’s output and he recommended that Spyder produce John’s solo debut for Chrysalis, called Ignition, which had the hit single “Change.” Spyder had also started working on some songs with Billy Steinberg, whom we’d collaborated with on Crimes of Passion and Precious Time. Our friend and drummer, Myron, was featured on Cat Dance, an album from Outlaw’s guitarist Freddie Salem.
While Spyder continued to work, I was ready to relax. After three records and three tours in two and half years, I was just fine being a domestic goddess for a while. I stayed home and remodeled the house I’d bought after Spyder and I broke up. I went back east to visit family and friends and, of course, Spyder. Spyder spent December in New York working on Ignition, while I stayed in California. We were miserable apart, so for my birthday on January 10, I went to New York to see him. We had dinner and talked but didn’t get back together. When I flew back to Los Angeles we were still in exactly the same position, with both of us thinking, Enough is enough.
We were tired of being confused. I remember telling one journalist that it had come down to the career or our relationship, that to save the band we had to make a choice. If we kept on trying to be a couple, the band could have been doomed. We had spent the last year fighting and struggling with our relationship. We both thought that we simply had to go back to being friends instead of former lovers, and the only way to do that was to move on with our lives.
About the same time, we both decided to see if we could have a relationship with someone else. It wasn’t something that we discussed with each other—we just did it. I went on one date, as did Spyder. I had a nice enough time on my date and Spyder enjoyed his. But throughout the night, I couldn’t escape just how wrong it felt. I didn’t want to be having dinner with someone else, I wanted to be having dinner with Spyder. As it turned out, he’d experienced the same thing. He called me the next day, and when I told him I’d been out with someone else, his frustration bubbled over.
“What are you doing?” Spyder asked.
“What do you care? And what have you been doing?” I answered accusingly.
“Nothing that matters. I care about you,” he said.
“Really? You could’ve fooled me.” I didn’t want to hear this. I’d finally made up my mind that I was going to forget him, try to start over.
“I’m sorry,” he said quietly. “I love you. I want you to come home.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. It had been an entire year of pretending we didn’t care about each other, an entire year of fighting every day, an entire year of hoping he’d change his mind and come back to me. It seemed too sudden, too perfect to be true. But that didn’t stop me from jumping on the first available flight to New York.
The whole flight, I kept telling myself how crazy this was. My rational levelheadedness had once again abandoned me, thanks to Spyder. It didn’t make any sense. After all, how could we heal the year of pain and hurt that we’d caused each other with a phone call and a visit? The yelling and the screaming, the hurt feelings and nights spent sulking alone in our hotel rooms? I wanted to believe it was true, that we really could do it, that we were strong enough and important enough to each other spiritually and creatively to make that happen. But I didn’t know for sure—that is, until I saw him at the gate, holding a bouquet of flowers. That was when I threw caution to the wind.
At first, we just held each other, spending the day like awkward teenagers reunited after a prolonged stay at summer camp, talking and laughing—just enjoying each other for the first time in months. Ironically, it happened to be Valentine’s Day, a holiday that both of us abhor, yet there was no doubt it would be a Valentine’s Day to remember: after many hours of conversation, we decided to get married.
We didn’t waste much time. The next day we went shopping for rings. Once our minds were made up we threw ourselves completely into it and never looked back. Just like that, the last year, all the tension, all the fighting, had been erased. Myron and his wife, Monica, were the first people we told.
“Good,” Myron said. “No, wait, this isn’t just good, this is great. We’re so happy for you.” Listening to his voice, I knew that his enthusiasm was real. He knew that this was not the latest saga in the drama between Spyder and me. This was the end, and he could hear it in my voice. He and Monica were our best friends. They knew Spyder and I belonged together, and many times over the last year, they’d been forced to sit idly by as we’d struggled. It had been painful for them to watch us go through all that—not to mention stressful to see the ways that we’d jeopardized the band. For everyone, it was a huge relief that we’d finally come to our senses.
We felt defiant when we informed Chrysalis we were getting married. I was ready to tell them to fuck off if they started their negative talk again. This time, though, they realized that there was absolutely nothing they could say or do to change our minds, so all of a sudden they did an about-face and started offering to help foot the bill—ordering Dom Pérignon and toasting us like they’d been behind us the whole time.
Neither of us wanted to get married in Los Angeles or New York. Spyder wanted a small ceremony in a remote place, and I’d already done that twelve-bridesmaid, two-hundred-and-fifty-guest wedding. We wanted this to be altogether different and decided to be married right away in Tahiti. However, as soon as I spoke with our travel agent, Diane Nardizzi, I knew we had a time problem. The Grammys were coming up on February 24 at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, and I was nominated for a second Grammy, this time for “Fire and Ice.” Traveling to Tahiti, getting married, and having time even for a short honeymoon would be tight if we were going to be back in time for the ceremony. I explained that, primarily, we wanted the wedding to be private and in some beautiful spot—it didn’t have to be Tahiti. We just had to be back in L.A. by the twenty-fourth.
Diane had a solution:
“There’s a town on Maui, a little tiny place called Hana. You can’t get much more private than that. It’s way off the beaten path. My client Kris Kristofferson owns some property there, and according to him it is one of the most beautiful places on earth.”
Diane made the arrangements. I flew back to L.A., and Spyder followed me the next day. We’d only been to Hawaii once before, and that was to Oahu to play the Blaisdell Arena. Having no idea how small and remote Hana was, I just assumed I could buy a dress when I got there, but at the last minute, five P.M. the night before we were leaving, it occurred to me to pick up something to wear, just in case. I went to Robinsons-May and bought a little white lace dress off the rack for $82. That’s the OCD in me—just in case.
I had never been anywhere in Hawaii but Honolulu, so I didn’t know what to expect as far as our travel accommodations were concerned. Not only did we have to charter a small plane to fly us there, but there were only a few hours that it was available. We flew from Honolulu to Kahului on Maui at night, and as we got closer, I could see the water lit by the moon and felt us getting lower and lower, to the point that I thought, Oh my God, we’re gonna crash. Then all of a sudden, just as it felt like the bottom of the plane was going to touch the tips of the trees, the pilot clicked a remote and this little runway lit up, a stunning strip of white light beaming out of the darkness of the jungle.
There was a warm breeze, and the trees smelled fresh from a rain. The moon came out from behind a cloud, and we could see that the airport was really just a little kiosk in the cane grass. Barreling toward us was a small, old-model red bus that kicked dust into the air as it wound its way down a little road. Clearly this was our transportation to the hotel. We were hooked.
The Hotel Hana-Maui, originally named the Ka’uiki Inn, was built in 1946 by a cattleman named Paul Fagan. It literally saved the town of Hana. When the last of the sugar plantations closed, the entire area suffered. That’s when Fagan got the idea to build a small but luxurious hotel to try to attract tourists. When he got a baseball team to hold their practices in the area, it created jobs not just at the hotel, but throughout the village. The Hotel Hana-Maui was a luxurious 1950s-style hotel, not Beverly Hills luxury, but better. There was a definite Kon-Tiki Pacific Rim atmosphere, old Hawaii. Spyder and I stayed in the Manager’s House, a small addition that was even more private than the hotel and had a private pool. Our room had this wild and colorful Hawaiian-print wallpaper, woven mats hanging on the wall, and beautiful fresh flowers and linens. Every detail felt like paradise.
The woman we talked to about wedding arrangements was named Mary Estrella. From the moment we introduced ourselves, we knew this had been the right decision. Our names meant nothing to her. Nothing. After dealing with fame for the last three years, we were only too ready to be anonymous. The best thing of all was that even if the people in Hana had heard of you, they didn’t care about it. All Mary Estrella really knew about us was that we were there to get married. She handed us a huge ring of keys and told us we’d need to look around to find the place where we wanted our ceremony.
“Why do we need keys?” I asked.
“’Cause you gotta go through the pastures, and we don’t want to let the cattle out. Just lock the gates as you go around.”
Oh yeah. We were in the right place.
“We’ve got three churches,” she continued. “But people like to get married on the land. You can just look around.”
So the next day we went looking. There are about seven hundred people in Hana, mostly local Hawaiians. For tourists visiting Maui, the road to Hana is a popular trip and people are welcomed to the town Hana-style. But because most people only stay for an hour or so and drive back the same day, it’s still very quiet and peaceful there. Things are done in the old ways. There are no car washes, no dry cleaners, no movie theaters. The people grow their own vegetables and hang their clothes on a line outside. There are no streetlights. Cattle wander around in the streets, and if they are in your way, you just stop the car and let them take their time. People are never late because of traffic (if they are on a time schedule, which they rarely are); if someone is late, it’s because of cattle standing in the road.
Just being around the town on that first day, we could tell that this was a truly special place. In the last three years, we’d been around the world, stayed in countless hotels, flown on planes, driven around on buses, but we’d never been to a place like this. It was a place without complications, without egos. A sacred place where we could finally catch our breath—even if only for a few days.
Spyder and I spent the next two days driving around in a little Jeep, looking for a place to get married. We looked everywhere, not because we couldn’t find the perfect place, but because it was so beautiful we wanted to search out every pasture, unlock every gate. We saw several mountains—every cliff, waterfall, stream, pond, and hallowed spot. Finally we decided on a site by the Leho’ula cliffs.
Next, we needed to meet with Reverend Henry Kahula, the minister of the nondenominational Wainanalua Church. Spyder and I are both Catholic, but since I had gotten a divorce, we knew that no priest would marry us. Henry Kahula had two jobs. He was both a minister and a mechanic at the only gas station in Hana. Mary Estrella told us how to find him.
“You go on down to the Chevron station and look around. He’ll be there.”
So we walked in and called his name. He rolled out on a dolly from underneath a truck. Henry Kahula was a big man with huge hands and a big smile. Still stretched out on the dolly, he told us he was only too happy to officiate, just needed a few details, like what time, if we had witnesses, and whether we wanted a Hawaiian ceremony. We explained that we’d already asked a couple of people who worked at the hotel, Louisa Pu and Les Mederios, to be matron of honor and best man, and that yes, we’d love to have a Hawaiian ceremony. The best part was, Reverend Kahula never got off the dolly during the entire conversation.
There were no stores in Hana to shop at for wedding-appropriate dresses, so I wore the white lace dress I’d brought with me. I married the love of my life wearing an $82 dress, and it couldn’t have been more perfect. Spyder and I both had leis around our necks and po’o garlands of flowers on our heads. We had flower petals from the local gardens strewn around on the cliff. It was a spectacular day for a wedding. The sun was shining over Maui. The birds were flying and waves were crashing against the cliff. It was February 20, 1982, and we both knew that we would forever be tied to that island paradise.
We stayed at the Hotel Hana-Maui for a couple of days of honeymooning, loving the isolation and each other. It was amazing to realize that we were married at long last and that we’d moved so quickly to put the past year of separation behind us.
Flying back to Los Angeles for the Grammy awards, a jolt of reality began to set in. Of course it was thrilling to be there, but for the last week we’d been as close to paradise as either of us ever had been—both literally and spiritually. Returning home to an awards show would be a cruel awakening. At least this time, Spyder would be there to kiss me if I won.
I wish I could say that the Grammys were great that night or that it was fun for Spyder to attend, but we were so distracted by the euphoria of the last six days that the mad dash largely overshadowed the Grammys. It had nothing to do with the awards; with the exception of each other, everything in our lives was trivialized by the fact that we were back together. All we wanted was to insulate ourselves for a few days. Having to participate in an awards show was surreal—a strange juxtaposition of the conflicting agendas of our public responsibilities and our private lives.
Even though I won that night, I don’t remember much that happened. We were both jet-lagged and dressed up, and Spyder was miserable in his monkey suit. He was still smoking back then and was fidgeting because he couldn’t grab a cigarette. He wasn’t the only fidgety one. Best Rock Performance, Female, still wasn’t televised, and there was something unsettling to me about receiving an award that seemed tainted by that sexism. I was up against Stevie Nicks for “Edge of Seventeen,” Yoko Ono for “Walking on Thin Ice,” Lulu for “Who’s Foolin’ Who,” and Donna Summer for “Cold Love.” I was up against a bunch of talented, terrific women who knew how to rock. Why wouldn’t they just put us on television? What was the problem? In the end I walked up to the podium, accepted the award with a smile, and thanked everyone I could think of—especially my band and my new wonderful husband.
John and Yoko won Best Album in the general category, for Double Fantasy, the same album that had kept Crimes of Passion in the number two Billboard spot. I was honored to present the award. We talked with a few people—Quincy Jones, Olivia Newton-John, Sheena Easton, and Billy Idol. We didn’t go to any of the Grammy parties or socialize with any other artists after the ceremony. I know there was a lot of glitz there at the Shrine Auditorium that night, but we had eyes only for each other, and we just wanted to go home.
DESPITE THE DOM PÉRIGNON served up to celebrate our wedding, the record label’s high-handedness did not change. Thankfully we did. Getting married gave us a renewed sense of power and purpose. By the time we went in to record Get Nervous, we knew exactly where we stood and where we wanted to be.
As far as Get Nervous was concerned, Chrysalis did one good thing at our request: they brought back Peter Coleman, the guy who’d helped start it all by producing “Heartbreaker.” As a producer, we knew Peter to be a patient and inspiring teacher. On In the Heat of the Night, he’d created an atmosphere of limitless creative freedom and given us confidence in our own abilities. There’d been no worries about looking foolish or making a mistake. Everything was worth trying. Peter had no ego issues, and he was genuinely interested in helping us put on tape what we envisioned. He’d found ways to technically implant what we heard and felt artistically. Spyder, especially, thrived in that element, and this was largely responsible for how he’d been able to step in and save Crimes of Passion. In many ways, Peter was the perfect complement to Spyder. Spyder didn’t have ego problems, either, and for him producing wasn’t about control; it was about making interesting records, going on tour, and having a great time. He never understood the label’s misuse of power, the way they treated their artists like they were second-class citizens.
Though Chrysalis brought in a producer whom we were excited to work with, they still kept trying to tell us what to do. For one thing, they argued over what songs we would record. Even with three albums to our name they continued to push us to material that had been written by other songwriters. We weren’t opposed to considering outside material, but by this time we were writing a lot of good songs ourselves. Our goal was to keep honing those skills so that we could record songs that had relevance to our situation. We wanted to create art in musical form that belonged to us—not simply embellish someone else’s ideas. As far as we were concerned, it was the next logical step. But as usual commerce took precedence over content for Chrysalis. We would never see eye to eye with them; we were artists, they were car salesmen.
We started with four of the songs Spyder and Billy Steinberg had written: “Anxiety (Get Nervous),” “Fight It Out,” “The Victim,” and “I Want Out.” Because of the material we were cutting, Spyder decided to change our sound somewhat, following his instincts to wherever they might take him. He was born to produce records—obsessive, but never to a fault, though sometimes producing would take precedence over his playing and I’d have to remind him that he was the guitarist in the band. Still, the breadth of his musicality was staggering. He was like the mad scientist, always looking for new ways to push the envelope, always writing, always arranging. He’d get this look in his eye that asked, Wanna come with me? and I’d know there was something exciting up ahead. He never had to ask me twice.
He was constantly picking up influences from things that he was listening to, pushing boundaries and blurring lines together. For him, the only constant in our sound was that it was constantly evolving, growing to encompass more parts yet staying true to itself at the same time. He was a forward-thinker, never content to be in the moment and always curious about where we should go next.
As things progressed on Get Nervous, it became clear that several songs needed keyboards, so we made an addition to the band, Charlie Giordano. The vocals, too, were a big part of Spyder’s vision for what this new sound would be, and he pushed me every step of the way, keeping my voice high and powerful. Too high for the live shows, I kept saying.
“Come on, this is easy in the studio—but what about when I’m running around onstage?” But he liked to test me vocally. I could be lazy, but Spyder knew what my voice was capable of and would not give in to my hesitation. I was always whining about the keys we recorded in and driving him crazy. Sometimes he wanted vocal performances that were so physically difficult I’d cut a session off abruptly and storm out. We’d duke it out, eventually coming to some kind of compromise, but he was always gentle and subtle. He’d coax rather than demand, ever the consummate coach tasked with convincing me that I had it in me all along. He might not have been as stern as my old German vocal teacher, but he definitely got the job done. I came to trust his judgment and made sure I was always ready for the next endeavor. Truthfully, he was usually right; these challenges to my voice were a big part of what made our records so intense.
Chrysalis kept at me, and it seemed like they just never stopped—it was one thing after another. I came to call it the gauntlet, because it felt like that was what I was running through. Every single day there was some new land mine I was dodging. One of the best examples of how off track the label was when it came to songs was the biggest hit from Get Nervous, “Shadows of the Night.” This was a song that was written by D. L. Byron and first recorded by Rachel Sweet. But Myron and I rewrote many of the lyrics to make it work for me. We did get paid for our work but got none of the credit for being writers on a monstrous hit. That would not happen today. If an artist changes lyrics or adds musical licks, the artist is credited. People demand that.
When the record was nearing completion, I started thinking about the album’s cover art. The last three covers had been pictures of me in a sex kitten pose, and Get Nervous seemed the perfect time to change all that. Spyder and I were godparents to Myron Grombacher’s small daughter, Kiley, whom we all adored. When she was out on the road with us, she’d do this thing that we used to call “getting nervous.” She’d clench her fists and strike a little pose. That phrase seemed to work perfectly with one song on the album, “Anxiety.” So we not only titled the album Get Nervous, but we decided to do a radical cover to illustrate the point.
We scheduled a session, and I was made up to look anything but glamorous. The photo shoot took place in a padded room. My hair was really wild, maniacal. I was wearing bright red eye shadow. I looked seriously insane, and we loved the effect. Then we took band photos, with me in the demented mode.
When Terry Ellis saw the cover mock-up, it was his turn to go insane. He called me at the studio and immediately launched into it:
“What are you thinking? There’s no way I’m going to accept this.”
“Come on. It’s great—not to mention different. Can’t we just let loose for once, have some fun for a change?”
His response did not surprise me: “No.”
I tried to explain to this man that I was sick of some people in the industry saying that my so-called “image” was all I cared about. I was sick of it myself, and this was a perfect opportunity to show some cheekiness. Continuing down the path of sex over substance would come back to bite us in the ass. It was more important to me to stay true to how I was feeling. I was done with the whole sex symbol thing. I wanted to go back to the original plan: playing rock and roll. That argument fell on deaf ears.
After we’d heatedly gone back and forth for a while, he said he was coming over to the studio where we were recording—MCA Whitney on Glenoaks. When he arrived, he didn’t miss a beat. He started railing at me, reminding me that my contract said we all had to be in agreement about the cover art. If he wasn’t in agreement, then I could not use the photo. And he was not in agreement.
He couched all his comments in an overly polite and condescending tone of voice, the kind most people reserve for small children. Watching his mouth move, the words seemed to lose all meaning. The only thing I could focus on was the thought that this guy was one of the most passive-aggressive men I’d ever known. Did other major bands have to put up with this? Somehow I couldn’t see Sting or Springsteen having this conversation. What about Stevie Nicks or Ann Wilson? Was it only female artists going through this? I wanted to believe it was happening across the board, but I knew it wasn’t true.
Our conversation was creating something of a problem in the studio, because people were trying to record. So, finally, in that same patronizing voice, he said, “My de-ahh. Let’s step outside and talk about this.”
So we moved the discussion out on the street. In no uncertain terms, he said that if I didn’t reshoot the album cover he would shelve the album. And he had the power to do that. He subscribed to the business corollary that it didn’t matter how you got there just as long as you got there. The end justified the means. He’d been incredibly successful—not just with me, but with many artists on Chrysalis, such as Billy Idol, Huey Lewis, and of course Blondie—by conducting business like this. Likewise, he’d recognized my potential to be a major star and had worked hard to get me there. All this gave him a lot of latitude and he was unapologetic about it. Terry simply believed he was right and that I should just shut up and get in line.
He let me chew on the thought of shelving the album for a few seconds before looking at me with a haughty expression and beginning a lecture in his severest British accent.
“I don’t know what it is with you American women. You’re all so beautiful but have such problems using your sexuality to your advantage. It’s so provincial. Personally, I think it’s a big mistake. And, Pat,” he said, adding a slight orchestrated pause, “I hope you don’t think people are actually coming to your concerts to listen to you sing.”
I let him have it, and God bless America, I slapped him. Right there on Glenoaks Boulevard. That was just too much. Not only had he insulted me on a personal level, but he was doing that patronizing European crap about us “Yanks.” He taken this fight to the street, and it had ended up in the gutter. I am not a violent person—that’s just how mad I was.
He was stunned. I don’t think anyone had ever stood up to him before—let alone slapped him in the face. A look of disbelief hung uneasily across his face like someone had just dropped a bucket of water on his head. Meanwhile all I could do was smile.
He composed himself and continued on as if nothing had happened. And his message remained the same. Either shoot the cover over, or there would be no album. The craziest thing was that Terry Ellis pretended that this incident had never happened. He just continued on with his speech as though nothing had transpired. After it was all over I asked Newman if the man was nuts, or if he thought I was nuts. Did I not just stand out there and slap his face?
“Oh, yes, you slapped his face all right,” Newman said matter-of-factly. But there was nothing matter-of-fact about how Newman felt about it. Outwardly, my manager was not happy with these developments. He saw the label as the power brokers, the people he depended upon. He couldn’t have me going around and hitting them in the face. However, secretly I knew that Newman was pleased that I’d given Terry something that had been a long time coming. Just as I was tired of being pushed around, Newman was tired of being in the middle. We both got some satisfaction from knowing that for at least an afternoon, Terry had been put in his place.
Sadly all that confrontation did was reinforce where the lines had been drawn in the sand. Contractually, I had to compromise. I went back in and took another photo—still in the padded room with me heavily made up, but with a more glammed-up, “presentable” look. The way I wanted to appear on the cover is only seen in the band photo on the back of the album. The entire experience just served to harden me. I felt like a junkyard dog that had been chained up and hit with a stick—only this time I bit back.