Between a Heart and a Rock Place: A Memoir - Pat Benatar (2010)
Chapter 4. ROCK AND ROLL’S DIRTY LITTLE SECRET
CHRYSALIS’S PROMOTIONAL TACTICS FOR Crimes of Passion may have been questionable, but the music was a stratospheric success.
Crimes of Passion was both a critical and a commercial smash, with a lot of journalists picking up on what we’d been trying to do, pointing to the hard-rocking grit and interplay between vocals and guitars. It sold over a million records just on the strength of the debut single, “Hit Me with Your Best Shot,” on its way to sales of over five million. Billboard pronounced me dominant among female rockers. The album was nominated for a Grammy award for Best Rock Performance, Female.
On the heels of “Hit Me with Your Best Shot,” “Treat Me Right” became the album’s second hit single. Meanwhile AOR (album-oriented radio) started playing “Hell Is for Children,” and the song got great reviews, including one from Billboard calling it “a stunning rocker.” Given this initially warm reception, I couldn’t have been more surprised when the song became controversial.
To support the album, we went out on tour that fall, and my first hint that anything was going on was when someone came backstage at a show and told me that there were some people picketing the venue. The protest was over the use of the word “hell” in a song involving children. I was stunned. What was child abuse if not hellish? And with all of the things going on in the world, was a song exposing child abuse really something to protest? I had written the song believing that I was helping to raise awareness of a major social problem.
Thankfully, the negative reaction from this one group wasn’t shared by many. By the time we came off the first leg of the tour, the management office was receiving mailbags full of thank-you letters from people who had been abused as children. I sat there on the floor and read every one of them. Most were from adults who said that it had meant so much for them to hear the lines “You shouldn’t have to pay for your love with your bones and your flesh.”
But despite the critical raves and the instant sales, the year after the release of Crimes of Passion turned out to be the worst of my life. It should have been a year of celebration, enjoying our success, and relishing that we were making music that people everywhere were embracing. Even though they loved what we’d done in the studio, the record label continued to mess with Spyder and me. Strange things started happening to Spyder when it came to things that Chrysalis handled. Spyder wouldn’t get paid on time and would have to ask about his check. If the band members’ names were listed on a marquee, Spyder’s name might be left off. Often, he wasn’t invited to meetings.
They treated him like dirt, and it was shameful. I could tell it was starting to wear him down, because it was also starting to wear me down. My desire for us to be seen as a band hardened even more. Over and over I was given the credit for what we were doing. And over and over I tried to counter that idea. I kept reminding everyone—the label, journalists, radio—that the success we were having was due to everyone, not just me. But people saw the name “Pat Benatar” and assumed I was the sole reason for the sound. This misconception was the gorilla in the room in our relationship, and I spent the next twenty years trying to undo this perception. (Today, after almost three decades, I finally feel that people know the real story of Spyder’s contribution, but it’s been a long, frustrating road.)
I wasn’t the only one who believed Spyder was being treated shabbily.
In October 1980, the same month that “Hit Me with Your Best Shot” entered the Top 40 chart, Rolling Stone’s Steve Pond noted that Spyder’s position in the band appeared to be “tricky.” Pond pointed out Spyder’s significant involvement in the recording process, adding, “Not everyone wants his contributions publicized. On the back of her new album [Crimes of Passion], Benatar thanks him ‘for all the heart and hard work in the Production of this Record. I love you.’ But the current Chrysalis bio doesn’t even mention that he writes songs.”
The record label’s attitude started to fray the relationship between Spyder and me. He began to believe that mixing personal relationships and a band would cause problems, just like Chrysalis had predicted. The frustrating part of it was that the label’s treatment of us was causing trouble for the relationship; our relationship wasn’t causing problems for the music. The real problem for them was that the difficulties with Olsen and Crimes of Passion had made us even closer than we were before. They couldn’t get between us or around us. They lost whatever control they thought they had over me, and treating Spyder poorly was the closest they could come to payback.
This tension was fueled by the label’s continued inability to back me up when I needed their support. I had interviews and visits to the local rock and roll station in every city we played. I could just about count on half of the deejays or program directors hitting on me, and not in a subtle way. I’d walk in and some jerk would pat his lap.
“You come right over here and sit down, honey. We’ll see if we can’t get that record played.”
“Fuck you,” I’d fire back. Suddenly I was back in the Roaring Twenties Café with the men chomping their cigars. Only this time, when I said, “Fuck you,” nobody was laughing.
The label and Newman were in hysterics.
“You can’t say ‘fuck you’ to radio people!”
“The hell I can’t. I just did.” I never had to put up with that shit from my band. I never had to put up with that shit from guys at Catch a Rising Star or other places I’d played early on. Why would I put up with that trash from some radio guy?
But Chrysalis didn’t see it that way. There was a double standard for women in this business and they were all too willing to remind me of that. If a guy said “fuck you” to someone it was rock and roll; for a woman to do it was disrespectful. This was rock and roll’s dirty little secret: it was 1980, the women’s movement had been around for almost twenty years, and yet overt sexism and misogyny were alive and well. With all its posturing as a crusader for liberal beliefs, the music business was overrun with chauvinism.
There were so many different ways that the issue would rear its ugly head. While there were the blatant things, like my image and being harassed by radio DJs, it was also more subtle. We’d be pushing to get airtime for our songs, and radio programmers would say things like, “We’ll definitely put the single in heavy rotation at the end of the week, but we can’t right now. We’re already playing a single by a girl.” When the guys at radio stations weren’t hitting on me, they were bringing out some sexy poster and wanting me to sign it to them, to write some personal note. I knew they didn’t do that with the male rockers who visited their stations, and I was livid.
I’ve sometimes heard people say that I was exaggerating about this. Maybe it wasn’t happening to them. Maybe their people did a good job of insulating them from what was going on. I can only speak for myself and my experience, but it was happening to me on a daily basis and I was out there alone. No matter what I was doing, the sexual implication was always there. I wondered what would happen if I uglied myself up—quit wearing the tight pants, put a jacket on. The whole idea of being a pretty girl who could sing wore on me.
While I was well aware that the sexy image was something I’d created, I never meant for it to be the focal point. What I wanted was the image of the attractive-yet-capable woman that I had made up. My problem was not that people thought I was sexy, it was that Chrysalis only wanted the sexy part. It was offensive but also boring—typical of most men’s thinking in postfeminist America.
I started to question whether I was cut out to be a star. Celebrity can be a terrible thing. Your life is no longer your own. Boundaries that were once respected are torn down. And if that happens quickly, it is overwhelming. Now before you start that “poor little rock star, five million records sold and she has to sign a few autographs” shit, understand this: sudden stardom really is difficult. Anyone who says different is lying. That doesn’t mean it’s not fun or totally worth it, but no matter how much you want to be in the public eye, no matter how grateful you are to have been given the opportunity, nothing, and I mean nothing, can prepare you for celebrity. It changes your life in ways you can’t predict. It happens so quickly that you spend all of your time trying to adjust and all of your energy goes into finding a graceful way to navigate this new addition to your life.
I was clueless that we’d become celebrities until it was so blatant it was unavoidable. It was all happening so fast, and I was too busy rehearsing, doing press, and performing to really take notice. But we were playing a show in Gainesville, Florida, that fall when I learned just how strange this whole fame thing could make people act.
It was right at the beginning of the Crimes of Passion tour, and with only one other tour under our belt, we were relatively new at this. Gainesville is where the University of Florida is located, and we were staying in a hotel not far from the school. We hadn’t yet graduated to the Four Seasons or the Ritz Carlton, so the hotel was a pretty cheap setup. The morning of the gig, we woke up, took showers, and went off to the venue, where we spent most of the afternoon tucked away in our dressing rooms. Eventually one of our crew members went outside for a smoke and noticed a tent that was set up in the parking lot with a sign that read, “Pat Benatar Souvenirs.” Curious, he walked over to see what it was about.
Lying out on a table were little pieces of fabric and other odds and ends—not much to look at, let alone buy, but then he found out where they came from. It turned out that some college kids bribed the front desk at our cheap hotel to find out what room we’d stayed in. They unscrewed the windows, snuck in, and stole our bedding and our trash. They had cut up the sheets and pillowcases we’d slept on into little squares and they were selling them. They were also selling our garbage—old Kleenex, used Q-tips, and razors. Of course, management went out and confiscated everything, but they’d already made a good amount of cash.
Needless to say, the change of public awareness that we’d felt during the tour for In the Heat of the Night was nothing compared to what happened after “Hit Me with Your Best Shot” was released. Photographers hid out everywhere. You start to feel like you are being chased every time you leave the house. It was especially hard for me, because I never wanted to be rude to anyone.
And that was the trouble: I remained the same person I had always been. Private. Polite. Generally accommodating. This wasn’t just because of the speed with which fame had hit. It was just who I was. It was almost impossible for me to be a jerk to total strangers, to act rude or brush off people. Especially when I knew they were following me around because they were fans. I never wanted to act like an asshole. Still, the attention had driven me almost over the edge, and the breaking point drove up in the form of a VW bus.
We were at home in Tarzana between touring and promotional appearances. I got up one morning, threw on a robe, and walked outside to get the newspaper. A bunch of kids in a VW van jumped out and started taking pictures of me with flashes flaring. I was startled and felt invaded. This was my own house. I was in a fucking bathrobe.
I knew then that I couldn’t live there any longer. I was going to have to find a secluded house, maybe in a gated community, a place where I could have some kind of privacy. Up until then I would have laughed at the idea of my having to live behind fences. But that’s how quickly things were changing.
BETWEEN SPYDER BEING INSULTED, the sexed-up image problem, and the reality of fame, Spyder and I found ourselves increasingly on edge. For the first time since we’d come together as a couple, I felt a space opening up between us. We hadn’t put it there, but that didn’t matter—it was there nonetheless. I was going crazy trying to tour and fulfill the publicity demands. Every city meant more interviews, more radio visits, and more anger from me about being treated like a sex object. Chrysalis’s only response was to tell me to keep quiet about it.
In many ways it was much worse for Spyder. For one thing, Crimes of Passion was being heralded as brilliant, and he was getting no credit for it. Continual slights from the label not only insulted him but hurt him. He is such a good-hearted, nice person. I’m very quick to say that he is much nicer than I am. Nice people feel things, whether they bitch about it or not. It’s there. In addition, the celebrity angle was as hard for him as it was for me. When we were together, it was a circus. Spyder could still walk down the street, go to a store. But when I was along, it was a different story.
The tension between us began to mount more and more, eventually building to the point that when I was nominated for a Grammy Award, Spyder didn’t attend the ceremony with me. The show, which honored work done in 1980, was held on February 25, 1981, at Radio City Music Hall in New York. Spyder didn’t come with me, so Rick Newman escorted me instead.
I wasn’t sure whether winning would be a good thing. The Grammy is a mainstream award, and back then some in the rock and roll world believed winning—or even being nominated—damaged your credibility. If you did happen to win, it was understood that you should not act too thrilled, or gush, or bounce up to accept the prize. At that time I was concerned about giving the appearance of selling out. I’d heard a few rumblings that some people thought we were a “corporate entity.” Ridiculous as that was, getting that label would have been the kiss of death in rock and roll.
Establishment event or not, I was giddy that night. I “dressed up,” wearing the outfit I would later wear on the cover of Precious Time—a purple coat with tight black pants. Although it was televised, the Grammys didn’t have the red-carpet fashion show in those days, and no self-respecting musician would have participated if they had. That was just fine by me. My excitement dimmed somewhat when I got there and learned that the category I’d been nominated in, Best Rock Performance, Female, wouldn’t be seen on the regular telecast. My whole family was watching.
Even though the rules of rock dictated that I wasn’t supposed to act thrilled to be there, I was incredibly proud. More than anything else it showed how far I’d come in such a short time. A little more than two years ago, I’d been singing other people’s music at Catch a Rising Star. Now I was there with the giants of the business, in an audience filled with many of the most talented and respected people in the industry. I wasn’t starstruck (it’s not my way), and while I was awed to be in that seat, I wasn’t surprised. This was something I’d been working toward, something I’d planned all along. It was vindication, compensation for all the shit that the label had put us through.
Christopher Cross had historic wins. It was the first time any artist had ever won all four of the general categories: Record and Song of the Year for “Sailing,” Album of the Year, and Best New Artist. Bette Midler won Best Pop Performance, Female, for The Rose. There was a pall over the night, though. The music community was still reeling from John Lennon’s death on December 8, 1980.
That had been a horrible day. I had been at home in Tarzana when Myron called and told me the news. I immediately called Spyder, who was mixing a live performance at a studio in Hollywood. We were devastated. I turned on the TV and sat transfixed as the details emerged. This was happening in our peer group, our music community; unlike Elvis, who had died a few years earlier, Lennon was our contemporary. Making things harder was the fact that I adored Lennon. My earliest memories of music were tied to him. He’d been a regular part of my musical life ever since I got that red transistor radio for Christmas. I loved his voice. All throughout high school, as I’d been learning to sing, I’d always felt the impact of how he performed. I don’t think there was anyone making music then who wasn’t influenced by him (and there probably isn’t now). It was an emotional night for everyone who cared about what he’d done for music.
I had a terrible migraine on Grammy night. Flying often gave me awful headaches, and this was no exception. The medication that I took for these headaches was administered with a shot, which had made me sick to my stomach on top of the headache. Before the awards started, I went into the bathroom and threw up. As I crouched there over the toilet, I heard someone else in the bathroom, and it jarred me.
Oh no, what if they think I’m doing drugs? I can hear it now: “Pat Benatar must be an addict—she’s throwing up in the bathroom.”
I came out of the stall to find the previous year’s female rock winner, Donna Summer, washing her hands. Donna cast a hard look in my direction.
“Ugh! You’re just the person I wanted to see!” she said to me in an exasperated tone.
Oh crap. I didn’t know Donna, had never even met her. What had I done?
“Why?” I asked.
“My kid plays that record of yours every minute of the day! I know every word of it, and to tell you the truth, I’m sick of it!” She said it with a smile.
I had to laugh, thinking of when I was a kid playing the Beatles and my mother had said almost the exact same thing. And it made me feel good knowing that I was pleasing kids and driving parents just a little bit crazy. It was the first time I’d heard someone complain that my music was being played too much.
By the time they announced the nominees for Best Rock Performance, Female, my headache was gone. I think it was the kid in me, the excitement, the anticipation. I was completely caught up in the whole thing. There was something incredibly satisfying about knowing that even after all the crap Chrysalis had done to make life hell, they couldn’t spoil this moment. I’d found a way to keep the joy of it all locked away in a safe place, somewhere they couldn’t touch. They read the names of the nominees: Grace Slick for Dreams, Marianne Faithfull for Broken English, Joan Armatrading for How Cruel, Linda Ronstadt for “How Do I Make You,” and Pat Benatar for Crimes of Passion. They took the winner’s envelope and opened it. “And the—”
“Don’t be mad if I don’t win,” I whispered to Rick.
“—winner is Pat Benatar, Crimes of Passion!”
I bolted out of that chair like there was a spring up my butt. I went flying up to the podium, all worries about being seen as a sellout gone. I was so thrilled.
I was hyperventilating. All plans of being übercool and nonchalant vanished as soon as I heard my name. Looking back on it now, I can’t remember exactly what I said, but I’m pretty sure I gushed—not exactly Sally Field’s “You like me” speech, but probably close. Then, when I walked offstage, I took a real look at the award. It was set on a wooden block, but the little Victrola was plastic. I remember thinking, Wow, plastic! That’s kind of chintzy!
Chintzy, maybe. But thrilling nonetheless.
CRIMES OF PASSION WAS still a top ten album in the spring of 1981 when Chrysalis started pushing us to get back into the studio for a new record. It was insane to think that we had to make a third album while the second one was still being promoted. We should have used the leverage we’d gained from Crimes of Passion, taken control, and avoided jumping right back into the studio. But once again Chrysalis invoked the suspension clause of our contract. They had the right to request a new record even though we were still promoting the last one. At least we were starting from a small base of material. We had a few songs that had been recorded but not used on the second record that we planned on carrying over to the new project. Unbelievably Chrysalis brought Keith Olsen back in to produce; however, this time they offered Spyder co-production, with producer credit and full pay. While Chrysalis had fought us every step of the way about giving Spyder credit, the irony was that they saw the talent that he had for producing. They loved his actual input, which was why it was so mystifying that they didn’t want to acknowledge his contribution. Depending on how you looked at it, this was either a peace offering or a consolation prize, but it didn’t hurt that he got his own attorney.
Even still, there was a lot of tension. Keith clearly had been forced to give Spyder the production credit and he was not happy about it. As a result, he did even less than he had on Crimes of Passion. On that record he at least had a façade of involvement. This time he was much more blatant about checking out. His attitude toward Spyder was basically, “You want to co-produce? Have fun, I’m outta here.” In all honesty, we were glad. At least this time it was more up-front, and we knew how to react. Things ran much smoother in his absence.
The strange thing about recording this third album, Precious Time, was that I felt little of the pressure I’d experienced during the making of Crimes of Passion. With Crimes of Passion, I felt like I had to do something to top In the Heat of the Night and “Heartbreaker.” Now, even with the strength of Crimes of Passion, I felt easier about the whole process. I had a lot of faith in the routine and collaboration we’d established on the first two albums, and now that Spyder’s role in the process was clearly defined, things would move even more smoothly. Not to mention that the confidence that came from multiple successes was immeasurable. It wasn’t that we were arrogant, but we finally trusted ourselves—no small thing in a business where instincts are usually the difference between a good record and a great one.
From day one, it was evident that Spyder appreciated going into the process on equal footing instead of simply being the lifesaver. As usual, he busted his ass in the studio. He was a perfectionist, sometimes recutting a song time and again before he was satisfied. The one time that Spyder’s state of mind showed up on the album was on the reggae-flavored song “It’s a Tuff Life.” Here’s how he explained it: “I really didn’t like the things that were going on in Southern California at the time. More of the same hollow excess that seemed to permeate every aspect of the record business. Reggae seemed to fit the lyric—You thought you’d move to Jamaica, so you packed your bags and headed south to get an even tan, But you didn’t count on the rain.”
I wrote more melodies on this album. I was sometimes reluctant to go for the melody because Spyder was so good at it. However, with “Promises in the Dark,” I put together the whole melody with the exception of the bridge, though I was so new to songwriting that I wasn’t at all confident about my skills. I was also embarrassed to write about anything personal; most of what I’d previously written was more observational. But this song was about our relationship. When I’d first written the lyrics, Spyder was working in the music room in our house, and I was so nervous to share them that I literally slipped them under the door and walked away. When I came back he told me how much he liked what I’d done, and we immediately began constructing the song. This became our writing process, with one of us beginning an idea and giving it to the other one, then stepping away so that the other could put all the ideas together to complete the song.
The end result was a record that was more contemplative, more reflective, than either of the first two. Some of the songs are very long—but it’s been called a masterpiece of layered, explosive rock and roll. And while the label worried about the length of some songs, they primarily cared that they had a couple of strong radio songs. They found them in “Fire and Ice” and “Promises in the Dark.”
The recording, though, had taken its toll. By the time we’d finished the record, we were ready to move from the house in Tarzana, but both of us were unhappy—not as much with each other as with the situation. For such a long time, I would have laughed at the idea of anything coming between Spyder and me. Then one day, in the middle of our tour, Spyder sat me down and when he started talking, his words froze me.
“I love you so much, and I thought I was going to spend the rest of my life with you. I thought we were going to make a family together.” He paused just long enough for me to fear the words that would follow. “But you know what? It’s just too hard. It’s killing me.”
“What are you saying?” I asked.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do. But I can’t do this anymore.”
I tried to talk to him, but he was adamant. He was getting killed emotionally. He said that he wasn’t coming with me when I moved, that we’d still stay close and we’d keep the band together. But he just had to separate himself from the relationship.
I couldn’t believe that this was actually happening, and I had no idea how it had gotten to that point. I felt I had no choice but to go ahead and move. I bought a house in a gated community there in Tarzana, and in February of 1981 I moved in alone. I knew that we were meant to be together, but the situation had driven a wedge between us—a wedge that it didn’t seem we could move past.
In a little over six months I’d hit just about every high and low imaginable. The euphoria of having a bestselling record was now tainted by my crumbling relationship. I was devastated—pushed to the brink of a nervous breakdown. This was the man I planned to spend the rest of my life with, to have my children with. We had it all planned. Now there was no plan. Except that we would make this band work.
When we were in Los Angeles, Spyder came over every night for dinner. We talked about music, about what the album was doing. We talked about upcoming shows. We made small talk. But there was no outward display of emotion. It was like we were back to the beginning again, with every moment spent close to him my own private agony. The worst part was that instead of feeling like we were moving toward something, we were moving farther away, and I was unable to set things right. He was the person I knew I was supposed to be with. There was no doubt in my mind that without the drama of the music and the label, we would have been together. If we were both just punching clocks somewhere in the Midwest, everything would have been fine, but we weren’t. As a result we couldn’t be together, and we had no physical relationship. Neither of us wanted to be with anyone else, but we just couldn’t be with each other.
Sitting alone at my kitchen table in Tarzana, I had no illusions about what had gone on here. They’d won this round. There had been many slights and signs of disrespect since I’d had that showcase three years earlier and signed on the dotted line, but I felt this one more acutely than anything that had come before. They’d hoped for a breakup all along, and now they finally had it.
PRECIOUS TIME WAS SET to release in late July 1981, right before we debuted on a new television concept, a game changer in the music industry. The first I heard about it was when Chrysalis approached us about shooting a live performance to be aired on a television channel that was to launch in August. It was called MTV.
“It’s cutting-edge,” they said. “You’ll be one of the first bands on the air.”
Be a guinea pig? Sure. I loved the idea.
It would be a performance video of the Rascals song we’d covered, called “You Better Run.” It had been a hit when I was in junior high, and when I moved to New York, my friend Cynthia Zimmer, who had an extensive record collection, pulled it out one day when I was looking for cover songs to sing at Catch. I ended up working the song into my live show when I was trying to land a record deal. “You Better Run” was one of the tracks on Crimes of Passion, even though we’d recorded it previously for the soundtrack to the movie Roadie. Keith Olsen had actually produced “You Better Run” as his trial run for the fiasco that would become the Crimes of Passion sessions. Because everything had gone smoothly during that recording we’d agreed to have him on Crimes of Passion.
Because Crimes of Passion was still going strong on the charts, we decided “You Better Run” would be a good cut to use for our debut video. Everyone in the band was incredibly excited to be a part of this new method of bringing music to the fans—everyone, that is, except for Spyder. This was uncharted territory, and he wasn’t exactly on board. His skepticism came from his concern that having a visual rendition of a song would interfere with the listener’s personal interpretation. His reservations were partly responsible for the look and content of the video. There was no artsy story line, no imagery that might take you away from the music. This was going to be just like a live performance—nothing more.
We weren’t told what to expect from the video shoot, just that it would be shot near the docks in the warehouses of Manhattan’s far West Side. There was no stylist, no wardrobe direction. So I just wore my own clothes: black pants and a striped shirt. All we really knew going in was that it hadn’t been tried before and that it was supposed to be cool.
When we got to the docks, I was immediately impressed by how well they had it lit at night. The set itself wasn’t really a set—just the barren, stripped-down corrugated metal of the warehouse with a corner where we were supposed to perform—but it was exactly what we were looking for, especially in light of Spyder’s desire for this to be as true to our performance as possible. With no set dressing, no costumes, and no elaborate distractions, it was all about us and the music.
As we were getting ready, the director walked over to us. “We’re going to turn a fan on you, and I want you to just do what you do. Just go!”
That told me he didn’t get what we did. I wasn’t a freakin’ runway model.
“What do you mean ‘just go’?” I said. Just go? I don’t just go.
“Well, you know, start posing and stuff.”
I was horrified. This was new territory, and it was going to be on television. If this MTV thing was going to make us look foolish, then we’d have to take a walk. This guy didn’t know us, didn’t know our music, and almost certainly had never even seen us play. He didn’t know that I was not someone who walked the catwalk and posed on command.
“No! No! No!” I shot back at him. “Here’s the deal. We’re gonna play and you are gonna film it. There’s not going to be any blowing hair, and there’s not going to be any posing.”
The director agreed that we’d just play the song, which we did several times. Even though the director let us do our own thing, I still had a bad attitude. In the end, that attitude ended up helping me with my performance for the camera. It was the perfect visual for that song. I was pissed and it showed in everything I did that night. My sneers were real. It was a complete accident, of course. I was so young and raw then, and I felt like we were on the verge of a big crash and burn. But I definitely had a fuck you look on my face.
When MTV launched that August, we were the second video played on the inaugural day, right after the Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star.” The Buggles were an all-male guitarless band, which made me the first woman and Spyder the first guitar player to appear on the network. That day, we were sitting in a hotel room in Oklahoma, where we were staying to play a festival called Rock-lahoma (I know…). Miraculously the hotel we were in had MTV. Someone joked that it was one of the five places in America that had actually signed up. We were lounging around when Newman called and told us to turn on the TV, and the entire band sat there and watched slack jawed as history was made.
Coming on the heels of the Buggles’ video, ours made for quite the contrast. Whereas theirs was produced with effects and imagery that displayed the fantastical side of what a music video could be, ours was simple and straightforward. The grit and grime of the location where it was shot covered the TV screen, as did the fact that I was so pissed off when we’d shot it. I gestured at the camera, pointing aggressively as I moved around the frame. It was high energy but it was a different energy from a live show. The dissolves between shots and elements showcased every aspect of the band. It was aggressive but contained. It was our performance but also something else entirely. I’d never seen anything like it.
I don’t remember how many videos of other artists they played that day or that first week, but it seemed like they played us round the clock, every hour, twenty-four hours a day. They didn’t have a full rotation of videos, and back then there were no game shows, no reality shows on the channel—only music videos. After a certain point, they ran out of options and would cycle back to us. “You Better Run” was inescapable.
In one week, our world changed. After Crimes of Passion, I’d become much more recognizable, but it was nothing like what happened after MTV. To have a hit song on the radio was to have someone know your voice, your sound. To have a hit video was to have someone know your face. The semi-anonymity that we enjoyed was gone. We had officially arrived, and America had seen our faces—a lot. In the week that followed MTV’s launch, I could no longer go to the grocery store or the movies, because I was swamped. People didn’t simply look at me and think I looked familiar. They thought they knew me. It was great and awful, a blessing and a curse. There was no handbook on how to deal with that kind of stardom. Even musicians who’d hit it big on the radio never had to contend with their faces being everywhere literally overnight.
It was obvious that there had never been a promotional opportunity like this before in music. Even if you had great success, you could live a relatively quiet life because aside from touring and recording, the marketing options were so limited. MTV changed all that. Today, we take it for granted that video content is available anywhere you look—on the Web, on TV, on DVD. If you’re an artist today, the ways that you can reach your fans without actually playing live for them are seemingly endless. But back then, communications were so archaic that this really was a revolution in how music was brought to the masses. The timescale on music success was suddenly more immediate than it ever had been. I was living proof.