Between a Heart and a Rock Place: A Memoir - Pat Benatar (2010)
Chapter 7. IT’S MY LIFE
AFTER WE GOT MARRIED, Spyder and I lived in the house I’d bought when we separated, but we only stayed a short while. Neither of us felt comfortable there, partly because it reminded us of the time we’d been apart, but also because I’d purchased it myself. That house I owned was beautiful, a midcentury home on a cliff overlooking the lights of the San Fernando Valley. It had a pool and lots of big glass windows so you could see the lights of the valley from almost every room.
Wonderful as that house was, Spyder and I wanted a fresh start. It wasn’t our home, it was mine. We quickly sold it and bought a house on Rancho Street in Encino. This was a family home with a brick front, shutters, and the all-important white picket fence—literally. It also had a guesthouse in the back, which Spyder promptly turned into a recording studio. I went about decorating and making our house a home while Spyder locked himself away in the studio, happily doing what he did best. He named the studio “Spyder’s Soul Kitchen,” and it would become integral to our creative process moving forward. For the first time since our relationship began, we had peace.
When I wasn’t on the road or recording, I was (and still am) basically a stay-at-home type of person. I preferred cooking in my own kitchen with my family around to being out on the town. The more fame we achieved, the more reclusive I became. I didn’t feel that way in the beginning, but as things escalated, I retreated from the spotlight as much as possible when we weren’t on the road. Much of this was in response to having a profession that required spending huge amounts of time socializing with people I didn’t know. Touring, especially the backstage “meet-and-greets,” was like being at a wedding where I was the bride every night. When we were home, my mission was solitude, plain and simple.
That’s not to say that I was a shut-in; I simply chose my company carefully. The times that I was able to be home were my refuge, my chance to regain my footing. It’s hard to catch up if you never slow down, and those times between tours and albums were the best opportunity to do just that. Because of this, I was never in the whole club scene. Maybe we’d have a few friends over for dinner, but those friends were seldom in the entertainment industry. Spyder and I kept to ourselves and spent most of our time within our inner circle—Myron and his wife, Monica; my assistant, Janie, and her husband, Scotty; my brother, Andy; Newman and his girlfriend, Renee. It wasn’t that we didn’t enjoy being with our celebrity friends, we just didn’t want to talk shop all the time. For four years we’d been on such a ridiculous schedule. We’d been living and breathing the music business so intensely, and we just wanted to have a normal life, with regular people who didn’t talk about business all day. Despite the fame, we were still very ordinary people, and this was our chance to act like it, the first time since everything started that we were able to separate our life from our work. Before, our life was our work.
For the most part we were just too busy to cultivate friendships with famous people who, like us, were constantly on the go. When you are out on the road, chances are everyone else is as well. In truth, there weren’t that many opportunities to socialize with other artists. Music careers don’t lend themselves to having lunch with your peers. While we all knew each other and I’d see various people at events, festivals, award shows, or parties, my list of meaningful celebrity encounters was pretty short. I did finally get to meet one of my childhood idols, Robert Plant, once when we played a concert in England. He was backstage, and all I could think of was how crazy life was. I’d spent years listening to him sing, dreaming of being like him when I grew up, and then he was in my dressing room and we were chatting like old friends. I never got to meet John Lennon after being so crazy for the Beatles when I was a kid. But I got to meet Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr on different occasions, which didn’t seem odd at all. Bruce Springsteen had a surprisingly unassuming manner—very laid-back, a real down-to-earth guy. Everything you think about Bruce is true—he’s a nice person who treats everyone with respect. What you see is what you get.
In the end it wasn’t so much a deliberate choice to avoid the various scenes out there. We simply didn’t have the time, and when we did, we spent it with our true friends. The only thing that we consciously distanced ourselves from when we were at home was work. One of the things that Spyder and I realized after we got back together was that music had taken over our lives, and more than anything else, this was why we’d broken up. We had allowed music to control every aspect of our earlier life together, and it had almost destroyed us.
We were determined to never let that happen again. If we were going to stay together, we had to set boundaries for ourselves when it came to work, and these boundaries would have to be steadfast. No talking about music, no discussing scheduling, no complaining about the label. We were adamant about not letting music encroach on our private time, and bit by bit, we began to regain control of our lives. We stopped being accessible twenty-four hours a day, ceased planning conference calls after six P.M., refused calls on the weekend unless it was an emergency. We were going to have a life and we strongly encouraged everyone around us to get one as well.
This break after the release of Live from Earth was the first time that we really got serious about imposing these rules on ourselves. When we’d had enough of a break that we could start to think about work, we turned our attention to writing, but we would do this in concentrated batches, not all the time. By this point, with several albums under our belt, I had a good sense of what conditions worked best for me when it came to writing songs. I’d written enough to know that it was not something I could just do on command. Songs just didn’t hatch fully formed (or at least they never did for me). It was a much more organic process and it was never forced. Words are very important to me and finding the optimum way to say what I’m thinking is paramount. I don’t sit with a thesaurus in hand; I want to find the word in the same way you might find an exquisite shell on the beach: by accident.
While Spyder and I were home, we tried to write as much as possible, getting into a pattern that works for us to this day. We would seldom write together. I was actually that way with other writers, too. Over the years I wrote a lot with Myron, and we rarely worked on our songs while we were sitting in the same room. We’d go back and forth on the telephone. The most important thing I needed for writing was solitude. I could begin an idea with Spyder and Myron, but then I’d have to step away and work on it for a while on my own. After I’d gathered my thoughts we could come together again and continue. They didn’t like it at first, but after a while we created a rhythm that would be our lifelong writing style.
Furthermore, I didn’t like writing for a specific album, preferring a more low-pressure situation when I had time to just flow with the creativity. When Spyder and I felt that we had enough material, we’d start to think more about what might fit together in an album, but creativity would come through the writing and recording process. Sometimes I’d get a burst of energy right at the end of recording, and instead of trying to force it into the record on hand, I’d end up with songs for the next record.
Regardless of where we were in the process, patience and time were key components to getting the right songs on the right albums. This was largely why Chrysalis’s incessant requests for new records were so stressful: it was antithetical to my creative process. Some people do their best writing when they’re pressed for time, but that was never the case for us.
For the most part, Spyder came up with the melodic stuff and I focused more on writing lyrics, although we would take turns doing both. The times I got into working on a melody were when I heard something in my head that felt good vocally. Then I’d sing it so Spyder could see why that particular melody was best for the composition. We’d do more writing between tours than on the road. When we worked together as writers or in the studio, we each had a spark that the other would ignite. It’s a cosmic, spiritual thing—there really isn’t any other way to describe it.
Spyder wrote more often than I did—he was constantly working on songs. I think one reason he wrote so much was because of his continuing interest in experimenting with our sound. If we relied on songwriters too much, we’d run the risk of our sound becoming static. We had no interest in receiving unsolicited outside material any longer, and we’d only write with friends or writers whose work we admired. Often, when outside songwriters would bring us material, it would sound like stuff that belonged on our previous record. It would mimic without elaborating. We became insulated, locking ourselves up with the band and maybe Peter Coleman and making music undisturbed. We were always trying to evolve and experiment—it was a very prolific and satisfying time.
Our writing usually went something like this: Spyder would come out in the morning and tell me he had a title. If I hadn’t had my coffee yet, I’d wave him away for the time being.
“Get out of my face—it’s only six thirty!”
“But I’ve got a title. I’m gonna leave it on the counter.”
He’d put down a little piece of paper with his idea, walk out of the room, and let me wake up, knowing full well that the minute I saw the title I’d start thinking about the lyrics. He knew I’d be compelled no matter what the hour (it’s an annoying, dirty little trick that he’s played on me throughout our life). He’d come back in an hour or three, ready to work on it again, and by then I usually had the chorus and most of the verses. I’d almost always start by asking him about the melody.
“What’s in your head? What chords do you have so far? Give me a hint where you’re going with this.”
“It doesn’t matter,” he’d respond. “Just let me see what you’ve written.”
Once he’d read the words, he would sit down at the piano and start working on a melody that he already had in his head. I’d go off and do something else while he worked on that, and after he’d been at it for a bit, I’d come back to see what he’d done. And just like that, it would come together in a very organic way. We’d play off each other, back and forth, even though sometimes to an outsider it might have sounded more like fighting than collaboration, as if we were bickering like the married couple we were.
If he did something I didn’t agree with, I never sugarcoated it for him.
“Are you nuts?” I might say. “There’s no way that’s going to work.”
“You’re impossible. It will work. Don’t be so stubborn,” he’d shoot back.
“No, it won’t. And I’m not singing it that way. Pick a key that humans can sing in.”
“You’re such a pain in the ass. Just sing it, for chrissake.”
Or sometimes I’d come to him with an idea that he fought me over for a time. I remember one time in particular, Spyder was convinced that a song would not work for us, and we argued about it.
This was my first head shot, taken around the time I first moved to New York and started performing at Rick Newman’s club, Catch a Rising Star. Photograph by Jerry Tyson
From the very beginning, I loved being in front of a crowd. There was nothing like working the room and keeping the energy high. Photograph by Joe D’Amato
In 1979, Mike Chapman introduced me to Neil Giraldo—who would soon become “Spyder” to me. It was only a matter of months before we were getting ready for our first tour (left to right: Spyder, me, Scott Sheets). Photograph by Joe D’Amato
This shot of the band and me was taken at our first gig, at a club called My Father’s Place on Long Island (left to right: Spyder, me, Myron Grombacher, Scott, and Roger “Zel” Capps). Photograph by Joe D’Amato
Spyder and I hit it off right away—musically, we just clicked. He knew exactly what kind of guitar sound I was looking for, but it wasn’t until after we’d recorded In the Heat of the Night that we became romantically involved. Photograph from the author’s collection
Backstage with Spyder at the Boomer Theater in Norman, Oklahoma. Photograph by Vernon L. Goudy III
An outtake photograph from the cover shoot for In the Heat of the Night. Despite the strength of the song “Heartbreaker,” the label hesitated to release it as a single, but once they did, there was no looking back. Photograph by Alex Chatelain
Spyder tearing it up at the Boomer Theater in December 1979. Photograph by Vernon L. Goudy III
On that first tour for In the Heat of the Night in 1979, the crowds were insane. After “Heartbreaker” came out, everything just exploded, convincing Chrysalis, our record company, that they had to push us back into the studio to cut another album. Photograph by Vernon L. Goudy III
In the fall of 1980, we went on tour to support Crimes of Passion. Fueled by the strength of “Hit Me with Your Best Shot,” it was mayhem—crowds unlike anything we’d seen before. Photograph by Fred Joslyn
Myron Grombacher, Spyder’s childhood friend, joined the band for the first tour in 1979 and he’s been a vital part of our lives ever since, remaining one of our best friends. He and his wife, Monica, are godparents to our daughters. Photograph by Neal Preston
Live performance was the reason I started singing in the first place. The shared experience with the audience is still irresistible. Photograph by Neal Preston
The marquee outside of Madison Square Garden on the Precious Time tour. Photograph by Jeffrey Mayer
It didn’t take anyone long to realize what a game-changing phenomenon MTV was. For the “Promises in the Dark” music video, where this was taken, we rented out a soundstage in North Hollywood and taped a performance with fan club members, contest winners, family, and friends as the audience. Photograph by Neal Preston
In the beginning, MTV completely encouraged creativity and new ideas. The video for “Shadows in the Night” was unlike any video we’d done to that point. With its story line, elaborate concept about World War II, and professional actors like Judge Reinhold (pictured), I wanted to see just how far we could push the story and still have it work with the song. Photograph by Jeffrey Mayer
At the shoot for the “Get Nervous” video. Photograph by Jeffrey Mayer
The presentation of quintuple platinum albums for Crimes of Passion (from left to right: Myron, Spyder, me, Charlie Giordano, Roger, two representatives from Chrysalis, and Newman). Photograph from the author’s collection
Quintessential ’80s: lots of eyeliner and bad clothes. Photograph by Jeffrey Mayer
This photograph was taken during an HBO special that we did in New Haven, Connecticut, in 1982. Photograph by Jeffrey Mayer
A shot from the set of the video for “Love Is a Battlefield.” It took forty-eight hours of intense rehearsal to get ready for the dance sequence in the video. The end results were worth it, but I couldn’t walk for days afterward. Photograph by Misha Erwitt
During the video shoot for “Lipstick Lies” this is the band having a laugh between takes. Photograph by Jeffrey Mayer
Spyder and me in 1983. Photograph by Laura Levine
The schedule of touring and promotion was never-ending. When we weren’t recording an album, we were either on the road or promoting it with publicity photographs like this one. Photograph by Mathew Rolston
This photograph was from an article in Harper’s Bazaar. Photograph by Mathew Rolston
A publicity shot from 1984. Photograph by Wayne Mazer
This was taken on the set of the video for “We Belong,” which was featured on our album Tropico. It was while we were recording this record that I learned I was pregnant with our first daughter. Photograph by Jeffrey Mayer
On Tropico, we took our sound in a different direction, taking a step away from our signature, electric-guitar-driven sound. This photograph was taken during the video shoot for “Ooh Ooh Song.” Photograph by Jeffrey Mayer
The song and video for “Invincible” were recorded and shot only a few weeks after I gave birth to Haley in 1985. The song was on Seven the Hard Way and became a top ten hit for us. Photograph by Lester Cohen
An outtake photograph from the cover of Wide Awake in Dreamland. Photograph by Moshe Brakha
This photograph, taken in L.A. in 1988, was a promotional shot for Wide Awake in Dreamland. Photograph by Moshe Brakha
A shot from the video for “Let’s Stay Together” off of Wide Awake in Dreamland. Photograph by Lester Cohen
This photograph is from the video for “All Fired Up.” Even though the single was a hit, it couldn’t save the tour we embarked on in support of Wide Awake in Dreamland. Photograph by Lester Cohen
After the fiasco with Wide Awake in Dreamland, I was ready to walk away from singing for good. This photograph was taken for the album True Love. Spyder’s crazy idea. A collection of blues songs that inspired us to continue making music. Photograph by Randee Saint Nicholas
This shot was taken during our Can’t Stop Rockin’ tour with REO Speedwagon and Fleetwood Mac (from left to right: Myron, Spyder, and Mick Mahan). Photograph by Brigette Leonard
A photograph from our Innamorata cover session. Photograph by Dennis Keely
Me signing photographs backstage during the 2001 Summer Vacation tour. We’ve toured every summer for the past thirteen years. This allows us to be hands-on parents during the school year. Photograph by Roxanne Lowit
Spyder and I have been together for thirty-one years. Raising kids, making music, it’s been an amazing journey. Photograph by Beth Herzaft
Our daughters, Hana and Haley. Photograph by Dana Fineman
“Just listen to the vocal on the chorus. I know I can sing the shit out of that.”
“I don’t know,” he said. “It seems like a predictable love song.”
“But you can do your thing, churn it up. Make it sound huge, not like a ballad anymore,” I said insistently. “Let me sing it for you.”
Then he started warming up to it. In a few days he returned with an epic, beautifully constructed song with an arpeggiated keyboard intro that would become the most identifiable part of the monstrous hit that was “We Belong.” By working it out on his own, he’d sold himself on it. Now he was professing his love for the song, to which I promptly responded, “You’re such a pain in the ass.” He smiled back, and said, “Thanks, that’s my job.” He didn’t care how it got done as long as it was great in the end.
“We Belong” was released on Tropico, our first full studio album in two years at the time. But that wasn’t all that we produced. During the making of Tropico, we finally got pregnant.
AFTER THE SUCCESS OF “Love Is a Battlefield,” Live from Earth went platinum, and I won a Grammy for “Battlefield.” The album stayed on the charts nearly three years. Those awards, the twenty-sixth annual Grammy Awards at L.A.’s Shrine Auditorium, on February 28, 1984, marked the reign of Michael Jackson as the King of Pop. Michael won record and album awards in the overall categories for “Beat It” and Thriller; Best Pop Performance, Male, for Thriller; Best Rock Performance, Male, for “Beat It” and Best Video for “Thriller.”
In my category, Best Rock Performance, Female, I was up against Joan Armatrading for The Key, Kim Carnes for “Invisible Hands,” Stevie Nicks for “Stand Back,” and Bonnie Tyler for Faster than the Speed of Night. “Love Is a Battlefield” became my fourth Grammy win. Ironically, we didn’t attend the awards show, but they did finally televise the category and someone accepted for me. The video was nominated for an MTV Award. Those were heady days. In the midst of the awards, Crimes of Passion went five-times platinum and Precious Time was certified double platinum.
Despite everything that was going on, our break from recording emphasized that this was a time of commitment for us. Once we had made the decision to marry, everything had solidified. I was the most important person in his world, and he was the most important in mine. We shared the same goals and aspirations, the same values, and the same professional dedication. One goal in particular that we shared would have caused hysterics at our record label if they’d known about it. Spyder and I were determined to start a family.
Ever since we’d gotten married, we’d both wanted children. We actually started trying right away because we wanted more than one child, and at twenty-nine, I was not getting any younger. But it hadn’t been working. Mother Nature played her cruel hand, and after two years we still didn’t have a baby. By the time we went into the studio to record the material that would become our fifth studio album, Tropico, Spyder and I had just about given up trying to get pregnant.
Thanks in part to our prolonged break, the recording of Tropico began without much of the stress that had followed our earlier trips into the studio. We had cultivated some really strong songs and we both felt very optimistic about the ideas we had for “We Belong.”
Of course, Chrysalis was still pushing an intense timeline for us, in which we were recording the album and shooting the videos for the singles at the same time. The first video we shot was for the song “Painted Desert,” and not surprisingly the shoot took place in the desert outside of L.A. We hired an Italian director and began filming on June 21, which was the summer solstice—the longest day of the year.
It was also the hottest. I remember that the glue that held the soles of my shoes together melted. We had to improvise and make it work, but the heat was making me incredibly sick that day. Normally I’m not affected by warm temperatures, but I felt awful. I stayed in my air-conditioned trailer, only coming out when they needed me in the shot. To make matters worse, my clothes were stretched tight on every part of my body. Two weeks prior to the video, the wardrobe person had done a fitting for the clothes I’d be wearing on camera, but for some reason, now the clothes no longer fit. The pair of black pants she’d fit me for, which were supposed to be tight to begin with, were now cutting off the circulation in my waist and legs.
We filmed all day, and I struggled with my concentration the entire way. I couldn’t focus and felt sick. The heat was agony, and my clothes were vacuum-sealed to me. I counted the minutes until it was finally finished.
The next day we went to the post-production site. This director liked to edit on a big screen, and the images from the footage we’d shot were huge. Surprisingly they looked pretty good, considering the main character had been barely able to participate.
At one point I was in the editing room alone with the director; he leaned over and in his thick Italian accent, he quietly asked, “You are with child?”
What a crazy thing to say, out of the blue. I barely know this guy.
“Oh no, no,” I responded. “We can’t have children.”
A shot of me was on the big screen, and he paused the footage, walked over to me, and looked intensely into my eyes. Then he smiled.
“Look here,” he said, walking over to the big screen and pointing at my face. “You see there in your eye—a little light. You are with child!”
At first, I thought to myself, Wow, this guy spent way too much time in the sun yesterday. But then I started thinking about how awful the shoot had been, how sick I’d felt, and how my clothes didn’t fit. I didn’t want to hope, but immediately I made an appointment to see my ob-gyn the next day. The blood test confirmed what the director had seen in my eyes the day before: I was pregnant.
I couldn’t believe it; two years of trying and testing, and suddenly it was a reality. Even the girls in the doctor’s office cried. I didn’t know how to tell Spyder. I needed something special. On my way to meet him at the MCA Whitney studio, where we were recording, I bought a pair of knitted infant booties.
“Where’ve you been?” he asked curiously when I finally arrived.
“Editing and the doctor’s office.”
“The doctor’s? How come?”
I placed the gift-wrapped box with the baby shoes inside on the recording console. He opened it and stared down at its contents. For a couple of moments, he froze. He looked up at me, stood, and went straight into the bathroom. He didn’t come out for thirty minutes. When he finally came out, he headed straight for me and said, “Is it true?”
I smiled and said, “Yes.”
The atmosphere in MCA Whitney shifted immediately. Everyone was overwhelmed by the news. They’d all known how difficult it had been for Spyder and me those last two years. The announcement elicited a collective sigh of relief from everyone in our lives. Immediately all of the nerves and stress that went into recording just melted away. Who had time to fret when we’d been blessed with the seemingly impossible?
And so making Tropico became one of the best recording experiences either of us ever had. I was euphoric and felt completely inspired. We felt we were making a record that had been blessed with a miracle. The entire band was so relaxed, and all of us were curious to try new arrangements. Being pregnant permeated the entire process. Pregnancy makes all the long muscles in your body relax, and your vocal cords are a long muscle. Suddenly I found that I could do things vocally that I’d never been able to do before. And once I did, I was able to re-create that sound even without the pregnancy hormones. I’ve never had an easier time singing than when I was pregnant. To hear Spyder tell it, it was the most cooperative I’d ever been (but it was over as soon as I gave birth).
Unfortunately, our good moods couldn’t control the fact that I periodically had to deal with the realities of pregnancy. By the time we were filming the video for “We Belong,” I was a few months along and suffering from morning sickness. Throughout the shoot, when I felt sick, I’d run to the bathroom, throw up, brush my teeth, reapply lipstick, and then go back for another take. The whole time I had saltine crackers in the pocket of my jacket, and I’d eat the crackers in the hope that they would curb my queasiness.
Morning sickness aside, I found being pregnant and recording to go pretty well together—that is, until Chrysalis heard about what was going on. When Chrysalis got wind that I was pregnant, they were definitely notthrilled. They wanted it to be a guarded secret. They didn’t want any photos taken of me once I started to show, and they didn’t want me talking about babies in interviews. And of course, they made it clear that they wanted me to go right back to my vixen self as soon as that baby was born and get right back on tour. No time off. Not during the pregnancy and not afterward. I guess they thought the audiences wouldn’t notice that I was pregnant and that journalists wouldn’t ask about it. I told them that they could kiss my ass.
“This is my life,” I told them. And I meant it. I was all about family.
For his part, Newman was happy for us but worried about the impact this would have on my career. It meant we’d have to take time off (what a concept) and that my image would be changed in everyone’s eyes.
“Why would you do something like this?”
He was an old friend. So I attempted to explain how unhappy Spyder and I had been when we thought we might never have children and how excited we were to find out that we were finally pregnant. Newman wanted the best for us, but he was also concerned about how the pregnancy would complicate things.
For the first several months of my pregnancy, I continued to work on Tropico, making the video for “Ooh Ooh Song” in addition to the videos for “Painted Desert” and “We Belong.” Eventually though, Chrysalis insisted that I rest, not because they cared about my well-being but because they didn’t want me to be seen. They were adamant that no one get a shot of me when I was pregnant. I wore big coats and loose clothing to hide it. At one point, I was actually chased by the paparazzi, which was unusual in those days, as I was coming out of a movie theater on Fifty-seventh Street in New York. Luckily I was with my old friend Cynthia Zimmer, who proceeded to chase away the photographers with her gigantic Louis Vuitton bag. Needless to say, no one ever saw a photo of me pregnant.
It may sound amusing, not to mention ridiculous, but it wasn’t funny at the time. In fact, it was terribly upsetting. This was the 1980s and I was a married woman, yet Chrysalis treated me like some Hollywood starlet from the fifties who’d been knocked up out of wedlock. My pregnancy was something to be ashamed of instead of celebrated. It was insulting, not to mention sexist. It was discrimination in the workplace, plain and simple. I shouldn’t have been shocked, but I was. They had spent years objectifying me, but somehow I thought pregnancy would be different. This was about the beauty of childbirth; this was about my life, my family. This should have been off-limits.
Of course all of these frustrations evaporated with the birth of our beautiful daughter Haley on February 16, 1985. She came into the world demurely, no crying, no purple baby skin. Just beautiful eyes shining and bright, with a full head of black hair and eyelashes that looked like caterpillars draped over her eyelids. Spyder and I were overjoyed. At last, we were a family. Everything about our lives was changed the second she drew her first breath. It was a new day. The playing field was about to be leveled, by a seven-pound infant.
FOR EVERY DAY SINCE I was old enough to think, I’ve considered myself a feminist. Even before I knew what that word meant, I was one. From early on, I believed that it was my job to advocate for women’s rights in every context because we were equal to men in every way. I believed that if you protected the rights of one group, all groups’ rights would be protected. It was simple, it was pure, and as a young girl growing up in the sixties, it was my mantra.
In my parents’ house, feminism wasn’t theoretical; it was being practiced every day. Everyone’s paycheck counted and everyone was expected to do their share of child rearing, grocery shopping, and dish washing. My parents did this without debate or bitterness. It was simply their way of life. They loved each other and respected the contribution each of them made to the family. This was the atmosphere that I grew up in. It never occurred to me that women could be regarded as inferior.
I could have been the poster child for feminism in America. I read everything I could get my hands on, attended rallies at school, and protested discrimination against women on the railroad tracks in the middle of town. As I got older, squishing all those worms on my bare legs to prove myself to the boys paid off big-time, helping me scrape my way through high school, life as a military wife, the South, and the boys’ club of rock and roll. I forged a path for myself where there wasn’t one before, putting up with lecherous radio program directors, sexist record executives, and all their sleazy brethren. Now, at long last, I was someone’s mother. My life—both professional and personal—would never be the same.
From the first moment I held that baby in my arms, I knew things would be different. For all my blustering and battling, I’d spent six long years being vetoed or coerced into doing things I didn’t want to do. I’d made concessions because I didn’t want to be a bitch or cause problems for the band or upset Newman, or because of whatever stupid reason I used to rationalize allowing them. With Haley in my arms, I knew those days were over. I had something to protect that trumped all else: my daughter’s future. Now every artistic and financial decision would impact her life. It wasn’t just about Spyder and me anymore.
Of course just because Haley was born didn’t mean that Chrysalis was about to change their ways. They hadn’t had much regard for our personal lives before, and they sure as hell didn’t after. It was difficult enough being a first-time mother without their hassling. Ask any new mom how ominous it is to suddenly be responsible for the care and well-being of an exquisite little creature whom you love more than your own life. It’s terrifying. Complicating things for me was the fact that when Haley was born I knew nothing. I’d never even babysat when I was a young girl. I had no idea what I was doing. Not to mention that being an entertainer brought a whole new set of problems. I knew women who were married to rock stars and who had their babies with them when they traveled. But when I had Haley, I knew few female rock stars to begin with, let alone female rock stars with babies. There’s no handbook for being a rocker girl with a newborn baby.
At heart, though, I was simply a working mother, and working mothers are all pretty much the same. Our profession is incidental. We all feel like we have no grip, like there aren’t enough hands or hours in the day. Every one of us has to choose between our child and our job every day—and it sucks. There’s absolutely nothing worse than having to pry the fingers of your sick-with-a-101-degree-temperature toddler off your body and walk out the door to go to work. It’s horrible, even when “work” is performing at Madison Square Garden.
One of the most reassuring things I heard around that time was something Chrissie Hynde told me when I ran into her at an event where she had brought her little girl, who was born about six months before Haley. I’d met Chrissie a couple of times while we were on the road. I’d long admired her work. I loved her voice and I appreciated her unorthodox attitude. But she was dark and moody. There was a distance she possessed. We never really connected, but we were acquaintances and new mothers. I asked her how it was going, being a new mother and a rocker. I hoped maybe, since she was six months ahead of me in the mom department, she would have some good advice or insight.
“How are you doing this?” I asked in desperation. She shook her head.
“I’m not doing it! I’m not doing it! I’m just trying to get through the day—every day.”
Oh, crap! I couldn’t believe that she was telling me it didn’t get any easier. But once I thought it over, I realized that what she’d said was priceless. I knew that I was no different than anyone else. It’s the hardest job that you’ll ever love. And it is your job. I’ll never try to perpetuate the big lie—that you can do it all easily. But I will tell you that it’s worth every minute of it.
I started being very honest about what being a new mom on the road was like, and I never stopped telling people the truth. Years later, when I had my second daughter, Hana, I remember a young journalist explaining how other singers readied themselves for their shows.
“I’ve heard that Mariah Carey lies down in the back of the bus and doesn’t take her head off the pillow,” the woman said. “Her assistants bring her a warm liquid that she sips through a straw to keep her vocal cords loose.”
I nodded. Okay.
“And Céline Dion doesn’t speak for twenty-four hours before a concert,” the woman continued. “How is it with you?”
So I told her how it was with me.
“Here’s what I do. I’m standing in the bathroom on the bus trying to put on mascara for the show. My two-year-old is sitting on the potty saying, ‘Mommy, wipe me!’ That’s how I get ready.”
The young woman, who was only twenty-three years old, was horrified. Horrified!
“Oh…” was about all she managed to get out. I just smiled. I didn’t say anything. I didn’t need to.
I’m not sure she got it, unless maybe the day came when she went to a meeting with baby puke on her blouse or had to wipe a child’s bottom while trying to get ready for something. As for me, I decided that to be a parent is to develop your sense of humor. I decided I rather liked the idea of being Erma Bombeck with an edge.
Ultimately, what I discovered with Haley was a hard lesson that many women, before and after, have been forced to confront: no matter how wonderful having your baby is, there is a big lie about how you can easily have it all as a working mother. The truth is, you can have it all, but it ain’t gonna be easy. It’s not like they told you—they lied about motherhood and careers. It’s harder than you think it’s gonna be. You can do it, and I think you should do it. But go in with your eyes wide open, and know that sometimes people won’t try to make it easier for you. They won’t realize that your children—your family—must come first, and the career second.
And that was the part the feminists conveniently left out. There was no mention of how the scent of a newborn could render you incapable of making a clear decision. No explanation of how love-drunk you would be because of baby spit and chubby little fingers. No sense of how some primal bond hard-wired in your brain could cause you to do unthinkable things—like want to stay home and be a wife and mother.
But that’s exactly what happened. In the weeks and months immediately after Haley’s birth, my brain went smooth. I couldn’t write, I didn’t want to sing—I just wanted to be with my baby. “We Belong” had missed the deadline to be nominated for a Grammy, and so for the first time in four years, I didn’t win one. That wasn’t the strange part, though. The strange part was that I didn’t even care.