Pat Benatar’s bus is a mess. Strewn across its counter tops, seat cushions and narrow center aisle, and overflowing from a hanging trash bag, are piles of paper, half a dozen empty beer bottles and several videocassette boxes (Rebel Without a Cause, The Green Berets, The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea).
But mostly, there’s evidence of a serious junk-food fetish. “Thirteen and a half hours to Omaha!” Benatar had exclaimed that afternoon. “We’re gonna need some doughnuts!” Standing in mute testimony are the remnants of enough bags of Lay’s potato chips, chocolate-chip cookies and bubble gum to fuel a sixth-grade class for a fortnight. So when the bus pulls out of a desolate truck stop in Beto Junction, Kansas, it’s not surprising that the trash bag tears free and crashes to the floor near lead guitarist Neil Geraldo.
“I’ll get it, hon,” Benatar says to Geraldo, her boyfriend. She picks up the bag, shoves the spillage back inside, ties it up and puts a fresh one in its place. Then she goes back to cleaning the counters. Geraldo lies motionless on the couch while bassist Roger Capps idly peruses a copy of Swank. He bought it for the 3-D spread, but the cowriter of Benatar’s hit “My Clone Sleeps Alone” is delighted to find, in a column on women’s sexual day-dreams, a letter from a randy reader who fantasizes about her clone.
Pat Benatar is the star aboard this vehicle. She has one of the nation’s fastest-selling albums. Crimes of Passion, which jumped into Billboard‘s Top Twenty three weeks after its release. She also has another Top Sixty album: In the Heat of the Night, her 1979 debut, which contains her breakthrough hit single, “Heartbreaker.” She’s in the middle of a five-month tour of the U.S., Canada and Europe, and more often than not, critics are calling her things like “a tough, sexy, fiery vocalist . . . with a voice powerful enough to shatter concrete.” She has a “platinum” bubble-gum card—part of the new Chu-Bops series. And as one of rock’s certified sex symbols, her leonine, Spandex-clad form gracefully adorns two album covers and countless publicity photos.
But she’s also the woman on this bus. And she doesn’t seem to mind the domestic duties that apparently go with that station. “Look who gets to clean up,” she says, flashing an easy grin as she brushes aside a stack of sports magazines. “This is such a boy band. But I don’t mind. I’ll even do the dishes.”
Of all the female performers who have recently emerged to challenge rock’s male bastions. Pat Benatar is probably the most successful — outselling even Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders. But where Hynde’s hard-bitten stance challenges the rock & roll establishment. Benatar’s achievement is different. She brings a multioctave, classically trained voice to the kind of material male rockers have been singing for years: “Heartbreaker” is a typical, densely layered hard rocker reminiscent of songs by dozens of male-led British bands.
The only thing revolutionary about the song is that a woman sings it. And it helped that that woman was undeniably attractive and had a penchant for wearing one-piece Danskins and skimpy tights. Benatar was a marketing man’s dream come true: her first shows found critics calling her “a vampish, sensual bitch” and angered some who felt she merely perpetuated an old stereotype.
As we sit on the comfortable red couch in her and Geraldo’s private room at the back of the bus, the five-foot, ninety-pound singer shakes the new short-and-straight hairdo that rims her delicate features. Flexing her blue-jeaned legs and fidgeting with a baggy yellow sweat shirt, she slowly warms to the midnight conversation, her Brooklyn-inflected voice often breaking into laughter and, quite often, downright giggles.