EURYTHMICS: A TUNE PLAYED TO TENSION
Dave Stewart enjoys pointing out how his relationship with his partner in Eurythmics, Annie Lennox, was all backwards.
“Most couples get famous and then break up,” he said, chuckling, as he sat beside a pool outside his rented Studio City house. “But we broke up and then got famous.”
The pair lived together in the late ‘70s while members of a British band called the Tourists, and they shared such a strong musical vision that they were eager to form their own group when the Tourists called it quits in 1980. The only problem: Their personal relationship was unraveling.
“Our first reaction was that it was impossible--to break up and still make music together,” Stewart continued. “But the experience made us stronger. We had this goal--and we were determined not to let anything get in the way.”
In a separate interview, Lennox expanded on the delicate point in their lives--and how that tension contributed to the often mysterious, dramatic edge in Eurythmics hits like “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This),” “Love Is a Stranger” and “Here Comes the Rain Again.”
“I met Dave when I was about 22, 23,” Lennox said, having a breakfast of carrot juice and melon in a pool lounge area at a West Hollywood hotel. “By the time Eurythmics started, I was about 26, 27 and I think I needed to find myself. I had lived through a lot of other people and through Dave, and I wanted to sort of break away from that. But I knew creatively I didn’t want to work with anybody except Dave.
“So, there was this strange tension--the pain of the breakup and the excitement of working together on the music. In some ways, that tension has never really gone away. There is always something that brings an edge to what we do.”
Tension follows the Eurythmics, who’ll be at the Greek Theatre on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday and at the Pacific Amphitheatre on Saturday. The duo’s songs are like a series of emotional land mines. Just when you think you are in safe territory, there’s an explosion. For every moment of smoldering desperation, however, there is a sense of survival.
Consider Side 1 of the group’s new “Revenge” album.
“Thorn in My Side,” the second track, is about as bitter as mainstream pop-rock gets. Sample line: “Now every time I think of you / I shiver to the bone.” Equally angry is “The Last Time,” the fourth number. Sample line: “Who will go to you / When there is no one left to betray?”
Tucked around these songs, however, are two shamelessly soothing and uplifting love songs: “When Tomorrow Comes” and “The Miracle of Love.”
If Eurythmics’ outlook is sometimes confusing, the duo’s image, too, has left lots of fans puzzled--ever since the group’s striking “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” record and video arrived in 1983.
Lennox--with her close-cropped, carrot-color hair style that demanded your attention--and Stewart--with a goofy, bird’s-nest ‘do that defied you to take him seriously--were a genuine odd couple.
Even though Lennox’s sensual, soul-accented vocals and provocative lyrics on the “Sweet Dreams” album were clues that this duo would have staying power, it was the live shows that first helped you see how the pieces fit together.
Lennox was a strong, confident performer whose manner on stage underscored the mystery and tension in her lyrics. Both elements were escalated in Eurythmics’ videos. In “Who’s That Girl,” Lennox played both a man and a woman who eventually kiss each other.
And Lennox went for another strong image in TV guest appearances. She walked on stage during the 1984 Grammys looking like an Elvis-style, male rocker.
“I always have trouble with this word image because the word suggests something a little too superficial,” Lennox said. “I prefer the word presentation because that suggests a lot more thought has gone into it.”
About the Grammy presentation, she said, “The record company wanted us to make an appearance on the Grammy show because they thought it would be prestigious for us, but we were very reticent about it. We felt our stance was not one in the bosom of the conventional music scene. We wouldn’t have been comfortable simply going on and playing our latest ‘hit’ song.
“So, we wanted to find a way to present ourselves that would satisfy the record company and satisfy our own feelings. There had been a lot of talk about sexual ambiguity that year, so we decided this would be a perfect way to kind of put it back in their face . . . a way of saying, ‘You want me to be a gender-bender? Here I am.’ ”
If the early tours and albums demonstrated that Eurythmics made music as consistently interesting and flavorful as anyone in mainstream pop-rock in the ‘80s, it took a little longer for many to recognize that it wasn’t just a one-person show.
Stewart may have a goofy hair style, but he is a master of pop sounds and an exceptionally tasteful guitarist. He has become such a respected musician that he has been involved in recent months on projects with such varied artists as Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Daryl Hall and Bob Geldof.
When Eurythmics first hit, however, interviewers just wanted to talk to Lennox. Now, however, they seek out both members of Eurythmics--and both partners speak easily, though Stewart seems most at ease when talking about the music, while Lennox will go into more personal, introspective areas.
Scotland-born Lennox, whose hair is now an off-platinum color, was living in London when she met Stewart in the mid-'70s. She was working as a waitress, but already had her eye on a pop-music career. Lennox had been in a couple of bands and had spent three years at the Royal Academy of Music, studying to be a flutist. She left the Academy a week before final exams because she found the life of a classical musician too stifling.
“Coming from the provinces and having a limited experience of life, I didn’t fully appreciate what kind of personality you would have to have to be a classical musician,” she said.
“That’s why I quit when I did. I found it a little disturbing that people were prepared to practice eight to 10 hours a day with one instrument alone. I found that very isolating and I realized I didn’t have that kind of dedication.”
Lennox’s parents were hurt by her decision, but she felt liberated. “The result of that bad experience was a desperate search for something that did have some meaning to me,” she continued. “I don’t know why, but I started to sing and I realized my voice was good.”
She remembers Joni Mitchell as a special inspiration--the idea of a woman writing and singing such personal songs. Mainly, though, she leaned to the music of Stevie Wonder and Motown. She began combing through British pop weeklies, responding to ads by bands seeking female singers. She did a few shows, but was still working as a waitress when she met and fell in love with Stewart.
Though Stewart was perceived as part of the British synth-pop movement when Eurythmics hit here, his roots are deep in American music. Ask Stewart about his influences and he’ll go into long commentaries about bluesmen like Mississippi John Hurt and Robert Johnson. And he can spend hours analyzing Dylan’s albums.
The Englishman had already made a couple of records and been in several bands (including the Amazing Blondel and Longdancer) by the time he met Lennox. At the time, he was writing and singing songs with a pal named Peet Coombes. Eventually, Lennox started singing with them, and the Tourists emerged.
When that band broke up, Stewart and Lennox knew exactly what they wanted to do. They even tacked a “manifesto” on the wall of their rehearsal room.
“The idea was to make things simple . . . to help us keep moving in the right direction,” he said. “The list included things like . . . make sure Annie’s vocals were extremely loud . . . all the way to the fact that we love Motown and Stax records.”
“Annie and I felt that at the time of, say, Sam and Dave’s peak, that there was an amazing amount of passion in the recording of soul music. . . . That whole thing of Otis Redding. They would be sweating and pumping it out and it would be amazing.
“We wanted to get back that old feeling, but you can’t do it by re-creating it. We realized the thing to do was to reach for the tension of that music by using really cold feeling electronically, the kind of stuff that was coming out of Germany, and mixing it with Annie’s passionate vocals. That was the heart of what we wanted to do.”
Tension re-entered their relationship dramatically in 1984 when Lennox suddenly announced that she was getting married.
“I think Dave was devastated by that . . . very concerned that I hadn’t given the marriage (to a Hare Krishna devotee) enough thought,” she said.
“Dave was terribly afraid that I might be changing dramatically and moving away from him in such a way we couldn’t relate or communicate together.
“And he was right in a way. I was going off on this tangent. I think I felt there was a sort of spiritual void in my life and I hoped the person I married would kind of fill that gap. To be realistic, the marriage only lasted a few weeks before I realized it wasn’t going to work.”
Lennox had written about the perils of romance before her marriage and subsequent divorce. Still, there is bound to be speculation that some of the songs on the new album--including the satiric “Missionary Man” and “Thorn in My Side"--are reflections on the short-lived marriage.
“I don’t like talking about the songs on that level,” she said. “But I am aware of the anachronisms that exist and the dualities that go on in life.
“I like to feel the songs are rather like a crystal that you can look at in different ways, from different sides, so that one line can be a positive statement about love and the next line would be total disillusionment. The human state is going through continual flux. It is for me, anyway.”
Stewart reflected in his separate interview on Lennox’s marriage.
“I could see Annie was really lonely at the time and we were on a world tour, and she can’t really meet people,” he said. “When you are a famous girl singer, what do you do? She was stuck in a hotel room. There was a lot of emptiness in her life.”
What about relationships in his own life?
“It’s hard,” said Stewart, who also is single. “What are you going to say to people? ‘Oh, yeah, let’s be together . . . I’ll see you in eight months.’ It’s really difficult. I am very attracted to people who do things, not just someone who would follow me about, and the trouble is those people usually are quite busy trying to do their own thing. I can’t just say to someone, ‘Forget about your life, you have to come with me.’ There is this constant dilemma.”
He gazed across the backyard of the comfortable Studio City home and added.
“That’s one of the things that makes us such a good team. We are opposites in some ways . . . like the way we look. . . . But we also see things a lot alike. Lots of times people miss the point of what we do on stage or in videos. They take things seriously when we are really sending it up. . . . Or at other times we are being quite serious and people can’t quite understand it.
“We are walking on the edge all the time. We even play around with aspects of our relationships. On the last tour, I would go over to Annie at one point in the show and try to kiss her on the cheek and she would move away. It’s just another way to inject some tension, and get people to wonder about what is real and what isn’t.”