Saturday, January 11, 2014

Sweet Dream Come True: A long-awaited chat with Eurythmics’ Dave Stewart

As anyone who’s come near me in the past quarter-century already knows, I love Eurythmics. Would I lie to you?

At a time when MTV was churning out cookie-cutter bands, Eurythmics broke the mold with Annie Lennox’s gender-bending appearance, Dave Stewart’s synth-driven creativity and the unique sound that resulted (“icy cold European music with a soulfulness about it,” as he puts it).

I was Member No. 966 of their U.S. fan club. I exchanged lengthy letters with pen pals across the continent. Their 1986 gig at Memorial Coliseum was my first concert ever.

But as a sexually confused teenager, I kept quiet about my fanaticism for fear of drawing extra attention to myself. This was during middle school in Salem, and I wanted to blend in, not stand out.

When I finally decided to “come out” as a Eurythmite during high school, it was a liberating experience that gave me an early indication of what it feels like to be true to yourself. As a suicidal adolescent, I felt empowered by these lyrics from “You Have Placed a Chill in My Heart”: “Don’t cut me down when I’m talking to you, ’cause I’m much too tall to feel that small.”

Before long, my hopeless devotion to Dave and Annie became common knowledge among friends. I even quoted from “The King and Queen of America” in my 1990 commencement address: “We’re gonna build a little satellite, we’re gonna make it fly…and all of them aliens are gonna find out who we are.”

So you can only imagine my excitement at the opportunity to interview Stewart, who called to discuss his latest endeavor, The Dave Stewart Songbook—Volume One, an ambitious career retrospective for which he assembled a 30-piece “Rock Fabulous Orchestra” to reinterpret his vast catalog. The two-disc set includes songs from his underrated solo material (including the instrumental hit “Lily Was Here,” featuring a memorable sax line from Candy Dulfer), his writing/producing collaborations (Tom Petty, Sinéad O’Connor, Mick Jagger) and his series of dynamic duos: Eurythmics (with Lennox), Vegas (with The Fun Boy Three’s Terry Hall) and Platinum Weird (with incoming American Idol judge Kara DioGuardi). The infamous multitasker is not only taking the show on the road, but he’s also written an accompanying coffee table book filled with his celebrity photographs, some of which are on display through October at New York’s Morrison Hotel Gallery.

“If I was just to play over and over again the same songs and tour the world, I could be very jaded at this time in my life,” says Stewart, fresh off celebrating his 56th birthday with some time in the studio alongside dyke songwriter Linda Perry (Christina Aguilera’s “Beautiful”) and veteran producer Glen Ballard (Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill). “But now I’m really excited.”

For someone who fields phone calls from Ringo Starr, Nelson Mandela and Deepak Chopra—not to mention his lofty title as Nokia’s “Change Agent,” to help shape the future entertainment distribution model—Stewart remains remarkably grounded. “When I was younger, oh my God, I would’ve never believed in a million years I would be sitting in a kitchen strumming a guitar with Bob Dylan.”

It’s that type of easygoing attitude that probably helped Stewart as he was courting controversy in the early days of Eurythmics. After all, a lot has changed since “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” topped the U.S. singles chart 25 years ago this month. Today we have Katy Perry singing about kissing girls with nary a gasp—a far cry from the 1984 Grammy Awards, where Lennox stunned the crowd by performing in drag.

“It was like we were playing each other’s muse,” Stewart says. “To Annie and myself, everything was boring. When the punk movement came, it was like, ‘OK, that’s the end of rock ’n’ roll as we know it.’ We wanted to be androgynous in a way…almost like performance art. We never thought we’d have anything to do with the pop charts.”

Although Stewart is married with four children, he has fond memories of London’s oh-so-queer New Wave scene.

“Once you got into this idea of playing with sexuality, it actually brings out stuff within yourself. It opens up a door into another world,” he shares. “We met loads of gay people—you know, Steve Strange and all these characters that were around. Boy George came bouncing into our dressing room; he had long hair, and he’d ironed it so it went sort of horizontal into a 3-foot circle around his head. I remember Quentin Crisp did a [fake] wedding ceremony with me and Nona Hendryx.

“We really threw ourselves into it. We played in gay clubs like Heaven in London, and we met some of the most inspiring people and had a real feeling of community about it.”

Originally published in Just Out, Sept. 19, 2008

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