Annie Lennox

Annie Lennox

This piece first appeared in the Sunday Independent on January 23, 2005.

Pop Psychology

‘We’ll pretend it’s therapy’ Annie Lennox tells me, closing her eyes and stretching her long, cheetah-like frame out on the leather couch in front of me. ‘And if I don’t feel better by the time we’re finished I want my money back.’ She props her close-cropped head up on one elbow and looks at me sideways. ‘OK. Fire away.’
So what’s bothering the patient these days then? ‘Oh I’m fine really. People have the idea that I’m this sad individual. You always see tabloid headlines about ‘sad Annie’, as though I’m walking around with this huge weight on my shoulders. But I’m not really like that at all. Of course I have my melancholic side but I’ve been through a lot. Show me anyone who has lived more than fifteen years and I bet you they have that side to them too.’
It’s been a heady decade and a half since she and Dave Stewart went their separate ways. She gave birth to two daughters, divorced filmmaker Uri Fruchtmann and toured the world as a solo star, gathering Grammies and gold disks as she went.
The divorce was difficult. ‘Everyone has a dream of being in a happy family and I suppose I’d realised that wasn’t going to happen at that time. That’s a harsh realisation. But you move on. I’ve been through a lot in terms of loss and it’s helped me grow up, to know what other people go through.’
Fruchtmann is the father of her children and she shares custody with him. Having children, she says changed her life. ‘Up to then I would have said my capacity to love was very limited. Suddenly I had a child and I realised that she was totally and absolutely dependent on my care. It was terrifying because I realised I’m a flawed individual and a single mother. And you think back to your own childhood and you are keenly aware of wanting not to make the same mistake your won parents made.’
Lennox was born on Christmas Day 1954 to a working class family in Aberdeen, Scotland. ‘It was the post war years; a very different time. My parents were teenagers when the war was going on. It was an era of shortage and real poverty. There was food on the table but I experienced that second hand through my parents and grandparents. They’d tell me ‘money doesn’t grow on trees’ that I was ‘lucky’ to get an education.’
As a teenager Annie travelled to London to study at the Royal Academy of Music but, to her parents dismay, left three weeks before she was due to graduate. While struggling to make a name for herself as a singer she took a job as a waitress. One of her customers was a young musician named Dave Stewart. Pop legend had it that his first words to her were ‘will you marry me?’ (‘I thought he was a complete nutter’ she recalls). Despite Annie’s initial reservations the pair soon moved in together and began collaborating musically. They went on to become the most successful duo in music history, scoring a string of number ones and drawing critical acclaim for their stark iconoclastic videos and cool electronic pop.
In 1990, after a decade at the top, they split. ‘It seemed to make no sense to formally say ‘we’re breaking up’, so we never did that. People always want some story about some big fight but there really wasn’t any. But there were lots of unspoken tensions certainly. We both needed to do other things. I was hankering after having a family.’
In the last few months they secretly met up again. ‘I went to LA and spent some time with him and his family. Of course we never discussed writing or anything but when I got down there he suggested maybe we should try something out. And then I stayed for a few more days. We were kind of going behind the back of the record company. We didn’t want that pressure.’
The resultant track will appear on their new best-of package. She bristles slightly at the suggestion that fans might already have the first one. ‘I know people say ‘oh why another great hits’, but I don’t think two in two decades is too many.’ I still feel fresh and cutting edge!’
She is unimpressed with the state of modern music. ‘The very worst thing are these TV talent music shows, which weren’t there when I started. Public humiliation ordeals I call them. I cringe. They’re like the modern equivalent of the medieval stocks. I find it disturbing that people have so many opportunities and that’s how they want to make their name.’
She is sincere but can get tripped up by her own vaguely phrased wordiness. (‘We are lambasted with images of romantic love. No wait, lambasted is not the word… bludgeoned maybe?’) and at times can sound less like a gender bending eighties icon and more like a dizzy Miss world contestant (‘I want to show love in all my dealings with mankind… time can seems like a short time or a long time, depending on the context – it’s a weird paradox’).
However, even a cursory listen to the hits package is enough to convince that this tendency to waffliness thankfully never filtered down to the song writing stage. The combination of clever, kinky lyrics, her rich white-soul voice and ice cool synth-pop sounds as compelling now as it did when everyone was on the dole and Annie had a shocking red crew cut.
Her daughters have slowly become aware of her celebrity. ‘I had never discussed it – my music career – much. What could I have said? The first awakening for them was seeing me on the last tour. Then it was like ‘oh’ and they could put some of the pieces together. But they’re much more interested in their own lives, which is as it should be.’
She seems proud of her longevity and coming up 51, she has aged well nearly as ‘Love is a Stranger.’ ‘There aren’t many who have, musically speaking, lasted the course like I have. And this is all natural darling’, she laughs and lays her head back on the couch. ‘You know when we started people thought we would be a one hit wonder, but I’m still here. I’m not going anywhere.’

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~ by Donal Lynch on January 21, 2008.