Sunday, May 14,
LENNOX: STILL OUT ON A LIMB, BUT WITH HER FEET ON THE
by James Gavin
Photo by Bettina
ANNIE LENNOX would rather not appear in public these days.
But when she does, she makes an impression. Just before the
release of her new album, "Medusa," in March, she agreed to
present an award at the Grammys. "Normally I shy away from
that sort of thing," she says. "Then I thought, 'What the
heck, I'm about to have a record out, people need to see
me. I'll use this.' So I became an industry slut for the
To demonstrate her point, she wore a black leather dress
and Mickey Mouse ears. Nobody watching seemed to have a
clue what the get-up meant, but it was perfectly clear to
her. "I think Michey Mouse is very sinister," she explains.
"My children love him, all children love him, but Mickey
Mouse is big because of dollars." The same is true of the
Grammys, she says: "I wore the ears and the leather dress
to connect the Mickey Mouse crown, if you will, with the
fetishistic dark underworld of sex and whoredom that the
Grammys represent. So I used the occasion, but also said
something about it."
Now 40, the Scottish-born singer and songwriter has never
been afraid to go out on a limb. As half of the Eurythmics
-- the duo that ruled British technopop throughout the 80's
-- she took on the guise of a carrot-haired androgyne, a
dyed-blond tart and a dozen other characters as a way of
commenting on the masks people hide behind. "Sweet Dreams
(Are Made of This)," the single that launched her and her
partner, Dave Stewart, in 1983, made a chilling statement
about greed and opportunism that come wrapped in pretty
packages. In 1992, Ms. Lennox took a mocking look at
herself, naming her first solo album "Diva"; it sold five
"Medusa" conspicuously makes no statement at all. It
consists solely of remakes of other people's songs: "Take
Me to the River" (Al Green), "A Whiter Shade of Pale"
(Procol Harum), "Downtown Lights" (Blue Nile) and so on.
The idea came of necessity: With two young daughters, Lola,
4, and Tali, 2, to occupy her, not to mention her husband
of seven years, the Israeli film maker Uri Fruchtmann, Ms.
Lennox has not written a single song since "Diva."
"Medusa" has remained in the Billboard's top 20, despite
many mixed reviews. Steve Morse, writing in The Boston
Globe, called it a "strange side track" that "favors
polite, stylized songs that wallow in mush." But for other
listeners, it exploits Ms. Lennox's greatest strength; her
reedy, lashing alto voice with its touches of white soul.
"Medusa" inspired the singer Linda Ronstadt to call her
"the best female rock singer from the 70's onward, hands
down," adding, "There's emotion permeating every
brilliantly executed twist and turn.
And when will her fans get to feel that emotion in person?
They won't, at least not soon. No tour is planned, and her
managers are turning down nearly every offer.
Two months ago, when she came to Manhattan to do "Saturday
Night Live," she granted only a handful of interviews.
Arriving for one of them at a secluded midtown restauant,
she wore a plain navy suit, glasses and almost no makeup.
But her angular blank slate of a face, with its probing,
blue-eyed stare, made her unmistakable.
She had come to town with her daughters but resisted any
motherly urge to show them off. "Compared to most people in
my profession, I separate my public life from what I do
privately," she said in her tense Scottish burr. "I pick up
the papers, and you're in somebody's bathroom, and they're
posing with their dog in the Jacuzzi, and I'm thinking:
'Why are they doing this? What are they gaining? And what
are they losing emotionally?"'
These were the questions she had begun to ask heself in the
late 80's, after years of nonstop touring with Mr. Stewart,
her former lover. It was a time, she says, of groping for
an identity. A brief marriage to a Hare Krishna monk had
left her even more confused. Meeting her current husband
helped bring her life into focus; so did quitting the
Eurythmics in 1990. (She and Mr. Stewart haven't spoken
since, she says.)
After two years out of the spotlight, Ms. Lennox resurfaced
with "Diva," a hard look at the price of fame. In 2 of the
record's 10 acclaimed videos, the singer took on the guise
of a tired showgirl in pink and orange feathers. She gave
one conert in Montreux, Switzerland, and then settled into
domestic life. "Maybe I'll never make another record," she
said at the time. "I might just go away."
By the beginning of 1994, she was back in the studio with a
new challenge: to express herself through the songs of
others. "Medusa" took more than a year to complete. On it,
she created a gospel chorus with her own voice on "Train in
Vain," the punk hit by the Clash; murmurs Neil Young's
end-of-the-world anthem "Don't Let It Bring You Down" with
icy detachment, and sings the playful Bob Marley ballad
"Waiting in Vain" with utter defenselessness. "There are
all kinds of subtexts going on that I'm sure are extremely
private to her," says Ms. Ronstadt. "And they're completely
The title of "No More 'I Love You's,"' a minor hit in 1986
for the British duo the Lover Speaks, inspired the album's
first video: a fantasia on the whole "mythology of love,"
as Ms. Lennox calls it. "Sex and love are very much bound
up together," she says, "and, in most instances, they have
very little to do with each other. They're used as exchange
With that in mind, she searched out an abandoned music hall
in London and created a turn-of-the-century bordello
modeled after paintings by Degas and Toulouse-Lautrec. Ms.
Lennox appears as a courtesan surrounded by about 30
characters, among them a quartet of men dressed as
ballerinas. Surreal touches about, including an eerie
child's voice that squeals: "The monsters are crazy? There
are monsters outside!" The singer worked closely with Joe
Dyer, her co-director and cameraman, but as Mr. Dyer says,
"The concept for the video was all Annie's idea."
Even before "Medusa" came out, Ms. Lennox seemed to be
bracing herself for the inevitable: that a lot of critics
would not take seriously an album of remakes. She tried to
sound philosophical about it: "If I know that I did my
best, that the work is authentic to me, I just have to say,
'Well, they didn't like it."' She lets out a nervous laugh,
then adds, "Fair enough, you know."
Back in her home near London, she assumes the role that she
says means most to her, that of wife and mother. Whatever
conflict she may feel about having to sacrifice much of her
career, she is keeping it to herself. She seems much
happier without the diva crown. She recalls a recent
incident in which a teen-age girl walked up to her and
announced, "I bathe in your energy." Embarrassed, Ms.
Lennox says she told the girl's boyfriend to take her home.
"I mean, go get a life!" she says. "Don't be a fan. That's
pathetic. Enjoy the music, get something from it, but don't
live through it. I don't have any answers. I'm just looking
for answers too, you know."