Annie Lennox is truly accomplished, both as an artist and human being. With some 78 million international record sales to her credit as well as Grammy, Brit Music Golden Globe and Academy awards (for Lord of the Rings: Return of the King's Into the West), her work as frontwoman of Eurythmics and solo artist reaches yet another height with her fourth solo album, Songs of Mass Destruction (Arista). Her humanitarian efforts and activism are infused with an equal passion that crosses over into her music. Songs of Mass Destruction's track Sing was inspired by a CD by AIDS activist group The Generics, and Lennox drafted 23 fellow divasincluding Madonna, Celine Dion, k.d. lang, Beth Orton, Pink, Isobel Campbell and Melissa Etheridgeto contribute vocals. 'The theme is calling for the national implementation of a program to prevent mother-to-baby HIV transmission,' Lennox explained in the press notes. (The promo CD was also accompanied by a signed, politically charged letter from Lennox that began, 'We live in strange and uncertain times' and mentioned her involvement with Mandela's 46664 Campaign.) All profits from Sing's online download sales and a new limited edition lithograph T-shirt will go to South Africa's grassroots Treatment Action Campaign (TAC).
A mother of two, the 52-years-young Lennox (whose 16-year-old daughter Lola made tabloid/blog headlines in May thanks to an off-the-rails, house-trashing party she threw while Lola's father, filmmaker Uri Fruchtman, was away) is also one of the most gay-friendly artists working in pop music. She hosted LOGO's NewNowNext Music Video show on Oct. 14 (which can be seen in repeats), and took time out during her Songs live tour to take partwith a refreshing humor, sense of irony and candorin my pretty queer Q&A.
Lawrence Ferber: The album is fantastic, traversing lush ballads, upbeat Eurythmics-style pop and soulful, pounding cries to action, both personal and global. I love the electronica ballad Through a Glass Darkly, which leans towards the mournful side lyrics-wise: 'shadows still appear in the house tonight/all those ghosts that keep on comin' back.' What's the story behind it? And are you ever a rose-colored glasses kind of person?
Annie Lennox: I wish I could tell you more, but there isn't really a story behind it. The song is full of metaphors for a kind of inner landscape. The 'house' and the 'rooms' are aspects of the self and psyche, darkness, memory, life. The 'you' is actually addressing the 'black dog' of depression. I've been a black sunglasses person for most of my life, but recently I've changed my optician. Sorryoptometrist!
LF: In [the song] Love is Blind you sing, 'oh sugar, when ya gonna come?/ I spend my life getting' older/ but you still got me on the run.' What are your current thoughts on love?
AL: There are different kindseros and agape. Most of us are caught up in eros, with the ego at the helm.
LF: How many songs did you end up writing for the album? Are there any extra tracks we might hear somewhere else?
AL: Well, I probably wrote about 15, but I don't believe in [carrying extra] passengers. If they'd have been great, they would have been there.
LF: What does this album accomplish or put out there that your other albums haven't [done] to date?
AL: It's hard to compare albums like that. It's so subjective in any case. Each one is a labor of love or frustration at the time, you know. There's a kind of organic feel to some that I really love, and my vocal performance is more mature, flexible, more free. [Producer] Glen Ballard said he was trying to catch up with all my vocal personasat the last count it was about 18!
LF: Is there a 'happiest' song on the album?
AL: No, no happy songs whatsoever! It's all darkness and doom from start to finish. It should have come with a health-warning sticker! P.S.the music's uplifting though, ha-ha!
LF: Did you see Dave Stewart's 2004 Barbarella stage musical? What classic camp movie would you like to do a musical score for if you could pick one?
AL: I'm afraid I didn't get to, but I was very impressed that he did that. I'm not really a huge fan of musicals, to be honest. If I ever did one, it would probably have to be based on an Anne Rice novel or something.
LF: Would you like to do alternate versions of Sing with even more guest contributors? Like an all-male version?
AL: Yes, with an all-gay male cast. Another fabulous ideaping!!!
LF: Did any of the artists you asked to contribute to Sing say no? Did you ask Britney or Paris Hilton?
AL: Everyone was very gracious, indeed. Only a few couldn't get on board, as they have very busy schedules, like I do! No, I didn't ask Britney or Parisshould I have?'
LF: You contributed a track to the 1991 AIDS benefit album, Red Hot + Blue. What is the closest to home that HIV/AIDS has hit?
AL: You just have to step into any hospital, hospice, orphanage, rape crisis center, township. The extent of the pandemic is astronomical. People in wealthy Western countries really have no idea. The statistics are off the scale, and for every statistic, there is a child, a mother, a father, a brother or sister. My wake-up call was when Nelson Mandela personally used the word 'genocide' to describe what is actually taking place in South Africa, and the government there [has] held a denialist stance for the last 10 years, with the health minister making claims that medication is more toxic than the virus itself. It's very confusing and disturbing.
LF: Have you always been an altruistic, globally aware person?
AL: I've always been very aware of life's cruelty and injustices. When I was a kid I used to get very emotional at the sight of a little old hunchbacked man, a busker who played the accordion on the main street of my hometown. Life's full of ironic twists. You can't heal it all, but you can choose to do something rather than nothing. There are thousands of NGO's (non-governmental organizations) out there, battling on the front lines of human chaos and tragedy. You can empower yourself by empowering them. Whatever you might think of Bill Clinton, his new book, entitled Giving, is chock full of inspiring views and suggestions!
LF: Speaking of Clinton: Hillary or Obama? Or do you have another favorite 2008 presidential candidate in mind, and why?
AL: Oh, God. American politics all stinks, don't you know. It all seems to come down to who's got the most money and friends in high places. I'd like them both to win, and do the thing together! Wouldn't that be something?'
LF: In a recent interview with HX Magazine you referred to STDs in one of your answers. So, what are you telling us Annie?
AL: I can't remember. Oh, yes. I think I must have been making a double entendre.
LF: Speaking of STDs, isn't it strange that we have celebrity spokespeople who are openly HIV-positive, but none with herpes? What's up with that? Herpes is pretty widespread!
AL: Some things are better left unsaid.
LF: Best thing about being 52?
AL: It's the opposite if 25!
LF: Were you shocked to hear Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad state, 'we don't have homosexuals' in Iran? Which I hope doesn't mean there are fewer fans of yours buying CDs out there…
AL: He might be in a little denial on that score. It is some measure of that kind of shut-down/rigid thinking. A bit of a shock to us 'liberal society' folks.
LF: Are your children fans of your music?
AL: Most of the time they seem to approve!
LF: What is their global sense like? Do they consider Britney Spears a role model, or is that a fear of yours?
AL: They are very articulate, conscious individuals, and naturally they love everything that kids of their age are into. I don't try to dictate anything because that would be counterproductive, but I do comment on life all the time. We have fantastic discussions.
LF: What songs will you be performing during the concert? Can you even tolerate singing Sweet Dreams for the zillionth time? Has it turned into a bitter nightmare?
AL: Why on earth would Sweet Dreams become a bitter nightmare? It's an anthemic piece of social commentary/philosophy that's stood the test of time with dignity. The songs are right across the board, past/present. They're hard to select because the choice is so varied. The set has valleys and peaks, highs and lows. Typique, n'est ce pas?
LF: Would you like to send George Bush a copy of Songs of Mass Destruction so he doesn't have to go looking for it?
AL: I doubt that anything could get past that thick skull and gargantuan ego. I think he should be renamed The Duper, along with his close friend Mr. Blair. On their tombstones should be engraved, 'I duped millions, created carnage, made millions and slept very soundly at night.'
See www.annielennox.com for more info, her blog and information on buying Sing.
Lennox will be performing Fri., Oct. 19, at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph. See www.ticketmaster.com/venue/57562 for more information.