This self-proclaimed diva may forever be known as the androgynous face (and voice) of The Eurythmics. But her latest disc, “The Annie Lennox Collection,” which includes 14 of her solo hits from the past 16 years, reminds the world why this musical force is an icon in her own right. While discussing the collection, Annie offers a intimate portrait of her artistic life, her passion for HIV/AIDS advocacy work and her connection to queer audiences.
First off, you have two new tracks on the collection. The exultant “Shining Light” — a cover of the Ash single — is out now. The other, “Pattern of My Life,” is more of a mystery.
It was written by Tom Chaplin of Keane, but I don’t believe it was ever released. Somebody pointed it out to me and I thought, “This is just up my street.” I started recording it, so we let them know and they were fine with it.
Any truth to the online rumor about a companion dance album?
This is how things get out of hand. I just happened to say it would be a lovely thing to do, which it would, but I haven’t decided what my next musical experiment will be. I never do know. I play by ear and am instinctive. I would love to do a dance album.
Are you hands-on with the remixes that come out?
No. Quite honestly, it’s something that I don’t get. I don’t go to clubs. I wouldn’t know a remix if I met one. But I bet I could do it if I wanted to — it’s just another form. People seem to like them.
The song “Precious” was inspired when you had your first daughter. She’s starting university to study music?
Yes! She’s a classical singer and wants to be trained.
Are you one of those artists who look at songs as their children?
No. But they’re quite special to me, they’re parts of my life. I hugely invest energy and time with those pieces of work.
Does that make it hard to choose favorites for a best-of collection?
I thought of it a bit like choosing beads — I like making necklaces — it’s like you get these beautiful beads and this one would be a centerpiece and this other will suit it really well adjacent to it.
The deluxe version of “The Collection” also includes a DVD of videos. You’ve said “No More I Love You’s” is your favorite clip. Why?
When I started to think what visualization would go with that song, I had an idea of a Toulouse-Lautrec-ian tableau, the intimate bordello scene. You can imagine tobacco-filled rooms with absinthe and prostitutes and old men. I was thinking in terms of romantic love versus sexuality and how human beings express themselves through sexuality and the masks and roles they play. Then I had these beautiful creatures that were men dressed as ballet dancers — it’s playing with sex roles and identities.
I was reading the viewer comments about the video on YouTube. Many posters said, “I loved the song…then I saw the video and it freaked me out.”
Someone even said it had too much of a Sodom and Gomorrah thing going on.
Do you enjoy playing the role of a provocateur? Since your gender-bending beginning, you’ve always done that.
It’s not that I do things with the intent to provoke. But I like to make statements and explore metaphors, and I’m very interested in the human psyche and human emotions and the psychological conundrums we find ourselves in.
“Sing” launched your project to raise money and awareness of HIV/AIDS among African women and children. I saw your concert in New York for “Songs of Mass Destruction,” and when you were talking about HIV/AIDS, someone yelled out “Shut up and sing!”…
Oh, how rude.
I’m hoping that was a drunken anomaly. Are people receptive to your advocacy work?
About 90 percent receptive. And then you’ve got the “shut up and sing” bunch. But hey, this is who I am and that’s part of it.
Madonna sings on that track, and she’s been active in Africa. Have you two sat down, like over tea and biscuits, to discuss changing the world?
You attended the International AIDS Conference in Mexico City last summer as an Oxfam ambassador. What was your message?
My message was this: Wake up, Latin America! You have a really special window of opportunity at the moment to get the message out there, to prevent what happened in Africa. The most vulnerable segment of that population is married women. In Mexico City, we had a meeting of women from all across South America. I said, “Okay, put your hands up, those of you who know you were infected by your husbands.” Almost every hand went up.
Imagine this: There’s a woman in Latin America, a very machismo culture, and she’s dependant on finances of the husband. She gets infected through him, and he goes, “You whore! You’ve been sleeping around, I’m going to kick you out.” The people are terrified. Part of the stigma is that not only is AIDS a scary thing, but that you have to reveal your infidelity.
Your platform about HIV/AIDS in Africa has been based on women’s rights issues and on viewing the pandemic in terms of human rights.
It’s a human rights issue because people are dying. They can’t get access to treatment. They don’t know how to get it. And it’s not there. In the last 15 to 20 years, a whole generation of men and women have been wiped out, and left millions of orphans. When it comes to Africa, you have endemic poverty and women don’t have political rights and don’t know how to organize themselves. Pregnant women [with HIV] present themselves at maternity hospitals, and they can prevent the baby from having the virus [by using] nevirapine. It’s an important first step. What I’m interested in is finding and supporting ways that can affect that wipeout factor.
In America at least, HIV has mostly been viewed as a gay disease. How do you think that has affected our ability to fight the epidemic?
Through advocacy the gay community organized itself brilliantly and demanded its rights and said, “Hey guys, we need to protect ourselves and educate ourselves, and certain things need to be changed.” Mainly because of that, you have access to up-to-date medication that can extend and save lives.
Also, by they way, in the West, we don’t have the issue of malnutrition. In Africa they don’t have access to state-of-the-art medication and are still having to take the old-fashioned cocktails, which can have side effects.
But from what I can gather from talking to some of my friends is that young [gay] guys are being very risky. That worries me. I could just ask you: Do you think that is because young guys think, “Hey if I catch the virus I can just take a pill; it’s like herpes”?
Sure, there’s that. But it’s complicated. The latest U.S. numbers show the biggest increase in men who have sex with men is among young blacks and Latinos. I’m not sure they’re as aware of the new meds. Also, most of the younger generation haven’t lost friends or lovers to AIDS. They don’t have that factor.
No, I don’t think they do. They haven’t seen people dying. [In the ’80s] people were dying left, right and center. People in music and fashion or anything like that, most of us know people who have died because of AIDS. A friend said in one year she lost 12 friends.
But it’s very dangerous that young guys are approaching it recklessly. If young boys are having unprotected sex now, it’s going to blow up in their faces. I know it! Shouldn’t the gay papers start the advocacy again? We have to keep the issue on the table, and it’s the hardest thing to do. Heterosexual community: Hello, wake up! Boys and girls, do you know where your partner has been? You don’t! It’s like, Fuck. It’s really scary.
You’ve never shied away from life’s unpleasantries. Your song “Dark Road” explores the rough patches we all go though. So finally, What’ve been your highs and lows?
So many. My God, it’s been a rocky road. I can tell you that. The best thing in my life is that my children came into the world and they were healthy. Because the dark point obviously is I lost a child, a baby, and I don’t even have a word to describe that. It was a bolt of lightening through the blue. But it made me grateful for things I possibly took for granted before.
— “The Annie Lennox Collection” (Arista) is out now. A&E will air a special “Evening with Annie Lennox” on March 8. For more information or to donate to Sing, visit annielennox.com.