Music legend interview
Dave Stewart: LSD, Annie Lennox, and Me
The Daily Beast
February 11, 2016
“No matter what Annie does or what I do in any genre, if we stand together as the Eurythmics, the people who grew up listening to us on the radio don’t like to see it—us—go wrong, because we’re tangled up in their lives.”
The tattoos on his caramel-tanned arms—Lady Luck, a martini glass, the names of his much-loved third wife, Anoushka, and of his children—speak of a full and colorful life.
But it is hard to square the handsome, bearded, quietly spoken Dave Stewart, dressed all in black, with hat and dark glasses, beckoning me to put my recording device nearer to him because he speaks so softly, with the man who was trashed on LSD on his wedding day to his first wife, Pam.
Or who has written about his wild partying days with Mick Jagger in the Grenadines.
Or about the time when he was so off his face on MDMA that he collapsed in the street.
Or the time he had sex with Stevie Nicks, without immediately realizing he was going home with Stevie Nicks.
Or the time when Robin Williams and Eric Idle rang his bell one night, and for the next few hours proceeded to comically deconstruct his marital breakdown, with his then-wife in the room.
Or the time… and here, in Stewart’s life story, Sweet Dreams are Made of This: A Life in Music, insert any one of a number of any other celebrity names: David Bowie, Bob Dylan, Lou Reed, Demi Moore, Bruce Willis, the Duke and Duchess of York, Jon Bon Jovi, Katy Perry, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Jack Nicholson, Paul McCartney.
And, of course, Annie Lennox, Stewart’s onetime love, with whom he went on to set up The Eurythmics: in the book, Stewart thoroughly, but tenderly, unpacks their complex relationship.
It’s a testament to something that, after they broke up, they still managed to form a pop group that went on to sell over 75 million albums.
His book, Stewart says as we sit in a hushed anteroom of the Crosby Street Hotel in New York, is not a tell-all—its dish is mostly polite and affectionate—but it is an engagingly written story of a very rock-star life, with drink, drugs, stadiums filled with cheering fans, and dedicated partying and lost, louche nights.
The book took shape via scrawled sticky notes, each with a few incidents written on them per decade. Photographs helped liberate his memories further, he says. There are so many pictures, Stewart—who loves technology and technological innovation—has constructed a website for curious readers to see the overflow.
Stewart’s joy these days, he says, is not just in his 19-year marriage to third wife Anoushka and the four children he has (two with her, two with wife number two, Bananarama’s Siobhan Fahey), but also making and producing music with new artists.
The 63-year-old musician, who lives in Los Angeles, is working with seven artists, including Martin Longstaff, aka The Lake Poets (like Stewart, from Sunderland in northern England), as well as around eight others.
His friend, former Beatle Ringo Starr, calls Stewart ‘Mr. Busy’ as he never stops working.
At 7:30pm every evening Stewart likes a vodka martini, but if you have dinner with him it’s probably best to avoid ordering clam chowder, as he once—in a hotel room—spilled a scalding bowl of it over his exposed dick and balls.
This moment is so vividly described in the book—he even takes pictures of the gross chaos—may well have you leaping up from your couch.
The Daily Beast sat down—no clam chowder in the immediate vicinity—to discuss Stewart and Lennox’s long and complex relationship, drugs, and why he loves to ‘connect’ with artists and musicians.
The Daily Beast: Was it difficult getting all these amazing stories down?
Dave Stewart: I went to a very small hotel in Jamaica, thinking, “I’ll be a writer now.” I sat there, looking at the sea, getting bored. It had a lovely old martini bar, with quite a few pictures of famous people, all black and white and faded: Arthur Miller, Marilyn Monroe, Noel Coward.
It was like the bar in The Shining: very empty, just me and him. The barman was 89 years old, and had been there 60 years, and told all kinds of great stories. I would go to bed quite happy, and wake up and think, “I didn’t write shit, I could write his story, not mine.”
I tend to live in the moment. That’s why writing it down almost killed me: spending a year looking backwards. It made me tired. Most creative people are not interested in looking backwards: what they did 26 years ago. They’re more excited about the thing they’ve just done.
TDB: Was it hard to write about your feelings about Annie? You were together before you both became famous.
DS: It’s hard to put it all in a shortened space when you’ve spent so many years with somebody, and lived together as a couple. We were just this sweet couple, and to break up and not want to break up—how awkward was that? Then to make what was it? 10 albums in 9 years? Going through all that stuff was more painful at the beginning of doing it than writing about it now.
Imagine every interview we did, where we were asked, “So you guys used to live together?” Imagine if you had broken up with your girlfriend or boyfriend and your heart was breaking, to be asked, “Didn’t you used to live together?”
At the start of making music together it felt weird and shaky. But with us, one plus one equaled five when it came to making music. We started to get really stronger, because we’d broken the emotional and sound barrier. We knew nothing could break us because we’d been through the worst thing.
TDB: How are you with each other now?
DS: People always assume artists who worked together talk about music, but it’s just not like that. We talk about kids, marriages, marriage break-ups, moving countries, moving houses. After we broke up it was very difficult to meet other people, but then you realize there’s all different kinds of relationships. It doesn’t have to be full-on, intense every second of the day. In fact, it can be really exhausting.
TDB: Is it an easy relationship?
DS: It depends where you put the fulcrum of where an ‘easy relationship’ is. Our relationship was incomparable to anyone I know. Most people don’t break up, then form a duo and become a phenomenally successful band.
TDB: Are you close?
DS: Not geographically. She lives between South Africa and London and I live in Los Angeles. But whenever she comes round for dinner or a martini there’s a lot of laughing and joking. She’s very close to Anoushka. As soon as people see us together, it’s like being suddenly dragged back in time. It’s very difficult for our husbands, wives, boyfriends, and girlfriends. No matter what Annie does or what I do in any genre, if we stand together as the Eurythmics, the people who grew up listening to us on the radio don’t like to see it—us—go wrong, because we’re tangled up in their lives.
TDB: Will you reunite?
DS: We get asked this constantly by promoters. We’ve never said we never will, and so many acts who broke up bitterly have gotten back together over the last 20 years because the internet took away all their earnings and pension. A lot of young people think everything is free, and all those rock and pop stars are wealthy. It means people in their 70s are going out there and having to play concerts again.
TDB: What about you? How are your earnings?
DS: I’m the same as everybody else. Your earnings drop. Your record royalties go down to practically zero. We’re not in the top 200 of any chart anywhere in the world. If you’re not in the top 200, you’re talking 50 dollars here, 20 dollars there. I could obviously make some money back if we [the Eurythmics] played live. I’m a real workaholic: I produced five albums in the last 18 months. Nobody buys them, but even megastars selling 50,000 albums are barely recouping their costs. On one side of the barbell, you have Katy Perry and Taylor Swift and other supernovas with sponsors, and then on the other are all the other artists who have never sold over 200,000 albums.
TDB: Did you invest wisely?
DS: I did not. When we first became famous, our American manager told us, “Whatever you do, don’t buy more than one house.” We didn’t listen. We both bought seven houses, in my case when the prices were really high, and sold them when they were really low. I’ve reinvented what I do, and I come up with concepts. I go to Nashville to make records with people. I’m one of the few artists who finds other artists, I think because Elton signed us [The Tourists, for Rocket Records] when we were young. I’m having a great time. I play all the time at the [LA music venue] Troubadour, which I love.
TDB: You write that Annie got you off your intense drug use when you were together?
DS: Annie, without realizing it, did what you do at rehab. People die because they try and stop taking drugs suddenly, dead. Your body goes into spasms. She would say, “Why don’t you take 19 lines of speed rather than 20?” “12 instead of 10?” “Why don’t you eat this fish and mashed potato I just made?” Just after time, I had a major operation, and afterwards, not being on any drugs, I felt incredibly focused. One time in the Eurythmics and once seven years later, I took MDMA. I did it once, not every day.
I was very lucky to do drugs before I became really successful, when people would come round and give you a five-ounce bag of coke as a gift. If I had gotten really successful and got into drugs that would have been problem, but I wasn’t.
Something we both did to damage ourselves was that we’d forget to drink water during those big stadium shows, where you sweat a lot and get dehydrated. Then afterwards you’d have champagne and brandy, not water.
I never had a problem with drinking. I never drank in the 60s and 70s: it didn’t mix with smoking grass or taking acid. Drinking just made you feel sloppy-woozy. But I had to do ‘something’ after drugs, I couldn’t just be buzzy. I lived in France, and got into red wine. Then a barman at La Coupole in Paris asked if I wanted to taste the martini he had made. Then he would see me walking past, and ask me to come in for a martini. I quite liked this ritual thing. Ever since, I’ve had one at 7:30 in the evening, and maybe a glass of wine for dinner.
TDB: You write very sweetly about having sex with Stevie Nicks [who supplies a lovely quote on the back of Stewart’s book about him being her ‘hero’, and helping make 2010, when they made her record, In Your Dreams, the best year of her life].
DS: Yeah, I didn’t realize who she was right at the beginning that night. She’s great, we’re close friends. People think she’s a space cadet. But she’s not. She is on it.
TDB: Were you ever jealous of Annie’s greater fame?
DS: No, I’d be setting up the photos with her in the front. I only regretted it when the group broke up, and I realized, “Oh shit, you spent ten years putting this person at the front.” I had to reintroduce myself to the world, created another persona, and moved back to London, where I got into the art scene with people like Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin. I also got into photography…
TDB: Which led you to taking Demi Moore’s picture in India, with Deepak Chopra.
DS: We hadn’t realized Demi had been in one of the biggest movies of all time, Ghost, and wherever we went there were people chanting her name. We had to get Indian army helicopters to move us about.
TDB: And then in England, you swam and took saunas with a group that included royalty.
DS: She and Bruce Willis, who she was married to, had rented this country mansion. Siobhan and I were there with our two kids, then Jon Bon Jovi turned up with his kids, and then Fergie [the Duchess of York] and Prince Andrew came with their two children. I was playing guitar, Bruce Willis was playing harmonica and was quite good. I thought, “This is the weirdest combination of people ever. I’m peaking. I’ve gone back to an acid trip.”
TDB: You’ve had three very serious illnesses. Did they make you think about your mortality?
DS: When I die, I wouldn’t like to be in great pain or slammed into by a lorry. I was walking down the street today—it was so busy, crazy, and cold. I thought, “It wouldn’t be painful being in a New York hospital, dying, as long as you could see everyone outside.” Maybe on a beautiful island watching the sea would be quite nice. I don’t think this will be a horrendous feeling. I’ve already been through it, and it wasn’t a horrendous feeling.
TDB: As in a near-death experience?
DS: It was very sort of heavenly, which is probably a cliché. But a lot of people have described the same thing. You see yourself, then you see a white light, then there’s this amorphous weirdness. You go into the white light, a non-local space, you couldn’t say was here or there. It’s an in-between land, and not that bad really.
TDB: How is ageing?
DS: I feel very lucky physically: I have a lot of energy, swim 40 lengths in the morning, do Pilates.
TDB: You lost two friends in recent years: Lou Reed and David Bowie.
DS: Lou was so into Tai chi. He had worked out so many of his demons, and was as excited about finding Tai chi as he would have been about finding a fuzzbox or guitar. And I’m sure we’re about to see a video from David Bowie that he’s already recorded, saying, “Here I am on the other side.” His was a beautifully choreographed life: the way he produced his art pieces right to end.
The last time I spoke to him it was really weird. Anoushka and I were in Mexico in a really obscure place, and I was brushing my teeth and he rang. He told me he had been filmed emerging from the sea for a film in exactly the same place.
TDB: And your wild times with Mick Jagger? The story you tell in your book is pretty great.
DS: There have been hundreds of them. I think I’m bonkers about people and creativity, and for me music has been the glue.
TDB: Do you ever get depressed? Have you had therapy?
DS: Not really depressed, not like “close the door, put messages under the door for three days.” I had some therapy when Siobhan and I were breaking up. We came to the realization that it was probably better for parents not to be together for the sake of the kids.
TDB: You tell the story that Robin Williams and [British comedy great] Eric Idle turned up at your apartment in London one night to re-enact your marital breakdown to Siobhan?
DS: They spent two hours improvising. We were both in pain from laughing so hard.
TDB: What kind of dad are you?
DS: It would probably be hard for people to understand how close I am to all my kids—even the two boys who have their own places come round asking, “What’s in the fridge?”
TDB: Were you ever rock and roll enough to have sex with guys?
DS: No, only when you’re a kid, like 12, and you dance around the rhubarb patch learning how to masturbate. But very early on I realized girls were different.
TDB: And now?
DS: And now Anoushka and I have been together nearly 20 years, and I got it totally right. We have a great, great family.