In New Memoir, Eurythmics' Dave Stewart Tells Of Life Before And After 'Sweet Dreams'
Sweet Dreams Are Made of This is perhaps the most straightforward title you could give to a book by a member of the Eurythmics, whose most lasting hit shares that name. But for Dave Stewart, the past few decades have sometimes felt like a dream — from his complex relationship with his bandmate Annie Lennox, to his recovery from drug abuse, to crossing paths with rock royalty in his literal backyard. He joined NPR's Linda Wertheimer to talk about it; hear the radio version at the audio link and read on for more.
Linda Wertheimer: At the beginning of your "life in music" — which is the subtitle of your memoir — it wasn't quite clear that you were on your way to becoming a famous performer. You came awfully close to being a dead teenage drug addict.
Dave Stewart: That's very true, yeah. It was actually Annie who helped me get away from all of that, and sort of downsize the amount of speed and cocaine and all the things I was taking — in a very sweet way, actually because, she just started to make a note in a little notebook of how many times I was taking speed a day. For instance, say there was 20 lines of speed. She'd suggest, "Hey, how about 19 lines today?" Without realizing it, she was doing what you're meant to do if you go to rehab."
So when you and Annie Lennox actually met and started to make music together, you were a couple for quite a while.
Yeah, we were a couple from the minute we first met, and from that day onward for about five years. We were living on eight pounds a week — that's about twelve dollars — between us. We got the vegetables from 'round the back of the vegetable shop, the ones that they didn't sell that day or whatever. We lived in a squat, and we would go to what you call swap meets, we'd call jumble sales, and try to get a sofa bed for two dollars. You know, we really started at zero.
We started to have the idea to make music together, but we still didn't write any songs. We had a band called The Tourists, where [guitarist] Peet Coombes wrote all the songs. And that was massive work. We made three albums and we went around the world and toured. It was very stressful trying to be a couple in a little van with seven guys — Annie the only girl — and it put our relationship under a lot of pressure. So when we finished our Australian tour, we decided to live apart.
At first, she just moved upstairs — which was kind of ridiculous because she'd come down and have a cup of tea, and it was just the same as living together, really. We slowly became able to be friends, but we never, ever said we didn't want to make music together, so that was a really strange sort of head space to be in. Before, we never wrote any songs; now, we're writing 140 songs about our breakup.
It does seem amazing that you could live together as a couple for a number of years, break up, and then create the Eurythmics.
What's even stranger is, Annie and I being a duo — you know, sometimes we'll be onstage playing a song and we'll look at each other, and we know what it's all about and everything we've been through. And I think the audience felt, this sort of emotion that ran through the song and ran through the concert hall or stadium. So it was a very emotional experience, Eurythmics concerts, because we were very emotional.
Now, your musical backgrounds and your musical educations were very different, and you somehow managed to put all that together in the music. At one point in the book you call it a "mad hybrid." What does that mean?
Well, I started learning guitar because my cousin sent some blues albums from Memphis — you know, Mississippi John Hurt and Robert Johnson. And I went deep into every kind of music that is imaginable in the world of pop, rock and folk or whatever. Meanwhile, Annie was studying harpsichord and flute at the Royal Academy of Music. But she was, as a kid, obsessed with Motown up in Aberdeen. So there we had this couple that spanned across all these genres, and we could do all these things because we'd actually been learning and being obsessed with this kind of music.
I was very interested in all of the descriptions of places that you bought to work, or places that you bought to live. You were creating companies, you formed your own bands, you wrote your own musical hits — and you bought a lot of real estate. I mean, it sounds like somewhere along the line, you got very rich.
Well, there was a time, a long, long time ago, when people bought records. And when people bought records, artists got paid! Remember, we stopped making records in 1990.
We went crazy at one point. Our manager in America said, "I'm only going to give you one piece of advice." This is when "Sweet Dreams" was No. 1; he could tell we were going to be successful. He said, "Only buy one home. Everywhere else, you're just vacationing; just rent it for a week or a month." And of course, neither of us listened to him. We bought apartments in Paris, and we bought land and houses.
I bought a house in Encino next to Tom Petty, because we were getting on like a house on fire when I wrote "Don't Come Around Here No More" with him. And that house became kind of like a lightning rod for music. So I'd look at my back garden, and there's Seal sunbathing, or Prince is recording in the studio in the back. One time, under the tree in my back garden strumming guitars, was Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Jeff Lynne and Tom Petty. And Roy Orbison is singing. And it's not something you would imagine when you were 15 and listening to these voices on the radio, but you know. Life can change you on amazing trails if you let it.
Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.