I guess like any kid there is that defining moment in pop culture that jolts you like a lightning bolt out of childhood and into adolescence. For me, it was Eurythmics' hit song Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This), which topped the Billboard charts 30 years ago this week.
Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) Eurythmics music video, 1983
It was summer 1983, and through the speakers in my mother's Oldsmobile came this hypnotic rhythm -- unlike anything else on the radio. An icy electro throb wrapped with a brooding female vocal and gospel-like wails stirred something new in my 13-year-old self. "I travel the world and the seven seas." The lyrics were a cryptic, ominous and repetitive puzzle. "Some of them want to abuse you." My life would never be quite the same.
The radio DJ said the band's name quickly, but I had no idea how to spell it. There was no internet so you couldn't look up information in a click. We had no cable, no MTV, so I didn't know the singer's race, face, nationality, or if there was more than one. I was desperate to find out about this band. A classmate, who did have MTV, said "the lead singer looks like a freak -- I can't tell if it's a man or woman." Of course that only multiplied the intrigue, and then I finally saw the video for myself, thanks to a babysitting gig in a neighbor's house that had cable, and fell totally in love.
Love Is A Stranger Eurythmics music video, 1983
I had never seen a woman more beautiful, seductive and scary than Annie Lennox in the early Eurythmics videos. With her flaming orange crewcut, spellbinding glare, dark suit, black gloves, ruby red lips, and wig collection, her look was as shocking and dramatic as her voice was beautiful. I wanted to marry her, be her, know her, talk to her, sing with her, kiss her, but I was 13 and living in a tiny upstate New York town, and the only way to get close to her was to buy the Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This) album (on cassette), and listen repeatedly. I fantasized about Eurythmics becoming a trio with me as the new third member even though I only played trumpet (badly). While all the other kids in school worshiped Van Halen and Quiet Riot, I was the oddball who was all about Eurythmics.
Annie Lennox rocking Sweet Dreams at Live 8 in London, 2005
Then my love for the song took a very Afterschool Special twist when my parents grew concerned to the point where they sat me down one day to inform me of Sweet Dreams dangerous message. They said, "we think it's time you learn what it's about. There's something called sadomasochism, and it's sick. It's where some people take pleasure hurting others while others enjoy getting hurt on purpose." They explained in detail what sadists were and what masochists were, and how sexual this was, and forbade me to listen to it anymore. Furthermore, they saw what Annie Lennox looked like and started hanging Sports Illustrated swimsuit calendars in my bedroom to get me interested in more normal looking women, but bikini bimbos didn't interest me in the slightest compared to Annie in her men's suits. The S&M lecture had little effect on me. I politely listened to my parents, but then delighted in playing that cassette just as much as I wanted to. If anything the song gained even more power for being kind of dangerous -- even though I knew it really wasn't.
Of course when Eurythmics came to town in 1986, my mother couldn't wait to see them live. Before we left the house to go to their concert, I applied eye makeup to look like Annie. My mother actually let me out of the house looking as androgynous as my favorite singer. My policeman next door neighbor saw me and was horrified. He later told my mother, "If that is the worst thing your son ever does in his life, then that's okay, but that Annie Lennox is a very bad influence." My mother laughed in his face.
Annie Lennox's brilliant 2013 commencement speech at Berklee College of Music in Boston
The truth is Annie Lennox has been one of the best influences in my life. I continue to be amazed and inspired by her words, her music, and her integrity. Today, I am a proud music (of every genre) fanatic thanks to Annie and Dave Stewart opening up my ears and feeding my imagination with their inventive video imagery. I even met Annie once (in 2003) for a minute, but was too frozen with excitement to say anything except "I love you so much." From Sweet Dreams to Here Comes The Rain Again to Would I Lie To You to Missionary Man to Savage to We Two Are One to Diva to Medusa to Peace to Bare to Songs of Mass Destruction, she has, more than any other singer, created the soundtrack to my life. And it all began 30 years ago with a chart-topping tune that caused a stir. Art and music has always, and will continue to, create brouhahas for mankind. Who am I to disagree?