By Jeb Wright
Dave Stewart, as we discuss in the interview that follows, is best known as ‘that guy from the Eurythmics.’ While that may be true to the common music fan, anyone worth their weight in a solid CD collection knows Dave is much, much more than that.
He has worked with, produced and performed with the likes of Mick Jagger, Tom Petty, Bob Dylan and George Harrison. Oh, and that pretty lady named Annie Lennox and another one in Stevie Nicks. When Dave got married, Elton John and Bono were invited guests… and actually showed up… and seemed to enjoy themselves. And it all started with that weird little song… it was weird, but likeable.
Dave’s career, and personal life, has made him the Forest Gump of music, but hey… that’s a pretty damn cool thing to be!
Now, you can read all about it, as Stewart has written it all down in his memoir titled Sweet Dreams Are Made of This: A Life in Music.
A life in music? Indeed it is… and what a life!
Jeb: My first introduction to Dave Stewart was, “Who is that weird guy that is in the video with the hot chick sportin’ red hair?”
Dave: [laughter] Well, I am still that weird guy.
Jeb: For me, it is hard to do interviews about books because I want to know about the juicy stuff inside the book, and you want to leave out enough detail during our discussion about the book so people will buy the book.
Dave: That’s right. I will tell you there is both humor and darkness in the book. There is me wandering through life with my eyes wide open looking for new experiences.
Unlike many bands who write books, I am wandering around like Willy Wonka and landing in the most unusual places with the most amazing experiences I could imagine. It is the notion that anything is possible as long as you recognize which is the sparkly bit, like Tinkerbell.
If you look down and have your hands in your trouser pockets, staring at the floor, then you might not notice the girl next to you is the one that you are going to marry.
I wasn’t always like that. When I was younger, I was just getting really stoned—when I was about sixteen or seventeen. I was trying to play the guitar and become a great guitar player. I was not trying to write songs or anything. I was trying to find a family and a tribe, which I did with these others guys. That became a band called Longdancer and we were signed to Elton John’s label. That was a crazy experience.
At that time, I didn’t really think, or see it as, “Oh, this could be a career… What an amazing thing… I am going to be a pop star!” We made two albums and we were then ceremonially dropped. When that happened I didn’t think, “I am going to be in another band.” I never thought about it again. I just went and worked in a record store. My store always had a cloud of smoke around it because I sold Dub records that were imported from Jamaica.
I really got into all of that stuff. I didn’t play the guitar much. I just thought it was the end of that, and that I had been through the looking glass, and I was now on the other side. I started playing the guitar again and realized it was my portal into all of these others worlds. As soon as I picked up the guitar more stuff started to happen, and it has been that portal ever since.
Jeb: You’ve never really put yourself out there like you have in this book. You’re very open. It is not a roller coaster ride, but when you read this, you feel as if you are on the ride with Dave Stewart…
Dave: Yeah, I didn’t go hurdling into sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll the way a lot of books are sensationalized like that. I went into the more obscure things that happened like climbing into the back of a van and being driven away and being discovered by the roadies and they are like, “What the hell are you doing back there?” I was like 15-years-old and sleeping in a dog basket… its all of that stuff and more.
How I ended up in situations like that, which led all the way to one day being in my house and there is George Harrison and Roy Orbison sitting there with Tom Petty and Bob Dylan and we are strumming acoustic guitars.
The journey seems to happen for me. It is like I got on a magic carpet ride. Everywhere I have been it seems to be by happenstance. I didn’t go, “I am going to make The Traveling Wilburys record in my garden” or whatever it was. It was just, “Oh I love this. I am going to do this.”
I became great friends with George, as he is a great guy. I did not set out to be friends with Bob Dylan. We didn’t plan to do an album. We were doing mad experiments with film cameras in the street. Bob was saying, “I have not had a band since The Band.” I said, “You should meet the Heartbreakers.” It was all like that. It was not a plan.
Jeb: Were there moments while writing this book where you looked back in amazement at how it all happened?
Dave: Every moment when I woke up. It became apparent after I was finished with the book. Writing it was just a nightmare of having to edit out stuff and put it into a sensible amount of pages. It was very technical stuff. I was ringing up people to remind me what happened in 1985. I listened to all the stories and went, “oh yeah, I remember what happened.”
I found boxes and boxes of old photos and that really helped. It was exhausting. There were mountains of photos. I was telling stories about each picture, but the book was going on and on.
After I finished the book, and I could hold it in my hand, it was closure in a way and I could really feel it. I started to read it like a book and I was like, “Oh God, it really has been like I took a big mushroom and went sliding into wonderland.”
If I was climbing over Don Henley’s gate it was like… I was Alice, if you know what I mean. I didn’t really understand the rules. That is actually why I suggested The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party for Tom’s video “Don’t Come around Here No More.” I am sitting on top of the mushroom with a hookah pipe and Alice climbs up and I blow her away as this is my world.
I still haven’t really come out the other side because of the things that are happening now. That is why I made the cover like I was in a psychedelic wonderland.
Jeb: If you don’t follow music like I do, then most people know who you are because you’re that guy in the “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” video. Do you ever chuckle about that reality, as you have done so much more within the industry….
Dave: No, I don’t chuckle about it. When I meet people -which is as soon as I leave the house- the driver, or the hospital guy who is taking my blood for a checkup, or whatever… it always ends up with a conversation where they go, “You’re the guy with the Eurythmics.”
I am forced to talk about it every day. I don’t even feel that it was a drag to talk about because there is so much depth to what happened to Annie and me. We lived together for five years and then broke up but stayed together as a duo. We made ten albums and toured the world over and over. We reformed and did another huge tour for Amnesty and Greenpeace. All of the things we’ve been through… I suppose I never tell the same story to anybody. If I get in the cab and the guy says, “Aren’t you that guy from the Eurythmics?” I say, “Yeah” They say, “Was that a real fight in ‘Would I Lie to You’?” They always ask me something and then I always remember something different about what happened, I suppose because I had my eyes wide opened.
Things like going down the Mississippi and trying to find all of these old blues players for the blues documentary I did, called Deep Blues.
Most of them didn’t have a telephone and I had to go to the post office to meet them. It was another amazing adventure. I dreamt about these players when I was 14 or 15. I learned to play songs by Mississippi John Hurt, and then I got to go there and be on another adventure. It was another example of a looking glass world, the blues world in Greenville, Mississippi. I went into these juke joints and I met these people and it was fantastic.
Jeb: You open up about your relationship with Annie. It shows how close you are and it is really touching, but it is very open. Did you ask Annie’s permission to write about this?
Dave: I sent her sections of the book that she was in. She actually… all she did… she thought it was really sweet. She read all of the first bit about me growing up and all that stuff and meeting her. She asked me to change a couple of things that were just little factual things like it was the 8th of September and not October. She didn’t change anything that was sort of personal or anything. She just reminded me about how a few things happened.
Jeb: You got Mick Jagger to do the Forward. Is that huge for you, or is that just your life?
Dave: I think that is just my life. My life is just so crazy. I will tell you about my life… a ‘for instance’ and things that happen to me during the day.
So, I decided to get the Apple Watch to see what it was like. I got this watch and texts come through. I get this text and it’s Grace Potter. She says, “Hi Dave how are you? The Rolling Stones are coming through town. They are my favorite band. I’d love to sing a song with them on this tour.”
This is all on my Apple Watch. I speak my reply. This should be an Apple Watch commercial, really. So, I speak to my Apple Watch. “Hey Mick, do you remember Grace Potter? I introduced you to her a while back.” He says, “Yeah.” I say, “She wants to sing onstage on your set.” He comes back, “Which song?”
She says, “Gimmie Shelter” so I tell him “Gimmie Shelter.” He goes, “Okay.” About three days later, on my watch I get, “Fucking awesome shit, man. Thanks for putting that together. Here is a video of me and Mick.” I am watching it on my watch with her going, “Hey children…” in this big arena. The next thing I say to my watch is, “Hey Mick, how did you like it?”
This is all happening on my watch. That is like me setting up a thing on my watch just by talking to it. I am thinking to myself, “What a crazy world I am living in. I am talking into my watch and Grace goes and plays onstage with The Rolling Stones and then I am seeing a video of it on my watch.”
I took a photo of my watch with all of this going on and sent a photo to Jimmy Iovine and said, “This is a fucking I-Watch commercial right here. You start with a wife going, ‘Get me some milk on the way home’ and then it cuts to something else ordinary and then Grace Potter goes ‘hey can I sing with The Rolling Stones?’”
Jeb: You’re a badass when you can not only get people tickets to The Stones but you can get them onstage to sing with The Stones.
Jeb: What were the most meaningful moments upon reflection writing this book? Moments that tugged at your heart, or was it the moments in life that made you laugh?
Dave: Blimey, that’s a tough one. The most meaningful moments are when I was reading the book and I came to the parts where I was alone with George Harrison, or alone with Dylan for hours or alone with Mick Jagger with acoustics and playing old blues tunes and talking about blues music. Or, when I would write a song and record it on my phone or something.
I’ve got so many phone songs. I have to download and listen to them and it brings you right back to when we were sitting in this shack in Jamaica or something. I have a great song I recorded in the back of a taxi writing a song. It was a yellow cab in New York and it is pouring rain. I have my acoustic out in the cab and Mick is singing like he is onstage. It is moments like that.
Jeb: You are also a very successful entrepreneur. Did the music success help your business confidence?
Dave: I do all of these lectures and talks for various companies on innovation… how to think differently. I think it all stems from music, you see. In music you can jam and make all sorts of complex compositions. Writing something that you feel, or mean and then having it become a huge successful song with everybody else, because they are listening to the radio, or whatever, is a very special sort of thing. If you analyze it, it is because you’re expressing something that everybody feels. You happen to put it into a moment. Songs can do that for them, so can movies or paintings.
I started to understand the whole world is like that. It is all to do with melody. As Tom Petty says, “Don’t bore us, get to the chorus.” It is like a lot of people, it doesn’t matter what it is… they are selling wooden tables, or whatever it is, and they have websites, or they have leaflets and they think they are speaking to people, but they are not because they haven’t really understood how to put everything they are trying to say into a way people would love to hear or see.
Jeb: I am going to end where I started. You talk about this fact in the book. “Sweet Dreams” was a hit because of the video. Tell me about that.
Dave: It was a mixture of the video and the song. The record company didn’t get it because they said there was no chorus. I was like, “The entire thing is a chorus. There is no verse.”
The video I sort of wrote down in cartoon strip form and we just followed that. It was very surreal and based on French Impressionist and Surrealist sort of works. I wasn’t thinking that it could be played anywhere because MTV wasn’t on our radar when we made it.
We had made a few more videos, but we didn’t know what to do with them. MTV, at the same time, launched and exploded and we were like, “Hey, we can put this on here.” Suddenly, everyone was watching our little weird surrealist French vignette film.
It was a Dadaist sort of thing with me and a cow and a bass and Annie. They were like, “What the fuck is that?” It became, “Wow, that’s really different, but I like it.” It went like wildfire and it ended up like on the cover of Newsweek.
Jeb: You just summed up your career from my point of view when you said, “That’s really different, but I like it.”
Dave: [laughter] you’re right!
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