ANNIE LENNOX will tell you that everybody's looking for something and that's just the way it should be.
Calling from her Notting Hill home a few weeks before a co-headlining tour with Sting brings her to Nissan Pavilion on Friday, Lennox points out that "the human condition is in a constant state of restlessness. This is something that will accompany you from birth to death and you're left with the crossword puzzle of trying to work it out, or trying to numb it, or trying to avoid it, or trying to find a substitute. But this is what drives most of us on in life, looking for the answers to the great mystery."
And, Lennox adds, "You have to figure out what your destiny is, and you have to try to maximize your full potential. And it's not a given, it's something that you have to constantly think about and try to develop according to the circumstances of your life."
So says the reluctant diva who in the '80s ruled as the magnetic vocal and visual half of Eurythmics, then pretty much deferred her career in the '90s to raise two daughters and only recently returned to center stage, on her own schedule and on her own terms.
Born Christmas Day 1954 in Aberdeen, Scotland, Lennox was the only child of a boilermaker and a nurse who suggested a destiny by encouraging her artistic aspirations at an early age.
"I was musical and had opportunities to learn instruments, and my first was the piano," Lennox says. Later, "someone offered me a chance to pick up the flute. I enjoyed playing it, and I had this idea that I would maybe be a chamber ensemble player or something like that."
At 17, she won a scholarship to London's Royal Academy of Music but dropped out after three years (and just three days shy of her finals), convinced classical music was both restrictive and "far too competitive. And it probably didn't fit my kind of personality, really," Lennox says. "I think the world doesn't really miss the flute player."
Or the waitress, which is what Lennox was when she met Dave Stewart at a London health food restaurant in the mid-'70s. They formed a band called the Tourists, dominated by singer-songwriter Peet Coombes, and had a minor hit with a cover of Dusty Springfield's "I Only Want to Be With You" (which is also what Lennox and Stewart decided romantically). But in 1979, after three albums, the Tourists broke up, as did Lennox and Stewart. In their places, Eurythmics and an ongoing musical partnership that would rack up numerous hits and platinum albums in the '80s.
What broke Eurythmics was their second album's title track, "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)," a hypnotic song accompanied by a seminal video that cast the close-cropped, orange-haired Lennox as an androgynous siren. Over the next six years, Eurythmics delivering mesmerizing tracks such as "Who's That Girl?," "Here Comes the Rain Again," "Would I Lie to You?," "Missionary Man" and "Sisters Are Doin' It for Themselves" (with Aretha Franklin).
In 1990, Eurythmics released a greatest-hits package -- and quietly broke up after Lennox announced she would take a two-year sabbatical to have a child. Two years later, Lennox released her first solo album, "Diva." It produced two great singles, "Why" and "Walking on Broken Glass," sold 7 million copies worldwide (more than any Eurythmics album) and with song credits going solely to Lennox, established her as a force to be reckoned with.
None of that came particularly easy, says Lennox, who these days sports equally close-cropped but now platinum hair.
"It wasn't 'Look at me, I can prove [something] to everybody,' " she says of "Diva." "I hadn't taken that step, hadn't thought of taking that step because I was so melded to Dave creatively that it hadn't even occurred to me. But it gradually dawned on me that I wouldn't mind digging my toes into it, though I approached it very gently, very tentatively. I wasn't particularly expecting to have success; it was really more an experimentation.
"I started to enjoy the feeling of being independent and having that freedom, or responsibility if you like, to take on the creative decisions for myself, by myself. I love that autonomy that being a solo artist gives me."
But Lennox didn't exactly push herself: In 1995, she released "Medusa," an album of covers. Last year, when she released the harrowingly beautiful "Bare," it was only Lennox's second album of original songs in 12 years. Throw in "Into the West," her recent Oscar-winning theme for "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King," and that's a thin catalogue of 21 songs in 14 years.
Yet Lennox couldn't have been happier.
"Oh yes, absolutely," she says. "You see, when Dave and I were touring and making records, we'd been together as a musical team since the mid-'70s. So I'd been jumping over many hurdles -- touring, recording, writing -- for many years. Actually I simply wanted a life!"
And children, it turned out. Lennox's marriage to Israeli filmmaker Uri Fruchtmann produced two more hits. "My elder daughter [Lola] is now 131/2, my little one [Tali] is 11," Lennox says proudly, adding that raising them became her major focus. In fact, parenting was paramount: Lennox didn't tour for either "Diva" or "Medusa," and outside of the occasional television appearance, she seemed to be nearly as invisible in the '90s as she had been omnipresent in the '80s.
"I just had to accept that I had the blessing of two healthy children, and if my records were selling less, or if my profile was less, or if I wasn't having much cultural impact, it didn't matter," Lennox says. "I'm not so ambitious that I have to be riding the top of the chart if I'm of any value on the planet."
In 1999, Lennox and Stewart reunited for one last Eurythmics album, "Peace," and did a brief concert tour to benefit Greenpeace and Amnesty International. But she was content to remain out of the limelight. She had never seemed particularly comfortable with her celebrity in the '80s, and always made it clear she had no use for the media-driven celebrity culture that took hold in the '90s.
"We have exhibitionists and we have voyeurs, and there's plenty of people who want to join in that game," Lennox explains. "Personally I've always seen myself as a musician, as an artist, as a performer, so celebrity is really something I don't want. Perhaps people will see that as odd because I'm in the public eye when I do my work, but by and large, I make a distinction between the two places. I know what it feels like to have a restaurant full of people or a street filled with people turn around to eyeball you, and that's not what I'm put upon the planet to do."
Whether she likes it or not, Lennox is strikingly eyeball-able, with a lithe, muscular frame and an always elegant fashion sensibility (last year she joked to a British paper that "icons will, and must, be icons!").
"Actually, I'm quite a retiring person, quite shy," she insists, while admitting to a powerful transformative process that occurs as she moves between being off stage and being on.
"Most performers are that way, I'm sure," Lennox offers. "I don't think I'm exceptional. I'm quite normal. People like myself find some kind of outlet in performance but don't find it necessary to demand that kind of attention from people in other places. I don't need to live that kind of life."
In 2000, Lennox's 12-year marriage to Fruchtmann ended and the consequences of that experience informed "Bare." It's a song cycle about "relationship breakdowns" and the inevitable grieving. Titles like "The Hurting Time," "Bitter Pill," "Loneliness," " The Saddest Song I've Got" and "Erased" tell the story.
Yet "Bare" is also about emotional survival and regaining control of one's life -- the opening "A Thousand Beautiful Things" is hopeful and celebratory -- and it proved cathartic for its maker.
"A few years ago, in my own personal life, I was in such a difficult place, it was very hard for me to even get through a day," Lennox says. "And this has happened to all of us at different times for different reasons. Now I'm in another space, and I've been housecleaning and pulling things together. I feel there's a future in creativity that I'm hugely looking forward to."
Last year marked Lennox's first-ever tour as a solo artist, and with her daughters now older, she can be a bit more flexible. "I'm ready to do another record right now!" Lennox enthuses, adding she also wants to write poems, take photographs. The striking, emotionally and physically exposed cover of "Bare" is a self-portrait, as are most of the photos accompanying Lennox interviews these days (including this one). They are part of an ongoing series made with painter-designer Allan Martin and reflect Lennox's desire to control her own image, as well as her life.
ANNIE LENNOX -- Appearing Friday at Nissan Pavilion with Sting. * To hear a free Sound Bite from Annie Lennox, call Post-Haste at 301-313-2200 and press 8101. (Prince William residents, call 703-690-4110.)