Personal History of Music

A Personal History of Music, Day 5: “Love Is a Stranger” by the Eurythmics

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Over on Reddit, there’s an interest group (or “subreddit”) called “Im14AndThisIsDeep,” where the gist of the subreddit is to show a bunch of images/statements/gifs/etc that seem deeply profound if you are young and inexperienced, and, uhhhh, less so if you have any knowledge of the world under your proverbial belt. The group is not very kind to 14-year-olds by its nature, but it’s also not wrong in its underlying thesis: Lots of things seem deep when all you’ve known is the shallow end of the cultural pool.

So I understand if it sounds like damning with faint praise when I say that “Love Is a Stranger” is kind of my “I’m 14 and This Is Deep” song, but let me say two things to its defense. One, I was 14 when it came out, so this is exactly who I was and what I was about when I first encountered the song (and the Eurythmics in general); Two, when I was 14 I wasn’t ready for actual nihilism and depravity, in music or anywhere else, if I’m being honest. So getting this icy, attenuated version from the Eurythmics was really the speed I needed to be at.

The song, if you’ve not encountered it before and can’t be bothered to press “play” on the embedded video above, has Anne Lennox enumerating all the ways love is a real existential pain in the ass, and then in the chorus admitting that she wants you, nevertheless, and also, it’s an obsession. Thus the (presumed) duality of love is revealed: A real drag, and also, let me have some, I’m a love junky. In the video, Lennox says all this while alternating between icy femme and even-icier androgynous personas, which was both thrilling and upsetting to 14-year-old me; a continuation, if you will, of my mild-yet-real sexual cognitive dissonance when confronted with the fact of Boy George roughly a year earlier.

There are better Eurythmics songs, and Anne Lennox also has a wide and vast solo career where she’s staked out her claim for relevance as a songwriter and performer. But for this series I’m talking about the songs that hit for me. At 14, this was one that intrigued and fascinated me, made me interested in the Eurythmics and gave me information about love and desire that, while I now recognize as caricaturized and amped up for performance purposes, still alerted me that love wasn’t always a pop song — or at least, could sometimes be a creepier, weirder type of pop song altogether.

And yes, it still gets me, although now my reaction to to Anne Lennox glaring threateningly at the camera with a pair of hair-trimming scissors is less “Why does this make me feel aroused and confused” and more “Yes, very hot, and also, I sure hope you found a happy stable relationship somewhere along the line.” Which, at 53, I think is probably the best way to approach this particular song. I was happy to be 14 when I was 14. I’m happy to be out of that now.

— JS

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