'Get out of the house. GET OUT OF THE HOUSE!' Windy City Times doesn't quite know what to make of this greeting after picking up the phone—until there's a laugh followed by the honeyed voice of a musical icon: 'It's just Sheena Easton here. I was just trying to spook you a little.'
This exhibition of mischievous and un-diva-like behavior by the Scot-turned-U.S. citizen is welcome but unexpected of someone who's been on top of the musical world. Her hits are numerous, including songs like 'Morning Train ( Nine to Five ) ,' 'The Lover in Me,' 'Strut' and 'U Got the Look.'
Easton will be performing at the AIDS Foundation's 'Not Just Song & Dance' gala, which will take place May 6. The Las Vegas resident recently talked about everything from body image to AIDS to censorship.
Windy City Times: What moved you to perform at this gala? Have you been touched by this disease?
Sheena Easton: Well, I've done many different AIDS benefits. Have I been touched by this disease? Absolutely.
I lost more friends in the '80s because, now, with the cocktails, people are [ living longer ] . Back then, people felt like they had no chance. Unfortunately, we lost a few close friends before the first cocktail came out. It was just tragic.
The thing about AIDS is that not enough is done now by the media. It's almost as if it was last year's or last decade's cause.
WCT: It's as if there's this complacency about it.
SE: I think there is. Now people are concerned about bird flu—and I want to say 'Get a life!' Doing benefits is a great way to keep people talking.
WCT: Well, let's switch gears. I remember when the song 'Sugar Walls' was out. There was a lot of controversy surrounding it—but what do you think those critics would think of today's songs, because they make 'Sugar Walls' look like—
SE: 'Itsy Bitsy Spider?' With 'Sugar Walls,' you can listen to it and go, 'She's singing about her you-know-what? Her love canal?' It was a euphemism but today's music is just graphic.
I said what I said back then and I stand by it. When I put that song out, I wasn't a parent but I was a responsible adult. [ She has two children, Skylar and Jake. ] If you're an adult and you don't like it, don't listen. I hate Howard Stern—I think the man's a pig—and I don't listen to him; however, I don't say that he has no right to say anything.
I would absolutely agree with any parent who says a song isn't right for a kid. I censor what my kids listen to. My son has a $5-a-week download allowance—but I gave it to him just so I can take it away from him. It's a great discipline tool. But there's some stuff out there that makes me blush. There are so many gaps and bleeps with some songs; it's like listening to a cell-phone conversation.
WCT: You've been in the music business for about 25 year s...
SE: I'm 47 and I was in my first band when I was 17—and I recorded my first CD when I was 19. It's been about 30 years. I'm an old broad.
WCT: You are not old! Anyway, what's the biggest difference that you've seen in the music business over that stretch of time?
SE: Well, I tell you this: I'd hate to be a new artist today. It's really tough for anyone to get a foothold in the industry. It was already tilting that way in the '80s when I came out.
In the '70s, companies worked with artists for a while and nurtured them. By the '80s, the stakes were higher and there were things like MTV and the payola scandal. Now, it's so tough for the young artists. If the first single works and the second doesn't, the singers are dropped and left to flounder. I think there's a lot of talent we're not hearing because the opportunities aren't there anymore.
And then you have shows like American Idol. Record companies live for them because you don't hear people sing on TV anymore. Back in the olden days ( as my kids say ) , there were so many shows people could go on—from Solid Gold to The Merv Griffin Show. Now, there are about three talk shows they can go on. It's much tougher now; I'm glad I'm old and don't have to do it again.
WCT: I'll say it again: You're not old!
SE: Well, my son teases me and says, 'Your butt's huge!' I tell him that I still have my 22-year-old [ butt ] , but now it's padded with bubble wrap. [ Laughs. ] It's just like you wrap your antiques.
WCT: I'm going to have to remember that.
SE: Yeah, it's a good attitude to have. I still work out five days a week, but when you're 47 it doesn't seem to make that much difference. Back in the day, though, I used to work out two and a half hours a day. Nowadays—do you think Beyoncé gets that [ figure ] from five minutes on the treadmill? No way!
Then, I got a life. I realized that I'm working and I have kids. I help them with homework and do gigs.
WCT: I was looking at your cover for The Lover in Me CD ...
SE: Well, trust me, I couldn't shoot that cover today. [ Laughs. ]
WCT: Of course you could!
SE: Of course I could—we have Photoshop now! [ Laughs. ] It's like Oprah's covers. She looks great. She rivals Halle Berry in some of those shots!
None of us looks like our magazine or album covers, and that's what I keep telling my 10-year-old daughter. I show her older pictures of me. She'll say, 'That was you?' Then I say 'Um-hmm. That was me—but even when that was me, that wasn't me. That was me with three hours of hair and makeup and perfect lighting. So keep that mind when you look at pictures of glamour pusses.'
Image is just a marketing tool. It's something to make you look twice at a product.
WCT: You became a U.S. citizen in '92. Do you ever look at the Bush administration and feel like you made a mistake?
SE: [ Laughs. ] No. I'm very, very proud to be born in Scotland and raised in America. I became a citizen so I could vote for President Clinton. I was totally non-political until I lived through the Reagan years.
President Bush—please! I don't even like turning on the news nowadays. I never understood how he conned the country.
'Not Just Song & Dance: The Hottest Bash in Town' will take place May 6 at the Hilton Chicago, 720 S. Michigan, at 6 p.m. Tickets are $350 and $500 per person. To order tickets, call ( 312 ) 922-2322 or see www.aidschicago.org .