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Annie Lennox on Writing the Theme Song to ‘A Private War’: ‘It Was Meant to Be’

Says the Oscar-winning singer: “I hadn’t written a song in years, and I didn’t even know if I could.”

Suggesting an artist to perform the title song for Matthew Heineman’s “A Private War,” the movie about British journalist Marie Colvin, who was killed in 2012 while covering the war in Syria, was a no-brainer for CAA’s Brian Loucks. “I thought this was the kind of movie Annie would love,” the agent says of his client, Annie Lennox.

Little did he know that Lennox had actually met the famed Sunday Times journalist before her death. He also wasn’t aware that the subsequently formed Marie Colvin Journalists’ Network was under the umbrella of Lennox’s female empowerment organization, The Circle NGO. Still it took some convincing. 

“When the call came through to ask me if I would write a song, I said: ‘I’d like to try,’” the Oscar-winning singer says with a laugh. “Because I hadn’t written a song in years, and I didn’t even know if I could write a song.”

But Lennox, who previously penned the original song “Into the West” for “Lord of the Rings” (which won her an Academy Award) and “Love Song for a Vampire” for “Bram Stoker’s Dracula,” hadn’t lost her touch. “The first line came to me and the rest quickly flowed,” Lennox tells Variety. “I wrote it over a couple of hours and thought: Wow, I must have been meant to write this. It felt so strange, like it was meant to be. I was so touched by Marie’s death and in those circumstances you feel so helpless. But writing a song a few years later felt so appropriate to me. I wanted to honor her memory.”

The resulting ballad, which was co-produced by the film’s composer, H. Scott Salinas, is aptly titled “A Requiem for a Private War.” “It truly is a requiem that you sing in honor and in commemoration of death so that we don’t forget — and Marie wrote those stories so that we don’t forget. It’s carrying on that legacy of remembrance,” Lennox says. And it might just carry Lennox back to the Academy Awards stage.

“There was some magic that happened in our collaboration together,” adds Salinas. “She sang in a very vulnerable part of her register — she took her voice to the edge and allowed that to be shown, which I thought was very cool of her. She could have written this song in a way that comfortably sat in her range, but she is stretching in certain parts intentionally and leaving that rawness. It makes me feel something. … I think it’s very powerful and also very direct. I don’t know too many songs that aren’t in the heavy metal genre where I’ve heard the word ‘Armageddon,’ you know? She wanted to viscerally connect with people the way that you would just sort of shake someone. It doesn’t have a typical song form, like: ‘Here’s the verse, here’s the chorus.’ It doesn’t operate the way a normal song does, either; it’s more marching, building and building to an end destination, and then it wraps up. For me, it’s sort of a poetic reflection of the whole movie.”

Some of the percussive sounds in Lennox’s “Requiem” are not drums but rather bombs exploding, and the rest of Salinas’ music for the movie is similarly stark and somber. “If you hear the score I think a lot of people will say: ‘What the heck is that?’ We recorded a lot of natural instruments like flutes and then played them at half speed or even quarter speed so a flute that would sound like a chirpy bird suddenly sounds like its underwater and strange … I would describe it as a little bit otherworldly.”

“What the music needed to do mostly in this film is speak to her internal psychological state,” Salinas said of Colvin, who suffered from PTSD and alcohol abuse. “I’m sorry if I sound a little abstract, but the score has got a lot of unique sounds and weird recordings. I mean, I would love to talk about orchestras, but we really approached this one as: Make your own tools before you even start using the tools to make the art.”

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