A quarter-century ago, Stevie Nicks penned a tune about embracing a paradox, its music an upward spiral that predicted a corresponding descent, its lyrics contemplating the change that only comes from awareness of the unchangeable. The song ultimately celebrates the victory that arrives by agreeing to allow others to triumph.
On the eve of the release of “Enchanted” (Atlantic, due April 28) the engaging three-CD, 46 track retrospective – with eight unreleased cuts – of Nicks’ lengthy solo career, it seems the soon-to-be 50-year old sing/songwriter, who wrote the lovely “Long Distance Winner” as half of an early – ’70’s duo Buckingham-Nicks, has finally found the wisdom to learn from the intuition of her 25-year-old self.
“Back then, ‘Long Distance Winner’ was very much about dealing with Lindsey,” says Nicks, referring to Lindsey Buckingham, her artistic and emotional partner in the interval before their act merged with a subsequently revitalized Fleetwood Mac. “How else can I say it?” she wonders aloud, quoting a passage of the “Enchanted” track resurrected from the long out of print “Buckingham-Nicks” album: “I bring the water down to you/But you’re too hot to touch.”
“What the song is really all about,” Nicks confides, “is a difficult artist, saying ‘I adore you, but you’re difficult. And I’ll stay here with you, but you are still difficult” And the line ‘Sunflowers and your face fascinates me’ means that your beauty fascinates me, but I still have trouble dealing with you – and I still stay. So it’s really just the age old story, you know?” Meaning the inability to live with someone and the inability to live without them.
According to Nicks, who starts a 40-date US solo concert trek May 27 in Hartford, Conn., Buckingham’s stubborn but admirable streak lay in his unwillingness to compromise his composing to play in clubs, playing four sets a night in a steakhouse, whereas I was much more able to be practical.” That was then, and this is now, an era in which Nicks and the tempestuous Fleetwood Mac were able to set aside their collective differences, focus on teamwork, and reunite for the hugely fruitful “The Dance” live record and tour.
Stevie is quick to assert that the Mac now “plays way better than we did in the beginning” and readily agrees that the material selected for ‘The Dance’ boasts even better arrangements than the vintage renditions. Yet she admits her own personal and artistic intransigence of old: ‘Gold and Braid’, another song on ‘Enchanted’ is an unreleased track from my (1981) Bella Donna’ (solo debut) sessions, and it’s about Lindsey wanting more from me in our relationship. But wanting to know everything about someone, which goes hand in hand with being in love, was never something I’ve ever wanted to share with anybody. Professionally, everybody always wanted me to be their idea of what I should be. I’d flat-out look at people and say, “you know I’m not gonna do what you want, so why do you bother?”
“I’ve learned from mistakes,” she adds. “I got fat, and on the Dr. Atkins diet I had to lose 30 pounds I had been trying to lose for four or five years. But people have come into my career and wrongly told me, “Change your music, reinvent yourself! I just stayed what I am.”
Which is a real rock’n’roll character; a true one-of-a-kind piece of work. “Thank you!” she responds, erupting into giggles edged with her trademark throaty rasp. “People used to laugh at my musical style or my black handkerchiefy stage clothes, which make me look like an orphan out of ‘A Tale of Two Cities,’ and say ‘Oh, that’s very Stevie Nicks.’But now people in the fashion industry (like designers Anna Sui and Isaac Mizrachi) are giving me these accolades. If you believe in something and stick it out, it’ll come around, and you’ll win in the end.”
Other familiar criticism of Nicks center on her devotion in both composing and common-day activities to a heavily mystical life view. Possibly the single most recurrent image in her material, as illustrated by the “Sleeping Angel” cut that “Enchanted” retrieves from the 1982 “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” soundtrack, is a supporting cast of heavenly spirits. “I am religious,” Nicks explains. I wasn’t raised in any religion, because we were always moving when I was a kid and didn’t get involved in any church. But I believe there’ve been angels with me constantly through these last 20 years, or I wouldn’t be alive. I pray a lot. In the last few years I’ve asked for things from God, and he’s given them to me. And there were things I thought were going to kill me, and he fixed them. I felt that because I was fat I wasn’t talented anymore; I was destroying this gift God gave me and asked for help. Now I’m happy, even outside my music, and enjoying my life.
Stephanie Nicks was born May 26, 1948, the daughter of General Brewing president Jess Nicks and the former Barbara Meeks. “My mother’s mom and dad were divorced very early,” says Stevie, “and her stepfather worked in a coal mine in Ajo, Arizona, and died of tuberculosis. She had a hard life, was very poor, was 19 when she got married, had me at 20. My dad went after a big job in a big company, got it, did very well, and liked to move around and travel a lot. My mom got used to it and had a lot of fun, but she’s much more practical, frugal – she still sniffs her nose at my dad’s and my experience tastes – and she wanted more than anything else for her daughter and son (Christopher) to be independent and self assured.”
“I didn’t want to be married or have children,” Nicks confesses, “because then I couldn’t have worked as hard on all this. I would have split the whole thing down the middle, and I wouldn’t have been a good mother, or a good song writer either. If I got a call from the love of my life and a call from Fleetwood Mac saying you have to be here in 20 minutes, I’d still probably go to Fleetwood Mac. And that’s sad, but it’s true.”
Over the years Nicks has overcome substance abuse, serious eye surgery, the Epstein-Barr virus, and a host of detractors eager to diminish her musical contributions. Yet “Enchanted” documents a resilience and a wry candor – “I’m no enchantress!” she pointedly exclaims on the albums “Blue Lamp” – as well as a parallel path to her Big Mac experience, characterized by productivity and solo success equaling or exceeding that of her talented bandmates. Nick’s work is un-apologetically feminine in the face of the boys’ club that is rock. Consistently tuneful and sure in its spell-weaving , Nicks’ music also has surprising staying power, as show by “If Anyone Falls,” one of the best and sexiest pop/rock singles of the ’80s, and Enchanted’s” frank “Thousand Days,” which could close the ’90s on a similar note.
“‘Thousand Days’ was written about my non-relationship with Prince,” says Nicks, who had earlier composed “Stand Back” with him – although she notes he’s never called her back “to set up his payment on 50%” of the latter. “Days” recounts an abortive, all-night ’80s recording session with him at his Minneapolis home during a Fleetwood Mac tour, climaxing with Nicks “smoking my pot – he didn’t agree with my lifestyle – and going to sleep on Prince’s floor in his kitchen. I like him, but we were just so different there was no possible meeting ground.”
With current colleagues/collaborators does she most admire?
“Alanis Morissette, Joan Osborne, Sheryl Crow (who co-authored “Somebody Stand By Me” on “Enchanted”), and Fiona Apple, who’s very young and angry. I care about her and hope she’s OK. Fame is dangerous ground when you are young. You have gotta pace yourself.”
Music to My Ears / Timothy White / Billboard / April 18, 1998