With her swirling robes, angel-witch presence, and glorious, mellifluous voice, Stevie Nicks emerged as the most unabashedly ethereal and feminine embodiment of the post-hippie era. A quarter-century and many upheavals later, she’s striking as big a chord as ever with new audiences who crave the spiritual deliverance her music seems to promise. She’s even inspired an adulatory drag event, the Night of a Thousand Stevies. As they say, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
Straddling the spirit world and the rock-‘n’-roll world, Stevie Nicks has cast her spell wide over generations of listeners and musicmakers. Her influence, as the bewitching force of Fleetwood Mac and one of rock’s preeminent solo vocalists, continues to be as all-encompassing as her trademark shawls — ask new friends Billy Corgan of Smashing Pumpkins and Courtney Love. Even Madonna’s been doing a Stevie Nicks lately: her black flowing robe in the “Frozen” video is clearly an homage to Nicks’s gypsy persona.
Of Fleetwood Mac’s three main songwriters, Nicks is hardly the resident musical genius — that tag belongs to Lindsey Buckingham, who shaped many of Nicks’s songs. Nor is she the most natural “pop” writer; it was Christine McVie who wrote the band’s more lightweight, commercial hits, such as “Say You Love Me” and the Clinton election tune, “Don’t Stop.” But Nicks was responsible for the numbers, singles and album tracks alike, that captured our imaginations: “Dreams,” “Gold Dust Woman,” “Gypsy,” “Landslide,” and countless other Mac and solo hits. In that dusky voice of hers, a voice that still evokes burning incense and hints at the possibilities of the night, Nicks sang of deep personal traumas and entangled loves – and of transcending it all “like a bird in flight,” to quote her classic “Rhiannon.”
Her songs suggest the aura of one who’s lived several past lives, which in a sense she has during her turbulent voyage with and without the legendary West Coast group since 1975. Following the release of last year’s Mac comeback album, The Dance (Reprise), she took a look back over her solo career with this spring’s retrospective box set, Enchanted (Modern/Atlantic). We checked in with her in May, just before she turned fifty and embarked on a forty-date solo tour.
RAY ROGERS: The reaction to The Dance clearly shows how much people have missed you. Tell me about the Mac reunion tour last year. Would you say it’s still magic when you guys come together?
STEVIE NICKS: Yes. The tour was very magic. You could be in a really bad mood, but when you walked up to the side of the ramp and heard that applause and saw how happy everybody was, you’d just have to get in a good mood. I mean, how could you possibly not be in a good mood when you’re in a room playing for people who love your music? The shows were so noisy and loud and boisterous and electric, they reminded me of our ’70s shows.
RR: And they really affected people, even those who saw you only on TV. I have a friend whose more was beaten nearly to death about eighteen years ago. It was a miracle that she survived.’ And ever since that moment, my friend had been unable to cry. But watching you sing “Landslide” on the reunion concert on TV freed something in him, and he wept for the first time in eighteen years.
SN: Wow. Well, I’m glad. He needed to cry. Hearing a story like that gives you the most worthwhile feeling you can have as a songwriter and entertainer: to know that you’ve really touched people, that you’ve made a difference in their lives. As far as I’m concerned, that’s the only reason to do this.
RR: What was it like, this time, to be up there onstage singing those very personal songs about the people you’re playing with? Does it get easier over the years, or is it still a very loaded situation?
SN: Both. It was, I think, very cathartic for us this time. We’ve had a long time to stop and look and listen and think about what happened. And nobody’s angry anymore. But it’s always intense. There’s nothing about Fleetwood Mac that is blase. We were never a band that went onstage and was bored.
RR: Is it ever a burden to sing some of the more emotional songs?
SN: Every once in a while something will hit me, and I’ll almost burst into tears. It doesn’t happen too often. It happened once on the last Fleetwood Mac tour, at a certain part in “Sweet Girl.” [singing] “Go through the . . . traffic, it goes through the fog/The sun is burning me, and you come walking out in the rain with me” – something like that. I just started thinking about how Christine [McVie] didn’t want to go back out on the road, and it upset me. I was thinking of her as Sweet Girl! She was standing right there, next to me. I have to be careful because I’m real emotional and I could go that way every night if I let myself. I don’t, because it’s not going to do me any good to burst into tears in the middle of “Silver Springs” or something. So I keep the emotion at a certain level.
RR: Did putting all your solo work together on the Enchanted box set unleash a lot of emotion?
SN: It was like looking over a great book report of my life, good and bad. Each song tells me exactly who was in my life when I wrote it, where I lived, what I was doing, who was important, who wasn’t important.
RR: How did Fleetwood Mac react when you first began your solo career in the first place? Were they supportive?
SN: Supportive is a pretty big word. They were not supportive. When I first went to do Bella Donna (1981), they questioned my reasons, and once they realized that I was simply looking for an outlet for my songs — because three songs for Fleetwood Mac every two years just wasn’t enough — they understood I wasn’t trying to leave the band. Then it just became something else I did.
RR: Tell me about the new record you’re working on.
SN: The title song, which I wrote during the O.J. Simpson trial, is about that sixteen-million-to-one person who makes it to the top of their field and then has trouble handling Shangri-la. And it’s not just about me. In fact, it’s not that much about me at all — it’s about a lot of other people that I see and hear about. You say to yourself, “God, I made it. I’m at the top of my field. I’m a beloved artist of some kind.” And then, “I can’t handle it.” And how sad is it that all your dreams come true and you just can’t keep yourself together?
RR: And what can we expect musically?
SN: I’m going to stay very simple on this record. I want to play piano on a lot of it. Because when I play, it’s different than when anybody else plays. It’s not that I play that well — I don’t. But I have a certain timing thing that makes it different if I’m playing alone. The reason I want to do this is so my songs stay a little bit closer to the way I wrote them. If you listen to the version of “Rhiannon” on Enchanted, that’s how I wrote it and first showed it to Lindsey [Buckingham].
RR: That’s a fantastic version of that song.
SN: Thank you. I’m really proud of it. I held out to get it on this record because I felt it was really important for people to have “Rhiannon” the way she was originally written.
RR: There’s a real intensity to it. There’s an intensity to the Fleetwood Mac version, too, but this one has a different quality about it that’s almost shocking.
SN: Right. That’s my intensity I put into it, whereas the intensity of the Fleetwood Mac “Rhiannon” is all five of us. This is just mine, and that’s what makes it different. And I think that might be an interesting way for me to go about this next record.
RR: You’ve taken a lot of inspiration from things that fly in your work – lots of birds and angels and wings and stuff – and when you lift your arms up in your shawl, it looks like you’re about to take flight yourself. What’s drawn you to that kind of imagery over the years?
SN: That whole winged thing I do comes out of modern jazz and all the weird dancing I took. And it’s just me. I’ve always been fascinated by flight, ballet, high jumps, big movements, big, big hand gestures. I’m just a person who likes to go onstage and entertain people.
RR: There seems to be a return to mysticism among female pop musicians. I’m thinking of people like Tori Amos, Sarah McLachlan, Erykah Badu, even Madonna now. It’s always been in your work In one way or another. Why do you think others are tapping Into that spirit at the moment?
SN: Because having a little bit of the spiritual is ultimately better than having none. For me, the whole idea of twirling around in chiffon onstage is a whole lot more fun than standing there in a straight dress that doesn’t move. A long, long time ago I decided I was going to have a kind of mystical presence, so I made my clothes, my boots, my hair, and my whole being go with that. But it wasn’t something I just made up at that point. It’s the way I’ve always been. I’ve always believed in good witches — not bad witches — and fairies and angels.
RR: Did you know that you are a sort of drag Icon?
SN: Well, I’ve heard that. Is it true?
SN: It cracks me up — I love it. I saw a six-foot-five guy dressed like me in the front row at one of the recent Fleetwood Mac shows. He had a veil thing on, and a full-on dress. I could hardly get through the song — it just made me die laughing. I wanted to jump offstage and run down and look at him. [laughs] I’ve heard about the Night of a Thousand Stevies in New York, which of course I’m going to go to, as soon as I can manage to be on that side of the country when it happens.
RR: I understand you’ve gotten to know Billy Corgan and Courtney Love recently. How do you relate to them?
SN: Well, you know, they made an effort to meet me, which is so great because I probably wouldn’t have made the effort. They’re really nice and they do what I do, which makes them different from other people. I don’t know very many people who stand center stage and do what I do. I just hope we’ll become good friends and that it will last.
RR: Do you like their music?
SN: Um . . . I like some of their music. And they know that. Some of it’s too loud for me, some of it I don’t understand. I really like Billy’s poetry.
RR: Courtney’s someone who’s led a lot of her life in public. What advice would you have given her during her various crises?
SN: Save yourself. Don’t let this be the end of you — it’s not that important. I’m glad I didn’t know her back then because what happened to her would have really broken my heart.
RR: Fleetwood Mac’s excessive drug use In the ’70s and ’80s is legendary. You’ve been very public about overcoming your cocaine addiction In the ’80s. Is there anything from those years you regret missing out on because of your drug use?
SN: I think a lot of cool things may have happened that I probably don’t even remember. I didn’t miss out on doing anything because I did everything I wanted to do. It’s just, you know, who remembers? So, who cares?
RR: How do you feel about turning fifty this year?
SN: I have been preparing myself for it for a year. I began telling everybody I was fifty the day I turned forty-nine. I’ve been going, “Oh no, I’m really fifty,” so that I wouldn’t be shocked. As much as I think that age is a state of mind and a state of your heart and energy, at the same time the word fifty sounds really old to me. I’m not crazy about turning fifty. I’ll just go straight to fifty-one. [laughs] But I don’t feel like I’m old. I feel there’s still a lot more time.
RR: How does being a diva in the ’90s differ from being one in the ’70s?
SN: I never really considered myself a diva.
RR: But a lot of people do.
SN: That’s very far-out. But I don’t know how to answer the question because, you know, I just get through everything. It’s like, I’m still here. I’m still standing after all these years.
RR: How do you think you’ve made it through?
SN: I think there is definitely a God. I think there was definitely an angel with me all the way through the bad times. Somebody keeping me safe. I feel very spiritual now. I really believe that God makes my music good and makes me able to deliver it and makes me able to not look or feel fifty. I mean, there has to be some outside help — this can’t all be happening on its own. I feel like my life is pretty damn good right now.
Ray Rogers / Interview / July 1998