By Sylvie Simmons
San Francisco Chronicle
Sunday, May 13, 2007
A small woman walks into the living room of her Southern California house carrying two mugs of steaming Earl Grey tea. A pair of tiny dogs, barely bigger than fur balls, skitter between her stiletto-booted feet. She is dressed in a floaty chiffon blouse and rock-star-tight black pants, her long blond hair worn loose and to her waist. Her expression, as she offers a mug and sits in front of the log fire, is open, unguarded and, as always, a little stunned, as if she’d just fallen out of a little girl’s drawing of a fairy princess and hasn’t quite got her bearings. She looks, in fact, exactly like Stevie Nicks.
In 1985, when Nicks was in the Betty Ford clinic being treated for cocaine addiction — she was one of the first rock stars, if not the first, she says, to do the now-common rehab thing — they gave her some homework: Write an essay on the difference between being Stevie Nicks, real-life human, and Stevie Nicks, rock goddess. She says it was the hardest thing she’s ever had to do.
It prompts a story about going to her 40th high school reunion earlier this year in San Francisco — Nicks was born in Phoenix, but her family moved West when she was a teenager. One of her close group of high school girlfriends told her, “You know what? You haven’t changed a bit. You are still our little Stevie girl.” Nicks says it made her cry “because it was the nicest thing anybody had said to me, that I’m still the same. Because I’ve always tried very hard to stay who I was before I joined Fleetwood Mac and not become a very arrogant and obnoxious, conceited, bitchy chick, which many do, and I think I’ve been really successful.”
That this should be said so guilelessly by a woman who will be 60 years old next year, and who has spent a good three-quarters of those years experiencing the rock ‘n’ roll life in all its often less-than-innocent glories, might sound odd. But with Nicks, what you see really is what you get. Her hobbies include writing children’s stories and drawing sweetly childlike illustrations. A couple of her drawings, still unfinished, are propped up in a corner of the room.
“They’re my Zen thing, what I do on airplanes, what I do when I really think — think about what I’m going to do,” she says.
If she could only “organize my time a little better,” she says, she would have had an art show by now and published the children’s books.
“It’s like Oprah says: If you wait around, you’re never going to get it done,” she says. “So I’ll see if I can’t multitask a little more.”
To an outsider, Nicks’ multitasking skills seem Olympian. For the past three decades she has run, concurrently, two phenomenally successful careers: as a solo singer and songwriter and as a key member of Fleetwood Mac. During a break from touring solo and with the band last year, she spent five months on the road as an unpaid guest member of Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers “just for fun.” She’s been writing a ballet and a film based on the Menologian, the mythology book that inspired her best-loved song, “Rhiannon.” Oh, and she also managed to establish the Stevie Nicks Soldier’s Angel Foundation, a charity that helps injured U.S. military personnel.
She was planning a vacation in Hawaii before finishing the last few songs for a new solo album, when her record company called and told her it was putting out a greatest-hits CD and DVD, “Crystal Visions: The Very Best of Stevie Nicks” (“These records are never your idea,” she says). So Nicks dusted herself off, packed her bags and got ready for the solo tour that brings her back to the Bay Area on Thursday.
“Due to the fact that I never got married and never had children, I do have this crazy world where I pretty much continually work,” she says. “But I love my work, and it’s so different all the time that I really can’t complain. And when I do get tired and irritable I get really mad at myself and stop in my tracks and say, ‘You have no right to complain. You are a lucky, lucky girl.’ I always hear my dad, who I lost a year and a half ago, saying, ‘Ninety-nine percent of the human race will never be able to do what you have been able to do, to see all the beautiful cities and meet the people that you’ve met. You’re a lucky girl, Stevie.’ And I just try to keep that very present in my life.”
But it must be hard playing the ethereal fairy princess myth at the age of 59, isn’t it?
“It is. Because when you go onstage and perform in front of people, you want to be that person for everybody, but you are getting older, and there’s nothing you can do to stop that,” she says. “That is something I have had really long talks with myself about. All women have to deal with getting older, famous or not famous, and the way I deal with it is, I feel that if you stay animated from within, people don’t see the age. I do my makeup and I do my hair and I try to look as fantastic as I can when I walk out of that bathroom, but once I walk out of that bathroom, I don’t think about it again. I’ve never had a face-lift. The idea of having plastic surgery and looking like somebody else or a caricature of myself is so horrible. So I deal with it by just being me.”
Her aversion to cosmetic surgery might have something to do with her work with wounded soldiers. In 2004, when Nicks was performing in Washington, D.C., her manager got a call from Walter Reed Army Medical Center, asking if she would visit, and she couldn’t refuse.
“You put on a gown and gloves and they say, ‘Well, this guy’s name is John Jones and he was injured in a blast and lost both legs. He’s had a bad day, but he’s very excited to see you.’ And you go in and I just say, ‘My name’s Stevie Nicks. What happened?’ Because they would like to talk about it. I was there from 2 in the afternoon until almost 1 o’clock that night. When I walked out of that hospital, after having seen about 40 guys and girls who’ve lost arms and legs, I was completely blown away by it all, and by how these kids’ lives had been completely changed.”
It changed her, too. She went back, armed with iPods she’d filled with music for the patients. She and her girlfriends dropped by with movies and popcorn and sat and watched the films with the soldiers.
“I’m not a mother, but I feel incredibly motherly to all these kids,” she says. “They are so young.”
She phoned her musician friends and asked for their help with a foundation she was planning. And when she learned that a new facility for amputees and burn victims was opening in San Antonio, Texas, she set up her tour “so that I can hub out of San Antonio and go there and figure out what they need,” she says.
“I’m very, very dedicated to this. It’s nothing that I would have ever in a million years have dreamed that I would have ever become involved in,” America’s rock sweetheart says, smiling, “but I feel like it’s probably the best thing I’ve ever done.”
Stevie Nicks performs at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Sleep Train Pavilion, 2000 Kirker Pass Road, Concord. $36-$131. (925) 676-8742, www.livenation.com.
Sylvie Simmons is a freelance writer.