Stevie Nicks on Tom Petty, Drag Queens, Game of Thrones and Missing Prince
Wisdom from the first woman to make it into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice
Stevie Nicks has the only kind of BDE that matters: Bella Donna Energy. The Fleetwood Mac gold dust woman is adding yet another sequin to her top hat by going into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as a solo artist, years after she got enshrined with the Mac. She’s the first woman inducted twice — as she puts it, “at the ripe and totally young age of 70.” She’s also hitting the road with Fleetwood Mac for the 2019 leg of their world tour, in their surprising new incarnation after a sudden split with Lindsey Buckingham.
As eloquent and witty as ever, Stevie went deep with Rolling Stone for an epic late-night chat about her 50 years as a rock goddess, discussing love, loss, female music heroes, her poetry about Game of Thrones, how “Stand Back” makes her miss Prince, drag queens, sexist hecklers, loving Tom Petty, why she wears platform boots and the joys of having two female rock stars in the same band. And also why the story of her life would be titled, There’s Enough Shawls to Go Around. Rock on, queen.
Congratulations on the Hall of Fame. How is it different going in the second time?
It’s 22 to zero. It’s 22 guys that have gone in twice to zero women — Eric Clapton is probably in there 22 times already! So maybe this will open the doors for women to fight to make their own music.
You’re one of the few rock stars with both a band and a solo career.
My solo career is much more girlie. It’s still a hard rock band — but it’s much more girlie-girl than Fleetwood Mac is. I never wanted a solo career — I always wanted to be just in a band. But I just had so many songs! Because when you’re in a band with three prolific writers, you get two or three songs per album — maybe four. But I was writing all the time, so they just went into my Gothic trunk of lost songs.
Christine would walk by me — my totally sarcastic best friend. She’d say [imitation of Christine McVie’s English accent] “Soooo. Writing another song, are we?” To this day, I write all the time. I have a poem that I’ve written about Game of Thrones, and I have a really beautiful poem that I’m writing about Anthony Bourdain.
You were always a pioneer — a female rock star at a time when that was virtually unknown.
I was a female rock star in a band with another female rock star, which was totally cool. Then I went into my own band where I had Sharon Celani and Lori Nicks — she married my brother. So I’ve always had the girls, you know? If I had been the only girl in Fleetwood Mac, it would have been very different, so I’m really glad I joined a band that happened to have another woman in it. At the beginning people said, “Does Christine want another girl in the band?” And I said, “I hope she does. When she meets me, I hope she likes me.” She did really like me — we got Mexican food and we laughed and looked at each other and went, “This is going to be great.”
But up until 1980, I had five years’ worth of songs that I knew were just never going to have any place to go. So I did the Gemini thing where you’re two different people — let’s give Stevie her solo career, without breaking up one of the world’s biggest bands. I was on a mission. Every time a Fleetwood Mac tour ended, I hit the ground running. I would already have songs ready for my next record. I’d take a week off, then I’d be in the studio. Everybody else would go on vacation.
I hope that inspires the women musicians out there. I had this hysterical talk with Haim: “OK, you need to work on your band, but at least one of you needs to start making your solo record.”
But you still never slow down. You’re in the middle of a Fleetwood Mac world tour.
At the ripe and totally young age of 70, my voice hasn’t changed. As long as I take care of myself, I am still going to be doing this when I’m 80. There’s so many things I want to do. I want to do another record. I want to make a mini-series. If the coven reforms, I want to go back to American Horror Story. I tell myself, “Do it now, because you’re spry, you’re in good shape, you can still do the splits, you can still dance onstage and wear a short skirt and high six-inch heels.”
It’s a time right now when women are changing the world and changing music. What was it like when you first joined a band?
Joni Mitchell, Janis Joplin, Grace Slick — that was the beginning. I met Lindsey in 1966. Two years later, I joined his band. That was it — that was San Francisco music, Janis, Jimi Hendrix, Buffalo Springfield. Our band, the band I was in with Lindsey, we opened for that huge-ass group Chicago, with Bill Graham standing on the side of the stage. That night was the only time in my life I was heckled—some guy out in the audience went, “Hey baby. What are you doing later? You want to come home with me?” Bill Graham walked out on the stage and screamed at this guy and told him to get the f-u-c-k out and never come back. Basically, “If I ever see you again, I will kill you.” I didn’t know Bill Graham. A good five years later, I reminded him of that night and he remembered. He said, “Yeah, I don’t let that happen.”
Who were the female singers who first inspired you?
I started singing when I was in fourth grade: R&B, all the Shirelles’ songs and the Supremes and the Shangri-Las. All those amazing songs Carole King and Gerry Goffin wrote. That was my diving board for singing as a little girl. My grandfather was a country singer, but I said, “No, I’m full-on Top 40. I’m not country.” I’m dancing to all this crazy R&B music, singing, “Sugar pie, honey bunch,” and my parents are asking, “Where did she come from? She’s an alien!”
In sixth grade, I was in a play as one of the two surviving women of the Alamo. I was so bad, I said, “Mom, never ever let me sign up for anything dramatic. No drama. No chorus. No anything. I’m not a good actress — I’m never doing that again.” But right after that, I signed myself up for a talent show. I did a tap dance to Buddy Holly’s “Everyday.” I practiced the hell out of this dance to get it right — I wore a black skirt, a black vest, a white blouse, black tap shoes and a black top hat. It’s like I had the vision already. I knew what I would wear in 30 years.
You were that woman from the beginning.
I was. When I first listened to the Fleetwood Mac recording of “Dreams,” I said, “There’s that little girl that was singing along to the Supremes.” All the amazing black musical groups who were Top 40 when I was in the fourth grade. Carole and Gerry, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weill — those are the songs that I learned to sing to. I wanted to be a part of that. I’m 70 now, so I’ve been working on this for like 60 years.
‘When I first listened to the Fleetwood Mac recording of “Dreams,” I said, “There’s that little girl that was singing along to the Supremes.”’
When you were starting out, do you think it was tougher for you get a break as a songwriter because you were a woman?
No — I never looked at it that way. When I joined Lindsey’s band, we played all over San Francisco, opening for all the big groups. I got to watch Janis Joplin, who was not a super attractive girl, but when she walked out on that stage, she was amazing and beautiful. Jefferson Airplane — I got to watch Grace Slick, who was sexy and wore actual high heels — not boots, but high heels — and silky dresses that swished back and forth on the stage. She’s singing about Alice in Wonderland. It was the best school of rock ever. I took little pieces from everybody. I was just planning my world.
Everybody isn’t going to have it as easy as I did. I didn’t face a lot of the things that a lot of women have faced. I was very lucky. Christine and I made a pact the day I joined Fleetwood Mac. She and I said, “We will never be treated like second-class citizens. We will never be not allowed to hang out in a room full of intelligent, crazy rock and roll stars, because we’re just as crazy and just as intelligent as they are.” We just made that promise to each other that we would do everything we could do for women, that we would fight for everything that we wanted and get it. That our songs and our music would be equally as good as all the men surrounding us. And it was.
You somehow have this timeless appeal to every new generation of fans. Harry Styles does such a great version of “The Chain.”
He’s Mick [Fleetwood]’s and my love child. When Harry came into our lives, I said, “Oh my God, this is the son I never had.” So I adopted him. I love Harry, and I’m so happy Harry made a rock & roll record — he could have made a pop record and that would have been the easy way for him. But I guess he decided he wanted to be born in 1948, too — he made a record that was more like 1975.
What’s it like to hear the new female pop stars who idolize you?
That makes me happy because I didn’t ever have children, but I feel like I have a lot of daughters. I love Vanessa Carlton. She’s like my younger, younger, younger sister — like if my dad had divorced my mother and married a really younger woman, then had Vanessa. I’m so much older than her, but yet there’s such a little silken thread between the two of us when it comes to music. I have that with Natalie Maines, LeAnn Rimes, Hillary Scott from Lady Antebellum.
When you were coming up, did you have rock mentors giving you a helping hand?
Lindsey and I started out as starving musicians — I do mean starving, with no money. We made great music, but we were still starving and terrified. When we joined Fleetwood Mac in 1975, that’s when we started meeting other artists. I got to go on the road with Tom Petty and be a part of the Heartbreakers for three months, and it was awesome.
Tom gave you that star you wear on your top hat?
He did, and he gave me “Stop Dragging My Heart Around.” Had he not given me that song, let me candidly tell you, Bella Donna might not have been a hit. That song kicked Bella Donna right into the universe. My biggest sadness about the Hall of Fame is that Tom is not here to enjoy this with me, because he would have been the proudest of me of anyone.
Your career’s had so many amazing phases. I have to confess, my favorite song is “Ooh My Love,” from The Other Side of the Mirror in 1989.
I stole that from Tom Petty — accidentally! I picked up the wrong cassette at Tom’s one night, a tape of Mike Campbell’s instrumental demos. Tom would get them first, and then the ones he didn’t want, Mike sent them to me. I accidentally arrived home one night with a cassette — I thought it was mine, but it was Tom’s. It just said, “24 Demos from Mike Campbell.” It had the song that inspired “Ooh My Love,” which became “Runaway Train” for Tom. I took it into Fleetwood Mac and sang my lyrics over it. We started to record. I loved it so much, I called Tom and said, “Listen to this!” What an idiot, right? Let’s play him the song you stole over the phone! Tom just starts screaming at me on the other end of the phone. I’m realizing, “How stupid are you, Stevie?” So I had to go in the next day and tell Fleetwood Mac, “Guess what, we can’t do this song. ” “Why can’t we do it? ” “Because I stole it from Tom Petty, and I’m absolutely a total criminal and a thief.”
These are the ups and downs of being friends with other songwriters. So we erased it. Then way later, years down the road, I sat down at the piano and tried to recall it. I wrote “Ooh My Love” on the piano: “In the shadow of the castle walls…” Of course, I don’t know near as many chords as Mike Campbell does. All I remembered was that distant enchanted melody.
Yet it’s a song that sounds like quintessential Stevie.
Me and Tom and Mike Campbell, we’re like quintessentially three parts of one person.
I loved how you did “Stop Dragging My Heart Around” on your last solo tour — as a duet with Chrissie Hynde.
She’s not great at harmony. But neither was I. We never actually sang the song — we would just look at each other and giggle like two girls in the theater. I became really good friends with Chrissie Hynde, which is unbelievable because I was told, before I met her, Chrissie’s not a girlie-girl. But she IS a girlie-girl — she loves her makeup and her beautiful clothes and her eyeliner. When we sang that song, that gave us that moment every night where we could just be ourselves and hang out onstage for eight minutes.
Then you have “Stand Back,” which is such a soul song.
The saddest thing of all is Prince and I never played that song onstage together. And that just breaks my heart. I guess we all think we’re immortal — I always thought we had plenty of time. I should have told Prince 10 years ago or 15 years ago, “Hey, Prince, we should do this song onstage together — some night, some city, call me.”
But you know, I feel like Prince is with me. When I’m nervous, I’ll talk to Prince. In my solo act, when I do “Moonlight,” I wear this white wolfy coat — I put this coat on and I try to transform into a Dire Wolf from Game of Thrones. And before I go on, I always say, “Walk with me, Prince.”
You always seemed to have this affinity with him.
We were strange friends. “Stand Back” was inspired by “Little Red Corvette.” I called him and said, “Can you come to the studio and listen to this song? I’ve sung over your song and written another song and you may hate it and if you do, I won’t do it.” He came over to to Sunset Sound and he loved it — he played piano and guitar on it. Then he was gone — he was like a spirit then. We always had that crazy respect for each other. I feel that connection is still there, maybe more now than before he died — with Tom and with Prince.
You and Prince both had your own unique style. You never look or sound like anyone else.
I wear this serious French corset onstage. If you want yourself to drop dead a couple of hours sooner than you would normally, just squeeze into that corset. I could never go onstage in street clothes because it’s not who I am. I could never go out there in a pair of jeans and a denim jacket. I mean, I don’t do casual very well. Even my normal life, I’m in cashmere pants and a cashmere sweater and cashmere thoughts.
I don’t put the boots on until right before I walk up to the stage. But when my little foot goes into that boot, it is like Cinderella. All of a sudden I become me. I become six inches taller. I walk like an African queen. Halloween is my favorite day, but I never have to wonder: What am I gonna be for Halloween this year? A witch, of course. Wearing my Stevie Nicks clothes.
Where do you keep all your shawls?
I have my shawl vault — they’re all in temperature-controlled storage. I have these huge red cases Fleetwood Mac bought, all the way back in 1975 — my clothes are saved in these cases. All my vintage stuff is protected for all my little goddaughters and nieces. I’m trying to give my shawls away — but there’s thousands of them. If I ever write my life story, maybe that should be the name of my book: There’s Enough Shawls to Go Around.
Maybe that’s why you’re so popular with drag queens. Last fall, I went to a punk rock drag ball and at the end of the night everybody sang “Landslide.”
I hear the “Night of a Thousand Stevies” ball is going on this year — in New Orleans and New York. I’ve threatened everybody that one day they won’t know it, but I’ll be there. I’ll be in such fantastic makeup that I’ll be able to float around. Nobody will know it’s me, until I walk on stage and start singing “Edge of 17.” Everybody will faint and they’ll have to call ambulances.
But everybody can dress up like me, because there’s so many different mes. You can be any me you want. My cousin made me a book for Christmas that has all the different mes from 1975, and I’m only a third of the way through this book with a magnifying glass. All these pictures she collected from all over the Internet that I had never seen, because I don’t have a computer.
I like my flip phone. But I don’t like what the Internet has done to people and I don’t like the fact that it’s nailed romance to the wall. I think it’s hard for people to find love these days. That makes me sad as a songwriter, because I want to write about love — I write about my friends’ relationships. People who call me up and say, “Oh my God, I met this gorgeous man and I totally fell in love with him,” and and I’m like, “Tell me more!” But it’s not happening near as much. Girls, don’t take it personally. It’s not you — it’s the Internet. There has to be romance before there can be love and it’s very hard to find romance in this hardcore high-tech world.
I’m not in a relationship and haven’t been in one for a long time, because I have chosen to follow my musical muse all over the world. When I was 20, 30, 40, I always had a boyfriend — always. But I have decided I’m just going to be free and follow my muse and do whatever I want, because I’m 70 years old and I can. That’s my choice. But if you do want to find romance? Throw away your fucking phone.
This article appears in the March 2019 issue of Rolling Stone.
Rob Sheffield / Rolling Stone / February 28, 2019