At 72, the singer is still looking for adventure. She talks about her years with Fleetwood Mac, the abortion that made them possible, and her friendship with Harry Styles
Stevie Nicks has been taking the pandemic even more seriously than most. She has barely left her home in Los Angeles this year. “My assistant, God bless her, she puts on her hazmat suit and goes to get food, otherwise we’d starve to death,” she says. She fell seriously ill in March 2019, ending up in intensive care with double pneumonia; after that shock, she fears contracting Covid-19 could end her singing career: “My mom was on a ventilator for three weeks when she had open-heart surgery and she was hoarse for the rest of her life.”
What would it mean to her to stop singing? “It would kill me,” she says. “It isn’t just singing; it’s that I would never perform again, that I would never dance across the stages of the world again.” She pauses and sighs. “I’m not, at 72 years old, willing to give up my career.”
It is nearly midnight in LA when we speak on the phone; not a problem for Nicks, who is “totally nocturnal”. The night she fell ill last year, she had just become the first woman to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice – an honour that reflects her wild success as one of the lead singers of Fleetwood Mac and as a solo artist, as a writer and singer of raw, magical songs about love and freedom, including “Dreams,” “Rhiannon,” “Gold Dust Woman,” “Landslide” and “Edge of Seventeen.” Nicks is unabashedly funny, dry as a bone, often sidling into sarcasm.
I ask about her approach to spirituality. She says that, for all her fears about her career, “some people are really afraid of dying, but I’m not. I’ve always believed in spiritual forces. I absolutely know that my mom is around all the time.” Just after her mother died, in 2012, Nicks was standing in her kitchen with “really bad acid reflux”. “And I felt something almost tap my shoulder and this voice go: ‘It’s that Gatorade you’re drinking,’” she says. “I’d been sick and chugging down the Hawaiian Punch. Now, that’s not some romantic, gothic story of your mother coming back to you. It’s your real mother, walking into your kitchen and saying” – she puts on a rasp – “‘Don’t drink any more of that shit.’” She pauses, waiting for me to laugh, then cackles.
Nicks was close to her mother, Barbara, who pushed to get her career back after she had children. “She said to me: you will never stand in a room full of men and feel like you can’t keep up with them. And you will never depend upon a man to support you. She drummed that into me, and I’m so glad she did.”
Women’s rights have been on Nicks’ mind since the death of her “hero”, the US supreme court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, last month. “Abortion rights, that was really my generation’s fight. If President Trump wins this election and puts the judge he wants in, she will absolutely outlaw it and push women back into back-alley abortions.”
Nicks terminated a pregnancy in 1979, when Fleetwood Mac were at their height and she was dating the Eagles singer Don Henley. What did it mean to be able to make that choice? “If I had not had that abortion, I’m pretty sure there would have been no Fleetwood Mac. There’s just no way that I could have had a child then, working as hard as we worked constantly. And there were a lot of drugs, I was doing a lot of drugs … I would have had to walk away.” She pauses. “And I knew that the music we were going to bring to the world was going to heal so many people’s hearts and make people so happy. And I thought: you know what? That’s really important. There’s not another band in the world that has two lead women singers, two lead women writers. That was my world’s mission.”
Fleetwood Mac brought out Rumours in 1977 – an album that became almost as famous for the drama that went into making it as for its songs. It has sold more than 40m copies and keeps reaching new listeners. Just last week, one of Nicks’ biggest hits, “Dreams,” became part of a viral trend on TikTok.
The band’s problems incubated as the album was made, with their cocaine use reaching industrial levels: Nicks and her then-boyfriend and musical partner, Lindsey Buckingham, broke up; John and Christine McVie, the band’s bassist and pianist/singer, got divorced; and the drummer Mick Fleetwood’s marriage broke down.
Nicks has been performing since the age of five, when her grandfather, a country singer in her native Phoenix, Arizona, dressed her in cowgirl outfits and hoisted her on to saloon bar stages to sing. She met Buckingham at the piano, in her final year of high school, when he started playing “California Dreamin’” and she walked over to harmonise with him. The pair joined Fleetwood Mac in 1975.
Nicks brought glamour, stage swagger and tragic love songs to the band, her contribution complementing that of her fellow songwriter, Christine McVie. The band survived for 44 years – through Nicks’ affair with Fleetwood, Christine McVie’s 15-year hiatus and Buckingham’s departure in 1987. He came back, but was fired in 2018 (he filed a lawsuit, but later settled with the band). He was replaced by Neil Finn of Crowded House and Mike Campbell of Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers.
Has she spoken to Buckingham since he left? “No.” Do you really think you’ll never appear on stage with him again? “Probably never.” Really? “Uh-uh,” she says, indicating a firm no.
She says people always ask the band: “‘Do you get along?’ We’d go: ‘Not really.’ They’d say: ‘Are you friends?’ and we’d go: ‘Not really.’ ‘Do you see each other when you’re not on tour?’ ‘Er, no.’ It has been like that since 1976.”
Nicks has a new live-concert film coming out, 24 Karat Gold, which was recorded in 2017. The show is a hoot: four decades of greatest hits, some never-released songs and anecdotes that veer from hilarious to heartfelt. She has a new single out, too, about a dream she had about Martin Luther King and John F Kennedy. “Let me tell you, honey, the rock’n’roll version will just knock your socks off,” she says. “But the acoustic version will break your heart.” Both were recorded remotely, with Dave Grohl on drums and Dave Stewart on guitar.
Nicks has been described by male colleagues as an “ego” who parades her heartbreak on stage. When her first solo album, the brilliant Bella Donna, topped the charts in 1981, she gave Buckingham a copy. He left it on the studio floor and never listened to it. “They were full-on jealous. And you know what? I should have cared less.” “They” as in the band members or the producers? “Oh, all of them. They hated that kind of confidence in a woman. People would say to me: ‘It would be very hard to be Mr Stevie Nicks.’ And I’m going: well, yeah, probably, unless you were just a really nice guy that was really confident in himself, not jealous of me, liked my friends, enjoyed my crazy life and had fun with it. And, of course, there are very few men like that. I’m an independent woman and am able to take care of myself, and that is not attractive to men.”
She remembers a discussion with her father in her family home, just after Bella Donna came out, when she was 35. “And just out of nowhere, my dad goes: ‘Stevie, you’ll never get married.’ If Christine was in this room with me right now, she’d tell you that we both made the decision not to have kids and instead follow our musical muse around the world. It’s not my job, it’s who I am.”
But Nicks did get married once, in 1982, to the former husband of her high school best friend, Robin Anderson. Robin was diagnosed with leukaemia while she was pregnant with her first child and died shortly after his birth. Nicks’ marriage to Robin’s widower, Kim, lasted three months. “That wasn’t really a marriage,” says Nicks. “We did it to take care of her son. And, three weeks later, we realised that that wasn’t going to work.”
Robin and Kim’s son, Matthew, now has a daughter, named after his late mother. “Little Robin is five years old,” says Nicks. “Last Christmas, she was at my house and she comes into the kitchen, grabs my hand and goes: ‘Come with me, Grandma Stevie,’ and I’m going: ‘Did this child just call me Grandma Stevie?’ She did. And on that day I wrote in my journal and it said: ‘I promise you, Robin, that I will be Grandma Stevie until death do us part.’ Life has these weird turnarounds, you know. I say to my friend Robin, who died so long ago: ‘Look through my eyes at your granddaughter.’ She was yours and now she is mine.”
Looking back, Nicks’ only regret is her eight years of addiction to the tranquilliser clonazepam (sold as Klonopin). It started in 1986 when a psychiatrist prescribed her the drug to help her sleep after she came out of rehab for cocaine addiction. “It’s a very subtle drug; you just don’t feel it much, or so you think. On the bottle, it says: ‘Take as needed.’ That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. So you think: ‘Well, I need it every two hours.’ It’s addiction in a bottle.”
It was not a dreadful or traumatic time, she says. She sat at home, watched films, ate good food, saw friends. But she stopped creating. “It was a totally non-time. I just existed. It took away all my wonderful drama, my tempestuousness, my compassion, my empathy – all those things that drove me to my piano. I say to myself now: ‘How did you survive eight years without your wonderful drama?’
“I always look back and think: what could I have done during that time? Made a Fleetwood Mac album or a solo record. I could have gotten married or had a baby or adopted one. Let me tell you, if anybody ever tries to put you on Klonopin, run screaming out of the room.”
She says it is “annoying” that so many of the men of her generation were able to pair up with younger women and start families later in life (Buckingham, for example, had his third child in his mid-50s; Ronnie Wood and Mick Jagger fathered children at 69 and 73 respectively).
‘I knew that the music we were going to bring to the world was going to heal so many people’s hearts’ … Nicks in 24 Karat Gold: The Concert.
“Men are not having families with younger women because they want to have families, they’re doing it because they need to have a younger wife so they can feel that rush of romance again,” she says. “I did it once, though, you know. I had a relationship with a man when I was 50 and he was 30.” He was not famous, she says. “He was just a really lovely man. And I realised that I’d already lived 30 to 50; I didn’t want to live it again.” One day, he asked her to go to a talkshow taping with him on the back of his motorbike. “And I said: ‘Are you out of your mind? I’m going to arrive at a famous talkshow on the back of your motorcycle. And people are going to say, wait, is that Stevie Nicks? Hahahaha.’ Finally, I just had to say to him: ‘I’m not good for you.’”
Is she dating now? “I’m not going out with anyone. And I haven’t gone out with anyone in a long, long time. But I will say, I am always a romantic and I’m never averse to the fact that it is possible that you might turn a street corner and walk into somebody that just catches your eye, because it’s happened to me a million times. So, could I fall in love and run away with somebody at 72 years old? Yeah. It’s probably not gonna happen, but it’s possible.”
I ask about her friendship with Harry Styles. “Can I just say that Harry Styles is not my younger boyfriend,” she says – deadpan, but with a smile in her voice. “He is my friend. My very good friend.”
Like Styles, Nicks is a fashion muse: the top hat, billowing sleeves, draped silk and shawls she popularised in the 70s and 80s is still a beloved silhouette. She was always feted for her beauty, but did she know that she was beautiful? “Of course I thought that I was very pretty,” she says. “You know, I once wrote a song called ‘Prettiest Girl in the World,’ but it never came out. It started with the line: ‘She was the prettiest girl in the world / But that was a long time ago.’ And that’s something that I have said to a lot of my younger friends: no matter how beautiful you are, you’re going to get older and you’re not going to look like you did when you were 25. So roll with the punches.”
We talk about what it is like for women to age in the public eye. “Oh God, the Botox,” she says. “Let me tell you, Botox only makes you look like you’re in a satanic cult. I only had it once and it destroyed my face for four months. I would look in the mirror and try and lift my eyebrow and go: ‘Oh, there you are, Satan’s angry daughter.’ Never again. I watch a lot of news and I see all the lady newscasters looking like Satan’s angry daughters, too.”
It is almost time for Nicks to go. She plans to spend the rest of the night in bed with her dog, Lily, reading Vogue and watching the sunrise, drinking tea. “I’m very sober now,” she says. Before she goes, I ask about my favourite song of hers, Storms, in which she describes falling out of love with a man and surrendering herself to her destiny: “Never have I been a blue calm sea / I have always been a storm.”
“Oh, that one was a – excuse my language – fuck-you to Mick,” she says, referring to her affair with Fleetwood. “I sat at my piano, a feminist woman, and I wrote it, to say that nothing you or anybody else can do to me can change the fact that, as the opening line goes: ‘Every night that goes between / I feel a little less.’” A song about independence, I say. “Freedom,” she says. “I am a totally free woman, and I am independent, and that’s exactly what I always wanted to be.”
Stevie Nicks’ 24 Karat Gold: The Concert will be in cinemas 21-25 October. Find a screening at stevienicksfilm.com. The accompanying album is released on 30 October.
Jenny Stevens / The Guardian (UK) / Wednesday, October 14, 2020