by Liz Smith
“I live in the world of romantic possibility,” says Stevie Nicks. Nicks is one of the most successful and iconic (overused word, but it’s appropriate here) singer-songwriters of the past fortysomething years. She was born in Phoenix, Arizona—but her millions of besotted fans know that cannot be true! Not only does Stevie live in a “world of romantic possibility,” she lives in a world of unicorns and benevolent magic; of flowing scarves and eternally windswept hair. She is a one-woman magical mystery tour.
Few artists have maintained the consistency of Stevie Nicks, in her presentation and in the quality of her distinctive voice (a compelling, keening sound: not quite beautiful, but seductive and soul-catching).
Stevie has been consistently linked—since her high-school days!—to Lindsey Buckingham. Both would be linked, this very moment, to the band Fleetwood Mac. Nicks and Buckingham joined the group in 1975, after several years of writing and performing on their own. The inclusion of the couple—romantically involved at that time—galvanized the group. Nicks’ songs “Landslide” and “Rhiannon” became instant classics, and drove the album to the top of the charts. Her dreamy onstage look (created by designer Margi Kent) was at odds with her powerful, impassioned delivery. (The platform boots she favored gave her not only height—she’s tiny—but a certain grounded, solid quality. She still wears those boots!)
Yet success, as always, was a cruel mistress. Tension wracked the Nicks-Buckingham relationship and they parted, personally, during the recording of the follow-up album Rumors. This record, another hit, addressed some of the inside gossip about the end of their affair. But this was nothing compared to what came later, during the tour for that album. Nicks and Mick Fleetwood (who was married with children) began an affair. Nicks was horrified it had happened and anger from friends was a daily burden. The relationship would end, but, in a sick twist—it’s only rock ‘n’ roll!—Mick would eventually leave his wife for Stevie’s best friend!
Stevie, almost comically prolific—how much could a woman write and know and express?!—now began branching out. She appeared occasionally with Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers and in 1981 released her first solo album, Bella Donna. It was a smash. Her second solo effort The Wild Heart, came in 1983. Another smash, more hit singles. Then came Rock a Little in 1986, which continued her streak of solo successes. Her lyrics were—and are—deeply personal but universal. “I write songs that people can’t write for themselves,” she has said.
Still working with Fleetwood Mac, Nicks faced a variety of issues, personal (i.e. cocaine, chronic fatigue syndrome) and professional. But the band played on, seemingly unstoppable despite the fact that Buckingham had left.
In 1995, Nicks and Buckingham reunited for the duet “Twisted” which is heard on the soundtrack to the popular tornado movie, Twister.
Stevie continued to split her creativity between Fleetwood and her own solo career, which she managed with apparent ease. When Fleetwood began a new album in 2001, Nicks was, for the first time, the sole woman in the band—Christine McVie had left, Buckingham had returned. The subsequent tour was successful but fraught.
Married only once, briefly to musician Kim Anderson in 1983, Stevie Nicks seemed to float above the gritty, grimy world of bruised egos, shattered dreams, and an industry that worships the new obsessively. Even when she’d speak of her once-upon-a-time drug habit, or about love or sex or growing older, there seemed to be a distance—great candor through gauze, so to speak.
I once sat in a room with Stevie, in the office of her press representative, Liz Rosenberg. I wasn’t there to interview Stevie, so I didn’t feel right about repeating, afterward, the conversation that poured out. There’s an old expression, “Ask a question, get a pageant.” Stevie definitely is a pageant. It’s almost stream-of-consciousness. She often asked and answered her own questions. She was quirky, fascinating, intelligent, and yet…the gauze was up.
As I write this, Stevie is back on the road with Fleetwood Mac. McVie has returned and—so far!—nobody’s backed out of the tour. One sophisticated woman I know fairly well took me by surprise when she told me she was a huge Stevie Nicks fan, and was rapturous after seeing her in concert. “A goddess, this woman is a goddess!” (The goddess also appeared on the popular and fabulously bizarre T.V. series American Horror Story: Coven. She played herself. Well, the fan fantasy version of herself, singing to a coven of witches. She was mesmerizing.)
A few years back, contemplating her enviably long career, Nicks said, “I never wanted to be just some ‘girl singer.’”
Stevie has talked now and then about writing her memoirs. On the one hand, she says she wants to wait until everybody who could be hurt “is too old, no longer cares,” about what she might reveal. On the other hand, she demurs on the basis of sex—she won’t write about her sex life, she insists! Well, why not keep up that mysterious quality? (Madonna she ain’t!)
Personally, Stevie Nicks admits she is still searching. (Young men are too dumb, older men are too, well, old!) But professionally, Stevie got her wish. She never was, never will be, just some “girl singer.”