Going Her Own Way: Stevie Nicks | Saga Magazine

Saga Magazine, June 2015
Words: Brian Hiatt

As the rock goddess returns to the UK, touring as part of Fleetwood Mac’s classic line-up for the first time in 16 years, she dares to dream of life beyond the band

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Stevie Nicks got to sleep at home last night for once, her skinny, half-blind, half-hairless 16-year-old dog, Sulamith, snuggling at her feet, in a four-poster bed too tall for either of them. ‘I have to take, like, a running jump to get up there,’ says Nicks, who, for all the potency of her presence, is five feet one without heels. She lives in an Oceanside condo in Santa Monica, a ‘space pad’ with floor-to-ceiling views of half of Los Angeles County. Her bedroom decor is spare: a Buddha statue on the polished hardwood floor, a vintage globe on a stand, a modest flatscreen, a rack of stage clothes in the corner the only reminder that she’s actually still on tour.

Nicks got back from a Fleetwood Mac show at the Forum around 4am, managing six and a half hours of sleep. She has another concert tonight, with no day off in between. Her back hurts. ‘We’re tired,’ Nicks says, brightly, ‘because we’re very old.’

Today’s show is in an Anaheim arena, an hour away. Nicks, her long blonde hair wrapped in plastic curlers, has flopped onto a well-worn black leather massage chair, feet up. We’ re in her backstage dressing room. In a couple of hours Nicks has to be back onstage in her black corset and skirt, harmonising once more on The Chain with a guy she dumped when Gerald Ford was US president.

The ex in question, Lindsey Buckingham, would be the undisputed star of almost any other band. But Buckingham had the mixed fortune to join Fleetwood Mac with his beautiful girlfriend, an intuitive, mystical, prolific composer (she used to write a song a day) with a hoarse, trilling miracle of a voice and an unearthly, shamanic stage manner – a maker of myths, a wearer of shawls, a genre unto herself.

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At the moment, she is gurgling scales along with a recording of her vocal coach while flipping through a new memoir by Janis Joplin’s road manager. ‘Look,’ Nicks says, perking up, ‘I knew Janis wore slingback heels.’ Joplin was a formative influence, but Nicks has found a different, frillier balance between toughness and vulnerability.

Nicks is a survivor. She endured two rehab stints for two life-threatening addictions in two different decades; lost her best girlfriend, Robin, to leukaemia, which so rattled Nicks that she briefly married Robin’s widower in hopes of raising their child; faced numerous other deaths and illnesses around her, including the recent passing of her mother, and an 18-year-old godson from an overdose; and came to terms with the apparent inability of any man to live in the shadow of her career, leaving her to ‘depend on her music like a husband’, as she once sang.

Nicks has made it through all of that and more to find herself, at the age of 67, an idol.

Nicks plugs her iPod into her stereo. Nelly Furtado’s Maneater thumps out at an impressive volume. Nicks keeps adding her own perfect harmonies to the songs. ‘I never sing along to the melody,’ she says. ‘And that’s been since I was little, because my grandad was a singer, and he would bring me 45s and he’d say, “You’re a harmony singer. You’re a perfect Everly Brother”? Her grandfather was a semi-pro country performer who wanted to take her on tour aged five; her parents demurred.

Then we hear pounding on the dressing-room wall. Lindsey wants the music turned down. Nicks rolls her eyes. ‘Relations with Lindsey are exactly as they have been since we broke up,’ she says. ‘We will always antagonise and irritate each other. We know exactly what to say when we want to throw a dagger in. That’s no different now than it was when
we were 20. And I don’t think it will be different when we’re 80.’

There are two members of Fleetwood Mac Stevie Nicks has never argued or had sex with: Christine Mc Vie and her ex-husband John. By the time Nicks and Buckingham came aboard, in 1975, founding members Mick Fleetwood and John McVie had been joined by Christine, who was then John’s wife. Their only audition was nonmusical: everyone wanted to make sure the two women would get along, which they did.

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McVie’ s McCartney-like sense of melody has girded some of the band’s biggest hits, but she and Nicks were never competitive. McVie’s aesthetic is more leather than lace, and she’s happily tethered to her keyboard on stage. She’s not a twirler.

‘I’m a tomboy,’ says McVie. ‘I love men. I love hanging around with men. And Stevie is kind of a girly girl.’ (Another sign of their bond: McVie is also the only non-Stevie member of the Mac who agreed to talk for this story.) ‘Stevie is very direct, very honest, very self obsessed in a way. And I don’t mean that in a bad way. She has her brand, you know? She’s an icon. She’s a genius. She’s a lovely, kind, beautiful woman, and I love her to death.’

Their friendship was cemented on the Rumours tour, as McVie and Nicks simultaneously weathered their intra-band break-ups. ‘We would always try to have next-door rooms,’ recalls Nicks, ‘so we could sit on the floor, watch TV and talk, and not have any idea where Mick, Lindsey and John were, and not care.’

When McVie left the band in 1998 to live a quiet life in the English countryside, ‘it was very hard for me,’ says Nicks. ‘It became very much the boys’ club, a lot of testosterone.’ But McVie unexpectedly unretired last year, and her re-entry into the band has made Fleetwood Mac the season’s hottest classic-rock ticket. ‘It’s as if those years never existed,’ says McVie. ‘I’m going, “What the hell did I do for 15 years?”

Part of Nicks has always wanted to run away from the machine, to just be an artist, to live by the beach and write. ‘But we choose to stay,’ she says, ‘because we can’t do anything
else. None of us are ever going to stand up and say, “I’m going to make my own choice for the first time in my life, and I’m going away, and I don’t know if I’m coming back”:

McVie’ s songs are highlights on the current tour, but the show’s core spectacle is still Nicks and Buckingham re-excavating their ancient romantic grievances. Whatever goes on up there – and it reliably veers between spite (Go Your Own Way) and helpless affection (hand-holding in Landslide) – Nicks insists they never fake it, that it’s never just a Wild West
show re-enactment of Seventies boomer dysfunction.

Nicks stares in a magnifying mirror, pencilling a dramatic line just below her eye. ‘It’s like an old movie star,’ she says. ‘And that’s why, with these kind of eyes, you can never, ever do Botox.’ She grabs her forehead just above her eyebrows. ‘Because it will drop this down and then you will look like a freak. I did it once, and it was so awful for, like, four months. So you don’t look like yourself. You look like some relative that nobody spoke to. You see people my age that just look ghastly. Ghastly! You just want to go, “Really , stay in your house for four months!  Don’t come out”!

Nicks has been doing her eyes in this exact style since high school in the early Sixties. Her mother encouraged independence: ‘You will go to school,’ Nicks recalls being told, ‘and you will never be dependent on a man. And you will have a really good education, and you will be able to stand in a room with very smart men and keep up with them and never feel like a second-class citizen.’

Nicks grew up upper-middle class, moving constantly, thanks to her father’s career as a corporate executive. At a youth-group social, she met a gorgeous guy named Lindsey, harmonised with him and thought nothing of it until his band, Fritz , asked her to join. She was soon commuting to San Francisco from college in San Jose to open for the likes of Joplin and Jefferson Airplane. Nicks immediately got more attention than her male bandmates, to their displeasure. ‘We were being booked like crazy,’ she recalls. ‘But they’d all say, “We want the band with the blondy brown-haired girl”!

After a few years, producers took Buckingham and Nicks aside to let them know that they’d have a better chance as a duo. As Nicks recalls, there was something sexy in the shared betrayal. ‘It was like, “Well, we’ve screwed up their lives forever now”. So we became a couple. And from the beginning, Lindsey was controlling and possessive.’

They made an album together, Buckingham Nicks, but it flopped. By the time Mick Fleetwood heard the demos for their second album and offered them slots in his band, Nicks was working as a waitress. As Fleetwood Mac members, they were immediately put on salary, and Nicks decided she was rich and would be so for ever. ‘I said, “That’s it, I’m never looking at another price tag”! she says, laughing. ‘And I meant it.’

Their 1975 debut with Fleetwood Mac, which included both Rhiannon and Landslide, instantly redefined the band. For a while, they were happy. But in 1976, Buckingham and Nicks had a final fight. Somehow, the band kept on, and Buckingham kept arranging and producing Nicks ‘ songs.

Recording 1979’s album Tusk was stressful. Nicks was having an affair with the married Fleetwood. At the same time, the band’s drug use was escalating. ‘That really didn’t help our irritability levels,’ says Nicks.

Buckingham behaved badly on the Tusk tour, mocking Nicks’ shawl-dancing in front of a crowd, kicking her on stage, and even, as Nicks and McVie recall, throwing a guitar at
Nicks’ head during the show. (‘I’m not sure that happened,’ Buckingham has said.) That night, McVie slapped him, and Nicks was ‘ready to kick his ass’.

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For all of that, Nicks never quite gave up on a possible future together until he had his first child in 1998.

Because we started out so young together, both Lindsey and I would always laughingly say that maybe we would end up together in an old folks’ home, because of what we had gone through.

‘So when his first child was coming, I think we were walking in an airport, and I said to him, “WelI I guess we’re never going to get to that old folks’ home”.’ And he’s
like, “Yeah, I guess we never are”.’

By the mid-Eighties, Nicks was risking her life with each bump of cocaine doctors found a permanent hole in the cartilage of her nose. As it turns out, the hole was created by another drug. She used to dissolve aspirin in water and squirt the solution into her nose as a headache cure, not realising aspirin is an acid. ‘I thought I was being the best,
most hygienic nurse ever,’ she says.

‘All of us were drug addicts,’ she continues. ‘But there was a point where I was the worst… I was a girl, I was fragile.’ In 1986, she checked into rehab, and as she recalls it, told them, ‘Here’s all my problems, just fix me’ . They did, more or less, but then a psychiatrist prescribed her Klonopin, which led to another addiction and a worse rehab stint in 1993.

There are many rooms in Stevie Nicks’ house, and she lives in none of them. Nicks bought a semi-mansion a few miles away from her condo around 2005, and quickly realised it was n’ t meant to be her home. ‘This is way too much house for me,’ she says, greeting me there the day after the Anaheim show. So she switched to the condo, where she feels young and unburdened. But Nicks used the house to record her 2011 album In Your Dreams.

There are three fireplaces going, and crystal chandeliers hang in almost every room. Nicks shows me a nook in the library, a window seat where she’d perch for hours in contemplation after the death of her mother in 2011.

Losing her mother, even at 84, was shattering. Nicks moved back into the big house and went into seclusion. ‘I had to really get over the fact that my little mother always, from the day I joined the band with Lindsey in 1968, the lady on the other end of the phone telling me what was the right thing to do was gone. And I was just horrified. I realised, when I started to come out of it, that I was going to try to be as great as I could be and do the best I can in my work and also not take anything for granted and do the things that I want to do.’

But lately, she’s been hearing her mother’ s voice again. ‘She says stuff to me that nobody in my world who’s alive can think of to say. I know my mom’s tone, and her philosophy, and when I hear her answer a question for me, I go, like, “There is another world”.

‘I no longer think what people tell you, like, “There’s nothing”. Well, there is totally something, and Mom is on the other side.’

Nicks has dated her share of rock stars, including both Don Henley and Joe Walsh of the Eagles, but they weren’ t any better at dealing with the demands of her career. ‘The rock’n’roll people I went with didn’t understand my life either,’ she says. ‘They thought, in the egos of men, that I would be giving up a part of my life for them. That was everything my mother taught me not to ever do.’

She’s ruled out younger men and doesn’t particularly want to date older ones. So, in short, ‘I’ve narrowed it down to nobody,’ she says, and laughs hard. ‘Sounds like a good country song, doesn’t it?’ She begins to sing: ‘I’ve narrowed it down to nobody/Nobody’s the right one for me’. Her most recent relationship ended in 2004, and if it turns out to be her final romance, she can deal with it. ‘I had a lot of great relationships,’ she says. ‘My life today is great. I have wonderf ul friends, and I have music.’

Nicks has a lot of plans. She wants to write novels, to produce young artists, to spend time in the third home she has nearby, an opulent seaside trailer. ‘I have been so ensconced in being in Fleetwood Mac , ‘ she says. ‘When I choose for all of that to come to an end, I will walk into my trailer, and I will fall to my knees on my cushy white rug and look out at the ocean and go, “I am finally free. I can now do all of those things I’ve always wanted to do”.

‘It’s all going to be good, and I did what I came here to do. My mom said, “You’v e always been on a mission to entertain the world. And you’ve done it since you were five years old.”

MAC: a who’s who

There can be no more tangled soap opera than the story of Fleetwood Mac. 

John and Christine McVie – bassist and keyboard player – were married. Drummer Mick Fleetwood was also married, to Beatle George Harrison’s sister-in-law Jenny Boyd. But Jenny had an affair with one of the band’s guitarists, who was fired – prompting Fleetwood to recruit singer Stevie Nicks and her boyfriend Lindsey Buckingham.

Then the McVies split up and Christine went off with the lighting director. And Buckingham and Nicks fell out, Nicks reappearing on the arm of Fleetwood.

But from this love pentangle came one the of the most successful acts in rock-music history. Their 1977 album Rumours sold more than 50 million copies alone, just one fragment of their varied, original and sprawling catalogue.

She may have had her tensions with male band members, but Nicks remained devoted to Christine McVie, now back with the group for the first time since ‘retiring’ in 1998.

 

Fleetwood Mac are playing the 02 stadium in London and the Isle of Wight festival this month.

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For details of Fleetwood Mac’s On With the Show tour dates, visit fleetwoodmac.com

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