January 21 2017, 12:01am,
The Fleetwood Mac singer talks about her past lovers, drugs hell — and why, at 68, she’s not too old to get married
If you have wondered how Stevie Nicks, at the age of 68, manages to tour the world with Fleetwood Mac, run her solo career and be an inspiration to young female stars including Adele and Florence Welch, here’s the answer. She’s scared that if she stops, she’ll shrink.
“A friend told me that when you retire, you get smaller,” says Nicks, who at 5ft 1in cannot afford to take that chance. “Small means old, so I fight it with a sword. I’ll be on stage, dancing around, thinking, ‘Now, let’s see . . . how old am I again? 110?’ And it blows my mind! But I would be so bored if I wasn’t doing this.”
It is one in the morning, and Nicks is sheltering from a rainstorm in her beachfront apartment in Santa Monica. Announcing that she rarely goes to sleep before the small hours because she is “the Cruella de Vil of the night”, she proves to be fighting the war against age valiantly. Her California gypsy fashion sense, first shared with the world on the cover of Fleetwood Mac’s 1977 divorce-era masterpiece, Rumours, remains unchanged. Her weathered voice, sexy in a stayed-up-till-7am way, is the same as it ever was. And this July she will be sharing a Hyde Park headline slot with Tom Petty, the man who kickstarted her solo career in 1981, when Fleetwood Mac were at their Lear Jethopping height and nobody wanted or expected Nicks to break out on her own.
“When I started work on [the debut solo album] Bella Donna I wanted it to be like a Tom Petty record, but by a girl. That led me to Tom’s producer, Jimmy Iovine, who did not drink, do drugs, anything,” says Nicks, who at the time was known for her cocaine-centric lifestyle; she even wrote a song, Gold Dust Woman, about it.
“Jimmy said, ‘Are you really serious about this?’ I was. I worked hard, I was in the studio on time, Jimmy and I fell in love and moved in together, and after three months we finished the album. Then Jimmy told me we didn’t have a single and of course I freaked out. He said, ‘But Tom Petty, your new best friend, the reason you hired me, has offered to give you a song, Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around, and he’ll sing it with you. And if you don’t take it, you arrogant little wench, I’m going to run you over in the driveway.’ He said we needed a song to take the world by storm. And it did.”
Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around was a hit. Bella Donna also contained the classic Edge of Seventeen, so named because Nicks misheard Petty’s wife, Jane, saying she had been with him since the age of 17. The album has since sold more than eight million copies. This followed Fleetwood Mac becoming not only the biggest band in the world, but also the most volatile. In the preceding years Nicks had split up with the guitarist, Lindsey Buckingham, her teenage sweetheart. The pianist and songwriter, Christine McVie, and the bassist, John McVie, were divorced. Mick Fleetwood, with whom Nicks had a short-lived affair, broke up with his wife, the model Jenny Boyd. Add vast album sales, inflated egos and a snow drift’s worth of cocaine into the mix and you can see how Nicks’s solo success could prove a problem for the band.
I’m so glad I never had kids — my first love is being a singer and an entertainer
“In the beginning, they were not very happy about it,” she says, in a rare moment of understatement. “But I had all these great songs that hadn’t made it on to the albums and if I didn’t make a solo record they would be packed away into a trunk, which is where they would live for 80 years until I died and someone auctioned them off. Fleetwood Mac were on vacation for a year, John was sailing around the world, Lindsey was down in his basement bunker making some kind of indie punk record, and my idea was that doing the album would keep the band in everybody’s mind. The others knew I had a moral commitment to Fleetwood Mac, which is why I’m in the band to this day. If it hadn’t been for them, I’d still be living in a two-bedroom apartment in the Valley.”
In 1973 Nicks was indeed living in a two-bedroom apartment in the Los Angeles Valley with Buckingham, and working as a cleaner, babysitter and waitress, when the pair made their debut album, Buckingham Nicks. The songs failed to set the world alight, but they impressed Fleetwood enough for him to invite them to join the band.
Their collapsing relationship inspired the break-up masterpieces on Rumours — Dreams from Nicks, Second Hand News and Go Your Own Way from Buckingham — and the tension between them remains one of the most fascinating elements of a Fleetwood Mac concert. They still end performances of the 1975 song Landslide by holding hands, which is either pure, crowd-pleasing theatre or proof that some kind of romantic bond remains. Meanwhile Buckingham has recorded an album of duets with Christine McVie, due out in May, featuring guest spots from John McVie and Fleetwood. Nicks is the only member of Fleetwood Mac not to appear on the album.
“Lindsey and I . . . we’re not the greatest of friends,” says Nicks of her former lover. “But we couldn’t hold hands during Landslide if it was fake. In 1973 he was going on the road with an Everly Brother [Don] and I was trying to figure out what to do with my life. I was in Aspen, Colorado, in a horrible room in a horrible apartment with a weird guy who lived upstairs. It was freezing cold, me and a friend had $250 to our name, and Lindsey was leaving for three months. I wrote Landslide about it, and if you added up all the fights and break-ups we’ve had over the past 40 years you still could not take away the feeling we get when we perform that song and return to that moment.”
It turns out Buckingham was not the great love of Nicks’s life. That honour goes to Joe Walsh, the former guitarist of the Eagles. “But I could never live with Joe because two big rock stars would not have worked, as heartbreaking as it was. Now I’m changing my ideas on what a great love means. There have been some wonderful men in my life, guys that actually liked me, who could put up with my crazy personality, who didn’t have a problem that I work all the time and I’m gone a lot, but it never lasted because I was always looking for that passionate affair. Now I’m so glad I never married and had kids because it would have blown up in our faces. My first love is being a singer, an entertainer, writing songs, dancing across the stages of the world. My dad always said I would never get married.”
Could it still happen? “Great romantic that I am, I think it could,” says Nicks, who is single, but did marry once, disastrously, in 1983 to the widower of her best friend, Robin Anderson, soon after Robin died of leukaemia. “I still think some great guy could come out from behind a door and it would be love at first sight, which happens because I’ve experienced it. Maybe I’ll meet him when I’m 75.”
Nicks’s one regret is getting hooked on drugs — but not on any of the drugs you might expect. In 1986 she packed in cocaine after 32 days in the Betty Ford Clinic, and the real damage came later, when a psychiatrist prescribed her a tranquilliser called Klonopin.
“When I came out of Betty Ford I was thrilled and happy, no more cocaine, thank you very much,” she says, getting increasingly animated. “But everyone around me, business people, kept telling me to see a psychiatrist, and the moral of this story is: never listen to everyone around you. Just to get them off my back I went to see this guy, who only wanted to talk about rock’n’roll, and he prescribed me this subtle and insidious member of the Valium family called Klonopin. I walked in there doing really well, weighing 120lb. Eight years later I weighed 180lb. When I detoxed my skin moulted, my hair turned grey, I was so sick I couldn’t even take a shower. I almost died. And I was in my forties, in the prime of my life. Maybe in those eight years I would have met someone and fallen in love and had a baby. Maybe I would have made two or three more albums with Fleetwood Mac, or on my own. That man took those years away from me.”
Nicks is not afraid of sentimentality — she is an avowed fan of the Twilight series — and her heart-on-sleeve songwriting style and weakness for billowing chiffon scarves have become unexpectedly fashionable in recent years, which is why the Hyde Park crowd is likely to feature as many millennials as baby boomers. She has become a name to drop, with everyone from Adele to Harry Styles, of One Direction, to the pop starlet Ariana Grande coming out as fans. I ask her why she thinks she is connecting with a much younger generation.
Lindsey [Buckingham] and I . . . we’re not the greatest of friends
“Maybe they like my dogged determination to stay in the business. Christine McVie and I made a pact that we would never be treated like second-class citizens in a man’s world. We would never be in a room with Eric Clapton or Stevie Winwood or Robert Plant and be made to feel we weren’t as good as them.”
Did those rock gods of the 1970s make Nicks and McVie feel they weren’t as good as them? “Never. Because we were gorgeous, we were smart, we were a force of nature. It didn’t matter if the room was filled with politicians or movie stars or musicians. When we walked in the focus was on us. And we made that happen. Now these young girls see me up on stage in chiffon and leggings, not looking ridiculous, but age-appropriate, and they think, ‘This is what I could do one day.’ ”
All of this from a woman who didn’t learn to read music, had only a handful of guitar lessons in her teens, and hasn’t exactly been a model for healthy living.
“What can I say? It’s been quite a journey.”
Stevie Nicks is at Barclaycard presents British Summer Time Hyde Park with Tom Petty on July 9; bst-hydepark.com
Image of pages via online version of The Times (sat 21st Jan 2017)