Stevie Nicks: With a Talent To Burn
The Stevie Nicks story so far goes: innocence, enormous fame, debauchery, drug hell, rehab hell and burn-out, but now, as she tells James McNair, there's a new chapter: triumphant comeback
The Independent Newspaer
04 May 2001
Like many thirty-something men, I, too, once lusted after Stevie Nicks. And although I'm aware that her infamous, hack-seducing days are probably behind her, it is with clean boxers and a sense of occasion that I arrive at her Malibu mansion.
Dressed down and wearing little make-up, she looks great for 53, and greets me with a yapping Yorkshire terrier under each arm. While her live-in PA carts Shulamith and Sara Belladonna elsewhere, I clock my surroundings. The sizeable house isn't overly ostentatious, but its beach views, velvet chaises longues and antique dolls convey Nicks's rock star status.
The rock band in question were of course Fleetwood Mac, and as a key songwriter on their 1977, AOR colossus Rumours, Nicks must be worth millions in royalties. Up until about five years ago, though, her story was that clich�d one that goes: innocence, fame, debauchery, drug hell, rehab hell, burn-out.
At the height of Mac's success, Nicks had a cocaine habit that would have daunted Danniella Westbrook, but, contrary to prevailing rumours, Stevie's septum never quite gave out. She still has a dime-sized hole in her nasal membrane, though.
In true tragi-hedonist style, Nicks's class-A intake was accompanied by a series of tempestuous, ill-starred relationships. As well as dating Fleetwood Mac guitarist Lindsey Buckingham and the band's drummer Mick Fleetwood, Nicks was romantically involved with the Eagles' Don Henley. Henley is often described as one of rock's leading misogynists, and Lindsey Buckingham famously tried to strangle her.
But as Fleetwood Mac classics such as "Dreams", "Gold Dust Woman" and "Landslide" testify, Nicks's meditations on love and life often made for some rather fine tunes.
With hindsight, the career trough that engulfed her solo career circa her 1994 album Street Angel had been a long time coming. It's telling, though, that she doesn't equate it with cocaine abuse or heartache.
"I had been taking a tranquilliser called Klonopin for about seven years," she says, "and mixed with all the Valium and Prozac, it took all my creativity away. I have horrible memories of doing promo interviews for Street Angel, and not having anything good to say about it. By the time I finished the accompanying tour I'd kicked out all the new material. I made that album disappear like it had never happened."
Nowadays, the tranquillisers have long since gone, as have the self-doubt, the two packs of Cools a day, and the writer's block. This last is pleasingly apparent on Nicks's superb new album, Trouble in Shangri-La. Co-produced by Sheryl Crow, among others, the record finds Nicks's throaty drawl restored to its former glory and features other famous girlfriends such as Macy Gray, Sarah McLachlan and the Dixie Chicks' Natalie Maines.
The wooden treadmill in her lounge offers further testimony to her reinvention; but the person who restored her confidence as an artist was her close friend Tom Petty.
"I distinctly remember him lecturing me back in 1995", she says. "He was playing in Phoenix, and I went down to the Ritz Carlton to meet him for dinner. He said, 'you know Stevie, it's too bad that you've had a hard time, but it's over and you just need to get in your car, go home and start writing songs.'" She maintains that she sat down at the piano again that very night, and that she's barely stopped writing since.
As your correspondent witnessed at the previous evening's showcase gig, there's a special dynamic between Nicks and Sheryl Crow. Like Courtney Love, Crow, now 38, recognises Nicks as one of rock's last great matriarchs; a strong career woman with much sex, drugs and rock'n'roll related wisdom to impart. I'm particularly intrigued, then, by a song on Trouble in Shangri-La that Crow wrote for and about Nicks after the older woman had confided in her. There's a line in "It's Only Love" which says 'If only love comes around again it will have been worth the ride.' Is it an accurate reflection of Nicks's current philosophy?
"Well that's pretty interpretative," she says flatly, "but I do think Sheryl sometimes looks at my life and sees her future. And that's probably pretty scary, because Sheryl wants to be married with children at some point."
"There's also a line which goes 'you were master to so many, but saviour to none'. Is Sheryl saying maybe you could have worked some of those relationships out, maybe you could have had children by now ? But I chose not to, you know? And that's really what that song is about."
But she's still so attractive, and she must get lonely at times, right ?
"Yeah, but I'd really have to fall in love with somebody to make them put up with my crazy life. I mean..."
She stops in mid-flow; her expression and body language are both signalling that she is about to confide something.
"... I did actually see someone for a while about three years ago. It was while we (Fleetwood Mac) were working on The Dance album. He'd call me at rehearsals, and I'd be like, I'm sorry I don't know when I'll be home. All of a sudden it's defensive, and I'm thinking 'you're endangering what I do'. That's just the way I am."
Watching Nicks sing "Landslide", its lyrics about growing older now more poignant than ever, it struck me that everything seems to be turning full-circle for her. In the past, Lindsey Buckingham has been notoriously non-committal about Nicks's solo output, but with great satisfaction, she tells me that he thinks her new album is "the best I ever did". Given that Buckingham voiced this opinion during a business meeting with Nicks and Mick Fleetwood, it seems prudent to ask about the possibility of a new Fleetwood Mac album.
"I want it to happen, so I'll make it happen", she says. "I have my solo career, but it will never be quite like Fleetwood Mac. When those five people walk into a room there's something very special about it."
(Thanks to Pip Fidler who bringing this to my attention)
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