A Brief History of My Love of Stevie Nicks by Dorothea Lasky

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Stevie Nicks is my chanteuse library. What I mean is that she is my Influence. She is one of my greatest muses (if I believed in muses.) There is little music that is more important to me than hers. There are so many reasons why.

Stevie-Nicks

Until recently, I believed that she grew up in Florida. But that’s not true––she actually grew up in Arizona. But until I found that out, I loved her songs for what I assumed was their wet Florida heat. Behind her songs, I always heard white sand, hot pink bathing suits, and palm trees.

When I think of voices that I can hear, either spoken or sung, I often consider their notes. You know how a perfume has notes that you can smell? For example, Chanel No. 5, we smell as one thing, but that smell is actually complex with layers. Within that one smell, is ylang-ylang and neroli first, then jasmine and rose, then a warm vanilla woodsy burst. Senses feel like one thing, but there are many strata to our experience of them. This happens with food, too. The tastes often happen in layers, especially in the best food. In the best heard voices, there are notes to the person’s accent. Stevie Nicks has a great sounding voice, so hers has a lot of layers.

During the long time I thought of Nicks being from Florida, I had always thought that when she sang it sounded like a family of crocodiles had shredded her voice and the notes you heard coming at you in time was a time-line of the sounds of the shredding. When she sings, the first note you hear is the large father crocodile taking a bite of her voice, then a mother one has it, then the baby chomps, then a teenage crocodile bites softly. Then there is a note of flowers thrown in, some flowery perfume (but not Chanel No. 5, I think of it more like Quelque Fleurs), and then something metal rings around, maybe the metal taste of blood or maybe a truly metal object. Or maybe it’s both.

Stevie Nicks has always been important to me. I’d say my love for her really took flight around ten years ago when I heard this song in a grocery store:

I’d always liked Fleetwood Mac songs (“Don’t Stop”–sorry I am still a really big Clinton fan), and of course, loved her “Landslide” as we all do (hell, even those Dixie Chicks can appreciate that one), but “Room on Fire” is the one that really threw me into a deep love for her. It seemed sort of overlooked. Or maybe I’d heard it before when it came out when I was 10. It’s probably the most spiritual song I know. It is the layers of life within the poem that make it so. Listening to it (listen to it!), it’s easy to think it’s about fate or physical attraction or some great sea of love (“where everyone would love to drown”). I know it is actually about specific things that happened to her, but I tend to forget about them. Really it is about living and dying and memory: the great questions. She says there is magic all around you when you walk in the room and you believe it. The faith she has in the magic in this song is sometimes the only thing that can get me through a dreary day. Its faith is more loyal to me than my most loyal friends. That song is my friend.

Stevie Nicks’ second solo album is called The Wild Heart (1983). Just an aside, but is there seriously a better name for an album? No, I don’t think so either. Anyway, on that album the title song “Wild Heart,” is about what else but a wild heart. If you spend your free nights watching Stevie Nicks videos on YouTube like I do, then it is easy to find this short clip:

The clip is from 1981, a few years before the album was released. To me, this fact has always meant something important about the swiftness with which songs are written and the lag between their creation and public consumption of their slickness within an actual album. In the clip, Stevie is getting her make-up done and she is singing with one of her back-up singer’s prompts (which you don’t realize until late in the clip). I love this clip for at least three main reasons. The first is because I think performers are not always better when they are practicing their songs, but at least more connected to the actual song. I don’t think her voice ever gets better than the way it is in this clip. As she practices, she is deep into the song, because she isn’t worried about anything else, like the eyes on her. (This of course begs the question: does she realize she is being filmed? Probably so. But we never know.) The second is the end of it, when she throws her head into her friend’s lap. I like thinking of her as this sweet and maybe a bit like an animal. (If you didn’t know, I love animals more than I love people, and I love people a lot.) The third has to do with a strange connection I feel to it because of this thing I used to do when I was little. Growing up, I wanted to be an actress. To study on my own, I’d always think of the best performances I’d see on TV or on a stage as the ability of the performer to seem carefree (almost careless), so that the actual performance seems effortless. In my room, I used to practice this skit I’d made up where a waitress is taking orders, but is distracted, but never messes up her orders. Or I’d sing songs into the mirror and look away from the mirror until the final moment when I’d look in the mirror straight on, so that the perceived audience then knew that I was in control, not distracted, the whole time. In this clip, I think it is so great that all of these activities are happening around her, but she is still singing like she means it. It is carefree, seemingly effortless, but there is a lot of actual effort in it.  Maybe these three reasons are one main reason. I thought I’d piece it out just in case they aren’t. The three reasons can probably best be summed up by the famous Emily Dickinson line: “Tell the truth, but tell it slant.”

I like the young Stevie Nicks that is so witchy that people actually thought she was a witch. Her song “Rhiannon” was a reason why. This is a really great video of her singing that song:

I like the song “Rhiannon” because it is not afraid to be an unironic song about a witch. There is no wink to the audience that she is singing about anything else. The song believes in every over the top thing that it says. In the video, you can see what makes watching her perform for an audience so wonderful. If you know that song well, you know how she is gently riffing on the beats (just like a witch!). Also, her dancing. She spins around for no reason, but for every reason. She owns that microphone. It is her pivot point. The whole song is sung from the power its placement creates. Sometimes I think I want to live my life being the Stevie Nicks in this video.

Stevie Nicks sings about nature, wildness, and love and she couldn’t do it without the witchy total belief of a song like “Rhiannon.” Another wild song that I love is “Gypsy” from the Fleetwood Mac album Mirage (1982):

In the song, the singer is a witch, a gypsy, everything a so-called “bad” female should be. She “faces freedom with a little fear” but she really “has no fear, has only love.” She’s a gypsy and she doesn’t give a shit and I love it.

There is a Stevie Nicks who is past being a gentle witchy persona and moves into being something who is both hard and sad. This is the Stevie Nicks that wrote “Rooms on Fire.” The shift is not totally sequential in time, because some of it happens simultaneously during The Wild Heart album. Here is “Stand Back” which I associate with this other persona:

There is a better video from a Saturday Night Live performance of this song that I don’t think is available anymore on the internet. There are slices of that performance in the video above. In the actual video, the person who is announcing her (God help me, I don’t know who he is), says something like “Some singers are rock stars and some are beauty queens, but Stevie Nicks is a rock star beauty queen.” The crowd goes crazy when he says that and she comes out afterwards punching the beats of the song. I’ve always felt that the way she hard sings the endbeats of that song is akin to a poet wanking the hell out of the end of each line, or pumping out a punctuation mark, especially a period. Like: Period—boom! Stevie Nicks punches those beats out. It is both hard and sad.

A similar busted-out song to me is “Talk to Me” from Rock a Little (1985):

In the song, Stevie Nicks is full of despair. She is totally at point zero, but that is also a place of empathy and power, as she asks for the listener to let her in. She punches those beats, but they are sad beats. The crocodiles of her voices have slithered away and now the voice is just ragged, shot out. Nevertheless, in this song, like all the others, she is singing for freedom. Nature has been beaten into her voice and she still rises throughout the song, resounding. And she’s sweet, too, a spring rain.

Watch this short clip in which Nicks supposedly talks about her songwriting.  It’s hilarious how she suffers the stupidity of Rita Braver in that interview, who seems to have no clue about her music or even what to ask her, so she just lets her ramble on about her permed 80’s hair. I love how unafraid Stevie Nicks is to say nothing of substance at all. She does say something interesting though about her songwriting in the beginning—that she gets inspired a lot by everyday things and she’ll write a line down and start a poem (I think it’s cool how she thinks of her songs as poems). She seemed to indicate also that there are lots of lines that don’t become poems, that are just random lines floating in the ether. I respect this kind of quotidian freedom of hers to create beauty out of seemingly nothing at all.

I remember a video I watched a long time ago of her talking about going solo out of the success of Fleetwood Mac. The excuse she gave was how many songs she wrote and how she never got to sing them as part of the band. She said that they rotated who wrote which songs that they all sang and that she got frustrated. She said something like “It was too hard when you are writing literally hundreds of songs a week and you have to rotate the time between band members. So, I had to go solo.” I believe in the unending generative nature of creative writing, so I believe in this. I think it would be great if Stevie Nicks taught a poetry workshop.

Just like everyone else who loves her music, I’ve always been curious about her love life. Even knowing everything about her I can voyeuristically get my hands on, I still think Lindsay Buckingham is her one true love. I think that is kind of pretty amazing, as he could not be more of a cheeseball and completely not her equal at all.

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It makes sense though. Geniuses often fall in love with people who are not as smart as them—it’s just the way it works. About seven years ago, I went to see Fleetwood Mac for my birthday in Boston. I went there with my best Stevie Nicks shawl, fake flowered ensemble and was prepared to dance my ass off. She did play a couple of greats, but the largest portion of the night was devoted to Lindsay Buckingham belting out his guitar for 45 minutes like a 13-year-old schoolboy. You kind of have to love a person who is willing to be on a stage with one of the greatest American songwriters ever and completely upstage her. The hubris was fantastical. I understood why she loved him.

People tend to make a big deal about her drug use or other things she’s done that are less than commendable. I could care less what she does in her spare time—just as long as she manages to write some more songs before she dies. To steal a phrase from the great movie, Pootie Tang (2001) (“Pootie know what Pootie do”): Stevie know what Stevie do. I’ll only give that license out to greatness. Hail hail, Goddess Stevie.

~~~

Baby of air

Baby of air
You rose into the mystical
Side of things
You could no longer live with us
We put you in a little home
Where they shut and locked the door
And at night
You blew out
And went wandering through the sea and sand
People cannot keep air in
I blow air in
I cannot keep it in
I read you a poem once
And you called it beauty
And then I read you another one and
You called it harmony air
My brother is not air, he is water
He is not a baby, he is older than me
And when he brushes the hair from my face
I cannot see him, but he surrounds me
I cannot see you baby of air
I put you in your bed and you get out
I put you in the air and you blend
I put you on the beach and you blow out
Like an air bird, flying and flying
I find other things similar to you
And like you, they are air and
Are nothing eventually
I am not made out of air
I hold your baby body in me
As I am a mother to you
I am a mother to you
My brother is my mother
He tells me when I have lost you
To grieve grieve
He says grieving is good
He says crying is good
He says sadness hits you in waves
Of water and air
I feel your fine hair hit me when I am sleeping
I feel your hair hit me in the head
Will you remember me
When you breeze upon the other world
O you are already there
O you are already there
My brother tells me, you are already there
He is already there, he says
And I cry
And he tells me
It is ok to cry
It is ok to cry,
He says
You are not made air
It is ok to cry, he says
When you are not made of air

DL in red small

Dorothea Lasky is the author of two books of poetry, Black Life (2010) and AWE (2007), both published by Wave Books. She is also the author of an educational text, Poetry is Not a Project (Ugly Duckling Presse, 2010). She currently lives in New York City.

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