Graham Reid | | 22 min read
Stevie Nicks -- the fairie queen singer in Fleetwood Mac -- is in a plush Melbourne hotel room ready to go off to another soundcheck. In a few days she will perform her ethereal songs with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, but "the waiting" -- as her old friend Tom Petty once offered, and with whom she sang on the memorable Stop Draggin' My Hear Around-- is "the hardest part".
Faux-gypsy milionaires are rare -- and they never had to so tough, huh?
Stevie Nicks has been in Australia a fortnight and, as she says, three days in a hotel is enough for her. She just wants to get on with her Australasian tour.
She likes Australia however -- in 2005 she came for the Stevie Nicks Plate, a horse race named in her honour -- but can't recall whether she has met her current support act John Farnham before.
"I'm sure I have but I can't bet on that absolutely. But his name is so familiar to me. I think at some time when Fleetwood Mac was here many years ago we must have come in contact with him. He's Farnzie right?
Yeah, that would do the trick and get you through one of those difficult moments.
Thank you, I thought it would be great if I could say, 'Yo, Farnzie' when I meet him.
Have a go, as we say. But I'd like to talk to about your music -- but not in specifics at this point. It seems to me that if I listen to the rock'n'roll going around today much of it is channelling angst or anxiety. But you come from a different generation where music was part of a collective spirit, an art form which brought people together even though the songs might have been entirely personal.
Yeah, and I think we had a lot more fun with our music. It was more fun and romantic. Definitely our music covered angst-ridden subjects but at the same time there was an uplifting, really fun and romantic thing that I fail to see today.
I hear romance in r'n'b, but that is one of the few areas you do hear it today.
Yeah, and who knows why that is? I don't know why people would be so different but personally I think the whole computer/internet thing has made kids very anti-social. I know about kids between 8 and 15 and if you walk by them and they are on the computer its like, 'Talk to the hand, don't bother me'. You think, wouldn't you like to go outside? and they are, 'No I'm on the computer, go away'. That freaks me out, I have a serious problem with that.
It's a good thing I didn't have any kids, I would have moved them to New Zealand and taken them out of the midst of all that. I'm sure you have your own problems in New Zealand as well, but Los Angeles is making the kids so old.
The 12-year olds I know, you'd honestly think they were 18.
It's like, "Where has your childhood gone?" My sister and I were saying the other day to these kids that they have a long time to be old, so the first 15 years of your life you should enjoy and try to be a child and enjoy the fun of childhood. You are going to be an old person for a long time and you only have that 15-18 years to be a kid.
For many people who matured in the 60's and 70's their interactions were social and you did stuff. Now it's just all about phones, text, computers, e-mail, MySpace. In terms of what you do, you often write about things which ethereal and mystical. Is that as a result of the generation you grew up in, or your childhood?
For me the idea of wearing a long gossamer fairy dress, beautiful shoes, ribbons in my hair, a long velvet cape with a hood, and getting on a white horse and riding into the sunset . . . that to me, as a little girl, was my ideal.
I don't know if my parents put that into me, I think that just came very naturally.
I remember in the 4th grade going to a Halloween party as a fairy princess, and not just as a little girl fairy princess but a faaaabulous fairy princess. And from that moment on, from the second I put on that full length dress, I was mesmerised and I just wanted to be a fairy queen and wear a crown.
My mom says I started writing poems about that even in the 4th grade. I still try hard to bring that state of mind to people when I perform for them and when I meet them. I try to instil that love of the mythological and the interesting and mysterious, as opposed to everything being so right out there now.
I think the mystery of life has been taken away and that is so sad.
Art is a place where you can indulge mystery.
Exactly, the world is not a very nice place. It wasn't a very nice place then in the 60s and 70s either, so that's not changed. But its kids, they've changed.
Was there a sense that this was an escape for you in your childhood? You grew up in Phoenix, right in the middle of America.
I was born there but we moved away when I was a baby. I was in Los Angeles when I was five, then New Mexico for two years, then El Paso in Texas for the third to the seventh grade, then I was in Salt Lake City in Utah for the 8th and 9th grade, then to Los Angeles for the 10th and 11th - and then to San Francisco for my senior year and that was glorious because I'd moved right into the middle of the hugest thing that was happening. There was Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix, all those amazing San Francisco bands, and Bill Graham's Winterland and the Fillmore.
I couldn't have picked a more magical city to move to as a songwriter, and I'd started writing songs when I was 15 so I was already a serious songwriter by the time I was in the 12th grade.
Music was always going to be it for you?
It was. I pretty much stated that to my parents when I wrote my first song at 15 and cried and got hysterical and said this is what I wanted to do. And my mom and dad were very much like, Okay. But you are still going to go to school.
They very much supported my music -- but I did have to go to college.
All the dressing up? You've never shied away from the fact that while this is an art form, it is also entertainment too.
Of course it is.
Many musicians forget that and are not actually entertaining on any level.
No, because they don't hang out. I think young kids have trouble talking to people because they don't have social skills. In my life we moved so much that I was always the new girl, and if you are the new girl you better have some social skills.
You could have gone the other way?
Yes, I could have become a recluse. But I chose to adapt and my mom would say, Honey, there is always a better house when we were packing to move and I'd go, okay, cool.
Every time we moved I thought we'd get a better house and even as a little girl, designer that I am, I thought, great, a better house. So I never took the moving as a bad thing. But my brother on the other hand, who is five years younger than me, didn't adapt well at all. So I think I was lucky in that I enjoyed the travel even then.
And that prepared you for a lifetime of it?
It did. The fact we've been in Melbourne now for two weeks is bothering me because I am a traveller. We can do a hotel for three days and then I want out.
I noticed that after the Fleetwood Mac 'Say You Will' tour there was a short hiatus, and then you were back out on the road with your own tour.
I got two months off. I was actually supposed to take last year off but what happened was I got an offer from Las Vegas to do four nights in Celine Dion's theatre in Caesar's Palace and if you turn that down you are stupid. So I went to Vegas -- and saw Elton and Celine back-to-back which was a lucky thing, she was on her way to the Bahamas and he was coming in. So I got to see both shows on that 111-foot wide stage and thought, I have to build a world here because you can't just take your little band into a place like this.
So after I'd doing those four shows Don Henley called and said, 'Let's go out and do 25 dates'. I said, 'I can't Don, I'm having time off' but he was like, 'C'mon we could talk about this all night, but let's just go and do it'. Which we did. Of course he bailed on the last 15 shows because the Eagles summoned him!
So there I was out on the East Coast and I thought, Well, I'm not going home, this ball is rolling so we scurried around and got Vanessa Carlton to come in and do a 30 minute opening and we changed a few of the venues.
It was so expensive to go through your months of rehearsal and getting all your stuff together and your people . . . So I thought, let's forget this year off idea, let's just do it.
So I didn't get back until September last year, and after that I was extremely busy with a lot of other things: my visits to Walter Reed Hospital; I bought a new house; moving out of the old one and into a new one; corporate things we do every now and again . . .
So in that October period through Christmas it seemed like I never stopped, and then I had a month in January to work with an arranger for the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra show.
That was extremely difficult because you are working with someone who is writing string arrangements for your songs -- which is amazing, but you have to know where they are going at every moment because when you put an orchestra with a rock'n'roll band you don't want The Sound of Music. You want Kashmir, you want Led Zeppelin. Not Julie Andrews and the Von Trapp Family.
I guess I'm really lucky because I don't have to stop. When I stop it'll be because nobody wants to see what I do anymore. But I never look at it as bad thing.
I'd like to have the time off, but as Don Henley would say, We'll sleep when we're dead.
You said you will keep doing this as long as people want you to do it. People want you to do it because, I suspect, that over time the meanings of your songs change and they mean something very different now to what they meant to people say 10 or even 20 years ago. And to you also, perhaps?
I think so. For example Edge of Seventeen was written about John Lennon's death but I was in New York on 9/11 and we were there for the four days and went on to Atlantic City on the Saturday -- 9/11 happened on the Tuesday -- so when I walked out to do that show, which was extremely difficult, every one of my songs became totally about 9/11 for people.
My songs are not all written about love and romance, so each one of them became very different.
Now, with the war in Iraq different meanings are coming in for me and for the audience. So I feel lucky I didn't just write a bunch of fluffy stupid love songs because I couldn't still be singing them now.
Songwriters feel very precious about their songs -- they are your babies -- but you do lose possession of them to an audience. That was always going to happen, wasn't it?
I think the people take the songs where they want to take them. I throw them out there, and it doesn't matter that I wrote Landslide in '73 and have been singing it since then, which was two years before I joined Fleetwood Mac.
Whenever I sing that song I remember clearly writing that song while I was sitting in the house in Aspen and wondering whether I was going to give Lindsey [Buckingham] and the music another chance, or whether I was just going to stay in Aspen and follow my own music career there.
So whenever I sing that song I can just close my eyes and be taken back to looking out that window and seeing the Rocky Mountains. I'm able to then sing the song with that in mind.
My songs don't get old for me because of that, and if one does, then I drop it from the set immediately. And I wait, and down the line it comes back.
You also have plenty of others to choose from.
Absolutely. So many. You know Fleetwood Mac did my song Beautiful Child for the first time ever on stage and I've decided to bring it here to Melbourne to be orchestrated because it is so beautiful. There's a multitude of stuff I could add if I were to get tired of this stuff. You've got a leeway of maybe four or five songs you can bring in as new, but its fun to do it.
When you come to New Zealand I take it you will be bring a set of predominantly, maybe 75 per cent, of your solo material?
No, there is a lot of Fleetwood Mac stuff. It's about half and half.
You mentioned Lindsey before. People have said that while you have worked with other writers and producers, like Sheryl Crow for example, that he still brings the best out of you. Despite whatever else that has happened between you, in a working relationship you can still do it even today.
Yes, that's fair. I have a lot of respect for his ability to take one of my songs and ... I'm not the best musician in the world so if I sit down at the piano and play Sara for example it is very, very simple. And very, very long. Someone like Lindsey can take a 15 minute song and - much to my horror - edit it down to seven minutes then makes it build and arrange it. That blows my mind because that is something that I can never do.
So we have a great relationship when it comes to making our music.
And where does the Mac thing sit now?
We just finished 135 shows not quite two years ago but when I go home after this tour I am going to take October and November off, and we are discussing whether Fleetwood Mac wants to tour next year. It's 50:50 there and its just down to what we decide over the next few months.
We had a meeting right before I left and it looks good. Its good for me to keep the both going because its fun and they are very different. Never a boring moment if you have both. I've had the both since 1980 so I run back and forth between the two.
What about your own writing? I read recently that you'd just written your first song in six months, it was about New Orleans.
I have. I have an amazing amount of writing in my journal and on the left hand side of the journal is where I take what I've written in prose and make into poetry, so we can go through the journals and pull all the poetry out.
I probably have, since the Say You Will tour began, about 30 poems. I don't go to the piano until I'm ready to start writing songs, but the hard part has been done which is the words. Due to the fact I only really know four chords, if you haven't written the words and are trying to make stuff up ... I don't do that. I don't make stuff up, I write about what is happening.
In the last year I have written a lot about Walter Reed Hospital and the soldiers, and the metamorphosis of Fleetwood Mac, and of course Lindsey and I write about each other constantly because even though it has been 300 years since we broke up - and he has a wife and three kids - we feel totally right about each other.
So we will always be that amazing inspiration for each other, because we will always be mad at each other is some shape or form, and that makes for good material for songs.
Can't live with him and ...
Exactly. The love-hate things stands as a beacon for writers, and for both of us.
Let me talk to you about Walter Reed. Musicians are known for doing good work but I'm more impressed by people who, like yourself, do it without photographers present. What does it mean to you to be visiting those wounded soldiers?
I first went last summer in the middle of my tour. I was in Washington DC and they invited me and I really had no idea. I just went, Sure, I'm up for anything. I walked in there a fairly happy, single, 57-year old woman with no children - and I walked out a mother and a nurse and a doctor and girlfriend and sister and patients' advocate. From that moment I became a soldiers' advocate because they need it.
I have no comment or opinion about the war itself, but when those guys get back and are horribly injured then that is my business. But really, what can you do?
I decided I'd gather all my friends together and get as many iPods as I could and every time I go I take as many iPods as there are soldiers in Walter Reed. And that's what I've done.
I've been four times, the last time was at Thanksgiving. Mick [Fleetwood] and I went and I was there for three days, and after that much time you know what's going on.
And you talk to the guys about their experiences.
I walk in and sit down on the bed and say, Move over, and tell me what happened to you. They need to tell you and get it out, and they do. You stay for 15 to 20 minutes, as long as you can, and you become extremely attached. Then I go home, write about it in my journal, and I go back again the next day.
It certainly makes you walk around and think, I have no problems because they have so many. It's going to take so long for many of them to come back to being any sort of normal at all.
I imagine some of these people open up more to you than they do to wives or partners because we often open up more to a stranger.
Absolutely, because I'm more neutral and at first people told me not to mince words, just go in and ask what happened because they need to tell people and it makes them feel better. It's like therapy.
So I sit there with my big eyes, listening and taking it all in. You try not to burst into tears because that's not going to help, so you put this thin plastic seal up where you can listen and discuss and be a sounding board without getting upset because they are so badly injured.
You found that hard the first time?
Very hard. I'd walk into the hallway and cry and then I'd suck it back up and go back, room after room after room. And when you come out they say, and in this room this boy... And in this room this girl ... I started to feel like what it must be like to be a doctor there. The doctors and nurses and techs are astounding. And what the doctors are doing in medical terms is amazing. The best place you could possibly be is at Walter Reed.
Yet despite seeing all this you have no comment on the war? These are the victims.
I can't have an opinion.
Because I have to be there for them. And anyway, all the people I have talked to are very upbeat about what they were doing and would turn around and go back [to Iraq]. I've never talked to one soldier who wouldn't go back. They tell me stories about stuff that happened directly to them and you sit there with your mouth open.
If you made a statement against the war ... You would not be welcome there. You'd be Jane Fonda.
Yes. My job is when they get back and are in the hospital, then they are my responsibility. Them lining up and going is not my responsibility. But when they are back, if I can get a little of that mysterious, childlike innocence thing and give that to them, that's what I can do. I didn't have kids and I can look at them as my enormous group of fantastic children.
You also make healing music?
After all that serious stuff, let me ask you a more frivolous question: your style of clothing. About 18 months ago I noticed a lot of young people, driven by fashion houses, were wearing what we might call Stevie Nicks clothes. Did you ever think you'd become a fashion icon?
I never did. I thought my clothes were terrific and thought others might think they were fabulous and they loved seeing me wearing them, but I never thought people would go, Oh I'm going to wear that too.
I'm thrilled about it because I'm a fashion nut too. Every magazine I pick up there is something that could belong to me. And people say, That's a Stevie Nicks hat. That is great. I still think it's a terrific way to dress. My style fits in to any of the styles even as they change. I just tweak it a bit.
That has been a lot of fun for me and I've been with the same designer since 75.
Ever worn a pair of jeans?
I wore jeans in high school and college, but I don't wear jeans now. I wear pants now, little Janis Joplin-type silky pants.
I've never seen a photo of you in jeans.
There is one, from about 1977. I have that photo.
If Levis called you tomorrow with a major contract you wouldn't take it.
Probably not. The one photo of me in jeans I had a horrifying hangover and I couldn't be bothered putting all my stuff on so I just wore my jeans, it was an outdoor show and somebody got it on film.
We are delighted you make the effort to dress up. It was 1980 the last time you were in New Zealand. I guess you remember that.
Oh yeah! The big Fleetwood Mac fight. It has become a thing of mythology that night. I remember it quite well because Lindsey and I got into a fight at the end of the show when I was singing during one of his solos and he threw his guitar at me. He didn't hit me because I ducked and it missed me. The song ended and we went off stage. It was the only time in our whole existence we did not do an encore.
It was as unprofessional as Fleetwood Mac have ever been. Needless to say he was not forgiven for 10 years. We felt bad because so many people were there and had been bussed in from all over New Zealand. And for something that stupid to happen, we were so angry with him.
Is what kept Fleetwood Mac together was that anything could happen offstage and be difficult emotionally and personally, but when you got up under the lights you were there for the music and the show?
When you got on stage you were a professional and you rose above your private problems, so that was an unacceptable moment. It's also something now that everybody knows about all over the world. The fight that went around the world.
You can't do much in private in front of 60,000 people.
No, you can be loving and emotional and maybe even angry - but you can't let it become what is going on between you.
This is an expanded transcript of an interview which appeared in the New Zealand Herald in February 2006, in advance of Nicks' solo concerts in New Zealand. The original interview appeared at www.nzherald.co.nz