At this spring’s New Orleans Jazz Fest, amidst the hundreds of other performers on the schedule, one of the bands I heard the most people buzzing about was Fleetwood Mac.
It surprised me that a band I have deep childhood memories of — my stepmom played Rumors so loud on our record player that the windows actually rattled — was the talk of an event filled with so many other acts. Shortly thereafter, New York magazine ran a lengthy profile on frontwoman Stevie Nicks, so I dug in to see what the 65-year-old shawl-wearing icon might say about why Fleetwood Mac still has that effect on fans.
What I took away from Jada Yuan’s piece, besides admiring Yuan’s work, was being taken by Nicks’ openness with the demons she’s wrestled and her comfort with taking the road less traveled.
Onstage, she’s still an aesthetic pioneer—her near-butt-length hair, fingerless gloves, knee-high black suede platform boots, and finely tailored dress in tatters all adding up to what she herself calls “the Stevie Nicks thing.” It’s a persona she’s said is drawn from the slinkiness of Grace Slick, the “humbleness” of Jimi Hendrix, and the attitude of Janis Joplin. Nicks had observed all three and opened for Hendrix and Joplin just out of high school in the late sixties as part of Fritz, her first musical partnership with Fleetwood Mac’s intense virtuoso guitarist Lindsey Buckingham. Buckingham is, with toweringly tall oddball drummer Mick Fleetwood, one of two ex-boyfriends Nicks performs with every night, a five-foot-one pixie singing with raspy conviction about her own heartbreak and resilience on the same stage as two men who’ve caused her pain. Or is it vice-versa?
Fleetwood Mac is, to fans, not just a band but a riveting 40-plus-year soap opera involving the loss of members to schizophrenia and a religious cult; the arrival in 1974 of gorgeous, drama-filled young couple Stevie and Lindsey; and the cocaine-and-alcohol-fueled divorces and affairs behind 1977’s Rumours, which became the then-fastest-selling album of all time. You don’t come to one of their shows just for the music; you come to watch them masochistically stare down their past before a live audience. You come to watch Stevie and Lindsey—who’ve known each other since high school—look into each other’s eyes and harmonize on the songs they wrote about each other, in anger, long ago: “Dreams” (by Stevie, “Now here you go again / You say you want your freedom / Well, who am I to keep you down?”), and “Go Your Own Way” and “Never Going Back Again” (by Lindsey, and meaner). You come to see Stevie dance in front of Mick’s drum kit, knowing full well she had an affair with him after her breakup with Lindsey, while Mick was married—as Lindsey wails away on guitar and looks on. You come because you feel for the quiet, steady man on bass, John McVie (the only guy in the band Stevie hasn’t slept with), who had to lay down the rhythm track on songs like “You Make Loving Fun,” written by his ex-wife, now-retired keyboardist and singer Christine McVie, about her affair with the band’s lighting director and how she’d never been so satisfied by a man before. You come because this is a band that has not tried to hide their genuinely fucked-up dynamic, which plays out deliciously onstage in banter about the state of “the war” and in the way Stevie always leaves to put on her shawls right in the middle of one of Lindsey’s blazing guitar solos. Has she just had enough of his ego? Or is she magnanimously ceding the floor, only to return moments later to show him how it’s really done? To see Fleetwood Mac play live, knowing what you and everyone knows about their turmoil, substance abuse, and brushes with death, is to see layers of meaning in every gesture and to marvel that they’ve survived long enough to make it to this very show.
Nicks shares an intimate view of her complicated relationship with Buckingham and tells Yuan they’re getting along for the first time in a very long time. I cannot begin to imagine what it would be like to not only work with but tour with someone I’d had romantic drama with several decades ago, but they aren’t doing this because it makes sense to the rest of us. Yuan quotes Fleetwood:
“They are absolutely on a journey, and they have absolutely not given up. And it’s nothing to do with being in love. It’s to do with love itself and the premise of a huge underlying respect from whence they have come and from whence they started their journey together. And I think they truly advocate that: ‘We can end our days saying, We didn’t run away from this.’ ”
I wouldn’t trade places with Nicks, who says she snorted so much cocaine she tore a permanent hole in her nose, then spent eight years hooked on Klonopin, before going into rehab for 47 days in 1993. While she’s a rock star sex symbol, there’s clearly a lot of pain fueling that creativity.
But as a woman who chose not to have kids, who feels she has a full life with a career she enjoys and the love of friends, Nicks resonated with me. Feminism allowed her to opt out of motherhood if it wasn’t the way she wanted to spend her life. She realized there was another path, one that meant making herself a priority and not giving in to the societal pressure to settle down and get married.
I think real feminism is having that freedom to choose what’s right for you: getting married and being a stay-at-home mom; having a career and having kids; or being divorced but touring with your ex-husband and the coworker you slept with. You might not want Nicks’ life but she might not do well with yours, either.
(Singer Vanessa) Carlton tells me that last year she asked Nicks to write out her “rules of engagement”—how to get what you want out of life and men. Nicks gave her a stack of hotel stationery with handwritten directives and the overall message that you shouldn’t compromise on having a wonderful, interesting life just because it can be a challenge for some men, but that you should also be aware that that lifestyle can be a burden. Carlton reads one aloud: “ ‘He must have a good job. He must be happy and satisfied with his own life. You are there to enhance his life, not take away from it, and he is there to enhance your life, not fuck it up.’ That’s my favorite one. Thank you, Stevie!”
Friends, including Fleetwood, have worried about Nicks’s loneliness. “Most women would not be happy being me,” Nicks says. “People say, ‘But you’re alone.’ But I don’t feel alone. I feel very un-alone. I feel very sparkly and excited about everything. I know women who are going, like, ‘I don’t want to grow old alone.’ And I’m like, ‘See, that doesn’t scare me.’ Because I’ll never be alone. I’ll always be surrounded by people. I’m like the crystal ball and these are all the rings of Saturn around me.”
“My generation fought very hard for feminism, and we fought very hard to not be labeled as you had to have a husband or you had to be in a relationship, or you were somehow not a cool chick,” she says. “And now I’m seeing that start to come around again, where people say to you, ‘Well, what do you mean you don’t have a boyfriend? You don’t want to have one? You don’t want to be married?’ And you’re like, ‘Well, no, I don’t, actually. I’m fine.’ And they find a lot of reasons why you’re not fine. But it just seems to be coming back. Being able to take care of myself is something that my mom really instilled in me,” she says. “I can remember her always saying, ‘If nothing else, I will teach you to be independent.’ ”
I’d miss a huge opportunity if I didn’t say, well, Nicks goes her own way.
You should really fire up some Fleetwood Mac, put on a fringed shawl and read the full New York article — because I’m not the only one who liked it. The Observer reported that at Fleetwood Mac’s recent NYC show, Stevie Nicks dedicated Landslide to Yuan.
“I would like to dedicate this song to a girl, a lady. Her name is Jada and she wrote the most beautiful article about me,” the Fleetwood Mac singer said.
“She got something that nobody that has ever written about me before has ever gotten,” continued Ms. Nicks. “And I just wanted to tell her how much I appreciate that.”
- A ‘Landslide’ of Appreciation: Stevie Nicks Thanks New York Mag’s Jada Yuan (observer.com)
- Fleetwood Mac: They may be paleolithic but have good bones (stevie-nicks.info)
- Upfront: Her Own Way (stevie-nicks.info)
- Copping Stevie’s Style at the Fleetwood Mac Concert (nymag.com)
- Mick on Fleetwood Mac: “We Actually Love Each Other” (myq105.cbslocal.com)
- FEATURE: Stevie Nicks, the Fairy Godmother of Rock (stevie-nicks.info)
- Everything You Ever Needed to Know About Fleetwood Mac in Under Six Minutes (nowherebutpop.com)
- Fleetwood Mac: Releasing more new songs a ‘matter of how and when’ (stevie-nicks.info)
- The Fleetwood Mac Story (psychedelichippiemusic.blogspot.com)