Thursday, March 19, 2009

GOLD DUST WOMAN

Gold Dust Woman
Richard Burnett
hour.ca

My favourite rock stars have always been women - Tina Turner, Chaka Khan and Stevie Nicks - because their narratives, in life, love and song, speak to me, whereas the lyrics and life experiences of most straight men rarely do.

I've seen Tina perform live 27 times - notably in 1984 at the Spectrum where she found out backstage that What's Love Got to Do With It was number 1 on Billboard's Hot 100 chart - as well as Chaka Khan, whom I interviewed in this column in 2007.

"When I've been in need, when things weren't going well, the gay community always bailed me out," Chaka told me. "They're my most loyal friends and following and they have a special place in my heart."

But the one woman rock star I've never interviewed is Stevie Nicks. Lord knows I've tried. Former Warner Records USA president Howie Klein, who occasionally lectures at McGill University, is a friend of Stevie's and some years ago he introduced me to Warner PR powerhouse Liz Rosenberg who handles all publicity for Madonna.

Rosenberg set me up a Nicks phoner but that and a rescheduled Nicks interview were both cancelled at the last minute when Fleetwood Mac went into rehearsals for their 2003 Say You Will Tour.

I've been flailing in the wind ever since. That is until Fleetwood Mac announced their current Unleashed Tour that brings the band to Montreal next week.

This time I got band leader and drummer Mick Fleetwood on a press conference call with 30 other journalists from across Canada.

So I asked Mick - whose side project The Mick Fleetwood Blues Band has just released a terrific new live album, Blue Again - what the band dynamics are like now for Stevie since the only other woman in the band, Christine McVie, quit 12 years ago.

"Stevie's had a very successful solo career, so she brings that ability [to front a band] back to Fleetwood Mac," Mick replies. "She also puts on a new coat and becomes a band member. For many years she called all of her own shots, but in Fleetwood Mac she lets that [guard] down and pays respect to the other band members."

Nicks, with her then-partner Lindsey Buckingham, got her start with manager David Forest whom she met at Stanford University in 1966. Forest - who went on to work for Bill Graham at the Fillmore, then headed up the contemporary music division at CMA with David Geffen in 1970, before becoming a super-agent in Hollywood's multi-billion-dollar porn biz - managed Nicks and Buckingham's first band, Fritz, before they joined Fleetwood Mac.

"I knew Stevie would be a star the night Fritz opened for Janis Joplin and Big Brother at the Fillmore," David told me in 2007. "After her band members left I told Stevie, 'Stay and meet Janis.' Stevie looked at Janis and she saw herself in her."

Over the next 35 years Nicks would write and record a string of classic hits, many of which Fleetwood Mac will perform in Montreal: Rhiannon, Landslide, Gypsy, Dreams, Sara, Gold Dust Woman, and (my personal favourite) Storms, which Fleetwood Mac has never before performed on tour. The setlist also includes one of Stevie's monster solo hits, Stand Back.

So, I ask, how did Fleetwood Mac negotiate the setlist?

"We've always done Stand Back because people love to hear the song and Stevie loves doing it," Mick explains. "It's a ballbuster and gets her up there doing her thing. But we can't play eight Stevie [solo] songs or we'd have a riot in the ranks!"

Fleetwood continues, "A lot of bands play great music and don't get on. It's a business arrangement. With us business is involved but we're pretty damned happy with each other. Stevie and Lindsey still see [music] in different ways, but I would be an idiot as band leader if I didn't make sure the front line wasn't happy. You don't have a band if you can't co-exist."

Meanwhile, former Warner head Howie Klein once told me over breakfast that Stevie also cherishes her gay fan base. In fact, on May 1, Hour Editor-in-Chief Jamie O'Meara and I are jetting to NYC to catch the 19th annual Night of a Thousand Stevies, the internationally famed drag-queen tribute to Nicks.

VIP guests over the years have included Debbie Harry (dressed as Stevie!), Boy George, Courtney Love and Cyndi Lauper, and this year Jamie and I will attend with Village Voice gossip columnist Michael Musto.

"Stevie is very aware of her gay fans and has donated personal items [that were] auctioned off [for charity] at Night of a Thousand Stevies, which we have encouraged her [to attend]," Howie told me.

So if you can't see the real Stevie at the Bell Centre next week, don't miss Night of a Thousand Stevies, which each year ends with a spectacular onstage Stevie Nicks drag-queen battle royal. Who knows, we may even get an audience with the real Stevie.

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