IN CONVERSATION WITH THE ORIGINAL REBEL
by Chrissy Iley
Elle-UK is on newsstands now.
Fashion is having a rebel moment. But long before maverick icons Grace Jones in black rubber, Courtney Love in ripped tights and lace, and Chrissie Hynde who cut her own hair and never removed her leather jacket, there was Stevie Nicks. ‘My whole life is a rebellious moment,’ she laughs – a long, throaty, mocking-the-world-laugh.
The look she invented for herself in the early Seventies was part Dickensian waif in raggedy chiffon and heavy boots, party romantic gypsy. At first, this came from her own wardrobe, but she later developed costumes with Californian designer Margi Kent. They made her look as if she inhabited an imaginary world of birds of paradise and fairies, but they were highly practical on stage: a leotard here, a floaty skirt and fringed scarf there. It is a look that still works for her now – deliberately so. ‘I planned to still be doing this when I’m 60. I wanted to make sure that what I wore then, I could wear at any age,’ she says. I suggest she should have started her own label. ‘I thought of doing a fashion line, but there would be a lot of work involved. I don’t have time.’ It’s a shame, as I’d certainly shop there. My entire wardrobe is stuffed with tops named Stevie. The black Stevie, the grey Stevie, the shimmery Stevie.
At 65, she’s still rocking the Stevie, too-today’s is wispy and black. I am in something almost identical, which she admires, examining the label so she can buy the same. This makes me very happy. I have always loved Stevie – her look, mystical fairy meets ethereal temptress; her voice raw, rippled with emotion. I love her fearlessness and I love the drama of her falling in love with so many rock stars.
This is actually the third time we have met. Today, we are sitting in a giant London hotel suite, decorated in muted and minimalist beige and grey – somewhat at odds with Stevie, who is most definitely maximalist. In the flesh she looks amazing – her hair still in thick, dirty-blonde cascades, her skin flawless. Her books, drawings and clothes are everywhere. She is here to promote the European leg of the reformed Fleetwood Mac tour – that they can still sell out stadiums (a total of 81 arena dates worldwide, in fact) almost 40 years after she joined the band is testament to the enduring power of their music, much of which Stevie wrote or co-wrote.
Clearly, I am not her only superfan. Forceful women love her and want to channel her – the goddess persona, the voice, the look. Courtney Love is especially obsessed. When I visited the first lady of grunge at home, I spotted a Stevie shrine sitting next to her Buddha shrine. The fact that Stevie Nicks has lived a thousand lives makes her a great dispenser of advice – her great friend Sheryl Crow phones when I am sitting there. She knows how to feel deeply, how to ache, and also knows how to cauterise that pain with a great song.
Since we first met in 2009, she has changed very little. She is always vibrant – her laugh, which starts as a low growl and heightens if she says something particularly hilarious, is exactly the same. If she talks about something sad, she seems to feel it only in that moment, then quickly moves on. Perhaps it’s this lack of baggage that means her face is plump, line-free and porcelain, although she attributes it to good genes. ‘I got my dad’s beautiful skin. But it’s also tough skin. He lived in Arizona and he was out in the sun all day.’ She smiles. The metaphor is deliberate. She has sensitive but tough skin.
Her relative lack of wrinkles can also be attributed to sun avoidance. ‘I stopped laying out in the sun when I was 30. Probably because we were doing drugs all night long and I was sleeping all day.’ Now, she slaps on the most expensive skin care she can find. ‘I use Crème de la mer at night. I can afford it. Plus, I never go to bed with make-up on and I do a little massage thing two or three times a day.’ She demonstrates by gently slapping her own face.
Botox is a no-go after a bad experience. ‘I did it in 2003, 10 days before Fleetwood Mac filmed Live in Boston. My eyebrows fell like this.’ She stretches them down and turns down her mouth like a revers smiley. ‘I would never do it again. It’s an ugly thing that changes your beautiful eyes. I looked like the sister of Satan.’
She talks quickly but regales stories at length, chronicling her life, album by album, and talking about relationships as if they were started to better serve her songs. Born in Arizona, her family later moved to San Francisco, and during her senior year in high school she met a brooding and Byronic Lindsey Buckingham. He was in a folk group, she was already writing songs – together, they formed a duo, Buckingham Nicks, and put out a record of the same name. It caught the attention of Mick Fleetwood, who, on New Year’s Eve 1974, invites them to join the already-successful Fleetwood Mac. The chemistry and dynamic of Fleetwood, plus the two couples – John and Christine McVie, Buckingham and Nicks – was explosive. When Nicks and Buckingham left their low-key life to move to LA and join the band, it must have felt like joining the circus. Or at least a soap opera. There were drugs, there was sex, there were feuds. Stevie and Lindsey broke up while recording their Grammy-winning 1977 album Rumours, but the band didn't split. The lyrics about love, losing it and finding it, became all the more emotive, making the album one of the biggest-selling of all time. But I've always thought her song was Landslide, which seems particularly poignant now. ‘Well, I've been afraid of changing / Cause I've built my life around you / But time makes you bolder / Children get older / I’m getting older too.’
She has earned $7 million from that song alone – and, as she wrote or co-wrote many other Fleetwood Mac songs, plus all her solo albums, Stevie’s estimated worth is now $65 million. The first time we met, four years ago at her home in Pacific Palisades, LA – enclave for superstars and the super-rich-she was clutching an envelope containing her latest royalty cheque. So this year’s reforming of the band certainly isn't driven by cash – at least not for her. However, as Mick Fleetwood went bankrupt in the 1980’s, she says, ‘He could certainly use the money.’
Her house was large and comfortable, but perhaps less ornate than you’d expect. The art on the walls had a mystical bent and the bedroom was draped in silks and taffetas. Her walk-in dressing room was filled with lace and lingerie. It smelled of perfume, at the same time woody and floral. Into the giant American kitchen that looked like it had been cooked in, scampered Sulamith, a tiny Yorkshire terrier in a blue knitted coat. Her assistant informed me in a concerned tone that Stevie had thought her dog suffered from alopecia. Only after spending thousands on therapy in the belief it was caused by stress, did she find out that a Chinese crested dog, an entirely bald breed, had taken a fancy to Sulamith’s mother. The frisky pair produced this Chinese Yorkie, whose face is framed with a golden brown fringe, much like Stevie’s.
Stevie was not embarrassed at all by this. Actually, she’s not embarrassed by anything. She doesn’t do regrets, living completely in the moment. After all, if she thought too much about it, she may not have had the roll call of rock-star lovers that were in the same band. If she felt passionate, she just went for it, not caring about shredded egos and imploding friendships.
Breaking up with Buckingham but still having to write songs with him in Fleetwood Mac must have felt like a strange sort of incest. He wrote Go Your Own way about her and she is still writing songs about him. ‘The beginning of our relationship was the best time of our lives. Still, in every song I write there’s a line or two about Lindsey. He is my great musical love. He is like Johnny Cash to my June Carter. You can get to a state of mind where you can be happy, but it will always be difficult. You can find a good thing and you can be sad that you can’t be together.’ They always knew how to wind each other up, she says. Still do. ‘I just don’t think we will ever be friends,’ she concludes. And yet they will have spent almost every day together for the best part of this year.
Life could have been very different if they’d stayed together in San Francisco playing folk clubs. ‘I ironed his jeans and sewed moons and stars on them, and made the house beautiful. I was the cleaning lady. Then we joined Fleetwood Mac and moved to LA and he became very jealous. I was trustworthy but he didn’t trust me, so he tortured me every day until I ended up having an affair.’
That affair was with another man called Lindsay, who worked in a friend’s restaurant. Then there was Mick Fleetwood. She says it wasn’t out of revenge that she started the affair – they just fell in love. He left her for a friend called Sara. It was a powerhouse woman move to fall in love with two members of the same group – as if she wanted to prove to herself that her love is stronger than any band. And then she did it again with two members of the Eagles – Don Henley and Joe Walsh – in the early 1980’s. ‘Joe was a big rock star. Maybe he was the love of my life. Although I change who I think were the great loves of my life all the time.’
She and Walsh were together from 1983-1986. They did not write songs together – they took drugs. ‘I don’t know what my relationship with Joe would have been like sober. I remember days of misery waiting by the phone; me in my house, with him saying, “I’m going to visit you.” I would kick everyone out because I just wanted to be with him, and not a phone call, nothing.’ Why did she put up with it – she was one of the biggest female stars in the world? ‘Because I was in love with him,’ she says in an isn't that-obvious tone. ‘I wouldn't now. But we were doing a lot of drugs and drugs make you needy.’ She pauses. ‘And who wants needy?’
She tells me about one day when Joe put the phone down on her and she thought they had just broken up. The next day, she went to see the Eurythmics and Dave Stewart asked if she had a boyfriend. ‘I said no. So Dave Stewart came back to my house and we spent the night together. But the next morning, I panicked. I threw him out of the bed and I started dressing him. All this leather! All these chains that I was threading through!’
She and Joe did get back together, but he disappeared for good a few months later. ‘He told my friend he’d gone to Australia because he’s a coward. He said, “Tell Stevie I’m going because both of us are doing so much coke that one of us is going to die.” She was left broken-hearted – and, thanks to her addiction, with a hole in her nose so big that, legend has it, she could loop a belt through it. This, she says, is not quite true, but ‘If I wanted to put a gold ring through it I could. A gold ring with diamonds!’ She was addicted to cocaine for around a decade – Fleetwood Mac’s album credits famously feature a ‘thanks’ to their dealer – and she has estimated she spent over $1 million on the drug.
If it hadn't been for Joe dumping her, she would never had ended up getting clean in the Betty Ford Center in Palm Springs in 1986. When she came out, friends avoided cocaine around her – ‘I thought that whole world had stopped but it turns out they were just being respectful’ – and some persuaded Stevie to see a doctor to keep her sober. She now dearly wishes they hadn't He kept upping my dose and I was shaking so hard, I thought I had Parkinson’s.’ One day, she made her assistant take the pills so she could see the effects and the assistant passed out, so she came off the drugs immediately, checking herself into hospital. ‘I stayed there for 47 days. It made the cocaine detox look like a walk in the park. But I came out the other end shining, with a new lease on life.’
Those years took their toll though – Stevie says she lost most of her 40’s, and some of her looks, to the drug. ‘Eight years of my life gone, my last vestige of youth ripped away. At least I still had a brain with coke.’ Her hair turned grey and her weight ballooned to 12 stone – she’s only 5ft 1in. She was also robbed of her last child-bearing years. One wonders if the overindulged with its extensive wardrobe and therapy is a maternal outlet.
Stevie seems to have changed her mind about having children throughout her life. She once said, ‘If I were to get pregnant, I would have to stop being an over-achiever, get more rest, eat well, take my vitamins.’ But she also told me, ‘I don’t regret never having children because I wanted this life. I would have been jealous if my baby had to be turned over to a succession of nannies. I suppose I didn't want to give up my career.’
Her maternal instincts perhaps peaked when her best friend Robin Snyder died of Leukaemia in 1982, leaving behind tow-day-old baby Matthew. She married Robin’s husband Kim Anderson in the hope that they could recreate a family unit but the marriage was dissolved a few months later. She now calls the whole thing ‘insanity’, and says her friend would not have wanted Stevie to break her widower’s heart.
She says she could have had her own family with Lindsey if they’d stayed in San Francisco. ‘Lindsey just wanted a nice woman and children. If we had not pursued our career, we could have made it as a couple. He would sometimes say, “I don’t care how much money we made or how famous we were. All Fleetwood Mac did was break us up and that was the thing I held most dear.’”
Was that the thing she held most dear? ‘No,’ she says, perhaps a little too quickly. ‘I really am happy. I love my life. I made a choice a long time ago about what was going to be most important and that was my music and my art. My life’s been a dream come true but still, I always look to the future. And I think my life is going to be way beyond anything I've done now.’