Saturday, September 08, 2007

Stevie Nicks: a survivor's story

Telegraph Magazine Article 08/09/07

Thirty years after she sold her soul to the devil and, with Fleetwood Mac, set new records for rock'n'roll overindulgence, Stevie Nicks has somehow lived to tell the tale - and what a tale it is. Now if only she could remember where she lives… Interview by Mick Brown. Photograph by Neal Preston.

During the 10 or so years that she was addicted to cocaine - back in the days when Fleetwood Mac's album credits would include a 'thanks' to their dealer - Stevie Nicks estimates that she must have spent more than $1 million on the drug. 'At $100 a pop - that's a gram - and we were the ones who were buying it for everybody else; not only us, but all our friends.' Nicks thinks about this. 'Actually, I would say millions.'

It all came to end in 1986, when a plastic surgeon advised her that if she wanted her nose to remain on her face she should stop snorting coke immediately. (The legacy was a hole in her septum the size of a five cent piece.) So it was off to the Betty Ford Clinic in Palm Springs, which was like 'the army' - meetings from six in the morning until nine at night. 'Tammy Wynette was there, and one of James Taylor's backing singers.' After 30 days she had an epiphany, and that was it for the cocaine.

She hunches forward in her chair, sipping at her tea, which is about the strongest stimulant she indulges in these days. The dying afternoon sun is slanting through the window behind her, casting a halo around the blonde curls that tumble past her shoulders. 'So when I left Betty Ford, I felt that I was fine. But my world was terrified that I was not fine.'

Your world? 'The powers that be, the people around me. They were terrified I was going to start doing it again. I think everybody knew I wasn't an alcoholic, because I'm not; but I drank. And every-body thought I should go to AA, and in order to get out of that the next best thing in everybody else's eyes was for me to go see a shrink. I really didn't want to go. But I finally just said all right in order to get all of you off my back…'

The psychiatrist, she says, put her on a tranquilliser called Klonopin - 'he said to calm my nerves a little. I didn't want to do it. He said, "You're nervous." And I was nervous; I'm a nervous person. So I finally just said, all right.' Klonopin, Nicks says, is a member of the Valium family. 'It's a tranquilliser, right? And you think, what does tranquilliser mean? It tranquillises you!' Particularly when, as Nicks claims, the drug is radically oversubscribed. After a year, she realised she was beginning to put on weight and lose interest in her work. 'And the saddest thing, I did an interview in England, and somebody had sent the article to my mother and she read it to me over the phone. And it said, you could see Stevie Nicks in there, but she was very sad and very quiet and she was just a shadow of her former self. And that article broke my heart.

advertisement'And after that, it got worse, because he kept upping my dose. 1988 into '89, I'm now not even writing songs any more. I was living in a beautiful rented house in the Valley, and just pretty much staying home. Ordering take-in and watching TV. And I've gained 30lb and I'm 5ft 1in tall, and I'm so miserable. And I started to notice that I was shaking all the time, and I'm noticing that everybody else is noticing it too. And then I'm starting to think, do I have some kind of neurological disease and I'm dying?'

So 1993 comes rolling round, and Stevie Nicks is finally convinced that the protracted high dosage of Klonopin might be killing her. So she does exactly what you or I might do. She instructs her personal assistant, Glenn, to take her daily dose - just to see what effect it has.

'I said, it won't kill you, because it hasn't killed me, but I just want to see what you think. Because Glenn was terribly worried about me - everybody was. So I was taking two in the morning, two in the afternoon and two more at night. At that point if I could find a Percoset, because I'm so miserable, I'd take that, or I'd take a Fiorocet - anything.

'So Glenn proceeds to take all my medicine. He was setting up a stereo in the living-room. Well, after half an hour he was just sitting there. And he said, "I can't fix the stereo and I don't think I can drive home." And I said, "Well, good - just stay there, because I'm studying you." And he was almost hallucinating. It was bad. And I called up my psychiatrist, and I said, "I gave Glenn every-thing you've prescribed for me." And the first words out of his mouth were, "Are you trying to kill him?" And the next words out of my mouth were, "Are you trying to kill me?" '

Nicks admitted herself to the Daniel Freeman Memorial Hospital in Venice Beach. It took her 47 days to detox. 'Dallas Taylor, the drummer for Crosby, Stills and Nash, was there the whole time. I nearly died. I moulted. My hair turned grey. My skin started to completely peel off. I was in terrible pain.' She shivers at the memory. 'I think it's very good to talk about this to get the message out into the world about addiction to this particular drug. That was the worst period of my life. They stole my forties. It was eight completely wasted years of my life.' Here's the irony, she says: the 'powers that be' had sent her to the psychiatrist in order to keep her working, but the 'treatment' he gave her made work almost impossible. 'It's very Shakespearean. It's very much a tragedy.'

But what happened to Glenn?

Nicks throws back her hair. 'Glenn was OK, because it was just for one day.'

Stevie Nicks lives in a large, extremely beautiful house built in the 1930s in the American colonial style, situated in the hills behind Santa Monica. She is in a meeting when I arrive, and I am shown into the library - a wood-panelled room, the walls hung with pre-Raphaelite miniatures and tapestries. On the bookshelves are volumes about the Kabbalah, Madame Blavatsky and Arthurian legend; a copy of The Johns Hopkins Consumer Guide to Drugs sits beside Luxury Hotels of the World.

At length Nicks appears and leads me down the hall, past a store room filled with travel wardrobes - her stage costumes - and into a spacious sitting-room. There is a velvet chaise-longue draped in silk, Persian carpets, carved tables. Home recording equipment, keyboards and a couple of guitars stand in one corner. Nicks moves among the collection of colourful Art Deco lamps that stand on every surface, carefully orchestrating the ambient light. 'That's the famous blue lamp that's been in lots of photos; that's a Tiffany,' she says. 'And so is that one. I don't know about the others.'

Even though she is now 59, as Stevie Nicks puts it, 'I still look very much like me', which is to say unreconstructed fantasy flower-child: kohl-eyed, bee-stung lips, wrapped in a muted symphony of rustling satin and chiffon, legs encased in pointed heel, knee-high black suede boots. In Fleetwood Mac's heyday in the late 1970s Nicks was 'the mystical one' whose ethereal appearance, love of gothic romances and songs about witches, gypsies and dreams lent her a certain evanescently wistful air. 'Sweet, fragile, airy-fairy,' she says with a laugh. 'That was this person on drugs.'

Nobody survives in the rock'n'roll business for 30 years by being 'airy-fairy', however, and there is a palpable vein of toughness under the cordial, disarmingly confessional manner. Nicks is delightful company; but you wouldn't want to cross her.

Nicks was married once, fleetingly, but she has no children and no permanent partner. She shares the house with her god-daughter, who is in her early twenties, and who lives in the guesthouse above the garage. Nicks has lived here for two years, and it was a mistake, she says, from day one. So she is moving to a penthouse apartment on the beach and the house is on the market.

'I saw it, and there was this big family living here that obviously loved it. So there was a vibe here. And something in me thought, maybe I can have that. I was not here three days before I thought, what the hell do I here? I was too shallow and stupid to realise that it wasn't the house I'd fallen in love with but the mom and the dad and the four kids, and the smells of the cooking.' She sighs. It is, she reflects, a house 'for adults. And even though I'm pushing 60 I don't feel that I'm that old yet.'

Does she see beauty when she looks in the mirror? 'Sometimes I still think that I'm looking OK. And other times I look at myself and I go, "Oh, my God, you're so old." '

She pulls a face and laughs. 'I wrote a song once called The Prettiest Girl in the World, and that was a long time ago. But when you've been the prettiest girl in the world - and I don't mean the most beautiful girl; I just mean a really pretty girl, a really talented girl, a girl who writes really good songs. When you've been all that and you're a lot older, it is hard. You see the lines' - Nicks runs her fingers along the thickening curve of her jaw - 'and you start to see this happening; and even though I'm thinner than I was a long time ago, you see your body changing and you go, well maybe this is not age-appropriate and I shouldn't wear the chiffon scarf any more; and then you go, but if I'm going to change the whole thing it's not me any more.' She shakes the thought to one side. 'I'm just terribly excited to get into my rock'n'roll penthouse and out of here. I feel old here.'

I don't know if Stevie Nicks's passport describes her as 'rock'n'roll star', but it is the term she uses to describe herself, completely unselfconsciously, as if rock'n'roll star were a vocation, or a destiny embodied in the genes.

Nicks's father was a business executive - a vice-president of Greyhound Buses, the president of a food company - whose work took the family on a journey across the south-west of America - Arizona, Los Angeles, New Mexico, El Paso, Salt Lake City, San Francisco. The elder of two child-ren (she has a brother, Christopher), as a young girl she was fixated on two things - dressing up and singing. Her teenage heroines were Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane and Janis Joplin. In high school she met another aspiring rock star, Lindsey Buckingham. They became a couple and moved to Los Angeles, performing together as a duo, both singing and songwriting. In 1975 they recorded an album, Buckingham Nicks, that led to them being invited to join Fleetwood Mac. A British blues band that had transplanted to America, Mac had already enjoyed a distinctly chequered history with one founding member, Peter Green, succumbing to LSD psychosis, and another, Jeremy Spencer, leaving to join the religious cult the Children of God.

The addition of Buckingham and Nicks brought a pop sensibility and a clutch of exhilarating songs that rejuvenated the group. An eponymous album went to number one in America; the follow-up, Rumours, released in 1977, became a phenomenon. By then, Nicks and Buckingham were breaking up after five years together. The seven-year marriage of the band's bass player, John McVie, and pianist, Christine McVie, was coming to an end. The drummer, Mick Fleetwood, was in the midst of divorce proceedings with his wife. Rumours fastidiously chronicled this tangled and incestuous emotional mess - made more tangled still when Fleetwood and Nicks began a surreptitious affair that ended when Fleetwood switched his affections to Nicks's friend Sara Recor - the inspiration for Nicks's song Sara. Nicks, meanwhile, embarked on an affair with Don Henley of the Eagles.

Rumours went on to sell more than 30 million copies around the world (it remains one of the biggest-selling records of all time), launching the group into the realm of imperious self-indulgence more commonly associated with dictators of small African countries. During the group's Tusk tour in 1979, Nicks insisted that each hotel room she stayed in should be painted pink and equipped with a white piano. I remember being present at a photo-shoot for the group in LA the following year. A certain tension permeated the air, and at one point a crisis loomed when one of the group discovered that the champagne that had been provided was not of the preferred vintage; a minion was dispatched to fetch more. The shoot took less than two hours. But enough gourmet food had been provided to feed Burkina Faso. 'And nobody ate a bite, right?' Nicks says with a knowing shake of her head. 'If we'd just counted the meals that we ordered and were never eaten it was probably a million.'

Between the cocaine and the banquets, the sports cars and the Hollywood mansions, Mick Fleetwood went bankrupt - twice. 'Because Mick didn't write songs, so he didn't make the publishing money that Christine and Stevie and Lindsey did,' Nicks says. 'But Mick spent just as much money. Millions. So if Mick Fleetwood could go back right now and change that, he would.'

Nicks and Buckingham were more careful, retaining an independent business management firm to handle their affairs when they joined Fleetwood Mac. 'So even though we spent a lot of money, a lot of it was invested.'

What was it invested in?

'I have no idea.'

Fame, and the privilege and separation it brings, has a way of incapacitating people, insulating them not only from other people, but from the practicalities of life. When I ask Nicks for her zip code she admits she has no idea what it is. Or her house number, or her telephone number. Her driving licence ran out in 1978, and she has never renewed it. 'My life is very cloistered really,' she says. 'Because I don't go anywhere by myself, you know what I mean? I'm very, very famous, and I walk in somewhere and people are, like, "Oh, my God!" And I love it, and it's sweet and I sign autographs. But on the other side of that, my assistant and I get in the car and go to the mall; I'm certainly not going to give up shopping. But I would seldom get in a car all by myself.'

When she and Buckingham were living together and struggling, before Fleetwood Mac, Nicks did everything: she kept house, worked as a waitress and a cleaner. 'I made the money that supported Lindsey and me, and I paid for the apartment and the car and everything. And I loved that.'

A few years ago she went to see a psychologist - she was having a 'horrible' menopause, she says, and wanted to talk to an older woman about it - 'and she said to me that in a way the saddest day of your life was the day you joined Fleetwood Mac, because that was when you ceased to be caretaker and became somebody that everybody else took care of. And she was absolutely spot on. Because I'm very much… if my family's coming here for Christmas, I'm the one who's making the house ready and fixing the beds. I don't have people around to do that kind of stuff for me.

'The people that I have gone out with will tell you that I'm a great girlfriend. I want to make sure that you have the llama hot-water bottle, and the perfect cashmere blanket and the exact perfect pillow. I know about all that stuff.'

Nicks recorded her first solo album, Bella Donna, in 1981, and has released eight albums in the years since. Her fortunes dipped radically in the mid-1990s, when she was struggling with her addiction to Klonopin, but her last studio album, Trouble in Shangri-La, released in 2001, went multi-platinum, giving her her greatest success in two decades. At the same time she continued to play a part in the ongoing soap opera that has been Fleetwood Mac. She formally left the band in 1993, but rejoined in 1997. The last album by the band, Say You Will, was recorded in 2003, but Nicks shows scant enthusiasm for the prospect of another reunion. Christine McVie retired from touring in 1998, and Nicks says she has no interest in working with the group unless McVie returns. 'I don't like it as the boys' club. We could make millions and millions of dollars touring again. But I just don't know if I want to go again without Chris.'

This dedication to her career has not been without cost. Nicks 'pretty much sold my soul to the devil a long time ago', as she puts it, so that 'I could follow this dream fully and completely, and not be wrapped up in children and husbands and boyfriends and all of that. I chose not to have child-ren.' Her brief marriage in 1983, she says, 'doesn't count'. It was an odd episode. That year her best friend Robin died of leukaemia three days after giving birth to a son, Matthew. A grieving Nicks convinced the bereaved husband, Kim Anderson, that they should marry and raise the child together. 'Completely crazy.' She shrugs. 'We were all in such insane grief, just completely deranged. The families were just outraged at what we were doing; in a lot of people's eyes it was very blasphemous. But I didn't care. All I cared about was that little boy, Matthew.' The marriage lasted only a few weeks, before Nicks made the decision to bring it to an end. 'I said, "You have to take the baby and go back to Minnesota", where he was from, where he had family, "because, Kim, I'm a rock'n'roll star. It's what I do, it's who I am." ' She didn't see Matthew for the next eight years, but she is now putting him through college in Atlanta.

There are the great loves of your life, she says, then there are the loves of your life, and then there are the companions of your life - 'there's all the different kind of love affairs that you have. But all the great loves of my life wouldn't have been any better at settling down than me.'

And who has been the greatest love of her life?

'My great, great love was Joe Walsh.'

Joe Walsh? Of the Eagles? I struggle to keep the note of surprise out of my voice.

'It's crazy, isn't it?'

I am no expert on Nicks's romantic adventures, but I've done my research. Her affairs with Buckingham, Fleetwood, Don Henley, the record executive Jimmy Iovine - all are well chronicled. But nowhere have I found a single reference to Joe Walsh.

'1983 to 1986,' Nicks says crisply. 'I don't know - why do you love somebody? Why do you love them so much that when they walk in the room your heart jumps out of your chest? I don't know. But I fell in love with Joe at first sight from across the room, in the bar at the Mansions Hotel in Dallas. I looked at him and I walked across the room and I sat on the bar stool next to him, and two seconds later I crawled into his lap, and that was it.

'We were probably the perfect, complete, crazy pair. He was the one that I would have married, and that I would probably have changed my life around for…' She pauses. 'A little bit. Not a lot. But he wouldn't have changed his life either.'

The reason they broke up, she says, is that they were both 'really seriously drug addicts. We were a couple on the way to hell.'

The relationship finally ended when Walsh got on a plane and went to Australia 'to get away from me, basically. He thought - or so I'm told by my friends that Joe told - that one of us was going to die, and the other person would not be able to save them. And I did think I was going to die, absolutely. It took me a long, long time to get over it - if I ever got over it. Because there was no other man in the world for me. And it's the same today, even though Joe is married and has two sons. He met somebody in rehab and got married. And I think he's happy.'

Oddly enough, Nicks once said very much the same thing about Lindsey Buckingham, telling one journalist that Buckingham was 'my first love and my love for all time. But we can't ever be together. He has a lovely wife, Kristen, who I really like… I look at him now and just go, "Oh, Stevie, you made a mistake." '

Nicks shoots me a look when I mention this. 'Well, he was my great musical love, and that's very different. Lindsey and I both loved each other not just because we loved Lindsey and Stevie, but because we loved what Lindsey and Stevie did. And that is definitely what kept Lindsey and me together for as long as we did stay together. It's not that he's not a great love - he is a great love. And I write songs about him to this day. I don't know why. But whenever we're together we fight - to this day.'

Nicks thinks on this. She doesn't want people to think that she thinks love doesn't exist, she says, or that she has given up on finding it for herself.

'It's not that. It's just that I am fine without it because it's like I'm involved in a love affair all of the time with my music and what I do. But if the right man walked into my life today and said, "Will you go out to dinner with me tonight?" and I felt that thing, I would absolutely do it. But I love what I do so much that I've never sat around and worried about it.'

She has always tried to be a good person, she says. 'I've tried very hard to use my fame, and my money and my power to do good things.' Last year she established her own charity project, the Stevie Nicks Soldier's Angel Foundation, which aims to use music in the rehabilitation of US servicemen and women wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan. The idea for the foundation came to Nicks after a visit to the Walter Reed military hospital in Washington in 2005. ('I walked into Walter Reed today a single woman with no children,' she wrote on her website journal. 'I walked out a mother, a wife, a girlfriend, a sister, a daughter, a nurse, a patient's advocate - a changed woman. What I saw today will never leave my heart.')

'And believe me, talk about feeling old.' Nicks laughs. 'I go in and some of these kids don't even know who I am. So of course I tell them.'

The foundation has provided hundreds of iPods to injured servicemen and women. 'In my estimation music is the best thing you can possibly give to them, because it's the only thing that's going to get them up out of the bed,' Nicks says. 'So I try to do good things - things that I can make happen that maybe the next person couldn't make happen. I don't think I'm a prima donna at all. I was the same person when I was a waitress and cleaning people's houses.'

Her life has long followed a pattern. She rises sometime around midday, and goes to bed between three and 4am: 'My favourite time is midnight.' She writes songs and listens to music and goes on tour. 'If you asked me, "What's your idea of a good time?" I'd say a fantastic grand piano, overlooking the ocean if possible; or going to a studio and being able to record; to write a new song and listen back to something I wrote yesterday and really put it together.'

She is working on a new project now, inspired by The Mabinogion Tetralogy, by the American author Evangeline Walton, and its connection to what is probably Nicks's most famous song, Rhiannon. The Tetralogy is an epic retelling of stories from the Welsh Mabinogi - a collection of myths and legends that are believed to date from the 12th century. Nicks had never heard of Walton or the Mabinogion when she wrote Rhiannon in 1973.

'I'd read another novel about two sisters, Branwen and Rhiannon. I wrote the song about Rhiannon, and bought an Afghan hound and named her Branwen. So it could have been the other way around, you know.'

In 1978, after a fan had introduced her to the Tetralogy, she contacted Walton and visited her at her home in Tucson. 'She was living in this little tract home, and you went inside and it was all, like, gothic and curtains. And right on the mantelpiece was a big stone lion inscribed with the words "Song of Rhiannon". I thought, this is so wild - the world is small somehow, you know? If you look at the dates, it was kind of like Evangeline's work ended on Rhiannon, and mine began. It's almost like this has been laid out to me, by the gods - or whomever - that this will be the next 20 years of my life.'

Three years ago Nicks and a couple of girlfriends spent three months in Hawaii brainstorming the Tetralogy with a view to translating it into a musical work. 'It could be a movie. It could be a record. It could be a couple of records. It could be a mini-series. It could be an animated cartoon. There is no end to what this could be, because the stories are fantastic. We started in that totally scholarly, you-are-a-student-of-Welsh-mythology place. And then I got a call from my manager saying, "I need you to come to Vegas right now because Celine Dion and Elton John are playing back to back at the Caesar's theatre, and they want you to do a week there. It's really good money and you don't have to travel very far." And I'm, like, "Howard, I am on a spiritual quest here; I really cannot come to Vegas." And he's, like, "Stevie, you have to, please, just come tomorrow." '

So what did she do? Stevie Nicks throws back her head and laughs. 'We went to Vegas.'

'Crystal Visions… The Very Best of Stevie Nicks' is released on September 24

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