The moonlight confessions of Stevie Nicks
By AMY KAUFMAN - LA Times
Stevie Nicks was in her early 30s when her father told her she’d never get married.
She had just released her solo album, 1981’s “Bella Donna,” embarking on a second career that would fill any time she wasn’t spending with Fleetwood Mac. Her music, Nicks’ dad said, would always consume her.
She considered the possibility. She certainly was not a woman who liked to be told what to do. Still, the words stung: “No man would be happy being Mr. Stevie Nicks for very long.” Had he doomed her to a life of solitude simply by speaking the thought into existence?
“Nobody,” she laughs now, decades later, “dooms me to anything but myself.”
At 72, Nicks has had a few great loves. Some we know about — Lindsey Buckingham, Don Henley, JD Souther — and many we don’t. She did get married once, back in 1983, an ill-fated three-month relationship with the husband of her best friend, who had just died of leukemia. She would have considered taking another spouse, had she met the right person — someone who wasn’t jealous of her, who got a kick out of her crazy girlfriends. But ultimately, her father pretty much got it right: She has yet to feel more devoted toward a man than her muse.
Which is why, in part, this pandemic has hit her so hard. Two projects due out this month have, she says, offered a vestige of normalcy: “24 Karat Gold: The Concert,” a cinematic version of her 2017 solo show, and a politically minded new single, “Show Them the Way,” which will be accompanied by a Cameron Crowe-directed music video. She’s also decided that she wants to make another solo album and plans to spend the rest of quarantine turning the poetry from her journals into lyrics.
But with touring on hold, she’s bored and depressed, conditions she’s claimed to never before suffer from. She’s cripplingly afraid of catching the coronavirus, fearing that going on a ventilator would leave her hoarse and ruin her voice.
“I have put a magical shield around me, because I am not going to give up the last eight years — what I call my last youthful years — of doing this,” she vows. “I want to be able to pull up those black velvet platform boots and put on my black chiffon outfit and twirl onto a stage again.”
It’s 9 p.m. on a Saturday when Nicks first calls from her home in the Pacific Palisades, where she has been sequestered with a close friend, her assistant and her housekeeper.
She has always been a night owl, but has recently become nocturnal, typically going to bed around 8 a.m. She attributes the change in her sleep pattern to the news, which she says she watches constantly. Usually, she likes to open the French doors to her bedroom, but tonight it’s dark outside because of the wildfires — “and not like, foggy, romantic dark. It’s just weird dark.” The smoke and ash in the air triggers her asthma, so she is not even venturing into her backyard.
Nicks is speaking from a landline. She has a personal line that she dances around when it rings, wondering “Who could it be? Is this a two-hour call? Is this going to be a tragedy?” and an emergency line to which her assistant attends. She does not have a computer. She does have an iPhone, but it doesn’t have cellular service and she uses it only as a camera.
Despite her distaste for social media, Nicks has gone viral a few times in recent months. Earlier this week, the internet discovered a TikTok video in which “doggface208" skateboards while singing along to Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams,” swigging from a container of cran-raspberry juice and generally living his best life.
After the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Nicks paid tribute to the Supreme Court justice, admitting her into the “Rock and Roll Hall of Fame of Life.” (Nicks is the only woman to be inducted twice into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, first with Fleetwood Mac in 1998 and then on her own in 2019.) The reactions to the RBG post were largely positive, but she saw one comment that ignored her sentiment entirely and instead lambasted her for her band’s interpersonal drama.
“They didn’t even care about what I had written about Ruth and went right to the breakup of Fleetwood Mac and Lindsey Buckingham,” she says. “I was like, ‘We’re talking about the death of a great Supreme Court judge, and you are yelling at me about something that happened two-and-a-half years ago? What are you, insane?’ I’m reeling from it. But I’m also like, OK: I can never be on social media.”
Nicks’ troll was referring to the highly publicized 2018 firing of Buckingham, who joined Fleetwood Mac as a lead guitarist and vocalist alongside then-girlfriend Nicks in 1974. The group’s tumult is the stuff of music legend: After ending her on-off again relationship with Buckingham, in 1977 Nicks had a brief affair with then-married drummer Mick Fleetwood. Singer Christine McVie, meanwhile, was in the midst of her own clandestine relationship with the band’s lighting director, ultimately leading to her divorce from bassist John McVie.
When Buckingham was axed from the group, he sued for lost wages — claiming he would have collected between $12 million and $14 million in two months of touring with Fleetwood Mac. (He was replaced by Mike Campbell of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and Crowded House’s Neil Finn.) In legal documents, Buckingham says his firing came days after the band’s appearance at the January 2018 MusiCares Person of the Year ceremony. He alleges that he was later told that Nicks thought he’d mocked her on stage at the event while she was delivering a speech; she was apparently so upset that she told the rest of Fleetwood Mac she’d walk if he wasn’t cut from the band.
Nicks is reluctant to discuss the details of that night, though she admits it was the “straw that broke the camel’s back.”
“I never planned for that to happen,” she says hesitantly. “Any time we re-formed to do a tour or a record, I always walked in with hope in my heart. And I just was so disappointed. I felt like all the wind had gone out of my sails.”
There’s melancholy in her voice when she discusses the split, which she describes as a “long time coming.” She was always hopeful that “things would get better” but found herself noticing she was increasingly sad with Fleetwood Mac and more at peace in the “good, creative happy world” with her solo band.
“I just felt like a dying flower all the time,” she says. “I stayed with him from 1968 until that night. It’s a long time. And I really could hear my parents — I could hear my mom saying, ‘Are you really gonna do this for the rest of your life?’ And I could hear my dad saying in his very pragmatic way — because my dad really liked Lindsey —‘I think it’s time for you and Lindsey to get a divorce.’ It’s a very unfortunate thing. It makes me very, very sad.”
She says she hasn’t spoken to Buckingham in a couple of years, though she did write him a note after his February 2019 heart attack: “You better take care of yourself. You better take it easy and you better do everything they tell you and get your voice back and feel the grace that you have made it through this.”
Nicks has cataloged the ups and downs of her life in journals — she estimates she has roughly one per year of her life — and she plans to leave many of them to her goddaughters, of whom she has 11 or 12; she can’t be certain. She chose most of her goddaughters at birth — asking their parents if she could fulfill the role — and relishes the way they keep her “totally young and up on everything.” She loves to spoil them all with gifts imbued with meaning, like a pair of pink strappy heels she found at a store in Australia and deemed “Cinderella slippers.”
Tokens are important to Nicks. In 1977, she began having gold moon necklaces made to give as gifts to those she felt needed them. Over the years, she’s bestowed them to celebrities (the Haim sisters, Taylor Swift, Tavi Gevinson), soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and Make-a-Wish recipients. Members of the coven — her “Sisters of the Moon” — are told the moons are lucky charms and to pass them along to another in need, should the moment arise.
Nicks is wearing the signature necklace in “24 Karat Gold,” the concert special slated to play in theaters for two nights only, Oct. 21 and 25. (A CD version comes out Oct. 30; streaming plans for the film have yet to be determined.)
In May, Nicks flew to Chicago, where Joe Thomas, the film’s director, was finessing a cut of it. The final version features 17 songs, only four of which are Fleetwood Mac hits. The show emphasizes Nicks’ solo career — MTV standards like “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around,” “Stand Back” and “Edge of Seventeen.” Performing music from her “dark, gothic trunk of lost songs,” she tells the audience, makes her feel like she’s a 20-year-old embarking on a new career. “This is not the same Stevie Nicks show you’ve seen a million times,” she explains, “because I am different.”
On the road, Wachtel says, Nicks travels via private plane because she has declared herself too old for tour buses. She loves lavish hotel rooms with pianos, a perk Wachtel thinks she’s earned: “She doesn’t have a husband. She doesn’t have a boyfriend. She wants a good room to be able to play her music as loud as she wants.”
Nicks was just as specific when it came to editing the concert film. In the editing suite with Thomas, she insisted that “dorky” over usage of the phrase “like” be excised and was exacting when it came to the way she looked.
“He’d show me something and I’m, like, ‘Are you serious? You’re actually thinking about using that horrifically bad shot of me?’” she recalls, describing how she’d proceed to pace the room, popping breath mints into her mouth. “If you’re a woman and you’re not 30, you want to look as good as you can. You start to realize that men see women completely differently than we see ourselves.”
“She is so particular — and God bless her for that,” says Thomas. “I mean, Stevie has the best skin I’ve ever seen — she should have her own cosmetic line. You sit there and you go, ‘People over 65 would love to look this good.’ And then she gives you a look that could fry your eyeballs.”
Nicks cares about her appearance and has been on Weight Watchers since 2005. She’s never considered being a spokeswoman for the brand because she prefers to follow one of the company’s now-defunct plans from 15 years ago. One of the biggest reasons she wants to stay in shape is because her stage clothes are custom-made, and she says it would be too costly and annoying to have them remade.
She traces the origin of her style — an amalgam of goth hippie, bohemian Californian girl and Victorian priestess — to 1970, when she and Buckingham were still an eponymous duo. Before their show at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, Nicks saw a woman walk by on the street. She was a vision in mauve and pink, with an edged-out layered skirt, riding jacket and cream-colored platform boots. Her hair was done like a Gibson Girl. And Nicks wanted to be her.
“This girl obviously had some money, because this was not a cheap outfit. It was beautiful, and I went, ‘Oh, that’s exactly how I want to look,’” she remembers. Still, she wore her street clothes on stage for another year until a friend introduced her to a designer who helped her bring her vision to life. On paper, Nicks sketched a stick girl with bell sleeves and a top hat. She has never gone on stage without some version of this uniform since — save for a stint in the early 2000s, when she hurt her hip and was forced to wear tennis shoes.
She put on some of these clothes for the first time a few nights ago, filming the music video for her new song inside her home. Without her makeup artist on hand, it took her three hours to put on her face. The eyeliner, she says, was the most difficult part, because she had to redo it “about 50 times.” But the experience made her feel like herself again: “It was like, ‘Oh, I’m still alive.’”
“Show Them the Way,” due Oct. 9, was born out of a dream Nicks had in the run-up to the 2008 presidential election. In it, she was invited to perform at a political benefit for icons of history. Martin Luther King Jr. led her by the arm into a ballroom where John F. Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy and John Lewis were seated, awaiting her. The dream was so vivid that the instant she awoke, she wrote it down and within days, put it to music.
But it was only this year that she decided to record it for release — viewing it as a hopeful balm during this “very strange and dangerous time.” And though she expresses displeasure with the current political landscape, she stops short of endorsing any candidate.
“As we get closer to the election, I probably will state who I am for,” she says. “But not now. Well — I’m not for Trump, so that’s that.”
She says she has been “brokenhearted” since the death of Ginsburg. Nicks believes that people like Ginsburg go to heaven, where they continue to look down on us. After the death of her mother in 2012, Nicks started to believe that the dead send signs to the living. Five months after her mom passed, Nicks contracted a head infection. Her doctor instructed her to drink electrolytes, so she began “pounding” Diet Gatorade. Before long, she was also suffering from acid reflux.
“It was burning up my chest and my throat,” she says. “And all of a sudden, I felt this little tap on my shoulder and heard my mom go: ‘It’s the Gatorade.’”
There have been countless other moments like this since. If she can’t find something — an errant earring, a pack of matches, a book of poetry — she voices the item aloud and her mom helps her find it.
“It’s so real and creepy, and I always just go ‘Thank you, Barbara.’ I sometimes feel I have more of a relationship with my mom since she’s been dead than I did before she died.”
Nicks has long felt a connection to the spiritual world. For years, one of her goals has been to make a movie about the mythological Celtic deity Rhiannon. When she wrote the song “Rhiannon” in 1973, she had little knowledge of the folklore behind the name. But five years later, a fan sent her four paperback novels in a Manila envelope — author Evangeline Walton’s adaptation of the ancient British Mabinogion. Nicks was so transfixed by the literature that she eventually bought the rights to Walton’s work in the hopes of bringing the epic to the big screen.
Because of the scope of the story, it was later decided that the movie should be a television miniseries, and earlier this year Nicks says she finally signed a deal with a studio to make it. She has 10 songs that she’s never released, still on cassette tapes in a suitcase, set aside specifically for the project.
Despite her 2014 turn on “American Horror Story,” Nicks has no plans to play a major role in the miniseries, though she’s not opposed to the idea of “riding by on a white horse or something.” She won’t dish on her dream cast but says that Harry Styles “is definitely in the running.”
“I’m going, ‘Harry, you cannot age one day. You have to stay exactly as you are,’” she says with a laugh. “I’ve already sold him on it.”
Styles is one of the many young artists who counts Nicks as both a mentor and an inspiration. Before he finished his latest record, “Fine Line,” he invited Nicks and five of her friends to his home to listen to it. They sat in his living room and listened to the whole album three times, sharing opinions until sunrise. When the 26-year-old debuted the record at the Forum late last year, he invited Nicks to join him on stage for a rendition of “Landslide” — “a huge thrill, because he made a choice to be a rock ‘n’ roll star and not a pop star,” she says. “That was a risk for a guy from a boy band. That was like Fleetwood Mac doing ‘Tusk’ after ‘Rumours.’ I was very proud of him.”
Asked if an older version of Styles would be her type, Nicks chuckles.
“Well, that would be a good thing,” she says. She hasn’t been in love since the early 2000s but has no plans to “sit in a bar with a bunch of my friends and wait for some weirdo guys to come over and buy us drinks” once the pandemic ends.
“Now, if I was even, like, 30 or 40 or 50, I would never use a dating app. I find that to be totally desperate,” Nicks says. “I watch all those crime shows. Are you setting yourself up with an ax murderer or something?
There’s a big part of her that believes you’ll never find something if you’re looking for it. But at her core, Nicks is a romantic — a woman who says she’s fallen in love at first sight four times and thinks her next paramour might always be around the next corner. “It’s not ever out of the realm of possibility. It’s just not very probable,” she sighs.
For now, love lives on in her music.
“I can sit down at the piano and take out a poem that I wrote right in the middle of a really great relationship and make it into a song. Right now, at 72 years old. So when people say, ‘Can you still write romantic songs?’ I absolutely can.”