July 11-17, 2001
DREAM WEAVER: STEVIE NICKS CONTINUES TO PROVIDE REFUGE FROM THE ROUTINE
by Holly Gleason
Halloween, 1978. A pair of beat-up red suede platform slingbacks supports almost 90 pounds of 14-year-old girl. She comes encased in a long net ballerina skirt that is almost as ratty as the shoes, a Danskin leotard with ribbon straps and a giant velvet blouse, which flows behind her. Her hair falls in Botticelli waves from being braided wet and left for two days. Boho baglady searching for crystalline visions? Coventry waif looking for matches to light to stay warm through the night in perfect Hans Christian Andersen fashion? Shattered psyche hoping to get back to her homeland, somewhere over the rainbow – though not nearly as far from the Haight as worlds from this tidy Midwestern street littered with wannabe goblins, footballers, cowboys and princesses?
A refugee from a Rickie Lee Jones street valentine this is not, but merely a young girl whose Halloweens were spent in homage to the whirling rock divas who came to her bedroom offering identities to supplement the plaid-skirt-and-knee-socks that were the bondage of girls’ school. Over the years, they’d all play out – Linda Ronstadt in her big flower behind the ear and cut-offs, Nicolette Larson in her flowered Willa Cather prairie-home-companion dress and braids, Chrissie Hynde in her leather jacket, lace gloves and too-heavy black eyeliner and, yes, Miss R.L. Jones, with her vintage ’40s Hooverette dress and bebop barette jauntily cocked on her straighter-than-a-preacher hair.
But perhaps the most identifiable, most charged of the personas plied in the name of candy from strangers was that of Stephanie Nicks, a rock and roll angel from the Mendocino, by way of Arizona. The daughter of a former Greyhound exec knee-deep in chasing the American Dream by way of the corporate ladder, she fell headfirst into the music’s sway as she traveled with her parents.
There was nothing raw or bawdy about Stevie Nicks. She sang of landslides bringing down one’s reflection in the sheer rush of drowning in love; Welsh witches flying the moors in the headlong rush towards good and the ephemerality of pure love; the recriminations of broken promises, haunting losses and silver springs; and the way dreams and broken heartbeats echo in the back of one’s head until she’s about crazy from the incessant pounding that’s both a reminder of the want and a mocking of the unattainability of it all.
Gypsy. Storm. Ballerina. A promise of something more heady than most Midwesterners dared consider. A loaded proposition who defied convention, Nicks opened one’s head to the possibilities, offered a sprinkle of fairy dust to make mundane realities sparkle with the magic her life seemed steeped in.
And it wasn’t about the musky insistence of carnality – though the boys wanted to be in love with her and the girls wanted to be that nymph who held the boys in sway without flashing their pheromones. Stevie Nicks was someone purer, more exotic, captivating for her willingness to march to the beat of a different world turning.
When Bella Donna hit, it reaffirmed all things known but not articulated. AWiccan poet, a pirouetting force beyond nature, she wove images of white roses, leather and lace, glitter,and dreams grown just the teensiest bit battered from constant tending and inevitable indifference. She had Tom Petty and Don Henley to sing her songs and a band that flexed with the same crisp tumescence that made the Heartbreakers and Bob Dylan muscular yet melodic.
It was then she began taking hostages – and the little girls went willingly, surrendering the gray truth of normal for the hope that one day they, too, might be taken by the wind or swaddled in a satin promise of romance. Sheryl Crow, Courtney Love, the Dixie Chicks, Sara McLachlan and Destiny’s Child (who throw their arms around "Edge of Seventeen" for their brand-new groove "Bootylicious") were among the faithful picking up guitars to plait magic and music.
Along the way, Nicks shattered hearts, bruised emotions, Betty Forded, gained and lost weight, sought hope and truth and beauty – and continued making music in her black batwing dresses, top hats, and six-inch platforms to help the diminutive goddess tower over the sighing hearts thrown at her feet.
The music sustained her. If her albums weren’t as total in their satisfaction as Bella Donna or the harder-rocking The Wild Heart – with its sheaves of funk from Prince’s own patchouli-and-paisley vault – there were always moments, always markers to say the magic wasn’t extinguished like a candle in the window meeting its match in a chill draft.
Nicks’ latest, Trouble in Shangri-La, finds the path back to her true center. A musing on the cost of the rock and roll life, she considers faithless loves, rootless realities, hope that maintains – if flickers – and a self-knowledge that provides a blueprint for survival.
Wiser, but no less a cosmic dancer, Stevie Nicks still surrenders to the backbeat’s throb, an electric guitar’s serrated edge and the hypnotic sob of the voice that taught 20 years’ worth of young women to believe in something only suggested in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Not catharsis, so much as a transformation one can live with – and it’s why she’s still out there, keeping the flame tended and serving as a mirror for those dreamers who will not be grounded in the mundane.