Issue 330/331, June 11-18, 2001
Stevie Nicks - Goes her own way
By Todd Gold
It’s after 11 P.M., about the time Stevie Nicks feels most awake in her Spanish-style hillside home overlooking the Pacific. Wearing all black, from her sweater to her painted toenails, she looks fit and healthy, curled up in an overstuffed chair with Sulamith, one of her two pet Yorkies. She gazes out her favorite window, the one with the view that stretches for miles up and down the coast, focusing on the blinking light of a boat moored off the shore. She wonders if there’s any intrigue onboard. As voices waft up from the parking lot of a beach-front fish restaurant, she playfully puts her ear to the screen and says, “You can see and hear everything from up here. It’s very entertaining.”
For most of the 1980s and early 1990s, Nicks wasn’t interested in the view out of any window. Cocaine and then tranquilizers had turned Fleetwood Mac’s willowy beauty into a bloated recluse. But today, at 53, her only addiction is to daytime soap operas (“I manage to watch every day between noon and three”) and nightly jogs on her treadmill while watching shows like Judging Amy and VH1’s Behind the Music. “I’ve seen every one, from Motley Crue to John Denver, with tears running down my face,” says Nicks. “I had no idea everyone had such a hard time.” And her own VH1 profile? “I can recite every word,” she says.
Nicks had a peripatetic childhood, moving from Phoenix to Menlo Park, California, among other places, as her father switched jobs. She was introduced to music by her grandfather, a country-and-western fan. She began singing at a young age, and it was high-school classmate Lindsey Buckingham who persuaded her to join his band. In 1974, the two of them, having made one album as Buckingham Nicks, joined Mike Fleetwood, John McVie and Christine McVie in Fleetwood Mac and within two years they were one of the most successful groups in the world. “There was one show in L.A. where we all arrived in our own helicopters,” she says. “I thought, Wow this is really big.”
Fleetwood Mac eventually wilted under such immense fame, but since the band reunited in 1997 for the album The Dance and the tour that culminated with the group’s induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Nicks has been on a creative roll. Her newly released seventh solo CD, Trouble in Shangri-La, coproduced by her pal Sheryl Crow and featuring guest spots by Macy Gray, Sarah McLachlan and Dixie Chick Natalie Maines, shows that Nicks can still work her magic.
You once said your music unfolded like a book of your life. What chapter does this CD chronicle?
This is a great chapter, a very special one. I was so unhappy with my last one, Street Angel, in 1993. That was just a really terrible time for me.
A lot of people thought you were going to be the next big rock & roll casualty.
I know how worried everybody was. It scared me. But as messed up as I got, I would’ve never let myself slip away like a lot of them did. I had such a belief that I had more to do and in fact hadn’t done the most important thing yet – whatever that is.
In 1986, I had just finished the Rock a Little tour, and before the tour started I knew that I was going to stop doing cocaine because it was killing me. Then I saw an incredible plastic surgeon who told me “Stop right now or it will kill you.” I got in my own car and drove to Betty Ford in Palm Springs. When I came out, I was happy and felt good about myself. But when I didn’t go to AA, friends pushed me to go to a psychiatrist who put me on a drug called Klonopin, a tranquilizer. Actually, first there was Valium, then Xanax, and then there was Klonopin. I asked why I had to take it. He said “Because you need it.” I took it for seven years – until I just turned into a zombie.
How did you end it?
I was hosting a baby shower at my old house. We had a bottle of Lafite Rothschild, some incredible vintage, and there were probably 15 of us there. Everybody had a little sip. And that’s all I remember. I must’ve collapsed. The girls said they found me lying on the carpet, curled up by the fireplace. It looked like I’d tripped over a box or something. They got me up to bed. Later I looked at myself in the bathroom mirror and saw I had some blood on the side of my head. I’m one of those people who doesn’t injure themselves. I was horrified to see that blood. I hadn’t had enough wine. I knew it was the Klonopin. I called my manager and said I wanted to go into the hospital. I spent 45 days in there. When you go on those tranquilizers, you’d better start saving your money so you can afford to go into rehab and stay for two months.
I’ve heard detox from pills is the toughest. How was it for you?
I felt like somebody opened up a door and pushed me into hell.
And your life now?
I’m very proud of myself. I wish it had never happened. I wasn’t myself. Doctors who prescribe these pills are mushing out people’s real moods. I discovered that I like me with all my moods.
How did Tom Petty help you out of your creative rut?
I thank him on the album for his inspirational lecture on April 24, 1995. I was in Phoenix, and he came there. We had dinner at the Ritz-Carlton. I asked if we could write a song when we got back to L.A., and he said, “Why?” I said, “I’ve lost eight years, I weigh 170 pounds and I can’t write. I’m angry.” He said, “Get over it. Go home and write. You’re a writer.” It was an inspirational moment. He made me feel OK and better. He said “Stevie, everything’s OK. You’re alive. Let’s celebrate that.” I went home and wrote the first song on the album, “Trouble in Shangri-La.”
What’s the personal story behind that song?
I wrote it about a lot of people that I know, as well as me. It’s about the idea of making it to the top of your field and not being able to handle it.
What does Fleetwood Mac think of your new album?
Lindsey [Buckingham] said, “It’s the best thing you’ve ever done.” I signed a copy to him and a few days later it was still there. He never listened to it.
Tell me about your friendship with Sheryl Crow.
We met at the Boys on the Side record party at the House of Blues. It was me, Sheryl, Bonnie Pointer, Annie Lennox and Sarah McLachlan. I have Tom [Petty] and Don [Henley] as my friends, the rock-star boys, who I can really discuss my life with and they do the same with me. But I don’t really have a rock-star girlfriend. So Sheryl’s great. We’ve spent so much time together now. All of us even went to Hawaii for a week. If I needed to get out of here, I wouldn’t think twice about packing a bag and going to Sheryl’s. And I only feel that way about Christine McVie.
Has Sheryl asked you for any advice?
She doesn’t have to. I give her advice all the time.
Well, don’t fall in love with a rock & roll star who’s on the road. You’ll just have your heart broken in a jillion pieces. You can’t ever be cute enough to keep that from happening. It’s better if you can be strong.
How is it being in your fifties?
Nobody likes to get old. I don’t love the years going by. I’d just as soon stay 45. But it’s OK because I feel a whole lot better than I did at 35. I’m in better shape, much healthier and much stronger. I was on the treadmill for 61 minutes at two in the morning last night. I work out every day. I like feeling good.
Are you in a relationship now?
Not now. Really, even if I wanted to meet someone, how can I have a relationship? I just got back from a concert in Texas, then I go into rehearsal. If you can’t put the time into a relationship, there’s no reason to bother. I don’t meet that many people. I’m famous. I can’t just go out and meet people. So I live in the realm of romantic possibility. There could be a man around the next corner who says “I love this house, all your nutty friends and that you’re gone for two weeks at a time. Fine. I’ve got a job and a life.” That would be great. But if he doesn’t come along, I’m very happy being single.
What’s an average day for a single babe like you?
When I don’t have anything to do, like an actual day off, I sit here and draw. I have this spectacular view. I’m an artist. I don’t do anything else.
Are you excited to tour?
Yes. I haven’t really done a new show in a long time because I pretty much perform the songs that everybody wants me to. But I’m trying to build the new show around the whole Shangri-La thing – the set, the songs, all of it. Make it kind of a mystical thing.
Do you miss the 1970s?
It was great.
Better than the 1960s?
Better, yes. See, that’s what Sheryl Crow wishes. She should’ve been born a decade earlier. She really wanted to be with the Eagles, Led Zeppelin and all that crew.
Do you still get excited when Henley or one of those guys puts out an album?
Oh, yeah. I just did a benefit concert with the Eagles in Dallas, and when they went into “Peaceful Easy Feeling,” I swear to God, people went crazy.
What do you think of Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera?
If they continue to work as hard as they do now, they’ll probably be around in 20 years. I’d tell them to try to write their own songs because that pays the bills even when you’re not successful anymore.
In contrast to those girls, you’ve never changed your look over all these years.
I always thought I’d find something that worked and stick with it. In the beginning, people wanted to talk to me about being a sex symbol, and I’d say, “Let’s talk about songwriting because that sex symbol stuff doesn’t last.” If that’s all you’ve got, you’re in trouble. There are so many really cute younger women just dying to take your place, so you’ve got to build a reputation on something else besides how cute you are.