May 4, 2001
Nicks reaches 'Shangri-La'
By Edna Gundersen, USA TODAY
Trouble in Shangri-La, Stevie Nicks' first solo album since 1994's Street Angel, dwells on the illusions and disillusions of paradise. She found a little piece of that mythical haven in Trouble's release this week.
"This is the first time in a long time that I completed the vision I started with," Nicks says. "This record is exactly what I wanted to give the world. I'm not going to drive down the street, hear my song on the radio and flip over a cliff because I can't believe I let it slip by."
But will Nicks, 52, find a reception on youth-obsessed pop radio?
"I'm not worried," she says. "This is the best I could do. I bled for this record. If it's a huge bomb, I'll just move into film and animated features and children's stories and coffee-table books. I'm too old to get caught up in competition. I never did. If a girl wanted a guy I had, I said, 'Here, take him. I'm out of the race.' I don't whine about not being on radio."
Nicks found allies in guests Macy Gray, Sarah McLachlan, Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks and especially Sheryl Crow, who co-produced five songs, including her original It's Only Love.
"Sheryl and I had good chemistry from the start," Nicks says. "I needed somebody who could understand my simple songs and make them a little more intricate and complex. She did that."
Crow says, "Stevie and Linda Ronstadt were the voices of my musical upbringing. I would have liked to be Mick Jagger, but that was too sexually challenging. Stevie was this earth-mother mystical hippie that girls wanted to hang with and boys wanted to be with. I found a kindred spirit in Stevie. She's been through a lot and brings so many colors to a record. And she was very focused."
Not initially, judging from Trouble's troubled history. Nicks embarked on the album after her 1994 tour but hit a series of roadblocks, including the Fleetwood Mac reunion ("It mows everything else down"), her Enchanted box set and tour, a label relocation and a debilitating addiction to Klonopin, typically prescribed for depression, anxiety and panic disorder.
"It's a horrible, dangerous drug," says Nicks, an addict for eight years. "Doctors are dying to put you on drugs: 'Feeling a little nervous? Here, let's mask everything so you don't have a personality anymore.'
"The overwhelming feeling of wellness and calm equals blah, nothing. My creativity went away. The fabulous Stevie everyone knew just disappeared. I became what I call the 'whatever' person. I didn't care about anything anymore. I got very heavy. One day I looked in the mirror and said, 'I don't know you.' And I went straight to the hospital for 47 days."
Humiliated by her behavior under the influence, Nicks lost her creative confidence until a pivotal encounter with longtime pal and collaborator Tom Petty restored her pride. They met for dinner in her native Phoenix to discuss his possible participation on the record.
"I was horrified about things I did to people during eight years of Klonopin and Prozac," she says. "I almost couldn't get over it. Tom recognized that. He said, 'I know you're upset, but you didn't go looking for those drugs on the street. Nobody's mad at you anymore. Everyone is over it except you.' It snapped my brain."
He turned down her invitation and told her, "You didn't have babies because you wanted to write songs, so go home and create more babies."
Nicks recalls, "I went straight to my living room and started to write. That dinner at the Ritz-Carlton was worth a jillion dollars."
Nicks splits time between Los Angeles and Phoenix, devoting scant free time to favorite soap operas, Pilates training and her Yorkie, Sulamith (after a German artist). It's a serene lifestyle compared with her youth, which she promises to reveal in an autobiography.
"I've had a completely wild, crazy and exotic life, and I absolutely want to tell that outrageous story," Nicks says. "I'll write it when I'm 90. I'm not comfortable doing it now, because all the people are still alive — and married. It would be a shame to change the names."
She's less shy about naming names on current pop charts, and her observations are more generous than expected from a seasoned survivor.
"I give Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera a million points," she says. "They've been Mouseketeers their whole life, working their butts off. They could be around in 20 years."
But she can't resist a parting shot of advice.
"When I started out, some writers called me a sex symbol," she says. "I always pointed out that I was a songwriter. If you want to stay in this business, you better write your own songs, because any career built on being cute is doomed. Nobody stays cute forever."