Introduction: On the eve of the release of her first new album in six years and a benefit concert in September, Scottsdale's reigning rock goddess tells music editor Andrew Means that despite Trouble in Shangri-La, she's still enchanted with performing. At her benefit show this fall, however, it's all about a single cause: taming a wild heart, not straining one.
About all that's been made public so far is the title: Trouble In Shangri-La, Stevie Nicks' first solo album in six years, has been hitting speed bumps. After a year and a half recording with seven consecutive producers, agents for the celebrated Scottsdale singer have put the kibosh on any promotional activity until the new CD is finished. Though the Valley's rock princess agreed to talk with Scottsdale Life during a break in May, she was forced to turn down interviews at that time with USA Today, The New York Times, and Rolling Stone until the album is completed. It's not the usual course with a product that needs promoting, and so fans might be wondering whether the title is another of Nicks' veiled autobiographical references so prevalent in all her lyrics.
If there's a current crisis in Nicks' life though, it's one that also ravages the nation. Heart disease, which has affected the Nicks family so acutely, is an indiscriminate killer. Jess Nicks, Stevie's father, has spent three decades working in Phoenix to reduce its toll. Not for the first time Nicks is preparing a major effort to raise money in the cause. Her benefit concert set for America West Arena on September 23 promises to be one of the year's crowning events in her hometown's musical and social calendar.
Details have yet to be finalized, but it's likely Sheryl Crow, also one of the producers on the new album, will be among the secret "friends" lined up to perform in the show, aptly titled "Stevie Nicks and Friends," sponsored by Wells Fargo.
"She's going to do it or die," Stevie says laughing. "She said she's real excited about it. She knows it's for my dad. So the two of us are going to do something fabulous."
A release date for Trouble In Shangri-La is still speculative. But if it come out anytime around the benefit show, to be followed by the inevitable tour, this promises to be a banner year for Nicks. Her last solo album was 1994's Street Angel, and even the much-vaunted 1997 reunion tour with her former cohorts from the group, Fleetwood Mac, is now fading into rock history.
Despite its evocation of a mythical Tibetan nirvana, Trouble In Shangri-La takes Nicks into territory much closer to home.
"If you're in show business or sports and you're famous, there is a price that comes along with it." Nicks says. "You get to have Shangri-La, but people just go crazy. So it's not so wonderful as everybody thinks sometimes."
The title song, tinged with the suggestion of a Himalayan chant, was written "in the last few months of the O.J. and Nicole trial," Nicks says. "It wasn't really about them, it was just about how people make it to the top of their field and can't seem to handle it."
Nicks has had some experience with the perils of success. She's had to contend with cocaine addition, weight gain, chronic fatigue syndrome and a love life that's provided speculative fodder for many an interview. In the mid '80s she married her best friend's widower in a well-meaning if unorthodox attempt to provide for the couple's child. The espousal by proxy didn't last, and apparently wasn't regarded by Nicks as a romantic commitment. And then there were those roller-coaster relationships with singer and one-time Eagle Don Henley, drummer Mick Fleetwood and, of course, her longtime musical partner Lindsey Buckingham.
But age has a way of sobering even rock stars. At 52, Stevie has had to come to terms with losing a grandmother and an uncle and nearly losing both parents to heart disease. No wonder she swears by healthy eating and fitness workouts. The thought of having heart disease terrifies her.
"I can really look at my mom and dad and all the other people I know that are their age and have had heart problems and say, 'That's not going to be me. I'm not going to be ill,'" she says. "So I'm really working at it. When I'm 70 I want to travel and have a great time. When you have anything that happens to your heart, it really slows you down so much. You don't come back the same. You are different. I don't want to have a heart attack."
And yet it is attacks upon the heart that play such a striking role in Nicks' music. Most notably there was her 1983 album Wild Heart, a title that epitomizes her gypsy persona with its romance-novel wardrobe and lyrics of diary-like intimacy. Ironic that a woman who has sought enduring love in song should not have found it in real life.
Except for that bestowed by fans. Even by rock standards, Nicks' fans can be startlingly exuberant. Sometimes, too much so. Two years ago, a Los Angeles court issued a restraining order against San Rafael, Calif. resident Ronald Anacelteo who, according to a report by an Arapahoe County (Colorado) Sheriff, said he "believe(s) Ms. Nicks is a witch who possesses the power to heal him." After authorities found out that Anacelteo had allegedly stalked the singer at her Arizona home and had plans to kidnap her to "make babies," he was barred from setting foot near Nicks.
As horrifying as that was, Nicks acknowledges that most fans simply love the music. Gifts rain down on stage, and there's an unmistakable "Stevie look" to the wardrobes sported by women in her audiences. In return for all the attention, Nicks is the consummate celebrity: On the Stevie-devoted website called the Nicks Fix, an "Ask Stevie" link is rumored to be actually manned by the singer and fans' questions are answered personally.
"Since I have never married and had children and done all that, I have just been a performing entertainer my whole life, so there's something about (being responsive to fans) that doesn't change," she says. "It's what you do."
Still, like some of her peers, she speculates about how much longer the touring will continue. Nearly 20 years ago, fresh from the success of her first solo album, Bella Donna, she was predicting another four years. Now she's saying maybe five. It is, after all, what she does.
"Tina is rocking at 60," she says, "so I may be going on tour when I'm 60. I don't know. If I take really good care of myself and I'm really strong, and I'm strong enough to have a good time when I'm 60, then I would say I would probably still go on tour. But I understand when I see (Tina Turner) on Oprah saying, 'I don't think I'm going to do this again.' I can see in her eyes that there's a part of her that's saying, 'You know what? I have done the dance steps. I have sung the songs since I was 18 years old, and I don't want to do this again. I think this might be my big rock whirl.'"
And that brings up the subject of another outing with Fleetwood Mac, the group that ignited Nicks' career in the mid '70's. Her fortunes rocketed in that improbable blend of an aspiring West Coast duo - Buckingham Nicks - and the husk of a British blues rock band, namely Mick Fleetwood, bassist John McVie and keyboardist and John's then-wife Christie McVie.
The Nicks' songs, Rhiannon and Dreams, had much to do with introducing the quintet to the charts. But as chronicled by Fleetwood's second album, Rumours, Nicks' induction into Shangri-La came with an immediate price tag. Her romance with Buckingham was an early casualty, although the breakup certainly added spice to their musical output.
Adversity has its artistic advantages, of course. Vulnerability is an enticing hallmark on much of Nicks' work. For instance, her imaginative images owe something to poor eyesight, she once admitted.
"I do kind of look at the world differently because of that," she once told The Arizona Republic. "I don't see it clearly. I see it like in a dream."
The grandchild of a would-be country singer, Nicks showed artistic talent from an early age. If that was genetic, it skipped a generation. Nicks' parents profess no singing skills. Her father was a business executive, and the family became accustomed to career moves. Although born in Phoenix and maintaining a home in Scottsdale, Nicks has spent much of her life in California.
It was Bella Donna that confirmed her cult status as a femme fatale - alluring, by the way, to both sexes. Men gaped at her good looks; female fans picked up on the Nicks mystique with its flowing chiffon and girlish intrigue. The spotlight inevitably shifted from Fleetwood Mac to its leading lady. Songs from that first solo album became radio classics - Edge of Seventeen, with its incantation on the white-winged dove; Leather and Lace, written initially for country singers Waylon Jennings and Jessi Colter; and her duet with Tom Petty, Stop Draggin' My Heart Around.
The '90's were not as fruitful for Nicks. Her 1994 Street Angel yielded nothing on a par with Bella Donna, and new material since then has been sporadic. In 1997, 20 years after the mega-success of Rumours, Fleetwood Mac toured and released an album, The Dance. But band members apparently are split on whether to perform again. Buckingham wants to, Nicks says; Christine McVie doesn't.
"I absolutely anticipate that we will figure something out," Nicks says. "(Christine) has made that decision that I think I saw in Tina's eyes. She is done. She has gone to England, bought a beautiful palatial home outside London; she has an apartment on the Thames. She's happy and she's not going to do this anymore."
What a Thames-side vista is to Christine McVie, a view from Camelback Mountain is to Stevie Nicks. When touring and recording allow, Nicks seeks sanctuary in her Scottsdale home.
"I haven't been there in a couple of months," she says. "When this record is out I'm definitely going home. And it is my home. When I'm here (in L.A.), I'm not home."
Does she have particular haunts in the Valley or favorite things to do?
"Well usually when I come home I'm just so delighted to be out of Los Angeles and at my house that I don't really go out that much. I shop, and we drive around. I love Phoenix. I don't go a whole lot of places because I'm famous, and it's more difficult. But that doesn't mean I don't go anywhere. I do go to the malls," to shop she say. "Being famous isn't going to keep me from that."
If anyone knows the effects of heart disease, it's the Nicks family.
Stevie's father, Jess, has had open heart surgery twice, and her mother, Barbara, once. Her paternal grandmother died of heart disease 30 years ago as did her paternal uncle a year ago.
As International Council Chairman of the Arizona Heart Institute Foundation, Jess has spent nearly three decades working for education and research to combat the nation's top cause of death.
No wonder Stevie has donated her time and energy to take part in benefit concerts since the early '80's. Longtime fans will recall a concert at Phoenix Civic Plaza with her cohorts in Fleetwood Mac dedicated to raising money for heart research, and then in September 1983 an encore with Stevie headlining at Compton Terrace, the Phoenix venue her father then operated on Washington Street.
Two years ago America West was the site for a return in the same cause. That show raised $400,000, Jess says, towards the Arizona Heart Institute Foundation's plans for a new research and education center on the campus of the Arizona Heart Hospital on 20th Street and Thomas Road.
After that one, her father recounts, Stevie told him she had "about one more benefit left in me for the heart institute." She attached one condition, Jess said. The goal had to be to raise a million dollars so the foundation could break ground for its new center.
That brings us to America West Arena on September 23, when Stevie and a host of other celebrated performers will provide the climax to a night of fund-raising that promises to be the year's crowning glory in the Valley's social and entertainment calendar.
Preceding the concert will be a dinner for $1,000 donors at the Cooper Club, 201 E. Jefferson St., courtesy of The Viad Corp. Among attendees will be the headliner herself. After the show, the chief sponsor of the event, Wells Fargo Bank, will host a party at its main branch at 100 W. Washington in downtown Phoenix. Appropriately, Stevie will arrive at the party in the bank's 100-year-old stagecoach.
"The whole idea is that this is a high-profile way to get the message out about the foundation's campaign to raise money to build the center," says Sandy Pierce, president of the Phoenix bank for Wells Fargo. The Heart Institute's mission gels with the bank's philosophy, "to give back to the community where we live and work," so Pierce says she "jumped at the chance" to be a key sponsor of "The Wells Fargo Stevie Nicks and Friends Concert," and give the event its official title.
Other businesses contributing to the evening include Jewelry By Gauthier, which is custom designing gifts for the guests at the pre-concert dinner. Gerald Stevens, formerly Cactus Flowers, of Scottsdale will be responsible for floral arrangements at the dinner and the party in addition to decorating the concert stage.
Anxious that the event should not be perceived as just for the well-heeled, organizers also promise a complimentary rose for each concert attendee; a capacity crowd of 12,000 is expected. On Jess Nicks' initiative, a substantial number of lower-priced tickets will also be available.
"The cheaper tickets are only $25, says Gerry Kroloff, executive administrator of the Arizona Heart Institute Foundation. "Jess insisted on that. He said: 'I want the college kids and the high school kids to be able to come.'"
Ultimately, of course, the real star will be the foundation's $5 million, four-story research and education center. The foundation already has an active outreach program as well as use of a hospital classroom, but the center will provide a centralized facility. Displays and staff experts will supply information for patients, medical professionals and other interested parties, be they school groups or casual drop-ins.
"It's going to be a community health resource," Kroloff says. "There's nothing else like it in Phoenix."
On average one person in every extended family in the country has heart disease, which kills more than cancer, AIDS and car accidents combined every year, she points out. The good news is "93 percent of heart disease is elective." But with education about diet, exercise and the risks of smoking, numerous lives can be saved. And that's a message close to a lot of hearts."
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