Blonde On Blonde
Stevie Nicks and Courtney Love dish on witchy women, male-swapping, diamond studded coke spoons, and the Fleetwood Mac reunion.
At the height of 1970s rockíníroll bloat, Fleetwood Macís Stevie Nicks was the O.D. -- the Original Diva. Dressed head-to-toe in flowing black, singing songs about Welsh witches, bouncing between rock-star boyfriends (bandmates, no less), snorting drugs all the while, she wrote the book on feminine excess, and one young reader was a girl named Courtney Love. On the eve of Fleetwood Macís reunion album and tour, the two Goth blondes gathered for an historic meeting of the muses.
COURTNEY LOVE: I was watching your new MTV special, and "Silver Springs" sent chills down my spine. It was like great opera, or like A Streetcar Named Desire. It was an absolute war between the sexes. And one of the things that struck me was how you epitomized the ideal gorgeous, California, in-you-convertible girlfriend. Almost. You can see the schism in your performance, where you check yourself and say, I am so much more than that. You filled that stage so much with your archetype, it was incredible. I just canít imagine you as a 21-year-old waitress in San Jose supporting Lindsey Buckingham. It freaks me out. Hey, can I say what Iím drinking my coffee out of?
STEVIE NICKS: Yes, you can.
CL: Iím drinking my coffee out of a mug from the Betty Ford Center. It says BETTY FORD on it. I think thatís super chic. [Laughs]. I wish my rehab had sold souvenirs. They did, actually. They had sweatshirts, but I didnít buy one because I had no money and they didnít take credit cards.
SN: I think at Betty Ford they give you a cup.
CL: I bet they have lots of cool stuff there. So anyway, when I was very young I thought of you as the most pampered child of California. But then I heard "Dreams" and "Rhiannon," and I thought, Is she this thing or is she this other thing, this poet?
SN: You have to understand. I didnít want to be a waitress, but I believed that Lindsey shouldnít have to work, that he should just lay on the floor and practice his guitar and become more brilliant every day. And as I watched him become more brilliant every day, I felt very gratified. I was totally devoted to making it happen for him. I never worried about not being successful; I wanted to make it possible for him to be successful. And when you really feel that way about somebody, itís very easy to take your own personality and quiet it way down. I knew my career was going to work out fine. I knew I wasnít going to lose myself.
CL: How did you two meet?
SN: I met Lindsey in high school in San Francisco. We had gone to some party and he was sitting in the middle of this gorgeous living room playing a song. I walked over and stood next to him, and the song was "California Dreaming," and I just started singing with him.
CL: He was playing "California Dreaming"? Oh my God!!
SN: And so I just threw in my Michelle Phillips harmony and..he was so beautiful. And then I didnít really see him again until two years later, when he called me and asked me if I wanted to be in his rockíníroll band, which I didnít even know existed. And within two or three months we were opening for Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, all the San Francisco bands. Two years later, we packed up and moved to Los Angeles with about 12 demos.
CL: When you and Lindsey joined Fleetwood Mac in 1974, it sounded like you were really coming into your own. I mean, songs like "Rhiannon" and "Landslide." Those are profound. But here was a band that had been together a thousand years, right? They originally came from this time and place--Yardbirds, zeppelin, etc.--and while everyone had made it out of there, they were the dog with fleas. John Mayall was bigger than them. I mean, everybody. And then what happens? They get you and Lindsey, and here you are, this world-class beauty with a voice from heaven and these amazing songs, and it makes them huge. And you huger. And youíre just the girlfriend, the silent supporter of the tortured genius. That must have made everyone crazy.
SN: Well..my success was not easy for Lindsey, not easy for any of them. And I knew that, and I felt terrible about it. Thereís a part of me that would have said, Letís tell everybody to stop talking about Steve. Stop giving Stevie all this attention, because, guess what, itís making Stevie miserable. Because I have to live with these other four people who know itís not my fault, but they canít help but blame me a little, and itís killing me. But I also remember getting very upset with Lindsey one night when I realized that he and Christine [McVie] had written "World Turning." I had been with Lindsey all those years and we had never written a song together. Plus, I walked into the studio and they were singing it together.
CL: You never wrote songs together?
SN: No, no. I would sit down and play him "Gold Dust Woman" on the guitar, my simple little version, and two days later it would be recorded, and it would be recorded really well. He could take my songs and do what I would do if I had his musical talent. When he wasnít angry with me, that is. Thatís why thereís seven or eight great songs, and thereís 50 more where he wasnít happy with me and didnít help me.
CL: One thing youíve always done, I realized recently, is write about these muses, these other females, these goddesses. These parts of yourself. You donít write big, sexy love ballads about men. I wondered why that was for you? Because I do the same thing. I was listening to a song of Billy Corganís yesterday called "I Need a Lover." Itís sexy, okay. But Iím listening and Iím going, I canít write like this.
SN: You know how else asked me that same question a long time ago: Prince. We were really close for a while--we never went to bed together, but we had something that was very, very special. And he always said, Why donít you write songs that are more sexual? And I said, Well, because thatís no the way I am in my real life. I am not a person who walks naked through the house. I will always have something beautiful on. It will be beautiful, and it will enhance me.
CL: Maybe what Prince was trying to say is you should be more, "I want to fuck you, baby."
SN: But I believe that there is a certain amount of mysticism that all women should have, that you should never tell all your secrets, that you should never tell everybody all about you. I never have.
CL: Speaking of secrets, Iíve heard that youíve kept a diary the entire course of your career.
SN: I have. Itís all written down.
CL: If you were ever to let those things out, I imagine that empires would fall.
SN: But you know what? Even in my journals, I donít ever write about sex. I write around it, so that I know what I meant, but if somebody else read it, they might not understand. Nobody could ever get the real story unless I chose to share it with them.
CL: Tell me more about your love life.
SN: Well, when Lindsey and I broke up during Rumours, I started going out with Don Henley. And you know, I was like the biggest Eagles fan of life.
CL: "Warm smell of colitas..."
SN: [Laughing] Totally. And we went out, off and on, for about two years.
CL: Thatís a perfect couple right there. I mean, thatís the California, the San Andreas Fault couple. He was really cute, too.
SN: He was really cute, and he was elegant. Don taught me to spend money.
CL: How did he teach you to spend money? Iíve never had a guy do that for me.
SN: Well, I just watched him, thatís how. He didnít visibly set out to do that. I just watched him. He was okay with, say, buying a house like that [snaps her fingers], or sending a Learjet to pick you up.
CL: I had a Learjet phase for a little bit, but I couldnít really afford it. While weíre on the subject, tell me about your rose Porsche.
SN: Me and a bunch of my friends were in my house in Phoenix, we were up all night doing lots of cocaine and watching that movie Risky Business. Thatís one of my favorites. And I just made a call and that Porsche was delivered.
CL: You said "I want a rose Porsche"?
SN: I said, I want the same Porsche thatís in Risky Business.
CL: Thereís a Porsche in Risky Business?
SN: Yes, there is. And I bought it. That morning.
CL: Wow. You know, I still think Don Henley is sexy.
SN: He is sexy. Heís such an interesting guy. Hereís one thing that Don did that freaked my band out so much. Weíre all in Miami, Fleetwood Mac and the Eagles. Theyíre recording at this gorgeous house theyíd rented on the water. Itís totally romantic.
CL: Is it pink?
SN: Itís pink.
CL: Of course itís pink.
SN: Itís like Mar-a-Lago. Anyway, he sends a limousine driver over to our hotel with a box of presents for me, and theyíre delivered right into the breakfast room where everyoneís eating. Thereís a stereo, a bunch of fabulous records. Thereís incredible flowers and fruits, beautiful..
CL: Pomegranates and figs and dates, of course.
SN: Yes. And...
CL: Oh, I love him!
SN: The limousine driver is taking all this out onto the table and Iím going, Oh, please, please, this is not going to go down well. And they want to know who itís from. And Lindsey is not happy.
SN: Yeah. So I started going out with him. And this is not popular. Sure, Lindsey and I are totally broken up, I have every right in the world to go out with people, but...I spend most of my time with the band, and itís not real conducive to having a relationship. So, I went out with Don for awhile. I went out with [Eagles songwriter] J.D. Souther for awhile. We had an incredible time.
CL: But he wasnít as famous as you. It must have been a lot more fun going out with somebody just as famous.
SN: Well, all those Eagles were an interesting group of guys. They were such good songwriters. I was blown away. I was totally awestruck. I mean, I was very, very famous, but it didnít make me less awestruck with these men than anybody else. I was just as big a fan. And then..Weíre just doing a condensed version of what happened with me. And then I fell in love with Mick [Fleetwood]. And that went on for two years. Never in a million years could you have told me that would happen. That was the biggest surprise. Mick is definitely one of my great, great loves.
CL: How was that between Lindsey and Mick?
SN: That was not good. That was not good for anybody else in the band. Everybody was so angry, because Mick was married. To a wonderful girl and he had two wonderful children, and I was horrified. I loved these people. I loved his family. So it couldnít have possibly worked out. And it didnít. It just couldnít.
CL: And the drugs?
SN: The drugs didnít help, needless to say. We did a lot of blow. I donít remember how much we did; we spent an awful lot of money on it. You know, we were constantly on the road--the tour for the first album was almost a year long. Rumours was a year, and Tusk was a solid year. We never stopped, never took vacations. And with coke you can stay up way too late, you donít sleep for three days.
CL: Did you keep your drug habits secret from each other? Like, in my band, when someoneís had a problem, itís always been a secret from everyone else. We would never do it together, communally.
SN: Oh, no. No, no, no. It was much more of a family thing. And it wasnít just us.
CL: Well, thatís in the spirit of the era.
SN: If this was 20 years ago, we would have sat here and done a gram of cocaine while we did this interview. I wouldnít have known you previously, and we still would have done it together. It was just the friendly, fun thing to do. I swear to God, thatís how it was.
CL: I think the intriguing thing to a lot of people is that thereís never been a period in rock as debauched as the period after Rumours. Nobodyís touched it. Iím sure other people have done more drugs, other people have lived better, but no one, for one thing, was dressed as great. No one has ever looked as fabulous during their flushed-with-success period--not even the Beatles, maybe not even the Rolling Stones. Somebody gave me a [poster for my birthday; itís a famous picture of you guys standing outside a chicken coop. And you all look amazing. You had such great hair. You still do. and back then, rock divas didnít have high-end colorists.
CL: And you didnít get free clothes from Doice & Gabbana.
CL: You had to make your own clothes. You had to create your own divadom. like wearing black, which was a very fashion-forward choice for the Ď70s. Whyíd you start doing that?
SN: Because as a blonde I looked better in all black. Plus it made things a lot easier; you could just have a bunch of pieces.
CL: But nobody wore all black in the Ď70s. You were just like Johnny Cash.
SN: Yeah. And I loved that. I still love that.
CL: Itís different now, Ďcause itís very Barneyís, but black then it was pretty fucking bold. What kind of clothes did, like, the Eagles wear? Did they wear real expensive turquoise belt buckles and...
SN: No. They were very cool. They just wore beautiful jeans and silk shirts.
CL: Was Henley, like, rocking the Armani?
SN: You know what? When I was hanging around with them, I had no idea what kind of clothes they wore, except that they always looked good.
CL: I remember reading one description of you finishing "Gold Dust Woman" in the middle of the night wrapped in your black shawl. Was all that witchy, gothic stuff completely your thing yet?
SN: Oh yeah. Ever since I moved out of Mom and Dadís. But in Fleetwood Mac I had to really calm that part of me down. I mean, they put up with my incense, let me do a little lighting, but I couldnít bring a lot of my stuff in there.
CL: Thereís a song of yours, what is it? Itís about--oh my God, itís about...
CL: "Gypsy!" Right About putting a scarf over a lamp. I was like, yeah. Even in rehab I put the scarf over the lamp.
SN: Me too, you know.
CL: So the band didnít put up with that stuff?
SN: Well, I just have to be very careful and tasteful with them. I canít be quite as Gypsy as Iíd like. The downside of being in a band is that you canít have everything you want.
CL: But the upside, the upside is incredible. The team/gang thing.
SN: Itís great. When I walk with my band up to the stage, I feel like an astronaut. [Laughing] I feel like we should be in slow motion, and the wind should be blowing.
CL: Being a movie star is pretty cool, but being a rock is just better. especially a lady rock star. Iím really grateful for it.
SN: So am I. Every day. And thatís something I donít think goes away. Itís like, I totally appreciate being able to buy, say, this thousand-dollar cashmere blanket. I do. Because if I couldnít, I would hate the act that I would have to go back to real, regular blankets.
CL: At Penneyís
SN: At Penneyís. [Laughing] and I never wanted to go to Penneyís even when I was a little girl.
CL: I didnít want to go to Penneyís either. I knew, when I was in there, I knew I shouldnít be in there.
SN: I am not in the right store, mom.
CL: Thereís something wrong. This is wrong.
SN: Take me to the good store.
CL: Exactly [laughs] I want to ask about when you put out your first solo record, Bella Donna, in 1981. Were the guys pissed off?
SN: Well, it was a big deal, obviously. Going away to another record company at the peak of Fleetwood Mac was not a real popular thing.
CL: People should understand that at the time you made Bella Donna, you were one of the biggest starts on the planet. Certainly the biggest female in rock. It must have been so much harder back then being a famous woman in rock. You were entering this field almost by yourself. I mean, I always thought that Janis Joplin had a really hard road, because no one had ever been down it.
SN: And she didnít make it down.
CL: But you did. You went much further than her. You were a pioneer. You were dealing with all these sexual politics, being a feminine woman who was doing this thing. Iím really surprised that youíre less schizophrenic than you are. Because you were right out in front, with the projections of the entire world put upon you. I mean, heavily. I had Bella Donna when I was in Japan, stripping. I was 15, I think. It was the year that Charles and Diana got married. And thatís what I listened to all the time to keep me sane. But you must have been feeling so many things then, because of your fame: the energy of young girls and older women using you, men using you. Did you start to feel a sense of magic about yourself? Itís hard to control the ego sometimes. I know. Itís hard to stay grounded.
SN: I think if I had just done my solo career and had been able just to be me, I probably would have been a lot more egoíd out than I was. Being in a group of five really does keep your ego in place. Itís not as easy to get totally conceited when youíre in a band.
CL: Itís not even conceit, though. I believe that itís a product of energy being projected on you. Iím sorry, thereís a psychic transference that you have when you go to the bookstore and get recognized, and they treat you as your Stevieness or your Jim Carreyness or your Courtneyness or whatever it is they expect from you all the time. It must have been insane to be one of the first women out there in this art form. It must have been a battlefield. Is that one of the reasons you moved to the desert?
SN: Well, Iíve always lived there. My mom and dad are from there. Thatís why I bought a house in Scottsdale, near Phoenix, so I could be close to them. Otherwise, I would have never gone to see my parents during those years; the cocaine years. I was too nerved out to sit and talk to my mom and dad; they were the last people that I would talk to.
CL: So, talk to me about "Gold Dust Woman." Whatís it about?
SN: Well, the gold dust refers to cocaine, but itís not completely about that, because there wasnít that much cocaine around then. Everybody was doing a little bit--you know, we never bought it or anything, it was just around--and I think I had a real serious flask of what this stuff could be, of what it could do to you. The whole thing about how we all love the ritual of it, the little bottle, the little diamond-studded spoons, the fabulous velvet bags. For me, it fit right into the incense and candles and that stuff. And I really imagined that it could overtake everything, never thinking a million years that it would overtake me. I must have met a couple of people that I thought did too much coke, and I must have been impressed by that. Because I made it into a whole story.
CL: But it seems more like a sexual identity song or a romantic identity song. Thereís some amazing lines in the song. Like, "Rulers make bad lovers / You better put your kingdom up for sale."
SN: I was definitely swept away by how big Fleetwood Mac was and how famous I suddenly was. Me, who couldnít buy anything before, could now go in any store, and buy anything I wanted. And I wondered what that would do to me on down the line. I might be ruler, but maybe Iíd be a lousy lover.
CL: I love the imagery in the song, when sheís a dragon, and a black widow.
SN: That just means an anger. The black widow, the dragon thing, is all about being scary and angry.
CL: But I think itís more powerful than that. A dragon is the most potent and virile symbol you can use. So applying yourself to a woman, or to yourself, or to an archetypal alterego self is like this power, especially if you wrote it when you were frail and frightened and maybe not as powerful as you became later.
SN: You know what, Courtney? I donít really know what "Gold Dust Woman" is about. I know there was cocaine there and that I fancied it gold dust, somehow. Iím going to have to go back to my journals and see if I can pull something out about "Gold Dust Woman." Because I donít really know. It canít be all about cocaine.
CL: No, I think youíre bigger than that.
Caption for pictures on center page: Portraits of a lady: cover of Buckingham/Nicks, 1973; Fleetwood Mac, 1974; Stevie Nicks, Lindsey Buckingham, John McVie, Mick Fleetwood, Christine McVie; a crystal vision, circa Rumours; Mac version Ď97.
Thanks to Amy Thompson for sending this article to The Nicks Fix.