Belladonna is a deadly poison as well as a potent medicine. In Italian the word means "beautiful woman." Rock sorceress Stevie Nicks aptly chose Bella Donna as the double-edged title of her first solo album.
Nicks' knack is for writing romantic songs that describe the joy and pain of love and Bella Donna's bewitching blend of exotic imagery, haunting harmonies and intense emotion exemplifies the seductive mystique of its creator. The album reflects her fascination with an otherworldly realm of the spiritual, symbolic and mysterious.
And Nicks, six years a singer and songwriter with the phenomenally successful Fleetwood Mac, is as enigmatic and compelling as her music, an alluring amalgam of vulnerability and strength. In flowing chiffon, her green-streaked hair flailing as she floats across the stage with tambourine in hand, she's a fragile, ethereal enchantress. She entices the audience with her hypnotic appeal. Beneath all those layers of chiffon is a pair of heavy leather platform boots. And beneath that writhing, wraithlike exterior is a determined, self-possessed young woman.
While Fleetwood Mac has the Midas touch, an almost alchemical ability to turn music into gold, Nicks admits that, personally, she found her starring role tarnished with frustration. One Bella Donna cut, "After the Glitter Fades," deals with the loneliness of life at the top. On the title track, she confronts her frustrations head on.
"That song was my way of saying to myself, 'I'm 33 years old now. It's time to stop being a maniac and start living my life,'" she explains.
"It's difficult to be a girl in a big rock 'n' roll group for six years," she continues. "You're very protected and dependent. For so long you're not allowed to make your own decisions that suddenly you don't want to any more. Doing my solo album was the only step I could take to show I still had control."
That control is paying off handsomely. Nicks' album rose to the top of the charts, bolstered by the hit single, "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around," which she sings with Heartbreaker Tom Petty. Yet Nicks claims that all the self-confidence she's gained from doing her own record only strengthens her relationship with Fleetwood Mac.
"It's like having an affair without breaking up the marriage," she reasons. "As long as Fleetwood Mac can always get over one more hurdle, we'll be fine. We can record forever. It would be lonely to walk away. In spite of the excitement I feel now, not having Fleetwood Mac would be an arrow through my heart."
The band has certainly faced its share of well-publicized hurdles during the last few years. The title of its 1977 hit album, Rumours, was an acknowledgment of the group's internal turmoils: Mick Fleetwood's divorce, the breakup of John and Christine McVie's seven-year marriage, and the end of the longtime romance between Nicks and the band's guitarist, Lindsey Buckingham. But misery is marketable, and Rumours sold over nine million copies, making it one of the best-selling albums in music history. Tusk, Fleetwood Mac's subsequent double album, continued to reflect their discord, with many of the cuts written and sung individually rather than as a group.
But the band has managed to survive its personal and professional differences, perhaps because Fleetwood and Buckingham, as well as Nicks, were able to let off creative steam with solo albums of their own. The group is now finishing a new album, due out in November.
But despite the group's unprecedented success and the easing of tension among its members, Nicks confides that, for her, real professional satisfaction has come only through her solo effort. She claims that Bella Donna marks the first time she's received recognition from L.A.'s songwriting pantheon. "I have striven to live up to the songwriting of [the Eagles'] Don Henley and Glenn Frey, Jackson Browne and Joni Mitchell," she says. "I learned a long time ago that I'd have to work very hard to get even a blink from any of them, not as a woman or a performer, but as a writer. To have Don sing on this album was the greatest compliment anybody could give me, and it took six years for it to happen.
"I knew Don thought I'd never be strong enough to break away from Fleetwood Mac even for a minute because they so completely wrapped up my life," Nicks allows. Her sensitivity to Henley's opinion is understandable; they had a brief romance after her breakup with Buckingham.
At the time, Eagle Glenn Frey accused her of being spoiled. The memory of that makes her bristle. "He knew I was in Fleetwood Mac; I wasn't exactly chopped liver," Nicks retorts. "I never forgot it. I thought, 'How dare they think I'm so shallow that I'm hanging around with a rock star because I have nothing else to do!'"
Nicks, a high school beauty queen and the only daughter of corporate executive, insists she was not spoiled, despite her comfortable background. "A lot of people thought my life was a fantasy. I guess it was, in a way," she admits, "but it was real to me and they didn't understand that. They didn't really believe I sat up all night and wrote."
Today, Bella Donna is on the charts, and Nicks has finally achieved the recognition she's yearned for. "Everyone's happy now," she says smiling. "The band's problems will always go on. We're like a family. You may have terrible fights with your father or your children, but they work out over the years. It's still your lasting family."
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