By Sylvie Simmons
Q Magazine (UK)
May 1, 2008
Stevie Nicks is the epitome of Californian rock excess. While in Fleetwood Mac she sold millions and snorted half of Colombia. Solo, she sold millions and got addicted to painkillers. Unsurprisingly, she has advice for Amy Winehouse.
She still looks like a heroine from romantic fiction—long blonde hair, pale skin, big, dark, peculiarly innocent eyes staring out from under a fringe. She’s wearing a flowing chiffon top, black, fake snakeskin pants and ballet pumps. Except for the lack of heels, the look is classic Stevie Nicks, small enough for a gust of wind to blow over.
Fortunately we’re not at her Southern California home perched on a breezy spot above the Pacific Ocean, what she calls her “little one-bedroom, rock ‘n’ roll crazy palace”—but her other house, 10 minutes’ drive inland. A house so big you hardly notice the grand piano under the curved staircase in the chandeliered entrance hall. Too big, she says; she’s going to sell it.
Stacked by the front door is a large set of travel bags. Nicks is leaving in the morning for a show in Chicago, before heading on to Nashville, where they’re making a Stevie Nicks TV special. Which doesn’t stop her talking to Q until well past midnight. “I do talk a lot,” she says, and as always, she is telling the truth. In conversation, Nicks is frank, funny, guileless and had perfect recall of a 40-year career—amazing when you considered she was addicted to cocaine or tranquillisers for half that time.
Notoriety aside, Nicks is celebrated for her role in helping Fleetwood Mac become one of the world’s most enduring bands. Before Nicks and then-boyfriend, guitarist Lindsey Buckingham, joined in 1974, Fleetwood Mac were a fading British blues rock act, treading water. Within three years they would produce one of the best-selling albums of all time, Rumours, while Nicks’s tracks such as Gold Dust Woman, Rhiannon and Sara became a key strand of the band’s woozy, Calfornian mystique. Solo success would follow in he ‘80s, with Nicks subsequently hailed as an influence by successive generations of musicians, including Courtney Love and Sheryl Crow.
In a bright, while kitchen the size of a small Eastern European country, Nicks makes Q a cup of her new favourite tea, spicy chai, carrying our mugs into a huge, dimly lit living-room, heady with wood smoke and scented candles, and furnished in a wine-red velvet and brocade. There are Tiffany lamps, peacock feathers, a Buddha, a dragon, a fairy in a gilded birdcage, and lots of paintings: old icons, oils, some of them her own work.
She never had any interest in art, she says, until her best friend Robin Anderson was hospitalised with leukaemia in 1981. Soon after, Nicks, who loved her friend so much she very briefly married her widower, Kim, started drawing pyramids and fairies. She’s been back in hospital recently, visiting injured military personnel at the Walter Reed army facility in Washington, DC. Nicks, who always makes sure she takes one of her pictures called The Soldier’s Angel, has since founded the Stevie Nicks Soldier’s Angel Foundation. “When I stop touring,” she says, “one day when I just decide that I’m too old to do it any more, drawing is where I will go.”
We sit down next to the fire.
Bunny Girl, 1976: "I'm wearing my very favorite pink kimono ever and I hope I still have it somewhere. I don't remember that bunny but I remember the kimono. You might think, 'How could she forget that bunny?' But there's been so many."
With Sheryl and Kid Rock: "Of course I'm very good friends with Sheryl and I'm friends with Kid Rock too. He calls me his little rock n roll soul mom, because I'm much older, but we relate to each other."
Can you recall the first time you were on a stage?
My real first time onstage was a talent show I did with my best friend Colleen in sixth grade, doing a tap dance to Buddy Holly’s Every Day. We practiced it about a million times and we were perfect, and that was my first real time of going, “OK, this is happening. This is what I’m going to do.”
Your grandfather Aaron sang country. Did you want to be a country singer?
No, R&B. This was back when a lot of the records in the charts were Motown or Phil Spector girl-group songs. I remember sitting in the back of the car and saying to my mom and dad, “Could you hold it down up there because I’m singing and your talking is bothering me.” I was a driven little human being from the very beginning. But they were very supportive. They said, “We don’t care if you do music, but you have to do your school and you have to get OK grades.” And they supported me all the way through the time when I was in the band with Lindsey.
How did you and Lindsey Buckingham first meet?
I was in the 12th grade [17 years old] and he was in the 11th grade. My family had moved to San Francisco from Los Angeles and I was horrified, because I was just settling in and I had made friends finally, and I was happy and I was singing, and here I was in a new place. About halfway through the school year I was invited to some little get-together and Lindsey was sitting in a corner with a guitar and he started playing The Mamas & The Papas’ California Dreamin’. Being the brazen brat that I was, I walked right up and, knowing the song as well as I did, just burst into song and I sang it with him.
And walked off together into the sunset?
No. Right after I met Lindsey I met the guy I ended up going out with for five years, David Young. Lindsey disappeared out of my life.
Until he asked you to join his band Fritz?
He didn’t ask me, the drummer did, Bobby Geary. Bob, I think, had been there that night I sang with Lindsey and said, “What do you think about asking that girl that sang California Dreamin’ with you that night to join our band?” And Lindsey’s like, “Oh, OK.”
And this was the late ‘60s?
It was 1968, so the San Francisco music scene was incredible—Hendrix, Janis, it was it. When Bobby told me it was a hard-rock San Francisco band I’m like, “OK, cool, I can do that… I think.” Because I’m playing and writing good little folky songs. So Bob Geary comes to my house and picks me up in a white van and I ride away, bye bye—and I can just tell that my life is going to change.
A movie moment.
It was totally a movie moment. And the funny thing is, I lived in a gated community and so did Lindsey, so we get in the car and drive down one street and then another one, round the corner, and that’s it, we’re there. In the driveway of this big, beautiful house I can hear all this music coming out of the garage. Inside there’s a full-on rock band setting up and I’m like, “Wow, this is the real thing.”
Did you play guitar in Fritz, too?
No. Girls didn’t do that then. And I didn’t really want to. Within a year we were opening for Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, all the big San Francisco bands, and Chicago, Buffalo Springfield. The perk was you’d get to sit on the stage and watch. I watched Hendrix one time and he dedicated a song to me.
Did you have a romantic liaison with Hendrix?
No. He just looked over—I was sitting on the side of the stage—and said "I'm dedicating a song to that girl over there," and I was like [gawps, awestruck] That one night I saw him, I was inspired for all time. Same with Janis. The first time I saw here, I didn’t know who she was, because she wasn’t all dressed up. She was screaming at the band that was on before her, who had gone over time. Janis was not a beautiful girl, she was little and she just looked crazy and she was telling them to get the **** off her stage. And I thought, “Whoa!” Anyway, they wrapped it up and 30 minutes later on comes Janis, very different, feathers in her hair, fantastic bell-bottoms, really high-heeled shoes and a top with little bell sleeves in silky beautiful material and beads, and wild, crazy, curly hair. I was blown away by her. I learned more from her during that hour and a half—watching how she dealt with the crowd, how she paced herself, how she sang—than any hour and a half in my life.
Everyone was out of their brains on LSD back then. You too?
I did mesacaline once. I was with a bunch of friends and I think I had something important to do the next day, babysitting my boyfriend David’s mentally retarded baby sister, and everybody was talking mesacaline and they all wanted me to take it and I didn’t want to. I took it and it made me feel terrible and I sat up and cried all night and then I was in a horrible shape to babysit this little girl the next day. I was very angry with myself about it and angry with the people around me for making me feel I had to. Another time I took it, I thought that a piece of it had fallen on the floor and I thought my little poodle had eaten it and I thought she was going to die and it was going to be my fault. She hadn’t, so it was OK.
How about acid?
One time I did acid when Joni Mitchell’s record Court And Spark came out. I was with my producer at his house, with a set of speakers that were taller than the fireplace, and I was in a safe place and I sat there on the floor and listened to that record and that was a pretty dynamic experience but it didn’t erase the fact that the other two times were not. So I never did it again.
As if waiting for its cue, a hairless little dog, a “Chinese Yorkshire Terrier” apparently, scuttles into the room. It’s wearing a little pink dog coat. It yips once, stopping the second Nicks gently tells it to hush. Her other dog, equally pocket-sized but furrier—its dark blond hair the same colour as Nicks’s—waits quietly by the door. The “house music” being piped through a hidden system into the room has morphed, over time, from gentle piano music to not-so-lite jazz lite. Nicks goes to a wall switch and turns it off.
When did you and Lindsey become a couple?
I joined Fritz in '68, and '68, '67, '70 he had a girlfriend and I had a boyfriend. Then we came down to LA with our producer Keith Olsen to do a showcase and the record companies told him, "We like Stevie and Lindsey but we don't like the rest of the band." That's when Lindsey and I started going out—and is probably the only reason we started going out.
It's well known that you don't have the best relationship now and that during a tour of New Zealand in 1980 you had an onstage fight. But once you were the ideal couple?
I don't think ideal, but when we started seeing each other he was very sweet and attentive and loving. Back home in San Francisco, Lindsey's dad gave us a tiny room in the coffee plant that he was president of. The workers left around six, and Lindsey and I went up there every night around eight and stayed all night long untul 6.30 in the morning, when the workers started coming in. We worked out and recorded the songs that went on the Buckingham Nicks album. Those six months to a year were fun, and very romantic because there was just the two of us in this huge place, making music, and we knew that we were going to be famous. There was no jealousy; the world hadn't decided that I was going to be the one that they paid attention to and that Lindsey was going to be the great guitarist in the shadows
We all know about internal band rivalries, how the lead guitarist resents the singer and vice versa, but is there also gender rivalry?
From the day I joined Fritz in 1968, which had been five guys, when people wanted to book the band they'd say, "We want the band with the girl in it." So it had a long time to fester with Lindsey. Then we joined Fleetwood Mac, where the biggest thing was that Chris and I got a lot of the attention, just because we were the girls, and none of the boys liked that. They didn't like it then, they don't like it now. But at least with Fleetwood Mac, they had had some success, so I don't think it was quite so intense as it was for Lindsey and me. You know, I was thinking about it a couple of days ago, Lindsey is probably the man who loved me the most in my life. So when I die I will remember that: that of all the men in my life Lindsey, absolutely, bar none, was the man who loved me the most.
Who was the love of your life?
Joe Walsh . I fell in love with Joe in kind of the same way that Lindsey fell in love with me. Joe and I only went out, off and on, for about two years. When Joe and I broke up I was very devastated for a long, long time.
Your relationship with another member of the Eagles is far better known.
I dated Don Henley in 1976. Don was really my first boyfriend after Lindsey. We went out for about a year and a half. I wasn’t with Joe Walsh until the end of ’83, ’84. Joe and I broke up because of the coke. He told my friend and [backing] singer Sharon, “I’m leaving Stevie, because I’m afraid that one of us is going to die and the other one won’t be able to save the other person, because our cocaine habit has become so over the top now that neither of us can live through this, so the only way to save both of us is for me to leave.”
Going back to 10 years before that, how did Buckingham Nicks wind up in Fleetwood Mac?
Buckingham Nicks, our first album, came out in 1973, to great critical acclaim—but we were dropped like a rock. We’d started working on an album with Keith Olsen, and Mick went to the studio to talk to Keith about producing the next Fleetwood Mac album, and Keith played him a couple of songs from Buckingham Nicks. When Mick heard Lindsey play, he was like, “Oh my God, who is this?” He talked to Lindsey and he said he would only join if they took me too.
What did Christine McVie make of you joining the band?
Mick and John told me it was absolutely left up to Chris. They told her, “This is a team so we can’t just have Lindsey, so you need to meet this girl. If you like her and think you could work with her and you like Lindsey, you can make the decision.” We all met up at this Mexican restaurant and I just totally fell in love with Christine.
Was there any hesitation?
No hesitations. I was working as a waitress to keep us. When they called us, I spent our last dime buying every Fleetwood Mac record, and Lindsey and I sat and listened to all of them, song by song. Lindsey said, “What do you think?” and I said, “This is a good band and it’s already famous. And we have no money, and we can always quit.” We went into rehearsal on Friday and they gave Lindsey $200 in cash and me $200 and we left with enough to pay our rent for two months.
You were more keen than Lindsey?
I think, in Lindsey's heart, he thinks if we hadn't joined Fleetwood Mac, we would still have become famous, and we probably would have gotten married and probably would have had kids and probably would have lived in San Francisco, his hometown, and our lives would have been very different and we probably would have never done drugs. It's possible.
With Nicks and Buckingham in the band Fleetwood Mac went from big-in-Britain blues combo to huge-in-America hit machine. Their self-titled 1975 album, the new line-up’s debut, reached Number 1 in the US and featured one of Nicks’s best-known songs, one she originally wrote for a second Buckingham Nicks album, Rhiannon. She takes off for the library and comes back with a pile of old books, old dating from the 1800s, all of them to do with the ancient Welsh myths, retold by Evangeline Walton in the Mabinogion tetralogy, that inspired Rhiannon. Nicks’s eyes light up as she confides to Q that she and four girlfriends, who like her have studied the texts, will spend the coming summer holed up in a house in Mexico, trying to turn the stories into a film.
By 1977 and Rumours, Fleetwood Mac were famed for their mad, cocaine-fuelled excess.
And I hear that mad, excessive cocaine is back in a big way. Please write in your story that it’s a dead-end road and everybody should know that. I like to think that the fact that it really destroyed my nose did not affect what I do, but it did. I affected my voice and my breathing. And it tore me apart.
Have you heard of Amy Winehouse?
I have. Very talented.
What advice would you give her?
The fact is, it’s hard to make it in the music business now. In the old days, when it was doing well, you sold three million records to have a Number 1 but now a Number 1 is 60,000 records if that. So if you’ve got your foot in the door like Amy Winehouse, who has the chance to have a great career—well, I would say to her, “You won’t have it. You will become a miserable drug addict and you will die most likely, and the record company will drop you and go on to the next person waiting in the wings—and not doing coke—that wants to be a star.
Did you really do so much coke your nose fell off?
No, but I did used to joke that I couldn’t drive in convertibles because if a big wind came up it could just blow my nose off the side of my face. I have a hole through my septum so big I could put a cigarette through it. Or a cigar. It’s horrible. To this day, I say, “Thank you, God, for not letting my nose collapse.”
One myth you've denied, but is still all over the internet, is that, because of the damage to your nose, you were given cocaine enemas.
I'm trying to understand where something like that would have come from, because, flamboyant as I am, I am very old-fashioned and prudish. I am not the girl that is going to walk across the room nude, not even when I was 18 years old and looked great nude.
No Courtney or Britney moments, then?
No. And if you ask any of my friends they will tell you that. If you ask any of my boyfriends they will tell you that. That is something that all the men in my life have loved, that my lingerie is all the old stuff, the exquisite satin gowns that are hand-stitched with beads and drag along the ground. The idea that any man—or woman for that matter, unless they were a nurse and I was dying in a hospital—would ever get close enough to my butt is absolutely outrageous. It's the one thing that had been said about me that has really pissed me off and hurt my feelings.
When you went into rehab in 1985 did you quit by going cold turkey?
Yes. When I came off the Rock A Little tour I put my house in order, packed my bags and drove to Betty Ford in Palm Springs. I was there for 31 days and they were not very nice to me. They were very hard on me, but it was OK, because that’s what I needed.
Then you claim you became addicted to this prescription tranquilliser Klonopin?
The sad thing is, that was eight years out of my life when I could have done maybe three really great solo records maybe one more really great Fleetwood Mac record, so that’s gone. And relationships… that was my 40s, so my 40s were ripped away from me because believe me, when you’re on tranquillisers, you don’t care about going out with anybody, you’re way too tired. All I did was just lay around and write crappy poetry and gain weight—weight that I have never been able to lose. And that was all because everybody was worried about me going back to coke—which I wasn’t. I did not want to be that cocaine girl any more, and so for them, I went to see a doctor who said he would put me on something to calm my nerves.
So, eight years later?
One of my assistants, Glenn, said, “Just give me everything you were prescribed. I want to take it just so I can see why you’re so completely fucked up.” He took it all, and he was putting a stereo together for me that night and he’s like [adopts a zombie voice] “Stevie, I don’t think I can do this.” We both went into the psychiatrist the next day and Glenn said, “I took everything you’re giving her.” The doctor looked at me and said, “Are you trying to kill your friend?” So Glenn and I both said in unison, “Are you trying to kill us?” I thought I was going to die. I was in the hospital for 47 days getting off that. My skin moulted and my hair turned grey. That was a real bummer. More than the cocaine.
After your relationship with Lindsey broke up while you were in Fleetwood Mac, you and Mick became an item. Didn’t it occur to anyone it might not be a great idea to date someone in your band?
Oh, definitely. And that is exactly why it didn’t work, because it was a bad idea. We were finishing the Rumours tour [in late 1977] and we had gone to Australia. One night we had a party and everybody was drunk and everybody was gone and it was just me and Mick, and we ended up spending the night together. And I fell in love with Mick and I think Mick fell in love with me. We had three weeks in Australia and 10 days in Japan to get through and then we were meeting up with all our families in Hawaii.
Jenny, Mick’s wife, was there, and Paul, the man I’d been seeing, and nobody knew about me and Mick because we had been incredibly discreet. I told Paul how sorry I was and Mick told Jenny, and then we had to go to Maui and play a show. Then everybody went back to the mainland, but Mick and I stayed in Hawaii for two days and drove around the mountains and talked about what a dumb-ass thing it was that we had done and that, basically, we were not going to break up Fleetwood Mac. And we got on the plane, held hands all the way back to Los Angeles, and realised, when we got off that plane, that for all practical purposes it was over. It had its month of glory, which was fantastic and very romantic, and then when we got back to LA it was not romantic any more, it was horrifying. It should never have happened. But you’re a cloistered group so there really wasn’t much chance for any of us to meet anybody else.
Do you still live a cloistered life?
I live such a cloistered life. First of all, I don’t have a driver’s license. I haven’t since 1978, I’ve never had that whole paparazzi problem and the reason is because I am never out. What would I do? Go to a club by myself and sit around and hope that I meet a 60-year-old guy? No. But that being said, I’m not a recluse. I was never alone. I have had many, many relationships. And I get to flirt with thousands of men every time I go onstage. So it’s like, I don’t feel lonely, I don’t feel unloved, I feel like I’m in exactly the right place. And I have so much to do.
As you would, having held down two successful roles for the past 27 years. When, in 1981, your debut solo album, Bella Donna, went to Number 1 in the US, why didn’t you leave Fleetwood Mac?
Because I loved my band. I was only doing my solo career to have another vehicle for my songs. When you’re in a band with three writers and you do a record every two or three years and there’s 12 songs on an album, that’s not much for somebody that writes as much as me. I think that Fleetwood Mac was terrified at first that I was going to go and just do the solo career. But I was never going to do that. I tried to make it every clear to them that they didn’t even have to worry about that because I adored being in Fleetwood Mac.
Are you working on a new solo album now?
Yes, I've been writing continually. Here [she hands me a sheet of paper titled: The Soldier's Angel, inspired by her charity work]. It's one of the many poems that is ready to go to the piano right now. I'm always writing.
And will there be another Fleetwood Mac record?
I think Fleetwood Mac is thinking about working next year and we'll see how that goes. Lindsey knows that I did not have a great time during Say You Will. Because he was just not being very nice or friendly to me. And at my old age I'm like, "Please! I can't do it". Why should I? I have a great, great band. I just did a show two nights ago that got such a flamingly fantastic review. So the only reason for me to do this is for my heart. I 've always loved being in Fleetwood Mac and I'm never going to be the one to squash it if I think there is this much hope. So if Lindsey Buckingham wants to be the Lindsey Buckingham that he was a long time ago—and be happy with me and enjoy what I do, and enjoy my celebrity and just appreciate the marvellous gift of being in this elite band—then I will do it again. I will also walk away so fast that the palm tree tops will fall on his head.
You have this image as a vulnerable, sweetly bonkers creature, but you're actually pretty tough, aren't you?
Well, I had to be strong, or I would never have gotten through all this. And I have. I sit here today, still flamboyant, still crazy, still happy, becoming a better singer every day, writing better poetry, becoming a better photographer and artist, and still doing everything I love.
Nicks’s assistant pops a sleepy head around the door. It’s getting late—way past the bedtime of the average classic rocker—and there’s that plane to catch tomorrow, even if Nicks, eternal child, is happy to stay up all night. Strange to think that she will be 60 this May. How does she plan to celebrate?
“I told everybody at the show the night before last: Don’t anybody even think about planning a party, because if I’m going to have a 60th birthday party it’s going to be very special and I want to plan it.” There follows a tsunami of ideas ranging from a Gothic costume party “where everyone comes in serious, serious disguise and you can’t tell who you are” to “a Marilyn Monroe-style party with a Frank Sinatra-like orchestra and everybody comes in slinky evening gowns”. But she adds, the profession again: “We will be rehearsing and packing to get ready to go on the road that week, so I may wait till I come home. I’ve waited 60 years for this party”, she beams, “so I can wait two months.”