Stevie Nicks has always had dreams that literally come true…
Stevie Nicks, 1977
Early in Stephen Davis’s workmanlike unauthorized biography of Stevie Nicks, we witness the circumstances of her most enduring creation’s birth. Twenty-six-year-old Nicks—sick and tired of waitressing; struggling with the controlling behavior of her boyfriend, Lindsey Buckingham; fighting to keep their flailing band, Buckingham Nicks, alive—was holed up in sound engineer Keith Olsen’s house. High on LSD—“the only time I ever did it,” Nicks says—she spent three straight days listening to Joni Mitchell’s just-released album Court and Spark on Olsen’s giant speakers. The record inspired her on both a technical and a thematic level. What Mitchell was describing, with unusual candor, were the perks and pitfalls of being a female rock star. When she heard it, Nicks had a premonition, or received a warning. After she came down, she composed the song that would make the prophecy of megafame real and that she would perform in various versions for decades to come. She left the demo cassette of “Rhiannon” for Buckingham with a note: “Here is a new song. You can produce it, but don’t change it.”
This story, like many of the tales people tell about Nicks and that Nicks tells about herself, is goofy and vague but still suffused with genuine magic. The Stevie Nicks legend is full of prophecies: She has always had dreams that literally come true. Songs like “Landslide,” “Gold Dust Woman,” and “Silver Springs” predicted her future and bound her forever to a onetime lover whose fate was to “never get away from the sound of a woman who loves him.” What is the secret of her near-mystical communion with the audience? How did she survive being in a band with not one but two acrimonious ex-lovers? Why did she ever put up with Buckingham, who is portrayed from the very beginning as angry, sarcastic, boorish, cruel, and even violent? Gold Dust Woman has a lot of detail about buffets, drug quantities, costumes, and tour schedules, but I never really expected it to answer those kinds of questions. Answers would have required Nicks to speak to a biographer, to remember accurately, and to be honest. None of that seems likely to ever happen; Nicks has been giving essentially the same interview for decades and has no incentive to set the record straight. Her music speaks for itself and her fortune and legacy are secure.
Maybe a better question, then: Even though I doubted it would offer any real insight into Stevie’s soul, why was I eager to read this and every other book ever written about her? Plenty of women in the history of popular music have written ubiquitous hits and created memorable aesthetics and rituals around their performances. But no one else has inspired an event like Night of a Thousand Stevies, an annual drag ball with dozens of tribute performances and hundreds of attendees. It’s been going on for twenty-seven years. Nicks’s songs are a crucial part of her appeal, but her persona—her shtick—is inescapably compelling. When people think of Fleetwood Mac, they think of Nicks, flaunting the incredible wingspan of her shawl in a spotlight as the rest of the band recedes into shadow.