This week’s Free Ride* muses on the songs of Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac and solo fame, who turns 64 today. This mystical gypsy and bella donna of classic rock has one of the most recognizable voices in the rock world, as well as one of the most recognizable personas, with her wispy blond hair and her chiffon dresses and platform boots gliding across concert stages. As much as I was a dedicated connoiseur of the edgier rock sounds of the 70s and a dedicated poo-pooer of the softer sounds of pop, Stevie and Fleetwood Mac reeled me in. Among my dorm room decor throughout college was a framed Rolling Stone cover on the wall, the 1981 edition graced by Stevie Nicks, white bird in hand. When CD technology came out, Rumours was among the first in my collection. Stevie Nicks has managed to sustain quite a career throughout serious health challenges to her throat and voice, and many relationship conflicts and dramas among her Fleetwood Mac colleagues. For the first example of her contributions to the songbook of freedom, we can look to one of those rocky periods in 1976, when the band was recording Rumours. Two of the group’s founders, John and Christine McVie, were going through a divorce, and Nicks was in the middle of a break-up with her long-time lover and bandmate, Lindsey Buckingham. While the rest of the group was working on a song in one studio, she took her Fender Rhodes piano into another studio, sat down, and composed Dreams in ten minutes. It would become the group’s only number one hit, and expresses the sadness of the freedom they were all gaining as a result of the breakups.
Now here you go again
You say you want your freedom
Well who am I to keep you down?
It’s only right that you should
Play the way you feel it
But listen carefully to the sound
Of your loneliness
Like a heartbeat drives you mad
In the stillness of remembering
what you had,
And what you lost. . .
Then, a couple of years later, as the band miraculously stayed together through all these relationship dramas (Nicks started and ended an affair with Mick Fleetwood in the meantime), she composed Gypsy. The inspiration was two-fold; when she originally wrote it in 1979 she was waxing nostalgic for the early days, pre-Fleetwood Mac, when she and Lindsey Buckingham were surviving in the starving artist lifestyle. She longed to go back to that simpler time, that gypsy life. And then, as the Mirage album was being recorded three years later, she learned that her best friend, Robin Anderson, was dying of leukemia. She added some lyrics at the end of the song, I can still see your bright eyes, and dedicated the song to Robin.. Again, the spirit of the song is a longing to go back to simpler times, before the tragedies and griefs had taken their toll. And she conjures up that gypsy spirit still living within her:
In the simplicity of life that we sometimes find on the far side of complexity, we can appreciate the artistry of someone like Stevie Nicks. May she face the freedom of her 64th year with her dreams intact, with childlike love driving out all fear.