Stevie Nicks, sounding like a survivor

Rock’s ‘funny little voice’ sings a strong solo on pains and pleasures of her life

(ENCINO, Calif.) The French doors leading from Stevie Nicks’ six-story manse to her pool are open to catch a breeze. But dusk’s cool air can’t relieve the singer’s watery eyes.

“My allergies are killing me tonight,” she sniffles, lighting a cigarette, then dabbing her big baby browns.

“My feet are killing me, too.” She frowns at her size 6, copper-colored Nickels heels, kicking them off in favor of comfy white Reeboks — “and my white socks.”

They don’t go with her Betsey Johnson black velvet mini, but “it’s OK,” she quips, “there are no men here.”

That may be a first for Nicks, 43. Hailed as the queen of mystic rock ‘n’ roll, the lyrical blond muse with the self-described “funny little voice” has had a wild 18-year ride, recording with bigwigs Lindsey Buckingham, Tom Petty, Mick Fleetwood, Joe Walsh and Don Henley.

Now, it’s time for a look back at her decade as a solo artist. Her new album, Timespace: The Best of Stevie Nicks, is a collection of personal favorites. Among new songs are “Desert Angel,” which she wrote for the gulf war troops, and “Sometimes It’s a Bitch,” by Jon Bon Jovi.

The lyrics personify Nicks’ pleasure-and-pain life:

Sometimes it’s a bitch, sometimes it’s a breeze
Sometimes love’s blind and sometimes it sees
Sometimes it’s roses, sometimes it’s weeds.

“I felt that if (Bon Jovi) knew nothing else about me … he knew I had a strong instinct to survive,” writes the former Fleetwood Mac singer in her album’s song-by-song liner notes. Nicks decided to reveal “a lot about my life … things I’ve never told before,” she says, “so that (people) might understand a little bit more why I am the way I am. And why I don’t change very much.”

Indeed, neither Nicks’ ethereal image nor her wispy, indelible sound has been updated much for the ’90s. She doesn’t fret about the current crop of cookie-cutter female singers.

“They do what they do and I do what I do. I’m timeless. I got that Dickensian, London street-urchin look in high school. I’ll never be in style, but I’ll always be different.”

Her trademark collection of chiffon and velvet dresses, platform boots, fringed capes and shawls – all painstakingly mended and cleaned by hand – is kept in an air-controlled closet. “I’ve had this one black skirt for eight years and I keep wearing it,” she says. “I have to. It’s like the ruby slippers.”

Nicks’ wardrobe was forced into flexibility. In her early days with Fleetwood Mac, she weighed 105 pounds; several years ago the scales shot to 130. “It’s a lot of weight if you have teeny, tiny bones like I do,” says the 5-foot-1 pixie.

Her fluctuating weight spawned rumors from health problems, to kicking her longstanding cocaine addiction, to simple overeating.

“I didn’t gain it from (kicking drugs). I gained my weight from pneumonia during the (1987) Tango in the Night tour,” she says. She was given steroid shots to keep her vocal cords from swelling, and to keep the tour going. “And I was on antibiotics the whole time, in addition to serious asthma treatments.”

She talks softly, curled on a couch with her favorite white blanket. “I’m getting skinny now. I’ve lost at least 20 pounds. The only way you stay thin — and I’m not thin, I’ll never be thin — is to change the way you eat.

“I haven’t had a hamburger in four years. For me, not to have had a cheeseburger is like an amazing thing ’cause that was probably — sans drugs and everything else — my favorite thing in life.”

No more burgers. No more drugs.

When she joined Fleetwood Mac in 1975, drugs were part of the rock ‘n’ roll life. “It was like being swept up on a white horse by a prince. … There was no way to get off the white horse – and I didn’t want to. It took over my life in a big way.”

In 1986, a doctor friend scared her so straight she immediately checked into the Betty Ford Center. “Oh yeah,” she recalls. “I made the famous pact with God.”

She confesses she sometimes misses the drug lifestyle, “how crazy it was.”

But she’s proud to have stayed only 28 days at Betty Ford. “That’s not very long to break a 12-year habit.”

She does have an occasional drink. She offers wine while rummaging through cupboards for a little rum, which she can’t find. She won’t drink much, she says, ” ’cause it’s too fattening. I’d rather eat a piece of cake.”

Dinner this evening is buffet style, chicken or steak. “Where’s mine?” Nicks asks the five women — ever-present friends and aides — already at the rough-hewn kitchen table. “Get up and get it yourself,” teases Wendy, the cook, and Nicks does.

Talk turns to the videos on a nearby TV. “Cher looks terrible in that red wig!” someone says. “But Madonna, she looks great,” says another.

So does Nicks, in the many pictures that adorn her castle walls — portraits, paintings, family snapshots, album covers. On one wall of her white-on-white living room is a huge print of Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours album cover. It features Nicks and Mick Fleetwood, for whom she wrote “Beauty and the Beast.”

After 15 years, her split from the band was less than amicable. “Mick and I are not speaking,” she says, still miffed over a business dispute. Never, she says, will she record with him again.

She denies the rift occurred because of Fleetwood’s tell-all 1990 autobiography, which detailed his liaison with Nicks. “I didn’t read it,” she says crisply. “I don’t need to read about something I lived.”

She lived, too, with former Mac member Lindsey Buckingham, for almost seven years. “I cooked and cleaned and took care of him. I mean, my mom and dad considered Lindsey and I married. So did I. So did he.

“(Now) Lindsey and I don’t speak at all and I wouldn’t bother to call because … if he did pick up the phone and it was me, he would hang up.”

“It’s a sad way to end a long, wonderful relationship,” she says. (Neither Fleetwood nor Buckingham could be reached for comment.)

Nicks is used to endings. “In almost every relationship I’ve had, my career has ruined (it). I will never be able to stay with anyone really long, because there will come a point when they say ‘I can’t deal with your life.’ ”

Maybe that’s why she has considered adopting a baby girl. “I could do that on my own. I could spend a lot of time with her. Just because I have those shows at night doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t take all my other time and put it into that baby. This would never be a lonely or unhappy baby.”

She concedes that adopting as a single parent is hard. “I don’t know if it’s possible,” she sighs. “If I wanted to really have one, I could do that, too. But I’m booked up for the next couple of years. So someone would have to come into my life that is so intense that I’d be willing … to make serious changes.”

Her work future is easier to predict: a new solo album; possibly more touring; and a book of letters, poetry and photos. She’s saving “the really serious biography for later. It’s a little bit much now.”

Still, Nicks isn’t likely ever to swap her cape for a pen. “I love making people happy with music. I don’t know what I’d do without that. You give up a lot to get a kingdom, but you get an awful lot back.”

Shawn Sell / USA Today (Life)/ October 16, 1991

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