Stevie Nicks: Queen of the stoned age

Stevie NicksFleetwood Mac’s full-pelt excess and partner-swapping made for rock’s most incredible soap opera. But there’s one question everyone wants to ask Stevie Nicks. It concerns a large pile of cocaine, a tube and a loyal-to-a-fault assistant. “You know, I heard that rumour too,” she scowls at Paul Elliott.

HEARD THE ONE about the 70s rock superstar whose cocaine habit damaged her nose so badly that she paid someone to blow the coke up her arse instead? Stevie Nicks has. Her eyes narrow. “You know, I heard that too,” she snaps. “But of course that never, ever happened. That is an absurd statement. It’s not true. Maybe that nasty rumour came from the fact that people knew I had such a big hole in my nose, which of course didn’t stop me from doing cocaine one little bit.

“The hole in my nose is this big,” she says, sketching a diagram of her face with a circular hole at the right side of her nose, not much smaller than an eye. “I have very delicate tissue, so it ate away my nose. It’s so painful. I curse the day I ever did cocaine. Nothing really works right in my head now.

“That hole goes against God’s plan,” she frowns. “I’m a singer. I can’t fix it because it would change my voice, so I’m stuck with it forever, and it slowly deteriorates. If I could get hold of all these people who are doing cocaine right now, I’d say, ‘Let’s just put this pen through my nose and we’ll see how much you like that. Or better still, let’s put a belt through my nose, because that’s how big the hole is.’ If it’s doing that to your nose, imagine what it’s doing to your head, brain, and the workings of your entire body.”

*

Stevie Nicks
(Photo: Neal Preston)

At 53, Stephanie Lynn Nicks feels lucky to be alive. And it has certainly been an extraordinary life. As singer and songwriter for Fleetwood Mac, Nicks became a rock icon, sex symbol, multi-millionaire and drug addict. Her casual blonde beauty and classically Californian hippy-chick couture made her the most desirable rock singer on earth, at least until Debbie Harry came along.

Songs like ‘Dreams’ and ‘Sara’ — sung in a sexy, just-got-out-of-bed voice, at once husky and nasal — charmed the pants off America. A succession of rock stars fell under her spell: first Fleetwood Mac’s Lindsey Buckingham, then notorious rock pig Don Henley of the Eagles, then another bandmate, Mick Fleetwood. Then a brief marriage to Kim Anderson, the widowed husband of Nicks’s close friend Robin Anderson, who had died of leukaemia.

In the mid-’80s, Nicks conquered her decade-long coke habit at the Betty Ford Center in Palm Springs, then got hooked on prescription sedatives for another eight years. This, she says, nearly killed her. During this time she was diagnosed with Epstein-Barr virus, the cause of glandular fever, which results in extreme lethargy. Nicks also experienced an unsuccessful and painful cosmetic breast operation, details of which remain sub judice.

In short, Stevie Nicks has lived a bit. Nevertheless, the singer is a bag of nerves as she sits for Q‘s photographer in a Los Angeles studio. She has homes here and in her hometown of Phoenix, Arizona. Delicately, she explains that her most recent photo shoot reduced her to tears. “Photo sessions make you feel vain and bitchy,” Nicks sighs.

Today she is fussed over by a small army of women: hairdresser, stylist, make-up artist, plus Nicks’s assistant and two record label staff. Nicks’s two Yorkshire terriers scamper about. One is named Sulamith, after an obscure European artist famed for her paintings of fairies and angels, and recommended to Nicks by Mick Fleetwood. The other is christened Sara Belladonna after two of her mistress’s biggest hits.

After three long hours of make-up and preening, Nicks appears as she truly is — a beautiful woman of 53 — although her dissatisfaction as she peers through glasses at test Polaroids suggests a yearning to appear as she did in 1977, at 28, on the cover of Fleetwood Mac’s 25 million-selling Rumours.

As she poses for photos, a visit to the toilet where she has changed reveals a silk dress hung on a rail, a huge make-up bag and, oh, a pair of flesh-tone knickers on the floor. Stevie Nicks’s kecks. Imagine.

No traces of white powder are visible on the lacy material.

Stevie Nicks Trouble in Shangri-La (2001)Nicks is facing up to the camera again because she has a new album to sell. Trouble In Shangri-La is her first solo recording since 1994 s Street Angel and, while a few of the songs date back to the early 70s, the album has a fresh twist. Guest appearances from Sheryl Crow, who produces five tracks, Macy Gray, Sarah McLachlan, Lindsey Buckingham, Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers (albeit without Petty) and Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks lead Warner Brothers execs to believe that Nicks may affect a Santana-style renaissance.

Moreover, the best of these songs bear comparison to classic Fleetwood Mac. ‘Sorcerer’, written in 1974 and rejected for Fleetwood Mac’s ’79 album Tusk, confirms Nicks’s status as one of America’s finest songwriters. Strange, then, that she lacked the confidence to make this record until given a pep talk by old pal Tom Petty, whose duet with Nicks, ‘Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around’, was a hit in ’81.

*

You’ve waited a long time to make this album. What was worrying you?

Epstein-Barr makes you so tired. I was complaining a lot. I had dinner with Tom Petty in ’95. We’re close like a brother and sister, so Tom can say stuff to me that nobody else can. I said, “Will you help me get started on this —help me write some songs?” And he got angry with me. He said, “Yeah, you had a couple of bad years, but you need to reinvent yourself. You’re one of the best songwriters I know. You don’t need help.” I went home that night and told everyone, “This is it — I’m starting a new record.”

With Shangri-La's co-producer Sheryl Crow
With Shangri-La’s co-producer Sheryl Crow

Is Sheryl Crow another of your rock star friends?

She is. I can’t pull anything with Sheryl, nor her with me. Also, I can give her advice because I’ve already gone through everything she could possibly think of going through. She’s like the little sister I never had.

Rosanna Arquette and Laura Dern were with you in the studio when you were recording the track ‘Fall From Grace’. Do you have any “normal” friends?

You know what? That was the first time I met them! The only reason they were there was because they’d come to see Sheryl Crow. Sheryl does know everybody. I don’t. My producer John Shanks was cutting three verses out of that song until Rosanna and Laura told him, “John, put these things back in — you’re screwing up the story!”

Stevie Nick with R&B artist Macy Gray
Stevie Nicks with Macy Gray

How did Macy Gray fit in?

The only reason that Macy is on the record is because we’re managed by the same people. Originally I wanted Sting to sing that little high part on ‘Bombay Sapphires’, but I chickened out on calling him and I asked Macy to do it.

Why didn’t you call up Courtney Love or Prince? They’re friends, aren’t they?

Courtney and I would be friends if we’d spent more time together, but the Fleetwood Mac thing happened again in ’97 [the band reformed for an album The Dance] and my whole life was sucked away. I didn’t see her for a while and if you don’t work on friendships they drift away. Maybe when this whole thing is over I’ll call Courtney and have dinner. I like her.

Do you like her music?

I was disappointed that her last record didn’t do better. The songs were really well crafted. She sent it to me and I was, like, “Oh God, what if I don’t like it?” But I was pleasantly surprised. I was very disappointed for her that people didn’t get behind that record. I think she was very hurt about that.

And Prince? Didn’t he pester you to write sexier songs?

Prince is overtly sexual. I am very quietly sexual. That’s the difference. Prince always wants to be outrageous and flamboyant. I told him, “I do write about sex — you’re just not hearing it because you’re looking for this overt thing, a girl in a window, and that’s not what I’m about.”

Hasn’t he heard ‘Sara’? That bit about undoing the laces… you weren’t talking about your football boots, were you?

[Smiles] That was a very good line, right?

*

Stevie Nicks was 18 when she met the man who would change her life. It was 1966 and young California was celebrating a new love revolution with lots of soft drugs and shagging. Nicks, known as Stevie ever since she was a tot who could not pronounce “Stephanie”, was in her first and only year at Atherton High School in San Diego when she attended a student party and saw a hairy Lindsey Buckingham, sitting cross-legged on the floor, strumming a guitar. As if by magic, Buckingham was singing The Mamas And The Papas’ current hit ‘California Dreamin”. Without a trace of embarrassment, Nicks sat by him and joined in. They were destined to become American rock’s golden couple, albeit briefly. Of course, Nicks was not to know that it would end messily 11 years later with Buckingham screaming: “Get that woman out of my life — the schizophrenic bitch!”

Did you fall in love right there and then?

No, that didn’t happen ’til years later. I can’t really remember how it actually happened, but I must have just walked up and burst into song because I knew the words so well. How brazen! And then I didn’t see Lindsey again for two years. The drummer in his band Fritz called me and asked me if I wanted to sing with them.

Fritz
Early days with Fritz

Good name, Fritz. So when did it finally happen?

’71. We were in a band for three years and had our own partners and it was never even a question. Our relationship happened because we wanted to move to LA, and I don’t think either of us would’ve been brave enough to get in the car and drive to LA alone.

For a couple of years you worked as a waitress so that Lindsey could stay at home to write songs. Didn’t you end up hating him?

When you have a tragic, starving artist, if you hang out at home all the time you just get more tragic, so for me to go to that job for five or six hours a day was good. I said, “You can sit around thinking about being famous, but somebody’s gotta pay the rent here, and it’s obviously not gonna be you!” It was as independent as I’ve ever been, before or since.

You made one album as Buckingham-Nicks before Mick Fleetwood invited Lindsey to join Fleetwood Mac. Lindsey insisted that he and you were a package deal. Did you feel like a spare part?

Maybe at first, but I knew that I would be standing centre stage and I knew I was good. All they wanted was a guitarist to play like Peter Green, and Lindsey can do that. They did not need another woman in the band.

*

To many, Fleetwood Mac might appear cursed. Peter Green quit the group in 1970, his mental health damaged by heavy drug use. Another guitarist, Jeremy Spencer, disappeared a year later, also afflicted by drug-related trauma, and resurfaced as a member of US religious cult The Children Of God. A third guitarist, Danny Kirwan, was fired in 1972 and later admitted to psychiatric hospital. It would have been only natural for Nicks and Buckingham to fear the curse of the Mac. “Of course!” she says, spinning fingers by ears to signify madness. “They were all completely nuts. And, you know, Lindsey’s gone through his accursed guitarisms too…”

One day I woke up and felt that my friends were gonna find me dead, that’s gonna be a real bummer. I am much better now.

With Buckingham and Nicks writing and singing the bulk of the songs, Fleetwood Mac rapidly developed into one of the biggest rock acts in the world, but offstage their lives were a mess. As they began recording Rumours, Buckingham and Nicks were breaking up, as was the group’s other couple; bassist John McVie and his wife of seven years, singer and keyboard player Christine.

Nicks would later have an affair with Mick Fleetwood following his divorce from Jenny Boyd, sister of legendary rock star muse Patti. Ironically, it was Jenny Boyd’s affair with guitarist Bob Weston that precipitated Weston’s sacking from Fleetwood Mac in 1973. Just another minor scandal for rock’s most dysfunctional group.

After you and Buckingham split so acrimoniously, how tough was it working with him?

On TV one time he came right out and said it: “Sometimes, because of what had happened between us, I really didn’t want to help her.” I was very aware of that. I would be thinking, “I know you like this song — you’re just not doing anything with it because you’re mad at me.”

Were you shocked when he admitted sabotaging your songs?

You never really know anybody, do you? Really, you don’t. Look at all the people who come home one day to find that their husband has two other wives and 25 children and has been living a simple, perfect life with all these people.

Still, you said during Fleetwood Mac’s reunion tour in 1997 that when you and Lindsey sing those songs again on stage, under “beautiful lights”, with you in black chiffon, you’re in love again...

That’s the power of the music. It doesn’t matter what happens offstage — when we’re up there it’s like the old days because our spirits never really change. It really is wonderful. It’s just not wonderful when the affair comes off the stage. That screws up the band more than anything. You can be in love on stage and that’s fine, but as soon as you mess up and take it offstage, you don’t want to talk to people, you don’t want to stand next to them and you don’t want them to put their arm around you.

You’re not uneasy around two ex-lovers?

I feel the same way about Mick and John and Chris and of course Lindsey that I feel about my parents and my brother and my sister-in-law. That’s because I’ve spent about as much time with them as I have with my family. In hindsight, all my relationships have been truly wonderful. I just spent Monday night with Mick and Lindsey, and played Mick my record because he hadn’t heard it. A minute ago I said you never really know people, but I really do know pretty much everything about Mick.

Did he really name Tusk after his penis?

I don’t know. I’m gonna call him as soon as I get home and ask him.

Did he tell you he was going to give his coke dealer a credit on Rumours?

Well, it’s probably true, but everybody always got it for me so that I didn’t have to go and hang out with the dealers.

*

Fleetwood’s dealer was the victim of a gangland execution before Rumours was released. Not entirely suprisingly, Nicks describes the period 1975 to 1986 as “the cocaine years”.

“I did not do any more coke than anybody else in that band did,” she insists, but her lifestyle was certainly that of the coked-up prima donna. Mick Fleetwood once commented, “If Stevie wanted a hotel suite painted pink with a white piano in it, what are you going to do — say no?”

Guilty?

[Spluttering] No, I wasn’t that bad! But I always wanted a fabulous room. Absolutely! From the first day I joined Fleetwood Mac, we got a first class ticket and a limousine picked us up. So it’s their fault that I’m like this!

You got together with Don Henley as he was finishing Hotel California and you were working on Rumours. Was it the perfect rock star romance it seemed?

My relationship with Don was really nice but precisely because we were both really famous rock stars, it didn’t last. It was too hard. But we really did care about each other and we still do.

Did Henley really have you whisked to his side in a Learjet, prompting him to quip, “Love ’em and Lear ’em”?

I never heard him say that but that’s something he would have said. He sent a little cranberry-red Learjet to pick me up from a Fleetwood Mac gig somewhere and fly me to New York. It waited on the ground for me to fly back the next day so I could make my gig. That was one of the first things that had me thinking, “Being a rock star really is wild!”

The Cocaine Years, then…

I managed to slip by pretty well. I had a lot of fun, and I wrote a lot of great songs. It still almost killed me, but what I regret the most was taking tranquillizers, and that wasn’t even my idea. It really sucked away my creativity.

I went to Betty Ford to get off coke and when I came out I was totally fine. I was done with it. Nobody believed it, but I knew. People bugged me about getting some sort of therapy, so finally I saw a psychiatrist who treated me with sedatives, which is fine if you’re really screwed up, but I wasn’t. I was this girl sitting here right now. A little nervous, but that’s me. I was told, “If you take this, you probably won’t go back to cocaine.” Finally I said OK. And in the next eight years I did so much that I regret. I fired people. I didn’t care.

Because of the pills?

You don’t really feel much when you take this stuff. You don’t feel like when you take a blue Valium and you get all cosy. You have a feeling of calmness that is so overwhelming, you have no soul left. So the songs I wrote in those years were terrible. I’m pissed because I missed ten years. I went from my thirties to my fifties. Isn’t that a drag?

Are you happier with your life now?

I appreciate evey day, because I really don’t feel that I would have lived for very much longer if I’d gone on with it. I would have OD’d on something really stupid, because you’re just constantly looking for something to make you feel a little bit better. You can really screw up. One day I woke up and felt that my friends were gonna find me dead, that’s gonna be a real bummer. I am much better now.

*

Cocaine, pills, illness, affairs, a broken marriage, a holy nose and the curse of Fleetwood Mac: Nicks has survived it all. She remains happily single, “way too old” for kids, and comfortable with her age, at least when she is not being photographed.

She maintains her health using a treadmill every day and adhering to Dr Robert Atkins’s low-carb diet (no bread, cereal, fruit, sugar or pasta). “Otherwise,” she warns, “I’ll turn into a little plump old lady.”

“I like being my age,” she declares. “I like the wisdom I have, the experience. I like the fact that I know what’s going on. In my thirties I was a crazed rock star. I like my life better now.”

She is no Buddhist, she says, but this is Stevie Nicks’s mantra. If she repeats it enough times she can keep believing it.

Paul Elliott / Q / May 2001

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  • Fleetwood Mac: Wembley Stadium, London, June 18, 2019 Tuesday, June 18, 2019
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  • GAK YEARS: Mick Fleetwood confirms ‘tale’ of his seven-mile line of cocaine Sunday, June 16, 2019
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