By Ben Kessler
Tuesday, January 17, 2012
Saluting Stevie Nicks’ “Soldier’s Angel”
Years from now, 2011 may be remembered as the year postfeminism produced poster girls for the status quo. Female-fronted hits such as the movie Bridesmaids and the TV show New Girl were hailed as breakthroughs, despite their unremarkable content. (Bridesmaids even showed up on some confused critics’ year-end best lists.)
Ironically, inordinate media attention turned this distaff escapist trend into a genuine threat to women’s cultural advancement. The “women in comedy” hype carries the suggestion that lucrative half-truths are the best female artists can hope to achieve; risking personal expression turns funny chicks into Debbie Downers.
My choice for best pop song of last year, Stevie Nicks’ “Soldier’s Angel,” points the way out of hype. As if responding to Bridesmaids and New Girl, Nicks shows us how 21st-century pop artists can speak truth and navigate politics.
In “Soldier’s Angel,” Nicks tells how her visits with wounded veterans at Walter Reed and Bethesda Naval Hospital unsettled her as a woman, citizen and icon. Lindsey Buckingham’s resonant guitar notes ensure that the song is threaded through with dread in the face of mortality. Against this stirring backdrop, Nicks’ voice—scarred and pitted by time and trouble—expresses a veteran artist’s perseverance for inspiration.
Imagining how the soldiers to whom she ministers must see her, Nicks sings, “I am a soldier’s girlfriend as I look upon their faces/ They make me remember my first love/ Goin’ out to dances.” Buckingham’s presence as guitarist and background vocalist connects her romantic recollection to our collective Fleetwood Mac memories. As “smart” pop critics might say, Nicks “implicates the audience” in her healing mission.
The refrain of “Solder’s Angel” speaks of the “war of words between worlds” within which Nicks’ mission is enmeshed. This must refer to the partisan scapegoating that has infected American political discourse. While Hollywood entertainment like Bridesmaids and New Girl promises escape from political conflict, Nicks elevates the discourse to a philosophical, even spiritual plane.
“Soldier’s Angel” was a 2011 highlight, but it may resonate even more profoundly in this election year. As Nicks warns: “No one walks away from this battle.”