Stevie Nicks got to sleep at home last night for once, her skinny, half-blind, half-hairless 16-year-old dog, Sulamith, snuggling at her feet, in a four-poster bed too tall for either of them. “I have to take, like, a running jump to get up there,” says Nicks, who, for all the potency of her presence, is five feet one without heels. She lives in an oceanside condo in Santa Monica, a “space pad” with floor-to-ceiling views of half of Los Angeles County. Her bedroom décor is spare: a Buddha statue on the polished hardwood floor, a vintage globe on a stand, a white stuffed rabbit perched on some pillows, a modest flatscreen, a rack of stage clothes in the corner that serves as the only reminder that she’s actually still on tour. Nicks made it back from a Fleetwood Mac show at the Forum around four in the morning, managing six and a half hours of sleep. She has another concert tonight, with no day off in between. Her back hurts. ‘We’re tired,” Nicks says, brightly, “because we’re very old.”
Today’s show is an Anaheim arena, an hour from home. Nicks, her long blond hair wrapped in yellow, blue and purple plastic curlers, has flopped onto a well-worn black leather massage chair, feet up, at the rear of her backstage dressing room. It’s early December, and the sun is setting in pastels among the palm trees outside. There are only a couple of hours left before Nicks has to be back onstage in her black corset and skirt, harmonizing once more on “The Chain” with a guy she dumped during the Ford administration.
The ex in question, Lindsey Buckingham, is a formidable frontman, a virtuosic guitar innovator, an obsessive studio genius à la Brian Wilson, a snappy dresser with first-class cheekbones. He would be the undisputed star of almost any other band. But Buckingham had the mixed fortune to join Fleetwood Mac with his beautiful girlfriend, an intuitive, mystical, prolific composer (she used to write a song a day) with a hoarse, trilling miracle of a voice and an unearthly, shamanic stage manner – a maker of myths, a wearer of shawls, a genre unto herself, a woman taken by the sky.
At the moment, Nicks is wearing black legging, fuzzy UGG-like black boots, and a selection form what may be the world’s leading leading collection of diaphanous black tops. She is gurgling scales along with a recording of her vocal coach while flipping through a new memoir by Janis Joplin’s road manager. “Look,” Nicks says, perking up. “I knew Janis wore sling-back heels.” Joplin was a formative influence, but Nicks has found a different, frillier balance between toughness and vulnerability. “I think Janis was not as comfortable with herself as a woman,” says Nicks’ close friend, singer-songwriter Vanessa Carlton (who had Nicks conduct her wedding). “But Stevie understands how much power there is in the feminine, and she’s not afraid of it.”
“Stevie is strong-willed,” says Heartbreakers guitarist Mike Campbell, a longtime friend and collaborator, “and at the same time, she’s vulnerable and fragile. And that’s a really great combination. She became this icon for girls – and probably most guys in the Seventies wished they had a girlfriend like Stevie Nicks.”
Nicks stands and plugs her iPod into her road-case-enclosed stereo, via a cord with a cute furry covering. “I have so many playlists,” she says. She selects one that kicks off with a deep cut from Aretha Franklin’s Who’s Zoomin’ Who. Nicks heads over to her makeup table, beside a klieg light, and points out a framed black-and-white picture by the mirror, in which a bright-eyed little girl stares down the camera with a defiant smirk. “This is me in third grade,” she says, “right before getting kicked out of Catholic School.” (In fact, she explains later, her parents let her quit, thought she clearly prefers the version where she’s expelled.)
The dressing room is more utilitarian than vibe-y, which seems rather un-Stevie: no candles, no drapes, no incense, just a dog bed for Sulamith, a Yorkie-Chinese Crested mix who truly fits into the “tired because she’s old” category. While Sulamith rests, Mana, a younger, more energetic little dog, does laps around the room, offering a rubber frog to visitors. Mana belongs to Karen Johnston, an unflappably loyal and good-humored brunette who’s been Nicks’ assistant for the past 26 years (Nicks treats that as an semi-official title, as in “This is Karen, my assistant of 26 years”). Johnston is also in all black and wears a helpful lint brush on her belt.
There are a couple of other pictures leaning against Nicks’ makeup mirror, each meant to inspire. One, taken in the late seventies, shows a pigtailed Nicks writing a never-to-be-released song with a tan, shirtless, hunky-looking George Harrison. The other is recent shot of a beaming Nicks posing with a veteran from the war in Iraq. Pfc. Vincent Mannion, one of the many injured servicemen she’s befriended during her visits to the Walter Reed hospital. When they first met, Mannion wasn’t expected to survive, but now he’s doing fine.
Nicks is, in her own way, also a survivor. She endured two rehab stints for two life-threatening addictions in two different decades; lost her best friend, Robin, to leukemia, which so rattled Nicks that she briefly married Robin’s widower in hopes of raising their child; faced numerous other deaths and illnesses around her, including the recent passing of her mother, and an 18-year-old godson from an overdose; and came to terms with the apparent inability of any man to live in the shadow of her career, leaving her to “depend on her music like a husband,” as she once sang.
Nicks made it through all of that and more to find herself, at age 66, an idol among millennials, and not just the women. Harry Styles went to two Forum shows in a row, paying homage to Nicks backstage. The latter-day L.A. band Haim unabashedly worship her, and Nicks reciprocates, hoping to work with them. “You can’t help but be in awe of her presence,” says Alana Haim. “She’s the most powerful person I’ve ever seen onstage.” Generational arbiter Tavi Gevinson, 18, declared, in her TED Talk, that “the lesson of all of this is just to be Stevie Nicks…because my favorite thing about her – other than, like everything – is that she has always been unapologetic about her flaws.” Indie-pop singer Sky Ferreira got her record deal partly on the strength of a “Stand Back” cover. “I’m heavily influenced by her,” Ferreira says. “And if other people are influenced by her, thank God, because that means there’s going to be better music.”
Next on the playlist is Nelly Furtado’s “Maneater”, thumping at an impressive volume. Nicks breaks into a funky, arm-waving dance from her makeup chair. Wincing slightly, she calls out to Johnston, ‘We don’t have an ice pack here do we? Because I need it.”
But her assistant had just been called out of the room on other business. “Um, Stevie?” Johnston says. “Lindsey has requested that we turn the music down.”
Nicks rolls her eyes, her expression matching the little girl’s the photograph. “OK, maybe we should go into a different tape, since he’s next door,” she says. “We can go with something that doesn’t have quite that much bang. All he’s probably hearing is the drum, like in a car. This is the first time he’s ever been next door to us. That can never happen again!”
She switches to a new playlist of singer-songwriters (Jackson Browne, Sting) and Lite FM-ish dude rock (Goo Goo Dolls, The Fray). Nicks has no fear of the uncool; She invited Kenny G to play on one of her albums, composes lyrics while listening to a New Age station on satellite radio and devoured the Twilight books by firelight, even writing a song inspired by Bella’s plight.
Nicks keeps adding her own perfect harmonies to the song on her playlist, rendering the chorus of “How to Save a Life” suddenly haunting (she thinks it’s about visiting a friend in rehab). “I never sing along to the melody,” she says. “I always go for the harmony. And that’s been since I was really little, because my granddad was a singer, and he would bring me 45s and he’d say, “You’re a harmony singer. You’re a perfect Everly Brother.” Her grandfather, A.J. Nicks, was a semipro country performer who wanted to take her on tour when she was five; her parents demurred.
After a few minutes, we hear pounding on the wall. The music still isn’t low enough. “Relations with Lindsey are exactly as they have been since we broke up,” says Nicks. “He and I will always be anatagonizing to each other, and we will always do things that will irritate each other, and we really know how to push each other’s buttons. We know exactly what to say when we really want to throw a dagger in. And I think that that’s not different now than it was when we were 20. And I don’t think it will be different when we’re 80.”
During tonight’s show, Nicks will sneeze in Buckingham’s face, possible giving him a cold she may be getting. It’s an accident, thought she can’t help giggling when she tells the story. There’s more tension than usual in the Mac tonight, largely because Stevie agreed to be on the cover of ROLLING STONE by herself in the middle of their tour. (“I told her, ‘I’m so proud of you,’” says guitarist Waddy Wachtel, an old friend of Nicks, “and “Oh, boy, they’re going to be pissed off!”) When Mick Fleetwood stops by Nicks’ dressing room to get his own makeup done, he shakes my hand, says hello and then pointedly ignores me for the rest of the night.
There are two members of Fleetwood Mac Stevie Nicks has never argued or had sex with: Christine McVie and her ex-husband John. The band’s lineup was highly unstable following its formation in 1967 as a blues act, in part because the band’s guitarists had a bad habit of going insane and/or joining cults. By the time Nicks and Buckingham came aboard, in 1975, founding members Fleetwood and John McVie had been joined by Christine, then John’s wife. Their only audition was nonmusical: Everyone wanted to make sure the two women would get along, which they did. McVie’s McCartney-like sense of melody had girded some of the band’s biggest hits, but she and Nicks were never competitive, mostly because they were so different. McVie’s aesthetic is more leather than lace, and she’s happily tethered to her keyboard onstage. She’s not a twirler.
“I’m a tomboy,” says McVie. “I love men. I love hanging around with men. And Stevie is kind of a girly girl.” (Another sign of their bond; McVie is also the only non-Stevie member of the Mac who agreed to talk for this story.). “Stevie is very direct, very honest, very self-obsessed in a way. And I don’t mean that in a bad way. She has her brand, you know? She’s an icon. She’s a genius. She’s a lovely, kind, beautiful woman, and I love her to death.”
Their friendship was cemented on the Rumours tour, as McVie and Nicks simultaneously weathered their intra-band breakups. “We would always try to have rooms right next door to each other,” recalls Nicks, “so we could sit on the floor and watch TV and talk, and not have any idea where Mick, Lindsey and John were, and not care. If we went to the hotel bar, the three guys would all be down there, and there would be all the chicks, and the two guys who didn’t really want to break up, and that wouldn’t go down well at all.”
When McVie left the band in 1997 to live a quiet life in the English countryside, “it was very hard for me”, says Nicks. “It became very much the boys’ club, a lot of testosterone.” But McVie unexpectedly un-retired this year, and her re-entry into the band has made Fleetwood Mac this season’s hottest classic-rock ticket, despite the fact that they played many of the same venues on their 2013 tour. “It’s as if those years never existed,” says McVie. “I’m going, ‘What the hell did I do for 15 years?’”
Nicks quit Fleetwood Mac once, in 1991 – but they reunited at Bill Clinton’s first inauguration, and then for good in 1997. She could have easily quit as early as 1981, when her first solo album, Bella Donna, was a smash, far outselling the Mac’s then-most-recent LP, Tusk. And it’s not like she hasn’t been tempted. Part of her has always wanted to run away from the machine, to just be an artist, to live by the beach and write. “There are all the little things,” Nicks says, “and the big things that I’ve always wanted to do but have always been on the back burner. But we choose to stay. Because we can’t do anything else. None of us are ever going to stand up and say, ‘I’m going to make my own choice for the first time in my life, and I’m going away, and I don’t know if I’m coming back.’”
When Nicks first began work on Bella Donna with producer Jimmy Iovine, who would become her boyfriend for a bit, she faced skepticism. “Believe it or not,” says Iovine, “people told me that no one could bear to listen to her on more than three songs on a record. Which sounded nuts.” Nicks has since released a total of eight solo albums, three more than Fleetwood Mac have managed since her solo career began. She rushed to record her most recent solo LP, 24 Karat Gold: Songs From The Vault, drawing from long-unrealized demos, in the mere nine weeks she had to spare before this tour (“She was saying, “You know, I’m not getting any younger,” says her producer Dave Stewart, “and I wanna put there down!”). “That was me listening to my own voice,” she says.
Despite her Eighties flirtation with pop stardom, Nicks is, as her friend and occasional duet partner Tom Petty puts it, “a true rock & roll chick, in the best way.” A rock singer needs a band, as Nicks noted when she saw Jefferson Airplane in the late Sixties. “Jefferson Airplane was a huge band, and Grace was definitely part of that band,” says Nicks. “It wasn’t Grace Slick and the Jefferson Airplane, it was the Jefferson Airplane. I liked that.”
Sometimes, though, Nicks could seem half-in, half-out. Petty was once hanging out at a Fleetwood Mac recording session when Christine McVie asked him to suggest a musical change to Nicks. “So I said, “Well, why don’t you just ask her,’” says Petty. “And she goes, ‘Oh, you know her so much better than we do,’ and I thought, ‘That’s strange.’”
Truth is, there was one offer that might have gotten Nicks to leave: “Had Tom Petty called me up one day and said, ‘If you want to leave Fleetwood Mac to be in the Heartbreakers, there’s a place for you’, I very well might have done it. Anytime. Today! Because it’s my favorite band.” For years, Petty told her that the Heartbreakers had a “no girls allowed” rule, but he recently gave her a platinum sheriff’s badge with the engraving, TO THE ONLY GIRL IN THE HEARTBREAKERS.
“Stevie and Lindsey both made really good records on their own, but when we all get excited is when they get together,” says Petty. “As with a lot of bands, when they realize that they’re gonna have to spend their lives together, they get a little grumpy with each other, because they know they’re joined at the hip.”
McVie’s songs are highlights on the current tour; In the row in front of me at one L.A. show, Red Hot Chilli Peppers drummer Chad Smith goes nuts when they play the MOR classic “Little Lies”. But the show’s core spectacle is still Nicks and Buckingham excavating and re-excavating their ancient romantic grievances. Whatever goes on up there – and it is reliably veers between spite (“Go Your Own Way”) and helpless affection (they do a hand-holding bit on “Landslide”) – Nicks insists that they never fake it, that it’s never just a Wild West show re-enactment of Seventies boomer dysfunction. (Relations did get so distant on their 2009 tour, however, that they mostly ignored each other onstage.) “You can go onstage and have a bit of a love affair,” Nicks says, “and when you go back to your separate dressing rooms, it’s over. But while you’re on the stage, it’s real. And if it isn’t real, people would really know it.”
Nicks stares herself down in a magnifying mirror, penciling a dramatic line just below her orbital ridge, as the playlist shifts to Jackson Browne’s “Somebody’s Baby”. She always does this part of her look herself, despite the presence of her longtime makeup artist. “It’s like an old movie star,” she says, perfecting the line. “You’re really creating an eyelid. It’s also Greta Garbo makeup, and Marlene Dietrich makeup. And that’s why, with these kind of eyes, you can never, ever do Botox.” She grabs her forehead just above her eyebrows. “Because it will drop this down and you will look like a freak. I did it once, and it was so awful for, like, four months. So you don’t look like yourself. You look like some relative that nobody spoke to. You see people my age that just look ghastly. Ghastly! You just want to go, “Really, stay in your house for four months! Don’t come out.””
Nicks has been doing her own eyes in this exact style since high school in the early Sixties, when she was a notably good girl (“If you were going out with somebody, you went to a movie and you came home and parked in the driveway, and you made out in a very not-a-big-deal way, and then you came in”). She wrote her first song, the break-up opus “I’ve Loved and I’ve Lost,” at age 16. Her mother, who worked until her husband’s success brought social pressure to stay home, encouraged independence: “You will go to school,” Nicks recalls being told, “and you will be independent, and you will never be dependent on a man. And you will have a really good education, and you will be able to stand in a room with a bunch of very smart men and keep up with them and never feel like a second-class citizen.”
Nicks grew up upper-middle class in Arizona, California, Texas, New Mexico and Utah, moving constantly, thanks to her father’s burgeoning career as a corporate executive – he eventually became president of Greyhound’s Armours-Dial. She went to two different high schools, first in an L.A. suburb and then in what is now Silicon Valley. At a youth-group social near the latter school, she met a gorgeous young guy named Lindsey, a year younger than her, harmonized with him on “California Dreamin’”, and thought nothing more of it until his band, Fritz, reached out with an offer to join. She accepted and was soon commuting to San Francisco from college in San Jose to open for the likes of Janis Joplin and the Airplane. Nicks immediately got more attention than her male bandmates, to their displeasure. “We were being booked like crazy,” she recalls. “But they’d all say, “We want to book the band with the blondy brown-haired girl.”
After a few years, producers took Buckingham and Nicks aside to let them know that they’d have a better chance as a duo. They dumped Fritz, spent a year demo’ing at Buckingham’s father’s coffee plant, and then moved to L.A. As Nicks recalls, there was something sexy in the shared betrayal. “It was like, ‘Well, we’ve done it now,’” she says. “‘We’ve completely screwed up their lives forever now. So why not?’ So we became a couple. And from the very beginning Lindsey was very controlling and very possessive. And after hearing all of the stories from my mother and how independent she was and how independent she made me, I was never very good with possessive people or with controlling people.”
They made a solid album together, Buckingham Nicks (with a topless cover that mortified Nicks), but it flopped. By the time Mick Fleetwood heard the demos for their second album and offered them slots in his band, Nicks was working as a waitress as a restaurant called Clementine’s, driving a car that couldn’t go in reverse. They had nearly broken up under the stress, with Nicks briefly moving out of their apartment. As Fleetwood Mac members, they were immediately put on salary, and Nicks decided she was rich and would be so forever. “I said, ‘That’s it. I’ve never looking at another price tag,’” she says, laughing. “And I meant it.” Their 1975 debut with Fleetwood Mac, which included both “Rhiannon” and “Landslide”, instantly redefined the band. For a while, they were happy. “How could you not be happy? You were going with a drop-dead-gorgeous man who sang like an angel, and the world was yours, and you were in a band that was already somewhat famous in Europe. I mean, things were looking up.”
But in 1976, after spending months helping each other record songs for Rumours about their troubled relationship, Buckingham and Nicks had a final fight. “I’m done”, she told him, though she vaguely remembers a few drunken lapses in the months that followed. Somehow, the band kept on, and Buckingham kept arranging and producing Nicks’ songs. “Lindsey has this phenomenal understanding of what Stevie means on her demos,” says McVie. “And I don’t. She comes to me with a song and I go, ‘I don’t know what the **** you mean.’”
Recording 1979’s Tusk was stressful. Nicks was carrying on an affair with the married Fleetwood and didn’t really understand Buckingham’s studio experimentation. At the same time, the band’s drug use was escalating. “That really didn’t help out irritability levels,” says Nicks. “If you’re not happy with someone, then just go do some coke and see how much unhappier you can be. But you think that crap is helping you, so you do it because you think you’re getting better. You think you’re, like, immortal, like you’re just going to live forever, when you’re doing coke in the beginning.”
Buckingham behaved badly on the Tusk tour, mocking Nicks’ shawl-dancing in front of a crowd, kicking her onstage, and even, as Nicks and McVie recall, throwing a Les Paul at Nicks’ head during the show. (“I’m not sure that happened,” Buckingham has said.”). That night, McVie slapped him, and Nicks was “ready to kick his ass.” “It was a very difficult thing for me to have had Stevie break up with me and still be in a band with her,” Buckingham told me in 2013, “and to have to produce her and in a sense be a [art of this engine that was helping her move even further away from me – to never get the closure you get when breaking up with someone by not seeing them. Because we had to continue to be in this pressure cooker and do the right thing for the band. It was a difficult emotional time for years, and I think it took its toll in terms of my emotional availability and my temper.”
For all of that – and a nasty confrontation when Buckingham left the band for a while in 1987 – Nicks never quite gave up on a possible future together until he had his first child in 1998. “Because we started out so young together, both Lindsey and I would always laughingly say – which we both knew was never going to happen – that, like, when we were 90, and everybody else was dead, maybe we would end up together in an old folks’ home, because of what we had gone though, just him and me, for a long, long, long time. So when his first child was coming, I think we were walking in an airport, and I said, “Well, I guess we’re never going to get to that old folks’ home.” And he’s like, ‘Yeah, I guess we never are.’ It was something that we said in kind of a poignant way.”
For all her crystal-visionary mysticism and chiffon-hoarding, Stevie Nicks is not, as best as can be determined, an actual witch – though she did tweak years of rumors by playing one on American Horror Story. She always kind of wanted to be one, but never the evil kind. “I had a great love for Halloween, and for being a witchy character, from when I was six years old,” says Nicks. “And my mom and I argued about it every single year, that she was very tired of making witch costumes.” When she was in fourth grade, her mom made her a yellow Martha Washington costume. Nicks dyed it black.
She’s never really had ‘crystal visions’, but there are times when lyrics come to her unbidden, as if she’s “channeling some poet”. She’s confident she’s lived before this life: “I was definitely a performer in another life. Maybe I was in vaudeville or a ballerina. I’m too comfortable onstage.” And more to the point, there have always been moments in her performances when she taps into the ineffable, when something…odd seems to happen. She would work herself into head-shaking, closed-eyes, barely controlled frenzies during the coda of “Rhiannon”, her signature tale of, well, a witch; and then there is a stunning 1982 performance of “Sisters of the Moon”, captured on film and available on YouTube, in which she begins to caterwaul what are either nonsense syllables or an ancient faerie language.
On the current tour, Nicks dips back into this territory most nights during “Gold Dust Woman” the darkest track on Rumours. Buckingham called it “evil”, and it was weirdly prophetic, with its image of a woman digging her grave with a coke spoon, well before Nicks’ and her bandmates’ drug use seemed problematic. The version they’re playing now can stretch past 11 minutes, and while the band slips into an ominous, psychedelic breakdown, Nicks loses herself in dance, silhouetted against the stage, her hair merging with a golden shawl to form a winglike nimbus. At the Forum, she banged her head, waved her arms, shook her hips as she glided across the stage. There, in the shadow, she could have been 27 again.(“It’s like, ‘How are you doing this?’ says Alana Haim, who’s witnessed this moment. “It’s the craziest thing I’ve ever seen”).
The magic comes with a price – in this case, Nicks’ back pains. She was especially heedless in L.A. “The adrenaline hits me, and it’s like I could twist my head right off my body,” she says after that show, the night before Anaheim. “And I really hurt my back. I need ice every single morning when I wake up. I go ‘You gold-dusted out las night’. It’s the drug-addict in ‘Gold Dust Woman’ who is breaking her back. She’s out there and she’s looking for drugs, and I’m trying to create that situation onstage so people get what it’s about, which was a very heavy, bad time in my life.”
By the mid-Eighties, Nicks was risking her life with each bump of cocaine – doctors found a permanent hole in the cartilage of her nose. As it turns out, the hole was created by another drug: She used to dissolve aspirin in her water and squirt the solution into her nose as a headache cure, not realizing aspirin is an acid. “I thought I was being the best, most hygienic nurse ever,” she says.
In any case, she was a mess by 1986 or so, and her friends were scared, even if they shared their habits. ‘All of us were drug addicts,” says Nicks. “But there was a point where I was the worst drug addict….I was a girl, I was fragile, and I was doing a lot of coke. And I had that hole in my nose. So it was dangerous.”
“I did all I could to talk her into getting some help and getting right,” says Petty. “I was very worried about her. To the point that if the phone did ring and they said, ‘Stevie died,’ I wouldn’t have been surprised.”
At the end of her 1986 Rock A Little tour, she checked herself into rehab, and as she recalls it, told them, “Here I am. Fix me. Here’s all my problems, just fix me.” They did, more or less, but then a psychiatrist she calls “Dr ****head” prescribed her Klonopin, which led to at least as bad an addiction and another, worse, rehab stint in 1993.
Nicks never considered herself an alcoholic, and she still smokes a bit of weed, albeit as a creativity aid. “When I’m writing I will allow myself to smoke a little bit of pot,” she says. “It’s my one little thing that I can do. If I’m sitting at the piano and I’m writing, then I’m not out driving around in a car. Nobody is here, nobody sees me. I am not smoking with anybody. It’s just me, and it’s my choice. I use it as a tool, and I’m very careful, you know? And I get results. However, if I thought it was going to lead me back to something worse, I’d stop.”
There are many rooms in Stevie Nicks’ house, and she lives in none of them. Nicks bought a suitable grand semi-mansion just a few miles away from her condo around 2005, and pretty quickly realized that it wasn’t meant to be her home. “This is way too much house for me”, she says, greeting me there on a Sunday evening. “When I came and looked at this house, there was a family with a set of twins and two other children living here. It was jumpin’, this house, you know? And I was like, “Oh, it’s so fantastic! And then of course when I moved in, there’s no furniture and the family was gone and I’m like, ‘What happened? It’s empty!’ I thought the family came with the house!”
So she switched to the condo, where she feels young and unburdened. But Kellianne, one her many godchildren, lives at the house, taking care of the property, and Nicks used it to record her 2011 album In Your Dreams. All the recording equipment is here, and there are three pianos in the stairwell, including a pristine white Steinway that belonged to Leon Russell – she’s trying to figure out if it would fit into her condo somewhere. The piano is decorated year-round for Halloween. Sitting atop it are a large sculpture of a dragon, two ghoulish skeleton dolls, a glittery skull and, for good measure, a pair of Vivienne Westwood high heels.
It’s the day after the Anaheim show, and Nicks has some errands to run at the big house before heading off to the next concert, in Arizona. There, she’ll have a chance to see her brother, who recently recovered from bladder cancer. She’s wearing prescription sunglasses and more silken black. On her neck is a diamond-encrusted version of her trademark moon necklace, given to her by the jeweler father of a young fan named Sara, who became a friend before she died of cancer in her early twenties. It has 32 stones, one for each show Sara attended.
“Karen, I need the burn cream,” Nicks says, turning to me. “We had a pretty terrible accident two hours ago.” The accident, it transpired, involved some overheated green squash soup, which Nicks was eating for “breakfast” in bed, along with some eggs around 4pm. It spilled on Nicks’ hand, so she’s slathering it with an ointment she calls “Iraqi burn cream.” “It’s what they they put on burns victims,” she says. “Everyone should have this.”
There are three fireplaces going, and crystal chandeliers hang in almost every room. Nicks shows me a nook in the library, a window seat where she’d perch for hours in contemplation after the death of her mother in 2011. You can see the ocean through the window, and, if you look hard enough, her condo. “This room is magical,” she says.
Losing her mother, even at age 84, was shattering. Nicks moved back into the big house and went into seclusion. “I had to really get over the fact that my little mother – who was always the one to give me advice, from the day I joined the band with Lindsey in 1968, who was the lady on the other end of the phone telling me what was the right thing to do – was gone. And I was just horrified. I realized at that point, when I started to come out of it, that I was going to try and be as great as I could be and do the best I can in my work and also not take anything for granted and do the things that I want to do.”
But lately, she’s been hearing her mother’s voice again. “She says stuff to me that nobody in my world who’s alive can think of to say. And I now know there’s the other side, because of my mother. I know my mom’s tone, and I know her philosophy, and when I hear her answer a question for me, I go, like “There is another world.” I am no longer thinking what people tell you, like, “There’s nothing”. Well, there is. There is totally something, and Mom is on the other side.”
Nicks’ own closest brush with being a mom was when Robin Snyder Anderson, her best friend since childhood, died of leukemia just after giving birth in 1982. Doctors managed to save the child, and a dazed, coked-up, grieving Nicks married Robin’s widower. It lasted all of three months. “He was like, ‘Well, there’s no time in your life for Matthew or me.’ And I thought to myself, ‘Well, boy, are you right. There’s not.” As she prepared to go on the road, she told him she wanted a divorce. But she later reunited with Matthew, now 32, and paid for his college. Nicks is also a nurturing godmotherly figure to many young women, including Fleetwood’s daughters, who range in age from 12 to 43. When Nicks took care of a drunken and upset Vanessa Carlton one night, she told her, “That’s what mommies do for their babies” – and she flew to New York at the end of 2014 to be around for the due date of Carlton’s child.
Nicks has dated her share of rock stars, including both Don Henley and Joe Walsh of The Eagles, but they weren’t any better at dealing with the demands of her career. “The rock & roll people I went with – they didn’t understand my life either,” she says. “You would think they would have, but they didn’t. They weren’t all that different than your normal lawyer, because they thought, in the egos of men, that I would be giving up a part of my life for them. And I wasn’t going to do that. I was also in a band that was equally as famous as their bands, so that wasn’t going to work for them, because they thought I should be taking the woman’s place there. That was everything that my mother taught me not to ever do.”
In the late Nineties, she tries dating a younger, nonfamous dude – a waiter, in fact – but that didn’t work either. “I was 50 and he was 30, and he was a very old 30 – he had two little boys and was a very nice man,” she recalls, sitting on a maroon couch in her living room, where a vocal mic is still rigged up overhead. On the glass coffee table are her burn cream; a water-damaged copy of an Oscar Wilde anthology she’s had for decades, filled with her old underlinings; two unlit candles; a book about Jimi Hendrix; and a bowl decorated with the lyrics of “Landslide” – a gift from the Dixie Chicks. “And he really cared about me.” But she found the situation embarrassing and tried to keep him under wraps. “One day, he came home and said, “I got two tickets for Bill Maher, will you go with me?” and I’m like, ‘Are you insane!? No, I’m not going. I’m famous! I’m Stevie Nicks! Everybody’s gonna spend the whole time taking pictures of us. And I can’t keep on making excuses about why you can’t go anywhere I can go. Like, can I take you to the Grammys? No. Can I go the market with you? No. Can we go to a movie together in downtown Santa Monica? No. All we can do is stay in.”
So she’s ruled out younger men and doesn’t particularly want to date older ones: “What if I fall in love with somebody and they die?” And she doesn’t hold out much hope for guys her age. “They wanna go out with somebody that’s 25,” she says. “That has been going on since the Bible, and I haven’t even read the Bible, but I know that. So what am I gonna do, compete with that? I’m not a competitor. So I don’t even wanna be in that situation.”
So, in short, ‘I’ve narrowed it down to nobody,” she says, and laughs hard. “Sounds like a good country song, doesn’t it?” She begins to sing: “I’ve narrowed it down to nobody/Nobody’s the right one for me.” Her most recent relationship ended in 2004, and if it turns out to be her final romance, she can deal with it. “I had a lot of great relationships,” she says. “A lot of great, totally sexy, totally romantic relationships. Don Henley flew me in a cranberry-colored jet to the Omni in Atlanta during Hotel California. I have had experiences that have been so amazing that if I never go out with anybody again, my memories are so full of incredibly beautiful, sensual, fantastic experiences that it’s OK… And my life today is great, and I have wonderful friends, and I have music.”
Nicks has a lot of plans for her future: She wants to do a TV show or movie based on the original Welsh Rhiannon myth. Maybe she’ll finally write the memoir people keep asking about, though it won’t be “the dirty sex book they want”. She wants to write novels, to produce young artists. She wants to spend time in the third home she has nearby, an opulent seaside trailer. “I have been so ensconced in being in Fleetwood Mac and being in my own solo work,” she says. “When I choose for all of that to come to an end, then that door will fly open for me. And I will walk into my trailer, and I will, like, fall to my knees on my cushy white rug and look out at the ocean and go, ‘I am finally free. I can now do all of those thing I’ve always wanted to do.’
“And then maybe I’ll take a break and move to Paris and live another couple of years there,” she continues. “And learn to speak French and go out with some really old guys from Paris that are 102. It’s all going to be good, and I did what I came here to do. My mom said, ‘You have always been on a mission. Your mission has been to entertain the world. And you have done it since you were five years old.’”
It’s getting late, and Nicks’ hairdresser has come by to prep her for her next day’s show. But before I go, she has her assistant bring out a stack of canvases: the drawings and paintings Nicks has been working on for decades. Nicks discovered a sudden talent for visual art around the time of Robin’s death, and she’s convinced it was a parting gift from her friend. There’s an outsider-art quality – and a distinct power – to her dream-logic compositions, which tend to be dominated by pretty but forlorn female faces, surrounded by abstract shapes (“This is really my forte – the stuff that looks like bones and teeth”) and interwoven crystalline structures. Nicks started many of them late at night in the early Eighties. More often than not, she was on drugs and feeling “alone and lost in a lot of ways.”
Sometimes she’d start a painting, then ruin it when she was “totally stoned” – she shows me one that’s slathered in muddy brown and glitter: “This is too much drugs,” she says. “Probably Klonopin.”
That one can’t be fixed. But when she gets the time, she likes to take out her other drawings and add to them, to fix them, to try to undo mistakes she made when she was young and high and lost. “I’m never finished with them” Nicks says, looking at a sad, beautiful face from long ago. “I can bring them back to life.”
Brian Hiatt / Photographed by Peggy Sirota / Rolling Stone / Wednesday, January 29
Special thanks to Jeanie Kropat Pressler and Nicole Barker for contributing to this page.