Hello, hello, hello.
In honor of Stevie Nicks’s birthday on the 26th, the rest of this newsletter is THEMED!!! Roll your eyes and say “can you come up with something else?” I dare you! (I can; it's just that I'm tired and I don't want to.) You are more than welcome to drag this straight to your trash can or smash the unsubscribe button below.
I could use this intro section to apologize for stanning, but I’m trying to not do that anymore. Because a conclusion I’ve recently come to (not without the help of many friends telling me it repeatedly until I finally listened) is this: I’m fascinated by Stevie Nicks. I’m good at researching and knowing my shit when it comes to Stevie Nicks. And I’m actually pretty good at writing about Stevie Nicks. (This is partly me feeling confident today but also partly because there's just a lot of utterly terrible writing about Stevie Nicks out there, so.) I’m not going to be sorry for that.
When I figured this out a few years ago, it felt like a lightbulb going off. Thinking I had finally discovered an area of expertise as a writer, I ran full force at the idea of being a ~millennial Fleetwood Mac scholar.~ But then I stopped, for a few reasons, but a large one being embarrassment. Every time Stevie Nicks was dismissed as an airhead, I felt dismissed as stupid, too. And for all the railing I do against the messaging that girls who were obsessed with music were just weirdo fangirls who would never be taken seriously, I ended up internalizing it. It made me feel like an idiot.
It took me awhile to come back to realizing that, duh, legitimate writers — many of whom I respect and admire — have niche subjects they're experts in and write about frequently. When it’s done right, it can influence us to interpret culture differently, tell an enthralling story that's simply better than fiction, and teach us about both about the ways someone else shaped the world and about ourselves, the ways we’re all alike, and what we can learn from each other. Why did I think I wasn't good or serious enough to be a writer who does that kind of thing?
That’s all very highfalutin, so on a more basic level: I’m back on my bullshit. I’m back to talking and writing about people I admire, back to lightly talking shit about them when they do dumb things (because WE ALL do shitty things and the standom idea of ignoring bad behavior in the name of deifying someone is so gag-worthy to me), and back to poking fun when they’re silly.
So here’s to the artists we stan. And here’s Stevie Nicks on the eve of her 71st birthday, and the range of content she inspires in the coming year.
thanks sorry love u bye,
SOME THOUGHTS I HAVE BEEN THINKING
i think about this a lot: stevie nicks’s backstage wild heart (the cut ghosted me on this pitch for their series but that’s okay because it lives here now!)
A series of images come to mind the moment someone so much as says Stevie Nicks’s name: the witch by way of Dickensian orphan wardrobe, the the crescent moon motifs, the white winged doves. Over the past 40 years, she’s crafted a persona so distinct and unique to herself that it’s become a descriptive shorthand anyone can use. While her image has become so iconic, the one I like to think of the best — and, thereby, the most — when I think of Stevie Nicks is an image where she’s barely recognizable as Stevie Nicks at all.
Rather, it’s a video clip from a grainy VHS tape from around 1981 and uploaded to YouTube in the platform’s earliest days. Once something of a best kept secret, it steadily racked up millions of views (the original was pulled for copyright infringement around 2017), duplicate uploads (which have collectively wracked up nearly 200,000 views), a shoutout from Mark Duplass in T Magazine, and a spot as a distorted sample in a Bon Iver song. In short: it’s become a whole thing unto itself.
Taken backstage during a Rolling Stone photoshoot, the video captures — and I simply cannot describe this in anything less cliché — spontaneous magic unfolding in real time. Nicks sits dutifully on a stool as her makeup is touched up, her trademark flowing black gowns and shawls traded for a simple white sundress, her hair pulled back from her face with ribbons. She looks so much younger than her then-33 years, beaming and girlish and carefree. Even through the grain of the video, you can tell that her skin is dewy and glowing. It’s as if she swallowed a lightbulb.
The video goes a little something like this: Stevie starts absentmindedly singing a bit of “Love In Store,” a Fleetwood Mac song being recorded at the time for the yet-to-be-released Mirage. A sparse, but shimmering, piano instrumental for “Can’t Go Back” — another song Fleetwood Mac has been working on that time — begins to play, the swell of melody thumping like an ecstatic heartbeat. Her stoic face erupts suddenly into wide eyes and a wider grin as she gestures excitedly. “This is one Lindsey wrote that kills me. This is the one that kills me,” she says, unable to hide the love drunk smile on her face. Try as she might to sit still, she just can’t; within seconds, she shimmies to the tinny drum machine beat, then begins to sing, ad libbing a song — what would become “Wild Heart” — she had just “come up with in the car here.” Her backup singer harmonizes; the makeup artist tries to continue her work, only to soon abandon it and join in, too. It runs dangerously close to being cloyingly repetitive over its four and a half minutes — after all, it’s just the chorus she’s riffing on — but the spirit of seeing someone create in the moment sucks me in and holds my attention rapt.
The entire time, Nicks’s face is caught halfway between a lost in the daydream of creating something on the spot, the lyrics seemingly spilling from her lips as she thinks of them, and a childish grin, completely taken with the pure joy of simply singing with her girlfriends, free of any agenda other than for the fun of it. “Innocent” and “Stevie Nicks” don’t really go together. Keep in mind, despite decades of work to project herself as the reformed elderstateswoman of rock and roll, this is a woman who at one point in time did so much coke she literally burned a hole in her nose, pursued the sex and drugs part of rock and roll with as much enthusiasm as her male counterparts, and had relationships with two of the three men in her band. In this video, though, it is impossible to see her as anything but.
Here’s the thing that separates this video from any other lost-then-found archival material thrown up on YouTube: this video really, honestly, truly should not sound as good as it does. The tape is decades old, the image is warped, yet, somehow, the tone of her voice remains unscathed; it’s pure and crystalline and even pitched. It’s simply inexplicable. When Nicks later recorded a studio version of “Wild Heart” for her 1983 album of the same name, the song fell victim to all the trappings of ‘80s overproduction: the lyrics’ uncontainable emotions are flattened, stuffed too deeply in layers upon layers of drum machines and synths and piano and background vocals, all polished to a pearly gleam. It’s the song equivalent of a fondant cake — pretty, but leaving you craving something with more substance as soon as it’s done.
I like it best here, where it sounds unhurried and simple, the arrangement bare bones, giving the song wide open space to breathe. Her vulnerability is on full display and the idea is fresh in her mind; it hasn’t been over-thought or performed take after take on a quest for sonic perfection that beats all the feeling out. It’s a reminder of what it looks like to so deeply love whatever creative thing it is that you do, regardless of an audience’s validation. It’s the kind of video I turn to when I’m feeling down or sad, when I’m feeling stuck or floundering or not good enough. It’s impossible to not be in a good mood after watching it; that sort of unbridled happiness caught on film is infectious.
I often wonder what Nicks thinks of the video now, this moment where she was so wholly herself, unaware that people were watching then, let alone that they’d watch decades later. Does it remind her of her youth? Does it make her feel as impossibly young as it does me? Maybe she wishes it didn’t exist at all. Maybe she thinks it chips the carefully crafted image she’s played no small role in mythologizing. Maybe that’s what endears it to me the most. When we elevate people like Stevie to goddess-like statuses, sweetly humanizing moments sometimes slip through the cracks. This one, improbably, has endured after all these years.
stevie nicks been yeehaw
Last month, as 2019’s yeehaw agenda bloomed, I posited an idea on a website called twitter dot com: We were always sleeping on Stevie Nicks’s yeehaw power. While it’s so easy to write her musical sensibility off as California FM witch or ‘80s pop based on her biggest hits, her canon is richly diverse in musical styles — and full with country vibes.
Stevie’s grandfather was an aspiring country singer and she spent her earliest years learning to sing from old country ballads; it’s no surprise that the genre is dusted over so much of her work. Homegirl has snuck so many mid-tempo country tracks onto albums over the years that I’m genuinely shocked that she’s recorded a straight western album or, at the very least, released yet another goddamn compilation.
Anyway. Because I love 2019’s foray into yeehaw culture and I have an encyclopedic knowledge of Stevie Nicks’s discography (my poor sweet dumb brain), and, most of all, because I love love love to make concept playlists, I present to you the best of Stevie Nicks’s country/country-adjacent songs in one place. Giddy up.
and i would ask for you to consider the fact that your icons were not always icons
lol I wrote this. (Here’s a video of me reading it last month at the music writing series Words and Guitars, but maybe just read it because I hate my voice.) If you missed it, it’s about Buckingham Nicks (1973) and YOUTH and MORTALITY — specifically Stevie Nicks’s. AHHHHH. FEELINGS.
How The Elusive ‘Buckingham Nicks’ Established Stevie Nicks’s Songwriting Voice
lol I ALSO wrote this. I’m insufferable and pimping all my best content today. But seriously, this was a dream piece to write for NPR’s Turning the Tables series last year.
Rereading my own writing makes me feel sick and want to crawl into a hole and hide 90% of the time, but this one somehow has a lot of “I want to write like that and I think I can but I'm scared because I don’t know and wow okay I did it, I really can write like that” parts that I’m proud of. It’s filed away with a few other stories that I consider the closest things I have to children.
I mean, to be real, we kind of took care of this up top but I’ll just leave you with one more thing.
In 2016, I realized a video of Stevie Nicks doing what she calls her “crackhead dance” — an improvised, trance-like dance performed during an extended jam break that made its way into live performances of “Gold Dust Woman” in the past five years — syncs to any song. Literally, any song (plz see my annual instastory where I demonstrate with “Africa” by Toto to the Temptations’ “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” and everything in between).
Thus, a meme was born. This trash account is home to the OG meme — Stevie dancing to Drake’s “Hotline Bling” — as well as “Gucci Gang,” “Bodack Yellow,” and “Old Town Road (Remix).” I’ll see y’all in hell. You’re welcome for the laughs.
friendly reminder that if you missed any previous emails, you can read the archive here.
okay that's it that's the end thanks bye