and Peace and Fleetwood Mac
Songwriter Magazine, May 2003
(by Bill DeMain)
Over the last 30 years, it has taken many forms, from shouting
matches and onstage feuding at its worst to silent standoffs and uneasy truces
during more peaceful times. It drove Buckingham to quit the group in 1987 and
Nicks to depart in 1991. It’s a landslide of jealousy, resentment, willfulness
and personal problems, tempered by a big love, deep and enduring. It’s at the
core of what makes Fleetwood Mac such a compelling band, and it gives depth and
emotional weight to their most enduring songs. As Nicks says, “It’s not easy
for us. It never will be. It hasn’t ever been. Whenever we get back into a
room together and start working, we don’t agree on a lot of stuff. Especially
now, because we’re really settled in our ways. It’s no different than it was
in 1975 when we went into rehearsal for Fleetwood Mac. We were fighting then,
and we have fought all through every single record we have ever made. So I think
if it wasn’t like that, we’d probably all be walking around going,
‘What’s the matter with us?’” Buckingham adds simply, “Our real lives
have been laid bare in vinyl.”
A little history: When Stevie and Lindsey
joined in 1974, Fleetwood Mac was a rickety blues rock band. Though drummer Mick
Fleetwood and bassist John McVie were one of the tightest rhythm sections
around, they'd been plagued by years of personnel changes and were struggling to
find a new direction. Fleetwood heard something special in the Buckingham Nicks
record that his new recruits had made (in his autobiography, Mick says,
"Nobody ever auditioned for Fleetwood Mac... people were meant to be in
this group"). Keyboardist/singer Christine McVie felt a similar sense of
harmonic convergence upon meeting Stevie and Lindsey. In 1990, she recalled,
"The first time I started playing 'Say You Love Me' and I reached the
chorus, they started singing with me and fell right into it. I heard this
incredible sound our three voices ... and my skin turned to gooseflesh." By
1977's landmark Rumours, that incredible sound a swirl of pop, blues and folk
filtered through Southern California cool made the Mac the biggest band on the
planet. Buckingham, Nicks and McVie were each writing hits "Go Your Own
Way," "Dreams;' "Don't Stop." The future looked bright. But
there was always that volatile core threatening to implode and take the whole
beautiful dream down with it.
The turning point in many ways came with Tusk.
It was a bold step forward, experimental and defiant in its production and
style. Though it sold over four million copies, it was perceived as a failure in
the wake of Rumours. As Buckingham says, "I had been through quite a battle
just to get that album made in a post Rumours environment. It was exciting for
me, a feeling like I had gotten to something that was more challenging and that
was going to confound expectations. But the politics after Tusk dictated that we
weren't going to do that as a group anymore. So we kind of backtracked into some
sort of vague no man's land a little bit." The classic Mac lineup released
two more albums, Mirage and Tango in the Night, before things fell apart. By
then, Nicks had a strong solo career going and Buckingham was close behind. Mick
Fleetwood and the McVies soldiered on into the early '90s with new members. Then
in 1996 (webmaster note 1997), the classic lineup patched up their differences
for a tour and a live album, The Dance. A handful of new songs pointed the way
to what is, almost seven years later, surely one of the unexpected events of
spring 2003 a new studio album from Fleetwood Mac.
When groups of a certain vintage release new
music, there’s always worry and trepidation. As a rule, it rarely measures up
to their best work. That’s what makes Say You Will such a triumph.
Though Christine McVie has retired from the band, the record boasts all the Mac
signatures—Gibraltar-like grooves from Fleetwood and McVie, inspired guitar
wizardry from Buckingham, inventive production flourishes, sweet vocal harmonies
and, of course, songwriting that draws from the ever present tripwire emotions
between Stevie and Lindsey—the chaos and the soap opera. Led by tracks such as
“Peacekeeper,” “Say You Will,” “Thrown Down,” “Silver Girl” and
“Say Goodbye,” this is a Fleetwood Mac that sounds as passionate and vital
as they did in 1977. They’re keeping their promise to—as they sang back
then—“never break the chain.”
I met Buckingham at Culver Studios in Los
Angeles, where the group was getting ready to rehearse for an upcoming world
tour. Dressed in jeans, a v-neck white t-shirt and a black leather jacket, he
looked lean and healthy. In conversation he's very earnest and likable, with a
producer's keen sense of diplomacy.
What kinds of feelings do you go through in the weeks before a new Fleetwood
Mac record is released?
With this record, I'm actually euphoric. This project, for me, has been kind of
an epic effort, more than anything I've ever done in terms of length of time
involved to keep the eye on the ball, the ways in which it could have come out
as a solo album, and finally what it ended up being, and somehow still
maintaining its integrity, in terms of my songs and Stevie's songs. In many
ways, I feel like I've been working for the last 25 years of my life for this,
not just the last six years that it's been literally worked on. A level of
maturity, a level of creativity and a vision that I've been trying to get to
have now infused into the whole thing, with a great rhythm section, and Stevie,
who I've known since I was 16. It's just a very exciting and profound thing.
What impressed me right away about the record is that you sound like you mean
There's a commitment that you don't often hear with bands who've been around for
over 30 years. I think the sense of a hand who is all 50 something coming up
with something like this is a little bit profound. I think it breaks a lot of
the cliches about rock 'n' roll. A lot of artists in other forms, whether
they're novelists or moviemakers or composers or painters, a lot of them maybe
hit their stride at 50. It's only this rock 'n' roll cliche that you burn out by
the time you're a relatively young age, and it is just that a cliche. So all of
that informs the way I feel about not just the release of the album, but this
whole year. Hopefully, if things go the way we pray they will, next year we can
do another album. It feels like a whole open ended thing that's happening here.
Did you hare to work to change the focal arrangements now that Christine
wasn't in the mix?
No, not really. Stevie and I realized that even though it's just the two of us
now, we weren't particularly interested in trying to go back to a literal two
part harmony presentation. We didn't want to make a complete vocal left turn and
not have it feel like Fleetwood Mac. We were sort of mindful of trying to find a
middle ground, and I think we did pretty well. There are things where she and I
are singing on our own, but there's still an orchestral element there. And that
was a function of not wanting to be too bold in terms of redefining the sound,
but it was also what the songs needed in her case, and what they already were in
Listening to your songs on the record, one theme I picked up on was the idea
of taking responsibility. Has your songwriting changed since you've had
It has certainly affected the way I feel. I think I've calmed down quite a bit
(laughs). I think that these are the best lyrics that I've ever written, without
getting specific. There's a sense of safeness that now is part of my life, as
part of a larger picture. Things that are more important than writing a song
have made it easier to write better lyrics. And I think also that it's a skill
that gets better the more you work on it, and I've tried to work on it. In terms
of the theme you're talking about taking responsibility I think you're right.
There is a kind of subconscious element that has kind of worked its way in, that
makes it less about the neurosis of me and my needs, and more about an overview.
It's still about me or us, though maybe a small group of us. More concern for
trying to do the right thing, and not just a neurotic, selfish point of view,
which was a lot of what Fleetwood Mac's dialogues to each other were always
What are the most mysterious parts of the songwriting process to you?
It's an interesting thing. In many ways, I still don't think of myself as a
songwriter. I know I've written a lot of songs. I tend to think of myself as a
stylist. I think that the way a lot of people do it is they come up with a
tangible thing that you can call a lyric and a melody. Then they take it into a
situation where it might evolve as a record. I might go in with fragments or
ideas that are not particularly well fleshed out, or they're as well fleshed out
as I'm able to make them. And then I start to work the painting.
What do you mean by that?
I make that analogy because I can sit with a tape machine and use that as a
canvas. You commit to a certain melody, then you commit to a certain guitar
part, and one affects the other and maybe the melody begins to change. It's kind
of an abstract expressionist way of doing it. At some point that starts to lead
you, as a painting would. Then when you get to a certain point, suddenly you're
on automatic. It's hard for me to divorce the process of the songwriting,
because I'm not Burt Bacherach, unfortunately, who can sit down and have a
complete overview and understanding of so many things that he's been taught, so
many European principles and all that. I have to find a different way to do it.
So the actual record making side of it affects to a great degree the writing and
vice versa. And I suppose that is the mystery right there, is that it comes in
little fits and starts, and it's maybe like making sculpture. You have to really
pat it around quite a bit and change it and lop off the nose and start over
again, and there's a kind of abstractness about it.
I've always admired your guitar playing, especially your right hand, which is
so fluid and precise. Can you talk a little about your technique?
I never really used a pick very much. When I was seven I was listening to Scotty
Moore, who had a fingerstyle in which he used a pick along with his fingers.
When rock sort of took a dive for a while there, I started listening to folk
music and blue grass. I never really got any serious chops on banjo, but it
helped my speed. But the Travis picking is the basic template for everything I
do. It's just something that evolved. I think a real breakthrough for me in
terms of translating this thing that you're talking about to the studio and
record making beyond the level of, say, "Never Going Back Again" was
when I started playing "Big Love" live. That was before The Dance,
when I did a tour after Out of the Cradle. I started doing "Big Love"
very fast, in a Leo Kottke meets classical on acid (laughs), whatever you want
to call it. It got such a strong response, and it got me back to reminding
myself that whatever I can do as a producer, this is the center of what I do,
and it's not something to be taken lightly. This is somewhere I want to go now,
to take that element, the energy of that, and the singularity of that, and build
on it in a much more sublime way.
I read an interview with Christine where she said how much she admired your
abilities as a producer. She mentioned how you took Stevie's "Gold Dust
Woman," which has a repetitive chord sequence, and made each section
distinct. Since Stevie isn't really an instrumentalist, how do you approach an
arrangement for one of her songs.
You are in some ways adding to the writing process on the set, so to speak.
"Okay, this doesn't work, let's try this." It's very much like that.
If I am able to do that for Stevie, it doesn't mean I'd be able to do that for
everyone. Maybe that's part of what makes Fleetwood Mac what it is. We just
happen to have a set of cross references where I have what she needs. I don't
know how it would work if I were to try to do it with another group or artist.
In many ways, you might say that was more of the profound gift that I had for
Fleetwood Mac, more than as a guitarist or a writer or a singer. I was someone
who could make all that stuff into a record.
Is there a certain thing about Stevie's songwriting that you like best?
I understand the primitive aspects that she has going. I understand what she's
trying to get at. She may not even articulate it herself, but I see what it is.
I can understand the potential. What 1 like about her songwriting is her sense
of rhythm. It's superb. Obviously you have to like her lyrics and her voice, but
she does a lot with a very little. Sometimes if you examine her melodies, they
are not particularly elaborate. She can do repetitive phrases, but it's just how
she does it and where she stops doing it, and where she makes a little change up
and how I seem to be able to move sections across that change what's going on
Can you think of an example?
"Gypsy" is a great example. If you were to just pull the melody out
from that without any of what's going on beneath, it wouldn't hang together.
Without having the instrumental parts (hums counter line in chorus) that allow
the potential of what she's doing to come out, it wouldn't make it. So she
needed that. Maybe that's my favourite example of it [Stevie's writing and
Lindsey's production] coming together. If you sing "You see your gypsy, you
see your gypsy, yeah," it doesn't really depart anywhere at the point it
needs to. It just sounds like someone kind of jamming with their voice, but it
allows the openness for me to do things of my own. It's a real collaboration,
even though I'm not writing the song. There's always a very personal element in
Fleetwood Mac where listeners are tempted to interpret the lyrics as a dialogue
between the members. I think we always were doing that, and probably still are
in quite a few of the songs (laughs). We are in a more peaceful place than we
were in terms of a functional working band, not just a band who's doing a
restatement of their body of work as in The Dance, but a band who's in the
trenches doing something new and vital to what's going on with them now. We are
much more at peace, but it's tenuous still. And then how that relates to the
world view of things enters into some of the songs. Who knows how much of that
element was responsible for the phenomenon that was Rumours? At what point did
the music itself, which was very good music, sort of give over to the musical
soap opera element? If you want to look at it in a cynical way, that's part of
the gimmick of the band and always has been. It's a hook. There's nothing wrong
with that, because it's not a pretense. It's not something where we sat
with a PR person and said, "Well this would be a good thing to try (laughs)
Our real lives laid bare, not just in terms of the media, but in terms of the
vinyl. There was a great appeal to that, not just in terms of the voyeurism of
it. It was a very touching thing - the fact that we would go through all
forms of denial in order to push forward as musicians and really allow ourselves
to become quite dysfunctional as people. Not that the whole rock genre doesn't
make you that way eventually anyway (laughs), living in the subculture of drugs
and all that at that time, but I think with us it was bitter and it was sweet
and it was tender and and it was brutal all at once.
And now it's going to be a Broadway musical.
(Laughter) I've heard that. We haven't given anybody our blessing yet, but I
wouldn't doubt it at all. If not this year
then next year. We'll see.
LINDSEY TALKS ABOUT HIS SONGS
GO YOUR OWN WAY
That came very quickly. I remember sitting down and putting that together when
we were taking a break in Florida. We rented a house to start rehearsing before
Rumours, and it was an immediate song. It was a very present thing in terms of
the response it got from the band. The drum beat that Mick did in the verse was
actually his version of trying to do something that I asked him to do that he
couldn't do. What he did was better. I'd been listening to "Street Fighting
Man," and Charlie Watts does this kind of offbeat rhythm. Mick, either he
didn't want to do that or he couldn't get it, so he came up with his own
NEVER GOING BACK AGAIN
A very naive song. Never going back again? Sure (laughs). I think the guitar
work was inspired by something I heard by Ry Cooder. The lyric as I recall was
very much a miniature perception of things. I had broken up with Stevie and
maybe met someone. It could have been someone who really didn't mean a thing.
Maybe someone who had kind of resisted getting to know me and then finally broke
down and let me in. I don't remember who it was now. In the days after Stevie
and I broke up, before we started recording Rumours, there were a lot of women
who would just come and go in a very short time. So in that sense, it was one of
those people. The lyric seems not very deep. "Been down one time, been down
two time, never going back again." There really is nothing particularly
definitive about it. You think about how naive that was and very much in the
context of not particularly being about something that was even important. And
maybe that's why it's sweet it was just a frivolous little thing. Of course, it
seems to take on more sweetness and a deeper feeling when it's placed on the
album with all the other songs (laughs).
I wrote the song about two and a half years ago. It was, in a very ironic way,
looking at the kind of thinking that is matter of fact and desensitized towards
certain actions that go on in the world, and the kind of blankness and
conformity that goes along with that. And then trying to look at what does that
do for a married couple trying to work out their problems. How does it affect
them? What is peace, really? The whole idea that there can be any static
condition is obviously an illusion. So can there ever really be peace? There can
be moments of peace or long periods of peace, possibly, whether it's in the
world or in a relationship. But it seems to me what peace really means is
valuing the ideal of that and just being mindful of it working towards the
maintenance of it, even though you understand it will not always exist. But the
irony of being matter of fact about not thinking that way is really what the
song is doing.
It was inspired by watching TV and seeing what it's become, how horrendous it's
become as a tool to do exactly what Edward R. Murrow warned against when he gave
his famous speech. He said if TV is allowed to distract and delude people, then
there will be a large price to pay down the line. And we're seeing that coming
true on so many levels. Especially in the world today, where all the media is
basically owned and controlled and edited to a certain point of view, in the
name of objective news, by all the same people who are tied in with another
company. A good example would be GE owning NBC. Murrow would be turning over in
his grave if he were to see all of this. Not just for propaganda that passes for
news, but the trivialisation of so many things, and the intent to distract and
delude that he was talking about.
Rick Turner Guitars
Gibson Chet Atkins Model
SWR Acoustic "California Blonde" Amps
Trace Acoustic Amps
Roland GR-50 Guitar Synth
Boss Digital Sampler
Boss Super Overdrive
Ernie Ball Strings
LINDSEY'S ESSENTIAL LISTENING
The Beach Boys - Today
John Lennon - Plastic Ono Band
I think it had a lot to do with me thinking it was okay to be that rude in my
own songs (laughs).
Any collection of Elvis Presley stuff.
I wouldn't be here at all without Elvis Presley and without my older brother who
bought the record of "Heartbreak Hotel.' Before that it was Patti Page
Any number of Beatles albums, maybe Revolver or Rubber Soul.
Laurie Anderson - Big Science
Stevie Nicks lives in a
beautiful Spanish style house, high on a hill in Santa Monica, over looking the
Pacific Ocean, and it was there where we met. The decor is a mix of the fanciful
and practical antique velour chairs and paintings of dragons and gypsies share
space with a Precor treadmill and exercycle. Stevie looks terrific, her long
wavy hair spilling over a black shawl. She carries her 50 something years with
grace and confidence and is still quite alluring. During
our interview, she is very open, sharing everything from her private journals to
her thoughts on why she has remained single.
In Fleetwood Mac, there's always an added layer of intrigue with your songs
and Lindsey's in that listeners wonder if you're singing about each other. Are
you still dealing with unfinished emotional business?
Of course. It's not a lot of fun, but it certainly does lend itself to great
writing. If everybody's happy and everything's going along, then you have
nothing to write about. So Lindsey and I write about the chaos of our
relationship, which is ongoing. We're both really selfish, and it's like,
"No, I want it to be this way!" It's like you have two serious bulls
in a pen, and we argue all the time. There's continual trauma. But does it make
for incredible works of music? Yeah, it does.
At the same time, you have to put a lot of trust in Lindsey because he's the
producer and arranger on your songs.
Well, he doesn't do a whole lot of things with arranging, because my demos are
pretty much there. That doesn't mean that they're not 100 percent more terrific
after Lindsey works on them. I'm very territorial about the way my songs are
arranged. What he does is take the skeleton and then he goes in for hours that
we never see him and he plays parts and parts and more parts. He arranges right
underneath my little skeleton. It's like I laughingly said to him when we first
started this new record, because his songs were pretty much done, I said,
"Your songs are like beautiful, hand crafted Russian boxes with enamel and
cloisonne and sound like you've worked on them for seven years, and my little
songs are like pine boxes (laughs)." I said, "You've got your work cut
out for you, because you have to somehow make my songs compare a little bit to
yours?' He said, "Don't worry."
How has it been without Christine in the band?
Taking away the piano made the whole music tend to focus more on a guitar
oriented thing, which is great. Not that we didn't miss having somebody to play
the piano, because we did. But in fact, it forced us to go much more towards a
power trio sound. Lindsey and John and Mick, they became like Cream (laughs).
"Thrown Down," "Say You Will," "Running Through the
Garden" - I think these new songs are some of the best you've ever written.
Thank you. I agree with you. How conceited am I to say that (laughs)? But they
say you are supposed to get better as you get older, and they say if you keep
practicing your craft you have to get better. So I'm not one of those people who
is ever going to accept the fact that I can't write a song that will appeal to
somebody who's 20 because I'm in my early 50s. And I'm never going to accept
that when I'm like 70, I can't still write something that is current. To me, we
just have to get better. That's how we all looked at this record. This wasn't
going to be just a dumb, stupid album.
It's not going to be because we just felt like doing a record. This is because
we needed to do this, and this musical entity needed to come through all of us,
and we are serious as a heart attack about this.
I've read that you're very dedicated to keeping journals. How does journal
writing relate to songwriting for you?
Sometimes I pull my lyrics right straight out of my journals. I'll show you.
[She goes in the next room to get journals.] See, I write prose on the right
hand side, then on the left, I'll write poetry and lyrics. This is from the
anniversary of 9/11: (reads) The murder of innocence cannot be explained, only
endured. And I who went to sleep in tears woke up in tears. And I who never said
goodbye, said goodbye again. I did go to sleep in tears last night, and I woke
tears about an hour ago. I laid in my bed and that moment before you really wake
up, the tears just started streaming down my face. Fleetwood Mac is mixing our
first song from the record today. We start at 3:30. Today, half of me wants to
call in sick, the other half of me knows that the worth talking about in the
last eight years, so am I going to be able to create now?' And Tom was playing
in town, and I went down to dinner with him the night before, and I asked him if
he would help me write a song. And he just flat out, in the Tom Petty swamp dog
way, said, "I'm not going to help you write a song, because you are, in my
opinion, Stevie, one of the premier songwriters of our time. I don't need to
help you write a song. You just need to go back to your house and sit in front
of your piano and start writing." And something about the conversation
really hit me. I walked out of the Ritz Carlton with a new lease on life. If Tom
Petty thinks I can do it, then I guess I can. I went home and I started writing,
that night. Sometimes a really good friend is the only one who can say to you,
"I know you may not want to hear this, but I need to tell you ..."
Whether it's something bad or something good, they get through to you finally.
Sheryl Crow is also your close friend. Do you guys talk shop a lot?
Very much. I think Sheryl and I are a real mutual admiration society. She did a
lot of shows with me on the Trouble in Shangri-La tour. When you're on the road
together, you really do bond. It's like an encounter group. The people that you
travel with are all you have, so Sheryl and I became really good friends, not to
mention that she produced half of my last record. We've spent hours, here in
this room, working on songs. Sheryl and I will absolutely do a record at some
point it may be the next thing I do. We said seven or eight years ago that we're
going to become a valid musical entity, just the two of us. So that if we want
to go on the road by ourselves, we're going to be able to do it. Because we have
now built up a repertoire between the two of us we've got 10 or 12 songs we
could already do. Isn't that wonderful that that's out there for me, and for
her? It's one more really creative thing.
How do you feel about The Dixie Chicks
It's a great honour. I am very good friends with them, and hope very much to do
a record with Natalie at some point in my life. I have to show you what they
sent me [brings out a lovely ceramic bowl engraved with the lyrics of
"Landslide" in a spiral]. It's all perfect. The nearest part of the
song is all inside the bowl. So beautiful and so special. When I'm 101, walking
around the house, that will be an inspiration to me to see that somebody cared
enough to do this. These girls are very precious to me. I think if I'd ever had
a daughter, I would want her to be Natalie. I love her and I care about her in a
way that's very motherly. I think she's about the best singer out there. I
thought that the first time I heard her sing. I was in Phoenix, and it was the
middle of the night, and I heard "There's Your Trouble" on the radio.
I wrote it down and went straight to the record store the next day. So I made
the decision then, years before I ever met them, that I wanted to work with her
someday. So it was very karma inspired that they would pick up
"Landslide" and want to do it. I think that Sheryl Crow is the one who
suggested it to them.
These are all like your daughters.
They are my daughters, and I love that, because since I didn't have any
daughters, I feel like I have them now. And I have Norah Jones. I love her. Can
you believe, eight Grammys? Norah, this is your Rumours. Your life will
never be the same again. And I love Michelle Branch. And I adore Gwen Stefani.
They are all a delight to me. They are all multi-talented, and I feel very
grateful that these women care about me and care about my music. They make it
all so very worth it for me. To know that I have reached out and gotten to each
one of them and maybe made them be a little better, be a little bit more
profound, work on their songwriting a little bit more, work on their stage
performance a little bit more. I see little bits of myself in all of them, and
it makes me cry.
It's almost like your songs, as they reach new generations, are helping to
keep you young.
Whenever I do a record, I'm able to go back and pull some really interesting
songs out that were written when I was really young, and then mix them in with
what I'm doing now. I fed very lucky that I don't listen to all these songs and
go, 'Oh, that's from 1976, that's from 2003) That's why I say that I will be 90
years old some day, and I will still be writing things that are relevant. I
think if you keep that innocence, if you try to hang on to that innocence and
believe that there is love and there is God and there is beauty, then you will
be able to be relevant. I think when you start to become really jaded, that's
when you can't write relevant stuff anymore. People who are in their teens, 20s
and 30s don't want to hear you write about stuff that is so miserable that they
can't even deal with it. I think, for me because I haven't been in a horrible
marriage and I don't have delinquent children that I'm trying to get through
college - I haven't had a lot of those bad experiences that really twist
people's minds. That's when you stop writing about love and you stop writing
about the possibility of love, and when you stop writing about the possibility
of love, you are no longer relevant. I don't really care if I get married at
this point, I'm quite happy by myself, but I do live in the realm of romantic
possibility. Mr Right. It's a possible that he's around the corner - that he
could just be driving up the street, and I could have a flat tire and there he
is (laughs). That allows me to write with hope.
This extra part of the article on Stevie
Nicks (below) was only available on the Performing Songwriter Website and not in
Tell me about your musical influences.
If I go back to when I was little, my grandad was a country-western singer, so
he brought a lot of music to my house. Everly Brothers, a lot of rockabilly
stuff, a lot of country rock stuff. Not super country stuff, but crossover
stuff, that even then in the ‘50s was a little bit country but very
rock‘n’roll too. That’s when I started singing harmony, when I started
singing along with the Everly Brothers. Which is so wild that Lindsey ended up
working with them. They were a huge influence on Lindsey also. A million miles
away from each other, we were inspired by the same thing. As I got older,
strangely enough, the music that I listened to was R & B. I listened to
“Be My Baby” and all those Phil Spector kinds of things, Motown, The
Supremes. That’s where I really learned to sing. Then I get into high school,
I’m a sophomore in high school and along come The Beatles. I’m very
influenced by how good their early songs were. By my senior year, I was standing
in front of the mirror with a brush, singing “Take Another Little Piece Of My
Heart,” frizzing up my hair and wearing the little tunic and the really tight
bellbottoms and the high clogs. Then I was going to college and walking through
San Jose State like I was already a star. I was Janis Joplin. I was a couple of
years younger than her, but I was her too. We lived in San Francisco, so we were
very much in that whole scene. We were in a band that played every weekend. We
practiced every day for five hours. Nobody else went to school but me. I had to
also do college, or my parents wouldn’t send me that thousand dollars a month.
So then it was Led Zeppelin, and all the San Francisco bands, and Tower Of Power
and Janis and Grace Slick and Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills & Nash
and Country Joe & The Fish, Grateful Dead - that whole scene, we were in it.
They were famous, we weren’t. But we were opening up for them every weekend.
Jimi Hendrix. He was a huge influence on me. Just the way he sang and played and
was so soulful but yet was so rock n’ roll. He was such a dichotomy, being a
black man and a black musician and being so rock n’ roll. We were so in awe of
him. We wanted to be in his band. I can remember walking down the streets
hearing Led Zeppelin coming out of every single apartment. And Lindsey’s and
my band, we were very hard rock with very intricately worked out parts. Each one
of our songs was ten minutes long. A lot of jamming on stage. That’s where I
learned to play tambourine and percussion. That’s where I learned to be a rock
star. Right there in that band in that three and a half years. that’s where I
learned what to do on stage and I watched Janis one time - we opened for her -
and that’s the only time I ever saw her. We opened for Jimi Hendrix. I got to
stand on the side of the stage and watch him for two hours and then he died. But
I got the essence before they left. So that was the most amazing thing. That’s
when I really decided that I wanted to be a rock singer and not a country
singer, and that I really wanted to concentrate on songwriting. I was not going
to be a stupid girl singer. I was going to be way more than that. Lindsey will
laugh, but I was not going to carry equipment and not going to have my salary
docked because I didn’t. You will pay me as much as you guys get or I quit. So
that’s when I gained my strength and my confidence. And that confidence never
went away. It became part of me and I have it still today, and I’m very
grateful for that.
I couldn’t help noticing that picture of you and George Harrison up on the
mantle. Where was it taken?
Isn’t that wild? That is probably in 1977, in Hana on the island of Maui in
Hawaii. Me and a couple of my friends had gone over there. I don’t remember
exactly how it happened, but we drove up to Hana, where George lived, and we
hung out with him for about three days. We stayed in his guest cottage and we
sat around and wrote. I don’t think anything really came out of the writing
session, but we had a great time, and you can kind of see we were very serious.
I took the picture to the studio, so it was on the fireplace for the whole
recording of Say You Will. It was very much like he was looking out over us the
whole time. I liked George very much. He was really a nice man.
Was he or Lennon & McCartney a strong influence on your songwriting?
Yes, absolutely. More the folky stuff.
STEVIE TALKS ABOUT HER SONGS
It was written in 1973 at a point where Lindsey and I had driven to Aspen for
him to rehearse for two weeks with Don Everly. Lindsey was going to take Phil's
place. So they rehearsed and left, and I made a choice to stay in Aspen. I
figured I'd stay there and one of my girlfriends was there. We stayed there for
almost three months while Lindsey was on the road, and this is right after the
Buckingham Nicks record had been dropped. And it was horrifying to Lindsey and I
because we had a taste of the big time, we recorded in a big studio, we met
famous people, we made what we consider to be a brilliant record and nobody
liked it (laughs). I had been a waitress and a cleaning lady, and I didn't mind
any of this. I was perfectly delighted to work and support us so that Lindsey
could produce and work and fix our songs and make our music. But I had gotten to
a point where it was like, "I'm not happy. I am tired. But I don't know if
we can do any better than this. If nobody likes this, then what are we going to
do?" So during that two months I made a decision to continue.
"Landslide" was the decision. [Sings] "When you see my reflection
in the snow covered hills" - it's the only time in my life that I've lived
in the snow. But looking up at those Rocky Mountains and going, "Okay, we
can do it. I'm sure we can do it." In one of my journal entries, it says,
"1 took Lindsey and said, 'We're going to the top!'" And that's what
we did. Within a year, Mick Fleetwood called us, and we were in Fleetwood Mac
making $800 a week apiece (laughs). Washing $100 bills through the laundry. It
was hysterical. It was like we were rich overnight.
That's written about Sheryl Crow. In the song where it says, "She would
have preferred the last generation," Sheryl absolutely would've preferred
to be my age and to have been in our generation and to have been in her own
Fleetwood Mac, more than to be in this generation. We all love her and try to
take her along with us because we know that. It was very fun when she came to
record with Fleetwood Mac. Lindsey likes her a lot and Mick loves her and John
loves her, and she's one of our little adoptees. So the song is like an ode to
the girl rock star, an ode to the question, "Is it possible to find
somebody to love?" When you're rich and famous, it's very hard to find
somebody. That's not taking away the hope, but it is stating that it's
difficult. When Sheryl asked me, "Am I ever going to find anybody?" I
say, "Well, who knows? If you want to attain a certain amount of fame, then
you have to work all the time, which is what you do. And you don't hand out very
much, you are on the move. You're in New York, you're in L.A., you're in
Switzerland, you're in Vietnam, you're never around for a long time. You're like
a willow wisp. So it kind of depends on what you want to do. "I didn't
really want to be tied down. There are many times during my life that I could've
been married and I could've had children, and I made the decision to not do it.
So I don't know, with her; the only advice I can say is that "You live in
the same realm of romantic possibility that I do.
I read a book called Triad. It was just a stupid little paperback that I found
somewhere at somebody's house laying on the couch. It was all about this girl
named Rhiannon. I was so taken with the name that I thought, "I've got to
write something about this." And I sat down at the piano, and I started
writing this song about a woman that was all involved with these birds and
magic. Come to find out years after I've written the song that in fact Rhiannon
was the goddess of steeds, maker of birds. Her three birds sang music, and when
something was happening in war, you would see this horse come in and it was
Rhiannon. This is all in the Welsh translation of The Mabinogion, their book of
mythology. When she came, you'd kind of black out then wake up and the danger
would be gone, and you'd see the three birds flying off, and you'd hear this
little song. So there was, in fact, a song of Rhiannon. I had no idea about any
of this. Then somebody sent me a set of four books written by a lady named
Evangeline Walton, who is now dead. She spent her whole life translating The
Mabinogion and the story of Rhiannon. She lived in Tuscon. I went there in 1977,
after "Rhiannon" had been a big huge hit. Her house was totally
Rhiannon. She spent her whole life on the story of Rhiannon. She never married -
she in essence had almost become Rhiannon, and it was trippy. She had heard
about the song. She told me about her life and how she had been entranced by the
name, just like I had. It's so interesting, because her last book was 1974, and
that's right when I wrote "Rhiannon." So it's like her work ended and
my work began.
This extra part of
the article (below) was only available on the Performing Songwriter Website and
not in the magazine
More Stevie Nicks Song Explanations:
EDGE OF SEVENTEEN
It was written right after John Lennon died. A week later, my uncle died and
this was a very close uncle. Between John Lennon and my Uncle Bill, “Edge of
Seventeen” came out of that. [sings] “Oh I went searchin’ for an answer /
Up the stairs and down the hall / Not to find an answer just to hear the call of
a nightbird singing.” And the nightbird is the bird of death, really. I can
get up on stage and sing “Edge of Seventeen” and still feel just as
traumatized today as I did then, when I first sang it at my piano. It’s just
so heavy. I use that word “heavy” a lot, and I know that it’s an old
hippie word, but it just really seems to be the right word. Some of the songs
are so heavy. John Lennon being shot to death in front of his apartment for
absolutely no reason, when I was a rock star also, so immediately that transfers
to, ‘Is somebody going to shoot me? Is somebody going to shoot me because I
didn’t write back to a fan?’ And that’s why I wrote the song.
SAY YOU WILL
Everybody’s experienced it - when you like somebody, it makes you a different
person. It changes you and it changes you in a minute. But that song is not just
about Lindsey. It’s about a movie I saw about Arturo Sandoval, the trumpet
player. I loved this movie, and I just loved the way that through all the pain
and separation, they managed to do music and stay happy and keep love alive, and
dancing and rhythm and music, how healing it was. That was really my inspiration
for that song. The chorus was written first, then I went back to write the
verses. It was initially inspired by that movie. But then once you get part of
the poem down, you can’t always write all of it about what inspired it
initially. You have to go back. You have this great chorus that basically says,
“If you dance with me, you won’t be mad at me anymore. We can be in a huge
argument, but if we put on some music and start to dance, everything will be
great.” Then I had to think about what to make the verses about. So I went
back over all my relationships with people and think of different ways that I
have felt when I wanted basically to burst into song and sing that chorus
(laughs). Give me one more chance. That’s what came out of it. It’s funny
because, we just did an interview the day before yesterday, and I don’t think
any of the band knows that that was the reason I wrote the song.
RUNNING THROUGH THE GARDEN
I wrote that song around 1985. It’s about the story “Rapaccini’s
Daughter” by Nathaniel Hawthorne. We didn’t realize it until it was
completely recorded. I thought it was a Twilight Zone episode I’d seen on TV
fifteen or twenty years ago. But it’s the story of this girl who’s raised in
this beautiful Italian villa and her dad is this gardener and he raised all
these poisonous plants and he like infused the poisons into her. It’s very
hazy what I remember about the story. She became poisonous, so if anybody were
to kiss her, they would die. And she could never leave, because she’s addicted
to the poison. So everybody’s like, ‘Wow, that’s an incredible story.’
There’s a picture that Christine did, a drawing, and Chris is an incredible
artist, probably twenty years ago, and she gave it to me, and it’s her, it’s
the girl in the song. So I went back and forth about maybe calling it
“Rapaccini’s Daughter,” but I thought I’d have to get publishing rights
and all that, so I left it “Running Through The Garden.”
STEVIE'S ESSENTIAL LISTENING
The Supremes and all
the Motown records
Janis Joplin - I
watched Janis one time - we opened for her (when Lindsey and Stevie were in
their first band, Fritz) - and that's the only time I ever saw her. We opened
for Jimi Hendrix, too. I got to stand on the side of the stage and watch him for
two hours. He and Janis both dies shortly thereafter. But I got the essence
before they left. So that was the most amazing thing. That's when I really
decided that I wanted to be a rock singer and not a country singer, and that I
really wanted to concentrate on songwriting. I was not going to be a stupid girl
singer. I was going to be way more then that. Lindsey will laugh, but I was not
going to carry equipment and not going to have my salary docked because I
didn't. "You will pay me as much as you guys get, or I quit." That's
when I gained my strength and my confidence. And that confidence never went
away. It became part of me, and I have it still today and I'm very grateful for
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