July 17, 1991
For musician Stevie Nicks, creative writing fills a void while she's on tour
by J.D. Considine, Sun Pop Music Critic
Because life on the road can leave a musician with an acute sense of rootlessness, many rock stars insist on certain extras to make their hotel rooms seem a little more like home. For some, it's a matter of freshly cut flowers and organic food; for others, it's video games or a VCR. What Stevie Nicks most wants to see when she walks into her room, however, is a typewriter.
It's not quite the accouterment her musical career would suggest. After all, it was Nicks who, during her 15 years in Fleetwood Mac, conjured up the Welsh witch in "Rhiannon" and invoked the lightning flash of "Gypsy". Nicks whose solo recordings have spoken of "Leather and Lace" and the white winged dove at "The Edge of Seventeen". To anyone who has seen her twirl across the stage (as she will tonight at the Merriweather Post Pavilion), trailing sheer silk scarves and layered lacy dresses, incense and candles might seem more in character.
As it turns out, Nicks keeps those on hand as well. But no matter how much their soft light and sweet scent might add to a room's atmosphere, what she really wants isn't a sense of comfort, but a chance to create. "When I see that typewriter when I get in my room, it just makes me go, 'Wow,'" she explains over the phone from a hotel room in Charlotte, N.C. "If I feel like saying anything tonight, it's all there, it's all ready. I light the candles, and I light some incense, and put on some music for whatever mood I'm in, and it's my time. It's my special time alone."
Sitting alone at a typewriter doesn't seem a particularly romantic image, particularly when compared to the apparent glamour of rock stardom. But as Nicks puts it, "When you love to write as much as I love to write . . ."
"We didn't get in until real late last night, until probably about four, and I typed for about three hours," she says. "I was so tired that I would put my head down on the typewriter and almost go to sleep, and then I'd wake back up and I'd type another couple paragraphs." What she writes varies; sometimes it's poetry, sometimes merely poetic. "I go home from every tour with a binder full of journalistic prose of the tour, and then also a lot of poetry," she says. Some of the poetry may eventually become songs, and some it may not. But her tour journals are meant for a specific audience -- her band. "They don't know that I'm writing this every night," she says. "I don't show them until the end of the tour. Then I have it bound into a little book, and I give it to everybody."
Of course, the sort of writing Nicks is best known for always comes with music attached. Although she can envision a day when her creative output would be strictly poetry and prose, songwriting remains her chief interest and fascination. In fact, she says that when she writes her book about Fleetwood Mac, it won't focus on personalities the way Mick Fleetwood's did, but will tell "why the songs were written and how they were written and the circumstances underneath -- where everybody was at, how everybody felt."
Although she never read Fleetwood's book, she says she was supportive when it came out; since then, however, things have soured professionally between the two, and it seems unlikely she will ever be a part of Fleetwood Mac again. "I'm not a person to say, 'I will absolutely never do this again,' " she says. "But right now I'm not very happy with Mick, and it's over a pretty serious thing. He won't give in and I feel it's unfair, and since he's not considering my feelings and I've always considered his, for the first time in my life I can actually say, 'No, I'm not going to tour with them or work with them on this record.' Not them, but him, because he's done something that is unforgivable."
Nicks will offer a sort of preview of her book with her next album, Timespace. Due out in early September, it's essentially a greatest hits collection. "I named it 'Timespace' because I figured that this last 11 years since Belladonna have been my space in time; been my time in space," she says. "But I wrote about at least one typewritten page on each one of those songs. Which is something that I never did before, because I wanted people to interpret what I wrote into their lives. I didn't want to tell them what it was about to me, because then instantly that's what it is."
Now that most fans have their own emotional associations for the music, Nicks feels comfortable with revealing her side of the story in liner notes. "I wrote it in a very, you know, in a very poetic way, and it's real pretty," she says. "A lot of it's real sad. I want people to understand that these were really serious songs." Just how serious these songs are becomes apparent when Nicks relates the story behind her hit "Edge of Seventeen". It was, she says, not about teenagers or white winged doves, exactly, but about the deaths of John Lennon and her uncle, both of whom died the same week in 1980.
At the time, Nicks was going out with producer Jimmy Iovine, and was with him when news of Lennon's assassination first broke. "Jimmy was absolutely best friends with John Lennon," she says. "So when that happened, a hush came over the house that was so overwhelming that there was nothing that I could do to help. There was nothing I could say, there was no way I could comfort him." Unable to help, Nicks flew home to Phoenix. "I went straight over to my uncle's house, and my uncle died that day. He died right there with me holding his hand, just me and my cousin, who's a little younger than me, sitting there on the bed and on the floor next to him."
Even over the phone, it's hard to hear her tell this story without wanting to reach for a tissue. It's not that her voice begins to quiver, or even suggest a suppressed sob; if anything, her matter-of-fact tone seems a stark contrast to the tale's emotional impact. But the hurt and helplessness she felt then are obviously still there for her. "I have to deal with it every single night when I sing it," she says. "That's why I can [sing it]. When that song starts, I go back to that week. And it's not like I try. I don't make a physical effort to do it. In my mind, my little timespace, I'm back in the house at Encino finding out that news, and when I sing it to everybody, I try to make them understand in a way what I was talking about without actually telling them."
"That's why I can sing 'Edge of Seventeen' just like I wrote it yesterday. Because it will never, ever lose the intensity. I will never forget how I felt when that happened to me. And when people read this, they're going to understand that this hasn't been so glamorous, and each one of these songs was one more chip off an already broken heart."
Thanks to Tami Lee for sending the article to The Nicks Fix.