Ever get that, you know, not-so-fresh feeling about an artist? It's probably because you're associating that artist's music with a separate, unpleasant experience. For instance, I know this gentleman who has a deep-rooted resentment of Henry Mancini, simply because someone threw up on him in a car when "Moon River" was playing.

This aversion has probably stopped him from seeing dozens of Oscar-winning films the late composer scored music for, not to mention the Pink Panther movies and Newhart. Hardly the late composer's fault, but try telling that to a guy who hears "my huckleberry friend" and sees regurgitated cheese dripping down his lapel.

In much the same way, I've never given the solo work of Phoenix's own Stevie Nicks a fair shake, since I used to have a girlfriend who worshiped Nicks the whole nine yards. My girlfriend wore shawls in the summertime, draped veils over room lamps, read tarot cards, believed in spooks and spirits, consulted astrological charts and sang "Landslide" with the same high, quivering voice Stevie used to have. That was no mean feat, since my ex's regular speaking voice was lower than Bea Arthur's. But that was ages ago, and one should be able to disassociate star-crossed lovers with Stevie Nicks' latest album, Street Angel. But it's hard, much the same way you can't disassociate Stevie from Fleetwood Mac and Fleetwood Mac from the horrible sight of the Gores square-dancing to "Don't Stop."

There must be plenty of other guys out there who have a Nicksnik in their past, one who used to take out the top hat and chiffon every time Stevie came to town. After all, Rumours sold a kazillion copies, and Bill Clinton couldn't have bought all of them. Pubescent girls hungry for role models in 1976 didn't have too many ideals to choose from--Stevie, Farrah, Linda McCartney, the Bionic Woman, Wonder Woman and Rosalynn Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine--oh, yeah, and for 15 seconds, porn star turned pop singer Andrea True.

Most female Fleetwood Mac fans skipped right over honey-voiced Christine McVie, probably because she reminded them too much of their mothers. If you were a girl on the edge of 17, who would you rather be--Christine, slaving away at her keyboard like it was a Singer sewing machine, or Stevie, whirling dervishly onstage like a kid with no homework? You'd pick the chick in the top hat, natch! Goodhearted McVie symbolized the perennial pushover, the silly girl always looking for daddies in a roomful of strange men. She deserved whatever she got. Didn't her former beau Dennis Wilson once surprise her on her birthday with a heart-shaped flower garden and then have the gall to send her the landscaping bill? She probably paid it, too. Sap.

Whereas Stevie empowered women. Why? Because she had intrigue, mystery and just plain weirdness on her side. Her interviews were always peppered with enough talk of fairies and witches and crystal visions to convince the easily impressionable that she had powers far beyond those of mortal tambourine shakers. In a 1980 Rolling Stone cover story, Stevie showed writer Daisann McLane photographs of Fleetwood Mac in concert, insisting that the spirit of Rhiannon, the mythological Welsh witch she wrote her first million-seller about, took over her body whenever that song was played:

"The pale shadow of Dragon Boy [is] always behind me, always behind me. You see, when I get carried off into Rhiannon, it doesn't necessarily mean I'm not carried off into Fleetwood Mac. Cause I'm just as carried off into them. Rhiannon has to wait. She just has to wait; that's all there is to it."
Wooo, makes you want to double-lock the liquor cabinets, pronto, doesn't it? But maybe she has a point. Parts of "Rhiannon" are sung in a sweet, pixy voice that one readily associates with Nicks but that virtually disappears in her work after Rumours. By the time you get to Mirage and Tango in the Night, everybody involved got tired of waiting for Rhiannon to turn up again, so they just sped up Lindsey Buckingham's voice to sound like a chipmunk, instead.

No question about it--the voice of Stevie did change. The combination of nodes, asthma and the things you go to the Betty Ford Clinic to clear up (Nicks was once a guest there) resulted in her sounding like a cross between Marlene Dietrich and Froggy from The Little Rascals.

Nicks' table-tapping mysticism on those first two mighty Mac albums goes down in the most delightful way, because it's in such a small dose. It's only when we get to the excesses of Tusk--Fleetwood Mac's version of the White Album, on which nobody wanted to be Ringo and everybody wanted to be Paul--that we get to peek into Stevie's crystal ball and see how her solo career pans out.

Sandwiched between songs about men making Christine cry (again) and Lindsey screaming his head off and hitting a Kleenex tissue box for drums, you'll find Stevie writing what guys would sneeringly refer to as "women's songs."

Songs about lace curtains, setting down roots, having children, and the closest thing on that album to a "Revolution No. 9"--the incomprehensible "Sisters of the Moon." Here, shrewd Stevie shows solidarity with her lunar ladies in waiting. Obviously, she knows something we don't, namely, that a gal has to go pretty darned far to get away from the pesky men who keep upsetting Christine. See what I mean by empowerment? Sisters are doing it for themselves--on the moon, fer chrissakes! Remember those old sci-fi films in which men are enslaved on the planet Venus by women in pointed hats and tacky swimwear? If Stevie had her way, we'd all be on that planet, all right, but the women in charge would be wearing pointed hats, long skirts, long boots and long shawls their nanas gave them. You degenerates out there who once lusted after La Nicks probably don't need to be told there hasn't been any sign of Stevie's thighs or even cleavage on an album cover since the 25-million-selling Rumours.

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