Nicks of Time

Pop's gold-dust woman bounces back from drugs, depression and sluggish sales

When Stevie Nicks returned to her Phoenix home at the tail end of 1994, just a year after quitting what was once the biggest band in rock 'n' roll, she figured that her career was all but over.

There was lots of wreckage in her wake. Earlier that same year, she had released her fourth solo album, the dodgy, drug-addled Street Angel, a flop of a disc that didn't go anywhere near platinum. The then-46-year-old rock star had spent the previous six months in an L.A. rehab clinic kicking a gnarly Klonopin habit (a drug prescribed to supplant a heady coke addiction).

Nicks spent months lodged in her desert house doing little else but nursing a depression that was larger than most of the arenas she had played over the years. Here was a woman responsible for some of the most enduring and celebrated pop ever recorded: a woman who had sold more than 50 million records.

Stevie Nicks: From passé nostalgia figure to grand pop matriarch, all in the space of a few years.
Stevie Nicks: From passé nostalgia figure to grand pop matriarch, all in the space of a few years.
Stevie Nicks: Juggling a solo tour and Fleetwood Mac recording sessions.
Stevie Nicks: Juggling a solo tour and Fleetwood Mac recording sessions.

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Nicks contemplated calling it quits. She had guessed that nobody cared about her anymore. She figured herself too old to be relevant in an industry that was, after all, becoming increasingly dependent on the dreaded youth buck.

"I fired people and wasn't really nice to people and just lived in my 'oh, whatever' world," she says when asked about the years leading up to 1994. She's on the telephone in her rented Santa Monica home. "So when I went back to Phoenix, I was really freaked out. I thought, you know, I can't do it again." She pauses. Then she adds, with a hearty laugh, "I can't make that many apologies across the world again."

The easy, fish-in-the-barrel reference to insert here would be to Norma Desmond, the forgotten movie star in Sunset Boulevard. However, that would be far too easy, and lazy. Nicks wasn't about to be put to pasture, not against her will, anyway.

Enter ex-Gin Blossoms guitarist Jesse Valenzuela and, later, Tom Petty, the two people Nicks credits for helping lift her out of the depths of career despair. They got her off her ass.

Valenzuela and Nicks began recording songs at Vintage Recorders in Phoenix, one of which (an acoustic cover of Ricky Nelson's "It's Late") wound up on Nicks' 1998 boxed set, Enchanted.

"When I first started doing songs for Trouble in Shangri-la, I met Jesse through a local studio owner, and Jesse was so cool," Nicks explains. "I was coming out of rehab, and I was sad and I was trying to figure how to get my voice back and if that was even possible. That's where Jesse came in. He really was a strong force in talking me out of that. Jesse had just said, 'Don't be stupid. This is good. Let's get your singing chops back and get the excitement back.'

"Jesse really was an important factor in that. He was so wonderful to me, and supportive of me, that it was amazing. It really helped me to get back into the flow. I think Jesse is awesome. Later, I got a lecture from Tom Petty at the Ritz-Carlton, and I was able to say, 'You know, I can really do this again. . . .' I can, because what in the hell else am I going to do?"

Turns out Nicks was a big Gin Blossoms fan and thought it stupid that the Tempe-based band called it quits. She even goes so far as to suggest that, had the Blossoms not broken up, they might have attained a success on a par with Fleetwood Mac. If anybody could write the book on sustaining and overcoming inner-band fucked-upedness, it is Nicks. Fleetwood Mac taught us this.

"I was very sad that the Gin Blossoms broke up because I felt that they really had a shot at being a big band," Nicks says. "That decision that Robin [Wilson] -- is that his name? -- made was really a bad one. Because they could have all gone off and done solo things and not broken up that band. Because the Gin Blossoms could've been one of those bands, you know, a Fleetwood Mac type of band, a band that hung around for a long, long time and sold a lot of records. It was a unique sound, very different and very much unto themselves."


When Nicks speaks, the words shoot out quickly and offer little in the way of melodic variation. A wordy monotone implies a certain seriousness and masks self-deprecation. There is, however, a self-deprecating side to her. She pokes fun at herself surprisingly often ("I know four chords on the guitar and I don't play piano very well. . . . I throw in a bass note wherever I can figure it out.").

Since completing a North American tour that started in mid-summer, Nicks has been off the road for a week. She says she spends all her non-working time at her Phoenix home. Her voice is gruff, hoarse from spending long hours the night before doing vocals for a new Fleetwood Mac album.

"I'm so exhausted and I didn't get home until way late last night," she says, laughing. "When I woke up today, I went, 'Whoa, now I remember what recording is like.' It's over and over and over, you forget how tedious it is."

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