Nicks of Time

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

When talking Stevie Nicks 2001, all Sunset Boulevard bets are off. Of late, Nicks is a woman saddled with a few decidedly simple and un-rock-starry habits. The blow and pills are long gone. In their place, she's developed a soap opera habit and has taken to jogging.

Nicks' new album -- four years after the surprisingly triumphant Fleetwood Mac reunion tour -- Trouble in Shangri-la, is actually good. Really good. Shangri-la finds Nicks sounding almost animated, energized, with very few lapses into self-parody. She's not the diamond-studded-coke-spoon-wielding mystical chanteuse of yore, nor is she the aging star sitting atop a pedestal of vain self-fulfillment. At worst, the songs that are cringingly navel-gazy and touchy-feely still resonate as if shot up straight from the gut.

Much of Shangri-la was written by Nicks and produced by pal/fan Sheryl Crow (who brought along her sideman/writer, the brilliant ex-Wire Train guitarist Jeffrey Trott). What's weird is that Nicks' patented hiccupy croon sounds ageless. The record sounds youthful.

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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Scheduled to perform on Thursday, December 6. To benefit the Arizona Heart Institute Foundation. Special guests include Sheryl Crow, Don Henley and Lindsey Buckingham. Showtime is 8 p.m.
America West Arena

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Nicks says the Peter Pan thing reveals itself in her writing. "I really write the same way now as I did when I was 16. My songs pretty much come from poems that pretty much come from what's happening to me in my life. So that allows me to write, I think, with a more kind of youthful feeling. Because, at 53 years old, I'm not much different from the person I was when I was 20, when I was wondering about that world of romantic possibility."

This from a rock star whose career saw a grand exit on the heels of sour record sales figures and coke-binge rumors, only to return after a sobering hiatus to find revisionist historians lauding her as a grand pop matriarch.

She's learned that in this life, timing is everything. Moreover, it is now cool to dig Stevie. Courtney Love, of all people, sings her praises. As does Macy Gray. Destiny's Child samples her and invites her to be in a video. Even Patti Smith has come clean. Sheryl Crow hails Nicks to the heavens. Nicks sounds genuinely confounded by so much slobbering reverence from those she influenced. "I didn't expect it at all," she says.

In the 1970s, songwriters did what they did and could become famous simply because other people dug it. It was a time when you could sell tons of records, become a huge pop star, all on your own terms. Hence, Fleetwood Mac. When all that started to change late in the decade (again, in part, because of Fleetwood Mac), when the process became fodder for corporate schemes, the artist took a seat at the back of the bus. The record biz became little more than a glorified drive-through.

Nicks agrees that pop music in the '70s, and that which she grew up on, was at the very least allowed to breathe. The songs weren't squeezed of their soul simply to fit formats. But she won't take blame for the latter.

These days, a pop star has one, maybe two hits and she's out. All this after having to nearly disrobe for the privilege. For Nicks, this new pretty-in-pink, here-today-gone-today nature of the record industry took a bit of getting used to.

"The companies are very different now," she says, with an audible shrug. "For Fleetwood Mac, in the beginning, for the first, say, 10 years between '75 and '85, we had such a close relationship with Warner Bros. We would go over to the label and we knew everybody by name. There seemed to be a true artistic relationship between the industry and the artists. That's very hard to find now. You know what's in those Top 10 spaces and it's a lot about rap and it's a lot about Britney Spears and it's a lot about that total teen thing."

In theory, an audience could grow old with an artist. It's an idea that seems wholly antiquated now. Picture Britney and her fans at Nicks' age. Grace is hard to imagine.

"The only bummer about that whole thing is what about all the people that are my age," Nicks continues, laughing. "All the people that were Fleetwood Mac fans in 1980, what happened to all of them? So I kind of said, especially with Shangri-la, all these songs could fit into a 17-year-old's life. Because it's all about angst and searching and life."

Nicks echoes Peter Pan pathos. She simply refuses to buy into the dead-at-30-buried-at-60 pop mythos. "You have to be philosophical in this day and age. Because if you are not, you will just get depressed and stop playing music and become an old person. This is even true for young people. Even young people who just stop listening to music and become old. People my age are searching for that song that comes on that just knocks them out like when we were 25. I know I am. I am always waiting for that song by somebody else that just kills me. But, again, I don't let what is going on affect me too much. Because I know when it all comes down to push and shove that the really good song is gonna win. Doesn't matter if I'm singing it or Britney is singing it or Backstreet Boys are singing it or 'N SYNC is singing it. It doesn't matter who is singing it."

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