For a while, David Letterman would randomly run on his show the portion of Stevie Nicks' 1986 "Talk to Me" video where she spins with incredible velocity and abandon, perched high on her platform boots and weighed down by yards of draped velvet. And if Stevie Nicks has been the butt of ongoing ridicule in the past, her fourth and most recent album The Other Side of the Mirror will do little to dispel that image. But what exactly is it about her or her music that encourages such ferocious sarcasm at the expense of her music? After all, as a member of Fleetwood Mac, which she joined in 1975, Nicks did more than her share in contributing to the group's mammoth success. Her song "Rhiannon" was the highest-charting single to come off their self-titled debut LP, which went to No. 1 on the Billboard charts. Her single "Dreams" from the next record, Rumours, became the band's first and only No. 1 hit song. And the song "Sara," from the follow-up album Tusk, peaked at No. 7 in February 1980 and was the last Top Ten hit recorded by Fleetwood Mac to date. So how did Stevie Nicks, one of the most acclaimed performers of the past decade, become the antiquated rock mama she has been since the onset of the Eighties?
For one thing, her songs haven't changed that much since she began her solo career. They are perhaps a bit more self-centered now, what with no one, bandmember or husband, breathing down her neck and constricting her artistic freedom. As a solo artist, Stevie Nicks is also a single woman, since her and Lindsay Buckingham's breakup and his departure from the band. She is both artist and woman, and she allows all of her female creativity to surge forth. For another, Nicks has certainly managed to keep her name and image visible, on the charts and elsewhere. For all its frumpiness, her shtick apparently captivates some. Her first solo release Bella Donna ended up as the eighth-largest seller of 1982 on the Billboard charts and was named best-selling album by a female artist in 1983. That'll buy you a hefty bunch of lace shawls.
But that pervasive femininity seems to be the problem. Her clothes, her lyrics, her six-inch fingernails, everything about Stevie is so very female. From the Great Mother to the Femme Fatale, with every archetype in between, Stevie somehow embraces all facets of the female principle. She publishes songs under the name "Welsh Witch." And ironically, what had been a large part of her appeal in the past appears to have turned against her with the years. Just compare the back cover of Mac's first album and young Stevie's pouty, unadorned sexiness stands outside age and trends. Today's Stevie is both weight- and height-conscious and obviously dresses accordingly. The inner sleeve photo of her current record has her standing between her two backup singers. Only her carefully posed three-quarter profile has been blown-up and reinserted in the shot to give the illusion of uniform height (the other women somehow are half as wide as she, and the checkerboard floor's pattern is oddly mismatched around the center). Is it any wonder Letterman can't resist a poke or two?
Still, her spaced-out child-woman persona, so irritating to some, can also be charming to others. It comes as no surprise that the native Phoenician has spent a lot of time in the desert and gazing at mountains. "I live right under Camelback Mountain," she recently told Rolling Stone. "You can stand in my backyard and look at the mountain. That's where Steven Spielberg and I decided that E.T. should be born. Steven doesn't know that I know." She even writes her songs sitting directly in the mountain's shadow, "my mountain" as she fondly describes it. Those tunes that don't end up on the albums remain in her "magic drawer," amongst hundreds of other songs and poems.
This new album for which she is currently touring is "more serious." It deals like the others with Stevie's quest for love and emotional peace. Her doubts, her anxieties as a woman and an artist are put into songs that feature "someone like me, or me," as she herself describes them, and show her emotionally insecure, vulnerable inner self in order she adds, "that they might be of some help to someone out there who is going through the same thing." Whatever can be said about her style, her content appears halfway sincere and passionate, with songs like "Doing the Best I Can," one of many in which she wallows in the throes of heartbreak. Her vocals, rich if a little nasal, and melodies are topnotch, in the wall-of-shawled-sound genre. She's helped out on the album by veteran producer Rupert Hine, who also plays keyboards, and such names as Tony Levin on bass, "EZ" Kenny G. on sax, Waddy Wachtel on guitar. At its worst, The Other Side of the Mirror sounds like an overproduced Deal-a-Meal commercial hosted by a fairy munchkin. At its best, however, it offers a soothing musical interlude guaranteed to pull the strings of many a disconsolate heart.
Stevie Nicks will perform in concert with the Hooters on Friday, October 27, at Compton Terrace. Show time is 7:30 p.m.
What had been a large part of her appeal in the past appears to have turned against her with the years. From the Great Mother to the Femme Fatale, with every archetype in between, Stevie embraces all facets of the female principle.