We’ve all heard our fair share of Stevie Nicks stories over the years—the twirling, free-spirited rockstar in gypsy chiffon dresses, shawls of feathers and lace, and trinkets made of diamonds and turquoise who sets our hearts ablaze with her sultry, mysterious vocals. Some of the stories border on legend. Like her string of post-Lindsey Buckingham love affairs with rockers from Don Henley to Mick Fleetwood. Or her million-dollar cocaine habit.
But there is another side to the mythical Ms. Nicks other than her larger-than- life, no-bullshit personality – and that is her depth of talent as a musician and songwriter. Having been driven since her teenage years to become what she knew deep-down she was meant to be, she worked hard and fought fiercely for her shot at making a name for herself. With the offer to join Fleetwood Mac, and the release of the Rumours album, she catapulted onto the global scene with songs like Dreams. Her songwriting process is solitary, with a tendency to write poetry that eventually becomes lyrics for her songs. And she does it alone. Dreams was written by her alone with her electric keyboard and drum machine in 10 minutes, according to Blender and Rolling Stone.
Not a trained musician, she taught herself how to play the piano. She took a month of classical guitar lessons, which she said in an interview was all she needed before writing Gold Dust Woman and Landslide. This self-taught approach has given her a unique style and creativity all her own when writing and expressing musically the thoughts and feelings that are floating around in her head. In fact, she said many people over the years have dissuaded her from taking piano lessons because if she took them then she “would have rules, and the way [she] write[s] is so not rule-esque that if [she] start[s] to have rules then [she’ll] start writing songs like everybody else.” And we simply can’t have that.
Much about Nicks and her raw, unadulterated talent have been the driving force and backbone for the success of Fleetwood Mac, who will be the first band ever to receive the MusiCares Person of the Year Award at the end of January, where Mick Fleetwood, Nicks, Lindsey Buckingham, Christine and John McVie will perform together. Although she and the band have had their ups and downs, including the epic Buckingham Nicks love saga, all of the band members respect each others’ musicianship. That means over the years, even though they have a fragile relationship, Buckingham is always up for the collaboration. “As musicians, we respected each other,” she told The Daily Mail in 2009.
Nicks songwriting style is as etheric and whimsical as her on-stage persona. She still handwrites all of her lyrics in journals that she keeps organized and filed, locked away for future reference or use. Any music she creates she records on cassette tape, which is also organized and archived. According to her 2013 documentary In Your Dreams, she can reference these poems years afterward. She pulled a song she had written about Edgar Allen Poe’s Annabel Lee when she was 17 years old and it became a song on her solo album. Her hand-written style gives her music and lyrics an emotional and physical connection to herself, which is another part of Nicks’ strength as a musician – her femininity. From sex and power to fairies and fantasy, Nicks seems to have a freedom with her expression that takes the listener to a completely new and different place.
Landslide, for instance, written about the intensely devoted yet devastating relationship she had with Buckingham at the time, outlines the fierce loyalty a woman can have for a man while being torn by her desire and need for independence. Weary from the battle between love and freedom, her melancholy vocals on the song elicit the feelings of wanting to move forward yet being held back. The maturity of her self-expression, even at a young age writing about the dead lover of Edgar Allen Poe, is part of what makes Nicks point of view as an artist appealing. She is not afraid to go deep within the woods of her own mind and seek out even the most hidden of gems in order to dust it off and make a thought or song out of it. It is part of what makes her music relatable.
In an interview with American Songwriter in 2011, she talked about her writing process. She writes about exciting experiences in her life in her journal as a formal poem, from an experience with her grandfather to a show that personally affected her, she doesn’t limit herself in terms of what she finds inspiring or poem-worthy. Like any great artist, she trusts her own instincts implicitly, which has served her profoundly throughout her iconic career. Part of her confidence comes from keeping other people out of her space when she is trying to write a song. She says it is because she is protective over the process, whether she wants to cry or light incense, she believes her songwriting is her own and not something she wants to share with anyone. She says she “felt like the writing of a song was very selfishly [her] own.”
No one could blame her for wanting to shield her most precious thoughts and musings because the purity of those words and feelings have benefited so many through the years. From Rhiannon to Gypsy to Edge of Seventeen, Nicks has a way of sharing herself that hasn’t been replicated. After all, art should be original. And there hasn’t been a more original woman than Stevie Nicks. Whether she is mishearing Tom Petty’s wife talk about when they met and turning those words into Edge of Seventeen, or flipping a phrase from Reese Witherspoon and creating Cheaper Than Free, Nicks always has her mind and heart open and ready to receive the inspiration for a great song.
In a year so poised to shine a light on brilliant women, Stevie Nicks is a perfect place to start.