Unfortunately, Stevie Nicks and John Lennon never crossed paths professionally or personally. While the two creatives didn’t know each other on a personal level, that didn’t stop the Fleetwood Mac singer feeling a grave sense of loss after she heard the devastating news that the Beatle had been shot down dead outside his New York home in 1980.
The entire world was seemingly unified in shared agony after Lennon was robbed of his life, his children of their father and the world of their talismanic rock hero. In response, Nicks channelled her grief and astonishment into music and the result became one of her best-known tracks.
The track in question was 1981’s momentous ‘Edge Of Seventeen’, a song which would announce Nicks as an undisputed rock God in her own right and, in truth, it arrived as the perfect way to silence the critics who thought she was incapable of operating as a solo artist. While she had already proven herself to be a special artist with Buckingham & Nicks prior to even joining Fleetwood Mac, the question of whether Stevie Nicks could do it alone still loomed over her work.
Although ‘Edge Of Seventeen’ was technically her third single from Bella Donna, the previous two releases featured Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers and Don Henley, respectively. This was the track that laid out the definitive Stevie Nicks sound that we all know and love.
In December 1980, for Nicks, the death of John Lennon coincided with the loss of a close family member. While the world appeared to be talking about grief at the same time, privately, Nicks was hurting and left with no place to hide from her feelings. The loss of Lennon also made Nicks realise that it could easily have been her in his position, and it was a feeling that shook the singer to her core.
For both of these traumatic events to take place in such a short space of time for such an autobiographical artist, Nicks couldn’t avoid writing about it and, on ‘Edge Of Seventeen’, she beautifully describes Lennon as having the “words from a poet and a voice from a choir”.
“I was in Australia when John Lennon was shot,” Nicks later said. “Everybody was devastated. I didn’t know John Lennon, but I knew Jimmy Iovine, who worked with John quite a bit in the ’70s and heard all the loving stories that Jimmy told about him. When I came back to Phoenix I started to write this song.
“Right when I got to Phoenix, my uncle Bill got cancer, got very sick very fast, and died in a couple of weeks,” she continued. “My cousin John Nicks and I were in the room when he died. There was just John and I there. That was part of the song when I went running down the hallways looking for somebody – I thought where’s my mom? Where’s his wife and the rest of the family? At that point, I went back to the piano and finished the song.”
The singer confirmed the story when she spoke with Entertainment Weekly, “This was written right after John Lennon was assassinated. That was a very scary and sad moment for all of us in the rock and roll business, it scared us all to death that some idiot could be so deranged that he would wait outside your apartment building, never having known you, and shoot you dead.”
It clearly resonated with Nicks who continued, “That was so unacceptable to all of us in our community. So the white dove was John Lennon, and peace,” she also revealed in a previous interview that, as well as Lennon, the impact of her Uncle’s death had deeply affected her. “I have to deal with it every single night when I sing it. That’s why I can [sing it]. When that song starts, I go back to that week. And it’s not like I try.”
She added: “I don’t make a physical effort to do it. In my mind, my little time-space, I’m back in the house at Encino finding out that news, and when I sing it to everybody, I try to make them understand in a way that I was talking about without actually telling them. That’s why I can sing ‘Edge of Seventeen’ just like I wrote it yesterday. Because it will never, ever lose the intensity. I will never forget how I felt when that happened to me.”
The song is arguably Nicks’ most-loved effort as a solo artist and is a timeless track which emphatically silenced anybody who questioned her rock ‘n’ roll credentials.
‘Edge Of Seventeen’ may have been born out of Nicks being in a grief-stricken state of panic, however, the song is anything but a sob story and offers a full-throttle defiant response that sticks two fingers up in the face of hardship.