Stevie Nicks has a voice that could haunt an empty house, and the next minute kickstart a party in it. Her pipes bristle with a level of emotional bravura that is hard to come by in music. It is this same prowess of passion that bursts out of her songwriting too… and seemingly it always has done.
Her writing and performance style is powerfully poignant to the point of verging on the glorious brink of melodrama. Take, for instance, the song ‘Dreams’. It is perhaps too catchy and sing-along to be considered the peak of heart-breaking music, in fact, it is even played at weddings by less lyrically scrupulous DJ’s. However, the story behind it is one that doesn’t get much more tragic this side of Orpheus. Written by Nicks (on Sly Stones piano) on a particularly bleak and lonely sounding evening, she knew she had written a gem. She was also aware that the barebones song she had crafted could only be elevated by the same man she painstakingly wrote it about, Lindsey Buckingham.
So, picture if you will, as a sort of pastiche of her artistic output, the moment the three-part vocals had to be recorded: in a silent, darkened, studio room stood Nicks, Christine McVie and Buckingham huddled inches apart around the same microphone and pouring their heartaches into it, no doubt in that very moment the heartache was being added to – frankly, it’s hard to imagine a performance under any more emotional duress. And yet it is that very vulnerability combined with the cathartic so-f*ck-it liberation of great rock music, that lends the song its vibrant and emotive immediacy.
This tenet of being brutally honest in the name of creative salvation is something that has evidently always resided in her work. When she received a guitar for her 16th birthday, she quickly attended to her soul-pouring duties. The track she penned came with a title well ahead of her years: ‘I’ve Love and I’ve Lost, and I’m Sad but not Blue’.
As it happens, the song proved to be a pivotal moment for Nicks, as she recalled: “On my birthday, I wrote a song about my first love affair. It was a relationship at 15-and-a-half where I was absolutely crazy about this guy. And he broke up with me. Thank God he broke up with me because if he hadn’t, I wouldn’t have been spurred on to write that song. Because when that song was done, I knew I was going to be a songwriter.” Proving a point usually forgotten: How glad we often are that life didn’t work out the way we once thought we wanted it to.
This first step was a tentative one. As Nicks adds: “It was actually a very nice little guitar song…But it was silly, I was only sixteen, it was my sixteenth birthday….And I was recovering from my first, like, incredible (I thought) love affair, y’know. I was crazy about this very popular kid in school and he actually looked at me a couple of times so I wrote this song. And it was all over nothing, it never happened, and it was just this whole thing I made up. And I realized right away that I could write songs because I could have experiences without even having them, by just singing about them!”
Shortly afterwards, however, she joined her first band while attending Arcadia High School in California. Thereafter she moved onto Menlo Atherton High School as a senior and met Lindsey Buckingham at a Young Life social event. He was playing ‘California Dreamin’’ and she provided sweet harmonies. The rest, as they say, is ancient history and Nicks has been extolling heartbreak and exultation from it ever since.