Scotsman.com (11/02/2003), "I fight like a dog every day"
Scotsman.com, November 2, 2003
"I fight like a dog every day "
by Aidan Smith
WHEN Fleetwood Mac’s world reunion tour rumbles into Scotland next month, there will come a moment - this always happens in big rock shows featuring bands of a certain wrinkly vintage - when some of the expensive stagecraft will be turned on the audience.
Like gulls diving for fish, spotlights will swoop over a sea of bald, 40- and 50-something heads belonging to men who loved and lost in a 1970s kind of way. Mostly - though Kate Bush, Curved Air’s Sonja Kristina and Stacia, the nude dancer out of Hawkwind, competed for their adolescent affections - they adored Stevie Nicks.
In the majority of cases, their love for this vision in black lace and chiffon got no further than buying the Rumours album and listening to it in their lonely rooms, while gazing at a poster of "The Mac" pulled from the centre pages of Sounds magazine.
But some of these men grew beards and met women who copied Nicks’ classic Californian hippy-chic threads and together they conceived to Rumours. Some of these couples have waited years for the comeback tour. Not quite believing it, they will bring along the daughters of their soft-rock unions, so they too can witness a bona fide, back-from-the-dead rock event. These will be some of the hundreds, possibly thousands of girls who were christened Rhiannon after Nicks’ most famous song.
By a twist of pop fate, many of those girls will already know Nicks through the video for Destiny’s Child’s hit ‘Bootylicious’. The world’s best-selling girl group sampled a Nicks lick for that song then put her in the promo, playing guitar and also passing on the torch as No 1 lust object to Beyonce Knowles. ‘Bootylicious’ might be in the dictionaries now, but Nicks flaunted it first.
Only the biggest, most bombastic of 1970s bands got their name shortened in those intense, bumfluff-scratching conversations about music in Wimpy Bars and school common-rooms. Sabbath, Purple, The Floyd, The Mac. It was a mark of respect, the last these groups would receive before punk rock kicked their bootys.
I wasn’t a massive Fleetwood Mac fan but I bought Rumours. Like North Sea oil, Vietnamese boat people, German wine and inflation - it was everywhere at the time. And today, listening to Nicks on the other end of the phone, I am in awe of the story of The Mac, rock’s most dysfunctional band.
You cannot fail to be amazed by how many albums they shifted - more than 25 million copies of Rumours - or how many drugs they consumed or how many partner permutations they contrived in their games of musical beds. They were the band who played together and laid together. Not so much the eternal triangle, more the infernal quintuplet.
Her voice is really something, too. "Well, here I am in Los Angeles, in Santa Monica, and right down by the ocean is just about the only place to be while our city burns," says Nicks, 54, in husky tones once memorably described as "four-in-the-morning f*** me". "What’s happening to California, all those fires, it’s terrible, terrible. I haven’t left my house for four whole days because I’m scared to go out. I’ve tried to seal it up. I’ve taped over my windows but they’re the old screw-out kind and I’m afraid the smoke is still getting in through the cracks. I suffer from asthma and for anyone with respiratory problems, this is a nightmare."
We should pause here to record the fact that the respiratory problems of Stephanie Lynn Nicks were almost entirely self-inflicted. She has a hole in her nose caused by a world championship amount of cocaine abuse. How big is the hole? "As big as a dime, can you imagine that?"
The most notorious cocaine story concerning Nicks in all The Mac’s myths and legends is the one about a loyal assistant equipped with a tube who, to save the singer’s nose further damage, blew the white powder up her backside. "It’s just not true," Nicks insists. "I’m a lady and I’d never do such a thing. But I have to say that when I heard that rumour, it made me decide, ‘OK, enough’. I checked into the Betty Ford Clinic soon after."
You have to have some sympathy for Nicks because she’s stuck with the hole. "I can’t get it fixed because it would change my voice," she sighs.
But at the same time you wonder why she is getting so wound up about a mere raging inferno. Life in The Mac was rarely less than cataclysmic. They didn’t just have band splits, they had San Andreas faultlines.
Some background: The Curse of the Mac was already set in stone by the time they unveiled their 10th line-up introducing Nicks and fellow newcomer and lover Lindsey Buckingham to the established trio of Mick Fleetwood and John and Christine McVie.
Previously, on the longest-running soap opera in rock, Peter Green had quit the group in 1970, his mental health battered by heavy substance abuse. Drugs did for another guitarist Jeremy Spencer a year later, although he resurfaced as a member of the religious cult, The Children of God. In 1972, a third guitarist, Danny Kirwan, was fired and later admitted to a psychiatric hospital. Then, in 1973, a fourth mad Mac axeman, Bob Weston, was sacked following his affair with Fleetwood’s wife, Jenny Boyd.
But those were minor bumps and holes in the road compared to what happened next. Buckingham and Nicks came as a pair from the San Francisco hippy scene but, unknown to the others at the time, their relationship was already in meltdown.
Even if they had still been the golden couple who had fallen in love the minute Nicks, in her first and only year at high school, had spotted the hairy Buckingham sitting crossed-legged at a student party singing ‘California Dreamin’’ and wafted over and joined in, The Curse Of The Mac would almost certainly have got to the new recruits before too long.
When the band locked themselves in the studio to record Rumours, the McVies were only communicating through lawyers and Mick Fleetwood was going through a messy divorce of his own. A big velvet bag of cocaine stored under the mixing desk got them through the sessions, though, and the album - which produced some of their most enduring songs including ‘Say You Love Me’, ‘Don’t Stop’ and ‘Dreams’ - was released in 1977.
For the next 10 years, they toured, partied, loved and fought. They wrote and sang about all the jealousies and betrayals, with Fleetwood and Nicks’ affair cranking up band tensions to number 11 on the dial. Then, in 1987, an explosive row with Nicks ended with Buckingham screaming: "Get that woman out of my life - the schizophrenic bitch!" before lashing out at his former lover and zooming off into the Californian sunset.
Now, with her city in flames, Nicks hunkers down in her hermetically sealed refuge, with only her faithful Yorkshire terrier for company, and still can’t quite believe she’s come out the other side of the 1970s. In fact, she’s amazed she and the rest of the classic line-up, minus Christine McVie, have survived the first leg of the comeback tour.
"For 70 nights, right across America, I’ve been getting out there with two ex-lovers and we’ve been playing songs which are so specific about each of us, you just wouldn’t know," she says. "We’re friends now but we can’t forget what happened between us.
"Before each show, as we gather outside our dressing-rooms, Mick bends down from his lofty height and kisses me on the forehead and that’s heavy. Then Lindsey and I, we climb into this little lift to be hoisted onto the stage, and he clasps his hands behind his back and I hold onto them, and for those 40 seconds we’re united. It feels like we’re in love again."
In Glasgow and elsewhere on the tour, Mac-heads will be watching for knowing smiles and poignant glances, and while Nicks might be selling the whole on-stage, open-wounded experience to the hilt, she seems to be feeling it, too.
"I’m pretty much single and will probably be that way for the rest of my life. Lindsey’s married now with two adorable twin girls and a third baby on the way and I’m thrilled for him. But we sing a new song called ‘Say Goodbye To You’ and there’s such a sadness between us that’s like, ‘Could it have happened for us, later on, when we were 60 - could we have found our way back to each other?’ It’s really intense.
"But, you know," she adds, "the truly incredible thing is we’re realising that you can perform a two-and-a-half-hour gig without being high and still have a fantastic time. This will sound a bit pathetic to normal people but we feel kind of proud that we can do that without being the drug addict/alcoholics we used to be."
Christine McVie, for instance, once had to down a bottle of vintage Dom Perignon a day, just to get by. These nights, Nicks sticks mainly to Earl Grey. "We’re all trying not to drink, ever. Every once in a while we’ll break down and have some red wine but I have to stick to a regimen of vitamins to control a whole myriad of things that are happening in my life right now.
"In order to be able to zip into the tiny little corset I wear on stage I have to be very, very careful about what I put in my mouth. No salt, no sauces. For dinner I want a piece of really trimmed-down steak and some green beans. Just one grain of salt and the food goes right back. It’s not much fun for the waiters but I have to be that astringent. I have to fight like a dog every day."
Nicks may be grateful to be alive - especially after an addiction to tranquilisers which turned her into a "zombie" - but she is still a star who has standards. "We’ve been flying in a 737 jet which is as close to the old days as we want to get," she adds.
In the old days, she demanded that hotel rooms be painted pink. But in that typically unabashed and upfront Californian way - though she was actually born in Phoenix, Arizona - she refuses to be coy about the band’s bacchanalian excesses. Wherever they were in the world, it was always "the last days of Rome".
The sleeve-notes for Rumours credited the band’s cocaine dealer. "How sad is that?" says Nicks. "But we didn’t behave any worse than other bands. We were brought the stuff and told it was completely recreational and non-addictive."
To help her kick cocaine, Nicks was prescribed Klonopin. "It robbed me of my 40s," she claims. "It’s the kind of drug which steals your brain and your heart and sadly I have to say that I fared better on coke, brandy, pot and Kool cigarettes. I wrote some pretty good songs then as well."
Now, remarkably, she’s back singing them. "It’s like the restless spirit of Fleetwood Mac still needs to find peace," she says. I can’t see her face, of course, but I can tell she’s not in the slightest bit embarrassed at having uttered that remark.
But I can hear the siren wail; LA is still burning. "It’s Topanga, so that smoke is coming over here. It’s Chatsworth, Stevenson Ranch and Simi Valley. People all over the city are sick so I’m getting out early."
Tomorrow she’ll fly to Frankfurt alone and wait for the rest of the band to join her there for the European leg of the tour. At 54, creature comforts for Stevie Nicks comprise her own bedlinen, her favourite pillow and a much-loved green armchair, but sadly not her Yorkie, Sara Belladonna, named after two big Nicks hits.
This will probably be the last-ever tour. One more time for the people. One more swirl of hair and dress for her mature male fanbase. So here’s one more heart-stopping quote for them, too.
"You know, the man of my dreams might walk round the corner tomorrow. I’m older and wiser and I think I’d make a great girlfriend. I live in the realm of romantic possibility."
Fleetwood Mac play the SECC on December 7.
Thanks to strandinthewind for bringing this to the Ledge.
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