I first stumbled across Fleetwood Mac in high school. I was 17 and close to graduating, in those fuzzy, uncertain last weeks as an outgoing senior, aware of impending big changes ahead but not yet ready for them. Like all teenagers, I was given to moodiness, spurred by an inability to control the fact that I was, against my subconscious wishes, growing up. So it was fitting that I often walked around in those days humming songs that underlined my teenage melancholy so well. One of those songs was Landslide from The Smashing Pumpkins. (It should be noted that, to this day, I still love The Smashing Pumpkins – Billy Corgan’s baby face and that whiny, breathless voice.)
“That’s a remake,” my mother said one day.
“Nuh uh!” (I spoke this way at 17.)
“Yup.” My mother pulled out the Fleetwood Mac White Album (a.k.a., their self-titled album). She put the needle on Landslide, and out flowed a slower, more melodic version of the one I had been used to, sung by a woman with a throaty lilt.
“Who is this?” I asked.
“Fleetwood Mac,” my mother said. Then she pulled out Rumours album, pointing to the blonde woman in a sheer, ribbony black dress on the front. “Stevie Nicks sings it. This is her.”
“A woman named Stevie?” (I was more rigid about gender at 17.)
I’m embarrassed to admit how many hours I spent staring at that album cover image over the course of the next few days. I listened to both albums several times through, aggravating my family. I tried finding out everything I could about Fleetwood Mac – or, really, Stevie. These were the early days of the Internet, before Google and before websites dedicated to celebrities and their every move. So I became an old-fashioned sleuth, combing through books and back issues of magazines at the library. I was officially a fan, obsessed in a way only teenagers can be.
I have pondered many times what it was, exactly, about Stevie that touched me so deeply, and what still does now. Obviously, her music touched me. But it must be acknowledged that I discovered her at a pivotal moment in my life – on the brink of womanhood (if you will allow me to be so maudlin). As a somewhat sheltered and overprotected teenager, I was an excellent student and a nice person. I was friendly with my teachers. I was well behaved and good – sometimes, I think, too good. My friends’ parents loved me. But I was a people pleaser without giving thought to my own desires. I was headed to college in the fall knowing what I wanted to do, but I hadn’t yet worked out the particulars of who I was or wanted to be. I didn’t want the same things that everybody else seemed to want, and yet I couldn’t have told you then what it was I actually wanted. I didn’t know how to articulate the things that made me feel most deeply. I didn’t fit within any one teenage demographic and so rejected all of them, expecting adulthood to be much of the same. Adulthood, in fact, looked terrible to me. I wouldn’t have admitted it then, but I was petrified at what I thought was the utter bleakness of it.
Then there she was, this Stevie Nicks, enjoying a mysterious and full-blown womanhood, twirling around in layered clothes that seemed to reflect an inner complexity. She was autonomy in platform boots. She was the unconventional gypsy who wanted to dance when she was happy, dance when she was sad. She skipped right past worldly and inhabited otherworldly. Her voice was unlike anything I had ever heard – more tremor than sustained note. The only thought that stuck with me after hearing Rhiannon for the first time was, “This is it.”
I had never seen nor heard anything like Stevie before, but she felt exactly right. If this was what adulthood could be, extraordinary and unique, it made me less afraid to step into it.
As a teenager, I didn’t yet identify as a feminist, but I knew what equality looked like. I loved that Stevie’s lyrics were directed at women, about women. Her songs were about goddesses, drug addicts, lovers. Stevie’s women loved, and they had regrets. Sometimes they behaved badly. Stevie’s women were all intricate and three-dimensional. Very few artists were (or are) so woman-centric as Stevie Nicks, and very few artists then had written lyrics so honest and open about the experience of being a woman. Stevie was before punk, before Tori, before the Lilith Fair.
At 17, I could have been accused of over-thinking things. (Hide your shock.) So the fact that Stevie’s lyrics were also unapologetically impenetrable, largely resistant to over-analysis, made her music a release for my teenage brain. For example, this is a lyric from the song, Sara:
And he was just like a great dark wing/Within the winds of a storm
I mean: what? The words in that sentence technically go together, but the imagery makes no logical sense if you inspect it too closely. You wouldn’t go around talking like this unless you wanted someone to ask you who your dealer was.
But that’s the magic of Stevie Nicks: you know exactly what she means. Her songs were emotional osmosis to me. They floated into my brain and activated a primal response, bypassing the normal routes of audio-communication-information-gathering-listening-experience and landing straight on the tenderest nerve. They made me say, “Oh,” quietly. Stevie’s songs were all intuitive energy, gut feeling, and bittersweet suggestion. Her finely tuned INFP personality type made everyone else look like cyborgs. She gave me a glimpse of a world that was possible and yet to come, and it made me gasp.
And her clothes. Oh, the clothes.
I went to a high school that required a uniform of business dress – no jeans, shirts had to have collars, etc. It was polo shirts and khakis, capped off by penny loafers. (Ugh. Or flannel. Or goth. It was the ‘90s.) We either looked like missionaries or subdued Kurt Cobains. At 17, the clothes I wore every day were not a real reflection of my inner self. But what was? I hadn’t experimented enough to know.
Enter Stevie: the flowing dresses, the handkerchief hems, the kimono wraps, the stove top hats, the billowing sleeves. These were all very much reflective of the 1970s, and yet they went beyond. Her clothes were unashamed, sentimental, sometimes dark and sad, too. Stevie was not sleek or given to Audrey Hepburn-like chic. Her hair was curly, big, and many-colored. This was someone who took up space, demanded density. Her stage outfits, at times either medieval or Victorian, branded Stevie a pagan and a witch, but she didn’t care. Because the image she projected was that of a woman on her own wavelength.
It was no coincidence, then, that one of my first big purchases in college was a pair of black suede boots. They cost $125, part Christmas gift from my parents and part savings from my summer job. I wore them as often as I could get away with it. The boots gave me a surer step; it was really me, I know, but the boots imbued a sort of saucy confidence that could not be found in sneakers. That first semester in college, still exploring the external art of dressing myself and inspired by whatever Stevie-inspired vintage threads I could find, I ping-ponged between conservative and rock ‘n’ roll, costume and real life. I must have confused my professors. Eventually, the pendulum settled and a clear picture emerged. Erin emerged.
My story of loving Stevie is really the story of growing up. Embracing Stevie was my first, gentle step into adulthood – a foray into a specific idea of womanhood, of a certain sense of style, of a sense of possibility. Discovering her was discovering what was always in me but that didn’t have a name. Tuning in to her, I felt the start of my own vibration. I have been listening to Stevie Nicks since late high school, and I will listen to her until I’m old and can no longer hear.
In a few weeks, I will join other Stevie lovers at Night of a Thousand Stevies (NOTS) here in New York. NOTS is the largest Stevie fan event in the world, showcasing cover bands and artists, filled with people who have been similarly touched by the gypsy queen of music. We will dress up like our idol, whirl around to the music, and enjoy the Stevieness of it all. One of these years, the woman herself has said she may even show up, disguised within the crowd as just another Stevie imitator. But I think we’ll know.
Because there can only be one.
All photos c. The Nicks Fix (http://rockalittle.com/)