A gold dust woman at heart, Nicks’ life, whether or not fate played a hand, always seemed destined for the stars.
Stevie Nicks spent years in Fleetwood Mac feeling underappreciated, like she was just an accessory in a five-person ensemble, even as her name rose above the rock band. Besides constant indignation, the singer-songwriter overcame decades of drug use, damaging romances and a decadent rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle that threatened to kill her. Nicks’ life story, about how she learned to assert herself as a musician to eventually climb out of a man’s shadow and become her own mythical star, is chronicled in Stephen Davis’ unauthorized book Gold Dust Woman: A Biography of Stevie Nicks.
Davis, who’s written many other rock tomes including those about Led Zeppelin and Bob Marley, makes clear that Nicks always knew what she wanted, even as a kid. In the days before joining Fleetwood Mac, Nicks was determined to be a singer and knew she would one day be famous. Dressed in flapper costumes, she waited tables in southern California all day, then came home to guitarist Lindsey Buckingham, then her boyfriend, and they’d sing and write until 3 a.m., and then wake up and do it all again.
At a chance meeting at Sound City in 1974, Fleetwood Mac drummer Mick Fleetwood noticed Nicks and hired her based on her looks—voice unheard—as long as she was a package deal with Buckingham. With Fleetwood Mac’s new lineup (Peter Green, et al. were long gone by this time) each member’s talents were already on display—Christine McVie’s impassioned piano playing and mellow voice; Buckingham’s screaming guitar licks; John McVie’s rumbling, quietly humming bass; Fleetwood’s precise, impactful drumming—and above it all, Nicks’ waifish, fairy-sprite vocals, her quivering vibrato like a delicate blossom that always seemed just about to wither unless someone gave it a tiny sip of water.
The group’s newfound, smooth harmonies on the 1975 self-titled album and, later, the landmark album Rumours (1977), helped drive the band’s dynamic sound. Also lending a hand were jealousy, love, anger, generous amounts of weed and bottle caps of cocaine. The overflowing bottle caps were soon replaced by white lines and more red wine—according to Davis—supplied by JC, aka John Courage, road manager and premium coke-getter. After all, this was the late ‘70s; no one thought cocaine could put holes in your nose or cause death. Eventually, Nicks would spend time at the Betty Ford Center getting clean from her addictions.
Meanwhile, the inevitable contract disputes, bad blood and life on the road led to rapid disintegration. True, the ever-boiling personal relationships between the members of Fleetwood Mac is the stuff of legends. Keyboardist Christine McVie and bassist John McVie’s marriage was constantly on the rocks. Married Fleetwood was seeing women on the side (and eventually Nicks would join that chain). Buckingham and Nicks often had draining fights that led to Nicks curling up on the couch with her notebook, writing snippets of verse that would later become “Gold Dust Woman,” “Rhiannon” and “Dreams.”
Later, Nicks’ musings about love and loss, which were sometimes tossed aside by the band, laid the groundwork for her biggest hits like “Leather and Lace” and the youthful, explosive “Edge of Seventeen.” Those ended up on Nicks’ strong solo debut, the chart-topping Bella Donna, recorded while Nicks was still a member of Fleetwood Mac. And, that, according to Davis, was what burned other band members the most.
In Gold Dust Woman, Davis subtly uses the backdrop of California’s hip valleys in the mid-to late ‘70s to paint Nicks’ surroundings as a free-spirited place, where the palm trees are always swaying and the mountains and canyons are just a few steps away. The book also keeps close tabs on Nicks’ love life, giving an inside look at her courtships with everyone from Buckingham and Fleetwood to Don Henley, Joe Walsh, Jimmy Iovine, Rupert Hine and other notables in the music business. That constant crash and burn in Nicks’ life inspired her to write, creating country-tinged synth-pop like the defiant “Stand Back” and “Sara,” a lovely, gentle tune that has its roots in Nicks and Fleetwood’s failed affair.
Portions of the book detail Nicks’ early decision to get breast augmentation, how her coterie of girls she called “Nixies” created a translucent, protective shell around her and, sometimes, how flirtations would lead to airplay as a solo artist or a guest spot on Letterman’s show. In that respect, Davis holds nothing back. But some sections that detail the band’s awards and chart-topping statistics, which may seem necessary to include in a biography, end up being dead weight. The book does come to a resolution, with Nicks, now 69, looking back on her life. She seems happy in her decision to remain childless and unmarried, but still bitter that an eight-year addiction to Klonopin, thanks to her psychiatrist, stole what could have been successful nights in the spotlight.
Regardless, her legacy as a mystical singer and cosmic songwriter is still felt today. Her vocal style and distinctive look have influenced pop stars as diverse as Taylor Swift, Sheryl Crow, Beyoncé and Courtney Love. As Nicks achieved worldwide success both in Fleetwood Mac and with solo albums Bella Donna and The Wild Heart, a tremendous, loyal fan base grew. It’s evident at any Nicks concert, even now—women at the merch tables get dressed up in scarves, golden shawls, flowing skirts and black top hats, to be just like her. A gold dust woman at heart, Nicks’ life, whether or not fate played a hand, always seemed destined for the stars.