I’m a fan of Stevie Nicks. And that hasn’t always been an easy thing to admit, at least not publicly.
But, today, with many of her songs (“Landslide,” “Leather and Lace”) rightfully acknowledged as modern pop standards, and as a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Ms. Nicks is being more and more recognized as a true rock legend. But for many years, as she airily floated about, she was far too close to punchline and parody for even the most die-hard of fans to ably defend her fully. Hence, our frequent silence. Even the truly devoted among us, who secretly worshiped every aspect of her gothic crystal vision, often had to wonder if she wouldn’t be taken a bit more seriously, by audiences and critics alike, if just once she’d toned down some of her Enchanted Forest fever.
The cover art of her third solo album, Rock A Little from 1985, at first glance gave us a glimmer of hope. Despite the presence a crystal ball located in the lower right hand corner, Stevie’s cover photo, a full body shot of Stevie encased in a simple (for her) solid black dress, seemed to bode well for a new, more reserved, mainstream style. But then, back when albums had back covers (and back when there were albums), the photo of our beloved Ms. Nicks shown there fully squashed our delusions of Stevie ever abandoning any of her “Rhiannon”/ ”Sara”/ white wing ways. I mean there she was, superimposed over a tapestry background, in a hand-tinted photo, made up like a Renaissance maiden with a black fringed shawl wrapped around her shoulders and soft blond waves framing her face. The heavy eye make-up and black lipstick she also wore in the photo completed the Coming of Arthur vibe. Immediately we realized it: no, this Welsh Witch wasn’t going anywhere.
Since then, through her various solo efforts and her work with the occasionally reconfigured Fleetwood Mac, Nicks has fiercely hung onto her Dickens meets Earth Goddess meets Goth Chick vibe. In her latest album, In Your Dreams, she’s depicted on its cover black clad and in the woods, standing next to a white horse, an angelic starburst circling her form. Inside are photos of Stevie in one of her trademark top hats or, sometimes, with a Hogwarts-worthy owl perched on her arm.
But, now, it seems her look has outlasted her critics. In fact, her singular devotion to one style–one persona–is at present, a refreshing contrast to the disposable images that seem to dominate so much of the pop and rock landscape, especially among other female artists.
Madonna always gets a lot of credit for constantly ‘re-inventing’ herself, though her progression from Material Girl to cowgirl (for her Music LP era), has always seemed more calculated than organic. She seems no more devoted to one persona than any other; they are all just surface deep and she’s always just too ready to dump her current incarnation for the next big thing.
Madonna’s most successful descendent, Lady Gaga, meanwhile, is rushing through her own panoply of outrageous styles without really ever really finding one of her own. In some ways, that is Gaga’s fame game, but (at the risk of angering all the Gaga-heads of the world) her inconsistency creates a scatter-shot personage, undermining her art and message as she attempts instead to just one up the perpetual sideshow shock factor of her work.
More importantly, for the sake of comparison, you never saw Steve Nicks resort to adopting an alternate persona to achieve, well, whatever it is these ‘alters’ are supposed to achieve. No Jo Calderone or Sasha Fierce for her. There have been no other identities to try on just to see if it will fly.
Furthermore, except for the infamous nearly nude photo of Nicks on her and Lindsey Buckingham’s Buckingham-Nicks album from 1973, Stevie has remained modest, covered up in her layers of chiffon and silk scarves. Latter-day rock stars and some of her contemporaries (Cher comes to mind) certainly can’t say the same, as they have built much of their fame as much on getting naked as on making good music. Where would Britney be without her body stocking and songs about being slutty (“Seek Amy,” anyone)? Where would Christina be if she wasn’t always so willing to get “Dirrrty”? Even Mariah, who at least has the voice for musical magic, has seldom missed a chance to bare her midriff.
In contrast, throughout her 40-plus year career, Stevie Nicks has not only not traded on her sexuality, but she has remained true to her muse. Long before Glee gave us all permission to just be, Nicks, through word and action, has always just been herself no matter what the record-buying public thought or a music exec suggested. And in a world, and especially in rock and roll, where everyone it seems is flaying about always trying to fit into a shifting, ever shrinking niche, her true individualism is a trait certainly worthy of respect.
Long may she twirl.