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The Science Survey

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The Science Survey

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The Science Survey

Stevie Nicks: A Life Through Music

Throughout a 60 year career in rock ‘n’ roll, Stevie Nicks has conveyed herself through her music with the utmost strength and harmony.
This photograph was taken on February 1st, 1980, while Stevie Nicks was on tour for ‘Tusk.’ It features her playing the tambourine, an instrument that she picked up during her time with Fritz, in order to give her something to do on stage. She stuck with playing it throughout her career, making it an iconic part of her image. (Photo Credit: Awil916, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons)

Even from the back row, there is no mistaking the passion that reigns within the singer. She raises her arms and breathes in the golden dust, basking in the sound that she has created. The drums begin to build, intertwining with the bends of electric guitar, until her voice overcomes it all. The year is 1977, and Stevie Nicks is on tour for Fleetwood Mac’s diamond certified album, Rumours.

Born in 1948 to Jess Seth Nicks and Barbara Meeks, Stephanie Nicks, more famously known as Stevie Nicks, is notorious for her hippie persona and unique, raspy voice. Filled with grit, passion, and a wild heart, the rock and roll legend has released fifteen studio albums during her career both as a soloist and in the legendary rock band, Fleetwood Mac. Her music has not only revolutionized the genre of rock and set a foundation for musicians today, but has also provided an expressive outlet for people across all generations. 

Her connection to music began early in her childhood. Her grandfather would often sing to her during his visits, and his avid love for music ignited a musical spark within Nicks that would never dwindled. However, she didn’t begin writing her own music until she received a guitar at the age of fifteen and wrote her first song, “I’ve Loved and I’ve Lost.” Soon after, she joined a folk-rock band called The Changing Times which she sang in until her family moved from Phoenix to Palo Alto in 1966. 

In the subsequent months, during her senior year of high school, Nicks met Lindsey Buckingham, an up and coming guitarist in a California rock band, Fritz. They crossed paths at a party when Nicks spontaneously harmonized with Lindsey’s cover of The Mamas and Papas “California Dreamin.’ ” It wasn’t until a few months later that the drummer of Fritz called Nicks and asked her to join their lineup. Nicks agreed and joined the group while continuing her college studies per her parents’ request. Between the years of 1968 to 1971, Fritz opened for legendary artists such as Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix. “It was a marvelous time to live in San Francisco,” Nicks recounted to Oprah in 2013.

As they continued recording for Fritz in a coffee warehouse owned by Buckingham’s father, the duo worked in very close, intimate proximity. After ten months of recording, the love that had been brewing between the pair for years became official. 

In late 1971, Buckingham and Nicks moved together to Los Angeles, the musical hotspot of the 70s. While Buckingham toured as a guitarist with the Everly Brothers, Nicks worked as a waitress and housekeeper for producer Keith Olsen. In 1973, Olsen helped them produce their album Buckingham Nicks. However, after the album received little recognition, they were dropped by the label and left with very little to fall back on.

They received their deserved recognition roughly a year later when Keith Olsen played a track off Buckingham Nicks, “Frozen Love” for Mick Fleetwood, the drummer and backbone of Fleetwood Mac.

Here is a photograph from Fleetwood Mac’s promotional shoot for Rumours. It was published four months following the album’s release with the June 25th, 1977 issue of Billboard magazine. “We spent a year and a lot of hell working on it,” said producer Ken Caillat in 2022. “Lives were changed, people changed, [and] everything became different. Something like Rumours could never happen these days. A record label would have shut us down after two weeks.”
(Photo Credit: Warner Bros. Records, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Initially a popular British blues band, Fleetwood Mac moved to Los Angeles in the early 1970s and sought a way to improve and individualize their sound. At the end of 1974, Mick Fleetwood asked Buckingham to join Fleetwood Mac as the lead guitarist, but he refused to join the band without Nick’s company. 

Although Buckingham was the one to receive the offer, it was Nicks who insisted that they accept it. She was tired of the constant labor of waitressing all day and recording all night, and ultimately, their financial instability led her to question the vitality of both her career and relationship. Without discounting her extreme ecstasy to join Fleetwood Mac, it is important to realize that Nicks’ initial motivation to join the group was the promised income. The pair began rehearsals with Fleetwood Mac on New Year’s Day of 1975. 

While struggling to figure out her next step in life, she wrote the song, “Landslide.” It was released on Fleetwood Mac’s 1975 self-titled album; the band’s tenth studio album, but the first to feature Nicks and Buckingham. The album was certified twenty times as a platinum album and peaked at number one on the US Billboard 200, with all three singles entering the top 20.

In the chorus of “Landslide,” Nicks writes, “I’ve been afraid of changing ‘cause I built my life around you.” The song contains a dual meaning in which she contemplates going back to school to take a break from music, and simultaneously describes the toll their economic destitution took on her and Buckingham’s relationship. She cared about both Lindsey and her music career sincerely, but the song describes how external influences can lead us to resort to a life undesired, or simply prompt us to consider if the ends truly outweigh the means.  

Nicks later stated that she always believed her quality of music and relationship with listeners was worth the pain that she endured while working with Buckingham. At a concert of hers I attended in early October 2023, she told the audience that former band mate and best friend Christine McVie used to tell her, “You know what you do when you feel sad, you go in front of a crowd and you sing a song that means something to them, and they reach out their arms and wrap them around your little shoulders.” Nicks’ love affair with her fans is coherently reciprocal; just as she grants people love and solace through her music, her fans give her the same in return. It seems she needs us just as much as we need her. 

Although the steady income from Fleetwood Mac briefly improved their relationship, in 1976 Nicks broke up with Buckingham, but only on the condition that their differences would never hinder Fleetwood Mac. Their next album was utter proof of this promise. Rather than allowing their relationship to hamper the band, they used it to fuel arguably one of the greatest albums of all time, Rumours

Released in 1977, Rumours immediately hit the charts with all four singles landing in Billboard’s top ten in the U.S., and Nicks’ “Dreams” reaching number one. It received album of the year at the 1978 Grammy Awards and a diamond certification in several countries. As one of the most iconic albums of the 70s, Rumours is built on the fundamentals of rock and roll: love, drugs, and heartbreak.

The most apparent example of the couple’s animosity towards each other begins in Buckingham’s “Go Your Own Way.” He writes hostile lyrics like “packing up, shacking up’s all you want to do,” which contrasts the compassionate lyric written in the same song, “If I could, baby, I’d give you my world.” 

Meanwhile, Nicks introduces her perspective with her song, “Silver Springs.” It was released as the b-side for “Go Your Own Way,” but wasn’t added to the album until 2004. On the track, Nicks passionately writes, “Time casts a spell on you, but you won’t forget me / I know I could have loved you but you would not let me / I’ll follow you down till the sound of my voice will haunt you / You’ll never get away from the sound of the woman that loves you. ” In her performance of the song in 1997 during their live album The Dance, Nicks expresses her heartache with such raw passion and eloquence that it’s perceivable even through a screen. 

Alas, amidst the creation and tour of Rumours, the infamous drug aspect of rock and roll caught up with Fleetwood Mac. In Oprah’s Master Class, Nicks revealed, “I used to carry a gram of cocaine in my boot at all times. It was the first thing I thought of in the morning and the last thing I thought of before I went to bed.” The band claims that they didn’t view the drug as an addiction, but as an energy boost before recording or before a show. Regardless of how they deceived themselves, the level of consumption only increased as the years went by. 

Reflecting back on the years of addiction, Nicks continued to Oprah, “Could you have just laid off the brandy and the coke and the pot for two days so that you didn’t look if your eyes were swimming in water? Everybody else thought you looked beautiful, but that’s because everyone else was stoned. You didn’t look beautiful, you looked high and unattractive.” 

For years, Fleetwood Mac’s cocaine consumption was highly correlated with the amount of mistakes they made. Included in the plethora of regrets was an affair between Mick Fleetwood and Stevie Nicks which began during the Australian leg of the Rumours tour, but ended promptly upon the band’s return to Los Angeles and reality. Nicks wrote about this doomed affair in the songs “Storms” and “Sara” released in 1979 with Fleetwood Mac’s next album Tusk

In 1981, in between the recording sessions for Tusk, Nicks released her first solo album, Bella Donna. Featuring iconic hits like ‘Edge of Seventeen’ and ‘Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around,’ the album proved Nicks’ ability to thrive as an independent artist and a band member. Over four million records sold, and in a matter of three months, the album was certified quadruple platinum before claiming number one on the U.S. Billboard 200

Unlike other artists, Nicks’ solo career was not symbolic of her departure from Fleetwood Mac, but rather an alternate way to releasing the copious amount of music she was writing. The band would later go on to release four more albums featuring Nicks. 

Regardless of the direction she took in her career, her following rarely dwindled. “Stevie’s music is timeless. She’s never tried to be anyone but herself,” said Julia Harris, the mother of a friend of mine who also attended her concert this past October 2023. “Her unapologetic strength and originality come through in every song.”

In ’86, a few years following the release and tours of Tusk and Bella Donna, a plastic surgeon found a deadly hole the size of a pea in Nicks’ nose. After years of drowning in cocaine and liquor, she admitted herself to the Betty Ford rehab facility and stayed for 30 days. The song “Welcome to the room… Sara,” featured on Fleetwood Mac’s 1987 Tango in the Night describes Nicks’ experience in the facility where she used the pseudonym Sara Anderson. The song delves into the importance of turning a new page with the lyric, “the first cut is the deepest one of all.” In the song, Nicks justifies the pain endured the first time facing a challenge, because it makes the steps that follow slightly more bearable. 

A month after leaving the facility, her managers urged her to go to a psychiatrist who carelessly prescribed her the tranquilizer pill, Klonopin. She became extremely addicted to the drug as he continued to increase her dosage. Eight years later, she gained 55 pounds, and hardly recognized herself, both physically and mentally. “I just existed,” she told The Guardian, “It took away all my wonderful drama, my tempestuousness, my compassion, my empathy — all those things that drove me to my piano. I say to myself now: How did you survive eight years without your wonderful drama?’” Although drugs infiltrated many issues in her life, Nicks’ stated that she doesn’t regret that time in her life as much as she regrets the eight years that Klonopin stole from her. 

Her song ‘Gypsy’ on Fleetwood Mac’s 1982 Mirage delves into important themes of self-recognition, which she faced as a result of the influence of money, drugs, and fame. The line “Back to the floor, that I love / To a room with some lace and paper flowers,” describes her ache for the simplicity of her life ten years prior. Before performing the song at her concert she explained, “As I got richer and richer and weirder and weirder, I realized that I didn’t really like that new version of me, I liked the other me that had all those jobs and was really working hard all the time.”

 Since 1975, Nicks has released a total of eight solo albums, with her most recent being 24 Karat Gold: Songs from the Vault, released in 2014. Her seventh and final studio album with Fleetwood Mac was Say You Will, released in 2004. 

Nicks was the first woman to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice; once in 1998 with Fleetwood Mac and again as a soloist in 2019, and she continues to pave the way for countless influential artists today. From Harry Styles, Taylor Swift, and Miley Cyrus to Florence and Machine and The Chicks, artists have been quick to confirm her bold influence on their own music. 

She continues to tour to this day, occasionally accompanied by rock legend Billy Joel.

I attended her concert at Madison Square Garden this past October 2023 and was pleasantly surprised by the engrossing experience. I began listening to her raspy, unapologetic voice at a very young age, and I’ve always imagined her personality to correspond to what she portrays in her music. “She is a symbol of unapologetic divine femininity in an almost unearthly and magical sense,” said my friend Casey Seifer ’25 as we discussed Nicks while waiting for her concert to begin. 

Initially, my expectations were met with her opening track ‘Outside the Rain,’ from her album, Bella Donna. Her booming presence enveloped the venue with a voice almost identical to her records, if not better.

It was in between songs where she revealed her more tender side. “I’m very happy to be here, and I’ll try to keep these nerves down,” she told the audience. “I’ve played this venue before, but it doesn’t ever get old in the way of you saying, like, oh, Madison Square Garden, no problem.” Without these revealing words, however, her anxieties would have been imperceivable. The music enraptured both her and the audience’s minds, immediately following the first guitar strum, ridding the atmosphere of pressures, anxieties, and hate.

Later in the concert, when she reached the end of powerful, shameless songs like “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” and “Gold Dust Woman,” I watched her transform from an untouchable performer into a woman — just a woman talking to a room full of people.

Standing in the same space as Nicks took her off the pedestal she held in my mind, and helped me understand why she’s able write so many incredible songs; everything she does, she does wholeheartedly. She writes unyieldingly about the frustrating, the pleasing, the heartbreaking, and everything in between. 

It became abundantly clear to me why she was worshiped during her prime in the 1970s and why she has retained such loyalty. Nicks not only performs with her entire heart and mind, but she establishes an environment where her music and energy radiate throughout everyone in the space. Good music is a gift from one person to another. It’s great music that’s a conversation, and Stevie Nicks has great music.

Stevie Nicks’ love affair with her fans is coherently reciprocal: just as she grants people love and solace through her music, her fans give her the same in return. It seems she needs us just as much as we need her.

About the Contributor
Willa Huber, Staff Reporter
Willa Huber is a Spotlight Editor for ‘The Science Survey.’ She enjoys journalism that is creative, informative, and grants a voice to people and legacies that are often discounted as obsolete or unimportant. Moreover, she enjoys powerful quotes and photographs that speak for themselves and demand the reader’s attention. Outside of school, Willa can be found at her dance studio, with daily classes and rehearsals consuming the majority of her free time. In accordance with her love of dance, she has a strong appreciation for music. Her favorite genre is classic rock, and she enjoys playing along to her favorite songs both on the guitar and the drums. Her favorite bands include Fleetwood Mac, Pink Floyd, and Simon and Garfunkel.