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Stevie Nicks: Visions, Dreams & Rumours

By Zoë Howe

Overlook Books (February, 2015)

With Stevie Nicks: Visions, Dreams & Rumours, Zoë Howe takes a fresh, insightful and spirited look at Nicks’ life and music. The music journalist & biographer gives a dusting and an airing out to four decades of old rumours, confessional lyrics, scandalous truths, and fascinating Rock & Roll tales that abound Nicks’ life as both a solo artist and within her frayed but faithful long marriage to Fleetwood Mac.

With an archivist’s keen eye, Howe takes the reader back to the beginning of the formative years of the artist, who seemed destined to sing her life from a very young age in dusty saloons with her struggling country singer grandfather, A.J. Nicks. Howe keeps it moving and fresh throughout these early chapters, showing the reality and grit behind most overnight success stories: Nicks was tired, hungry, and barely scraping a living together for many years before her big break with The Mac at the age of 27. She wrote the epic, epitaph worthy “Landslide” in these starving artist years, when she expressed profound fatigue, worry and exasperation at her situation and in her difficult relationship “I’m getting older too”. When asked about this line in later life by an interviewer, Nicks would reply “you can feel pretty old when you’re 27.”

Here, Stevie Nicks’ story is one of the artist and the self amid stubborn bonds of painful love, notably her years long, early relationship with band mate Lindsey Buckingham, which would disintegrate into an acrimonious, closure-less mess as they came to success with Fleetwood Mac during the making of Rumours (one of the top three selling records in history). Rumours, and all the rumours surrounding its creation that helped define 70’s era Fleetwood Mac, is so iconic (or ubiquitous) that it almost defies description. For those around 40 and under, its been in the air we’ve breathed for 40 years. Its cover image is imprinted on the collective consciousness. We have lived a lifetime of Rolling Stone magazine telling us it is one of the best albums decade in and out, long before we could decide for ourselves if it meant anything to us. There are, perhaps, legions of “Rhiannons” and “Saras” women named for the work of Stevie Nicks in these first Fleetwood Mac albums, the deepest expression imaginable of what the writer meant to a generation of young mothers. And yet there is so much more to the story, to a life, than a single pivotal, life changing, fortune changing, heart changing record. Rumours, is after all, under 45 minutes long.

The author, who writes from a background of serious music journalism from across a spectrum of UK music coverage, and has recently written Barbed Wire Kisses: The Complete Jesus and Mary Chain Story (a very long overdue review of same will follow) and the forthcoming biography of Lee Brilleaux (October 2015) writes with an innate, rare empathy for her subjects, casting a light on the core of the artists’ story: how the artist lives and navigates through the music, the poetry, and the words that have deeply resonated with millions of people through decades of constant musical drift and massive cultural changes. There is something resolute in Howe’s writing, a gentle focus on what really matters and what legacy ought to mean, far apart from gossip, while still leaving no stone unturned. Clearly, Nicks would be proud of the result, if she only read reviews.

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Howe goes straight to the sources themselves (and as often as possible, the subject herself) through archives of published key interviews and archival footage. This exhaustive work is undetaken with unflagging energy, an impressive feat given the scope of the archives out there (and the newer source of YouTube which might consume the curious and less disciplined for days on end.) Howe’s writing is delightfully conversational and approaches this project with the passion and humour of a journalist skilled enough to write as if she was lucky enough to be on those criss-crossing first class flights in the 70’s, has strolled the shawl vault freely, was an insider who’s seen the sacred diaries and curled up with them before one of Nicks’ fireplaces (in California while the air conditioning hums) and knows even the secrets yet unmined. Howe’s expertise, imagination and appreciation allows for expert shifts from music critic, to skilled profile writer and always to return to a foregrounding of what nuggets fans want to read. The book firmly but fairly assess the ever present dark horse Lindsey Buckingham with the curiosity and tongue in cheek the fellow seems to warrant in this strange tale. And it does not rest on the well-trodden public record, rather, the bio brings new insights that Nicks’ significant, stalwart musical friendships & collaborations are at least as interesting (and significant) as her romances.

Out of a tiny woman erupted some of the most important rock songs and interrogations of love and the human heart that have ever been written in any medium, in any age. This plain fact tends to get lost in the still-a-boys-club of Rock & Roll and the ever-thriving rumour mill of pop culture. Stevie Nicks: Visions, Dreams & Rumours maps this evolution of an American artist and illustrates that rumours aside, the body of work is tremendous, at least as big as the Rock Gods who get a much freer pass for their personal lives. Nicks is, here, quite rightly endlessly iconic while being boldly human: influential in music, in fashion, in truth, by being singular and never trendy.

Zoë Howe is well matched with the subject as our guide for this wild ride, infusing the occasional bleak darkness and left turns of a colourful life with wit and poetry in abundance, much like Stevie Nicks herself. Unlike some prominent legacy dragging biographers who’ve use their privileged position to tear down icons, Howe is not and does not write like a jealous groupie or failed artist or with an agenda; rather, she is a strong artist in her own right, one with the confidence and spark to lightly return a sense of dignity, relevance and sparkling artistry to the tradition of music biography. Further, Howe’s Stevie Nicks: Visions, Dreams & Rumours returns an air of tradition to the once-cherished experience of digging deep into a great music biography with an expert tour guide. It’s almost like the 1970’s again for a little while.

By Jacqueline Howlett