STEVIE NICKS: Pillow Talk

  
Stevie Nicks carries her bedroom with her wherever she goes. Her past and present boyfriends, her girlfriend-confidantes, her diary jottings, her dreams, her embroidered bedspreads, her I-just-got-up croak, her nightie -- these are the ingredients of her fairy-tale world. It is a big pink satin pillow, and she is its princess. On the pink pillow, time stands still. It is forever 1342, when Snow White did tricks with mirrors, or maybe 1977, when Fleetwood Mac's Rumours sold eight kazillion copies and emboldened Stephanie L. Nicks to make art of her dreams and diary jottings. Certainly nothing has penetrated that world since the discovery of Tom Petty. No, scented with pampered womanliness and echoing with the sighs of ancient Romantic myths, the pillow makes its own rules.

Dispatches from the world of Princess Stevie tend to drift on clouds of vaporous references to storybook figures -- gypsies, white-winged doves, enchanted forests, every so often a distinctly lowercase "velvet underground" -- but cleverly omit any story. Except for the oldest story in the book, Love. "Gate and Garden" begins with some gibberish about a gate that can be guarded, but "it is not heaven/And it has a garden/So to the red rose/Grows the passion." But you'll never remember the song except as the one where she sings 400 times "Do I love you?" Or how about this grocery list of lyric? "Learn to be a stranger/Blond on blond/In silence she says...'excalibur'/I beg of your now/What was it that fell." In other words, she went to the movies with Ryan O'Neal, made out, and now she wants to know (see chorus) "Was it love?" You can go crazy and blind trying to make sense of these communiques. the trick is to sit back, erase the meaning of the words with mental floss, zero in on Princess Stevie's throbbing voice, and imagine what drama of the soul she is trying to enact. "Beauty and the Beast," which closes her latest album, The Wild Heart, is a good example. You would probably gag if you really thought she was re-interpreting Cocteau's movie or being serious when she whispers "le bÍte...le bÍte..." It's really an interior argument in which she's chastising herself for being so beastly to lovers who aren't as beautiful as herself. The orchestral arrangement by Paul Buckmaster and Kenneth Whitfield represents her tears of repentance and redemption. Listen closely and I'm sure you'll agree.

Periodically Princess Stevie parks her pink pillow in public, and it is something to see. At the Byrne Arena in New Jersey, June 24, the father of the princess introduced her, and she fluttered on in a flashdance of fabric like a moth sacrificing herself to the flame. The royal voice had been ravaged by solo singing; that quivering bee-sting so attractive when buzzing around her Fleetwood Mac fellows or harmonizing with the likes of Walter Egan and Tom Snow was now a cracked husk. It only carried at all when boosted by Waddy Wachtel on "Stop Dragging My Heart Around" and by her backup singers on "If Anyone Falls." The audience did not mind. They showered her with applause, flowers, and gifts, and she waited at the front of the stage until she had collected every last trinket before staggering back to the pink pillow with her booty. Her rigorous collection of these tributes seemed almost unattractively zealous, but perhaps when you're a princess you deserve Christmas every day.

Her popularity is one of two genuinely impressive things about Steve Nicks. It is impossible to imagine Christine McVie, a superior singer, or Lindsey Buckingham, a superior musician and composer, filling the Byrne Area with enthusiastic fans. of all the Fleetwood Mac team, the princess has the most marginal talent yet the strongest persona. Like Dan Fogelberg, she legitimizes sentimental teenage verse and embodies the adolescent's desire to be the center of the universe: to each his own pink pillow.

Equally impressive -- and mysterious -- is how the fragmented bits of schoolgirl poetry and undigested scraps of emotion that Stevie Nicks produces somehow cohere as songs. Although my favorites of her records are songs written by Petty ("Stop Draggin'" and "I Will Run to You"), tunes like Tusk's "Beautiful Child" and The Wild Heart's "Nightbird" (a detailed description of her makeup) give me continued pleasure. I suspect their musical appeal owes something to the professional prowess of the various producers and musicians involved, who have a hand in completing the songs. But the same outrageous self-indulgence that makes Stevie Nicks the pampered princess of rock and roll also gives her music an identity that is fascinating in its firmness and, on the mindless level it inhabits, even admirable. After all, you can't argue with excess.

Village Voice, 1983