Stevie Nicks wrote the only No. 1 Billboard hit Fleetwood Mac ever had (“Dreams”), but Zoë Howe’s fawning new biography offers ample evidence that talent and stage charisma aren’t the only reasons the 66-year old rocker has for so long overshadowed her bandmates: Nicks has rarely stopped supplying salacious material to writers more interested in celebrity than in songcraft.
Over more than four decades, her career has embodied every rock star cliche that ever teased a commercial break in an episode of VH-1’s “Behind the Music”: A love-hate relationship with Lindsey Buckingham, whom she supported by waiting tables before they both joined Fleetwood Mac. Cocaine. Dalliances with bandmate Mick Fleetwood, the Eagles Don Henley and Joe Walsh , plus J.D. Souther, who co-wrote several of the Eagles’ biggest hits. Cocaine. A fatigue syndrome that was diagnosed shortly after the removal of her breast implants . Cocaine, again. Then there were the allegations of her involvement in witchcraft, stoked by Nicks’s fondness for black chiffon and candles, and her intense live performances of “Rhiannon,” which she used to say was “about an old Welsh witch.”
Writing about this drama is easy. Writing insightfully about the process of creating music is much harder, especially when the subject is somebody like Nicks, an untrained but ingenious singer-songwriter who often sounds as mystified by her extraordinary songs as anybody else is.
Howe documents it all — the sex, the drugs and the mystification — with the nonjudgmental vigilance of a devoted fan who has little interest in assessing Nicks’ place in the pop-rock pantheon. Her book is at its most fun — which is to say, somewhat — when she plays hooky from the dutiful reportage and indulges in fansite-style observations and jokes.
Chapter 12, for example, opens: “There were several men in Stevie Nicks’ life around this time. In true Stevie style, let’s take a look at the astrological compatibility between them.” Howe goes on to handicap Nicks’s odds with Fleetwood, Henley, Souther and Buckingham. Eighty-four pages later, a reference to “the devil’s dandruff” occasions this footnote: “I’ve mentioned cocaine so many times in this book so far I’m running out of alternative names for it.”
Near the end, Howe pauses to insert “Pick ’n’ Nicks — A Stevie Smorgasbord” of self-help non sequiturs that she has drawn from the musician’s life: “Learn from Stevie: Don’t do Botox. Stevie tried it once. Never again. Also — drop the Internet addiction.” Nicks, she adds, “believes social media to be evil.”
These interludes feel like impression-driven “Saturday Night Live” sketches dropped in to liven up an often dry and unsurprising narrative. (Kate McKinnon would kill “A Stevie Smorgasbord.”) Sometimes, parody is the sincerest form of flattery.
Klimek is a freelance writer based in Washington.
By Zoë Howe
404 pp. $27.95