When Rolling Stone published an updated list of the 500 greatest songs of all time last year, a tune that had not been included at all in the 2004 iteration of the list suddenly appeared in the top 10: “Dreams” by Fleetwood Mac. Of course, anyone with a fleeting acquaintance with the overwrought and raucous history of Fleetwood Mac knows that “Dreams” is a Stevie Nicks song, part of a Rumours diptych with Lindsey Buckingham’s “Go Your Own Way” rehashing Stevie and Lindsey’s tortured breakup. Anointing Nicks’ “Dreams” as a classic anthem 45 years after its initial release, beloved by Gen Z TikTokers and nostalgic Boomers alike, speaks to the irrepressible essence of Stevie herself.
From Prince to Harry Styles, Tom Petty to Haim, Stevie Nicks links generations of musicians and fans, genres and trends. This reading list probes the source of her ongoing popularity through her refusal to be anything but herself, showing how Stevie’s instincts for survival and her silvery songwriting prowess allowed her to rise above her band’s many implosions and cement her own supernatural cultural presence. As we celebrate Stephanie Lynn Nicks’ 74th birthday on May 26, these essays explain why the ageless sound of her voice continues to haunt us.
My obsession with Stevie goes back 25 years to the concert film and album The Dance. It’s 1997, I’m watching VH1 in the air-conditioned staleness of late summer, and a woman with long blonde hair and skin like counter laminate is eviscerating the man onstage beside her with her eyes. She’s burning him so badly it’s a shock he’s still left standing to play his guitar and not zapped into a heap of ashes. I’m 14 and it’s all deeply romantic.
The woman is Stevie Nicks and the man is Lindsey Buckingham and I have no idea, in that wide-open summer between middle and high school, about the specific details of their long and tortured rock ’n’ roll love affair. All I know is that I love the song the woman sings — a sweetly curdled torch song called “Silver Springs” — and that some shit has gone down here.
Having witnessed that look, I wanted more of it poured right into me. Right that minute, I set about buying Fleetwood Mac’s back catalog in my cavernous local Best Buy, attempting to learn more about the band. Learning more was easy. As The Dance climbed the charts, VH1 provided plenty more Mac content for the masses, including one of the juiciest Behind the Music episodes of all time, in which Stevie is interviewed in front of a grand piano dripping with lit candles and sunflowers. The Dance was on constant televised rotation, as was the video for “Silver Springs,” as the song entered the U.S. music charts.
Before The Look, Fleetwood Mac was just old-people music to me. I was born after their soapy, druggy heyday in the ’70s; I knew a few of their ’80s hits from shopping mall soundtracks and I vaguely recalled their Boomer-gratifying 1993 performance at Bill Clinton’s inaugural ball (which is worth a watch these days for Al Gore’s awkward grooving and the unexplainable presence of Michael Jackson). But I didn’t know the first thing about the people in the band or their history when I was arrested by that look. What I know now is that The Look suggested worlds of love and hate far beyond what my teenaged self could imagine. I’ll follow you down till the sound of my voice will haunt you, Stevie sings, and here she is, haunting the hell out of him. Narratively, musically, it’s insanely gratifying. And only Stevie, with her decades of mixing art and life, performance and presence, could have delivered that look and that moment with such all-consuming intensity.
Stevie Nicks’ Magic Act (Timothy White, Rolling Stone, September 1981)
Iconic rock writer and later Billboard editor-in-chief Timothy White captures Nicks on the precipice of releasing her first solo album and attempting to balance her desires for control over her own career with her fealty to the band that brought her fame. In White’s lyrical prose Nicks appears in her witchiest, most mystical, Rhiannonesque state: She’s constantly having prophetic dreams (like the one that produced the ethereal cover of Bella Donna) and seeing ghosts. If that’s the state of mind it takes to write songs as good as “Edge of Seventeen” and produce vocals as fierce as her turn with Tom Petty on “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around,” who can fault her crystal visions?
Fresh from finishing Bella Donna, her first solo album, Stevie Nicks had met up with Fleetwood Mac at Le Château, the legendary studio-retreat where Elton John recorded Honky Château and where the Mac were laying down tracks for their next LP. Retiring for the night, Stevie turned off the light in her huge shadowy bedroom. Suddenly, she was startled by the sound of rapidly flapping wings in the blackness. The noise abruptly ceased. Then came a queer whir, and something brushed against her cheek. She froze. The light she had just extinguished sprang on and she was so petrified she could not scream, could not even speak. Ten minutes passed as she cowered in mute terror; then she stumbled down the damp hallway to the room of her secretary, Debbie Alsbury, who calmed and reassured her. She eventually made her way back to her bed and fell into a troubled sleep.
Nicks Fix (Claire Jarvis, Avidly, December 2012)
Many of us who love Stevie can trace our devotion back to a single moment: For Claire Jarvis, this is a famous photograph of Stevie and Lindsey taken during the Mirage tour. Appearing painfully entwined, the duo reenact their tempestuous love story during the Stevie song “Sister of the Moon.” Jarvis finds the performance during which this photograph was taken and close reads it to untangle how Nicks’ incantatory showmanship is necessarily entwined in her songs’ popularity. Live onstage, in her voice and her body, Stevie’s pain and sadness and beauty become manifest and transform, as Jarvis argues, into joy.
The sad, wide-set eyes, carelessly lined in brown. The white-blond tendrils slipping, elf-locks, before her ears while an Elnetted crest sweeps down her back. The slightly drooping lower-lip. The famously fragile, much-abused, nose. Stevie in all her guises has been with me my entire adult life. As a leotarded, gamine Garbo; caped in black velvet, plumed permage tamped down by a deep hood; or shoulder-padded, embellished, and feathered to the rooftops. Each iteration slots into the complex order of things known as Stevie Nicks; each era separable but contiguous, all routed through her mild witchery and intense American mysticism. Even the way she says “intense” marked itself on my mind; I hear her pronunciation each time I say the word, the mid-vowel rising, flattened by her nasal, Californian compression of the “e” into an “i:” “intinse.” Intinse song. Intinse silence.
The Story of How ‘Saturday Night Live’ Made the “Stevie Nicks Fajita Roundup” Sketch (Dan Devine, The Ringer, May 2020)
In 1998, Saturday Night Live aired a one-off sketch of a cheap advertisement for a fake Mexican restaurant owned, inexplicably, by Stevie Nicks. Lucy Lawless, starring as Nicks, warbles Fleetwood Mac songs transformed into ads for burritos and enchiladas, and that’s about the extent of the plot of the sketch. Only the parodies are amazing and Lawless totally sells it and the two-and-a-half-minute bit has gained a cult following. The sketch is the perfect encapsulation of Nicks’ slightly kooky, always committed cultural presence, and it features all the trademark Stevie signifiers: the shawl, the twirling, the wind machine, the tambourine. So thank heavens Dan Devine produced this immaculately researched oral history of the Stevie Nicks Fajita Roundup, from its conception to its acknowledgement by Stevie herself, allowing people like me who love it to feel vindicated in our obsession.
“Stevie Nicks’ Fajita Roundup” wasn’t prescient. It didn’t put its finger on the pulse of 1998, or anticipate the ways in which pop culture would shift in the years to come. It didn’t point toward some broader universal truth, or teach us something about ourselves.
It just … started, and was weird for two and a half minutes. But it was really weird for those two and a half minutes, blithely absurd and blissfully silly in a way that cuts through the clutter and nestles itself into your gray matter. We can’t always explain why something sticks in our brains; sometimes, it just works. And for a lot of people, “Stevie Nicks’ Fajita Roundup”—something that probably shouldn’t have worked for anybody—just worked.
‘Silver Springs’: Inside Fleetwood Mac’s Lost Breakup Anthem (Brittany Spanos, Rolling Stone, August 2017)
The story of the 1997 revival of “Silver Springs,” a song that had been essentially lost in the Fleetwood Mac canon since Nicks had written it for Rumours, provides fascinating insight into what made the band great and what doomed it to fracture. The now-classic was one of several chestnuts (“Dreams,” “Gold Dust Woman”) that Nicks penned for the smash record, but with two other songwriters in the band vying for album space, it was cut for time. Nicks had given the song’s royalties to her mother in the hopes that it would pay for her retirement; instead, “Silver Springs” was relegated to the B-side of “Go Your Own Way” and forgotten until it made the set list for 1997’s The Dance and became a Grammy-nominated chart hit. Spanos’ article traces the song’s tumultuous life and afterlives from a highway sign for Silver Spring, Maryland, to Stevie’s mom finally getting her long-delayed royalty check.
“I never thought that ‘Silver Springs’ would ever be performed onstage,” she reflected during a 1997 MTV interview. “My beautiful song just disappeared [20 years ago]. For it to come back around like this has really been special to me.”
The Moonlight Confessions of Stevie Nicks (Amy Kaufman, Los Angeles Times, September 2020)
What’s it like to grow old as a female rock star? Amy Kaufman’s profile explores Nicks as a 70-something chanteuse confronting a world that demands youthfulness at all costs. Stevie candidly discusses her fears of catching COVID, her 15 years on Weight Watchers (necessary, she assures the reader, to fit into her custom-made stagewear), and her disgust with her appearance in certain camera angles of the documentary concert film, 24 Karat Gold. Nicks’ honesty about her concern with her own image is refreshing, even as it makes us realize that Mick Jagger and Pete Townsend (or Lindsey Buckingham, for that matter) don’t face the same pressures to grow old without letting anyone catch you in the process. Speaking of Buckingham, Nicks addresses his departure from Fleetwood Mac in 2018, when he was fired (at Nicks’ insistence, he alleges). Stevie seems resigned to a life without Lindsey, but given the band’s history, a reunion seems inevitable. After all, the mystique of Stevie Nicks is impossible, for better or for worse, to separate from the talent and chaos of Lindsey Buckingham.
There’s melancholy in her voice when she discusses the split, which she describes as a “long time coming.” She was always hopeful that “things would get better” but found herself noticing she was increasingly sad with Fleetwood Mac and more at peace in the “good, creative happy world” with her solo band.
“I just felt like a dying flower all the time,” she says. “I stayed with him from 1968 until that night. It’s a long time. And I really could hear my parents — I could hear my mom saying, ‘Are you really gonna do this for the rest of your life?’ And I could hear my dad saying in his very pragmatic way — because my dad really liked Lindsey —‘I think it’s time for you and Lindsey to get a divorce.’ It’s a very unfortunate thing. It makes me very, very sad.”
Stevie Nicks is Still Living Her Dreams (Tavi Gevinson, The New Yorker, February 2022)
Blogging wunderkind-turned-actress Tavi Gevinson has long been one of Nicks’ “goddaughters,” the young women adopted by the childless Nicks upon which she lavishes gifts like gold moon-shaped necklaces. Gevinson is an astute commentator on fame, having achieved it at such a young age, and her interview with Nicks does what many profiles fail to do: recognize the brilliance of Stevie’s songwriting. Digging into Nicks’ artistic process, the interview also acknowledges the centrality of her relationship with Christine McVie and their mutual pact never to be treated poorly by male musicians. Despite her infamous romantic entanglements with men, sisterhood has always been at the heart of Stevie’s artistic mission, whether she’s belting “Wild Heart” backstage with her coven of backup singers or serving High Rock Priestess vibes in Destiny’s Child “Bootylicious” video. Gevinson’s interview illuminates how Stevie’s intergenerational sorority continues to find new pledges.
In her music, loss is simultaneously earth-shattering and ordinary. Heartbreak is survivable, and possibly a key to self-knowledge. Many of her songs take place at night, in dreams or visions, “somewhere out in the back of your mind.” Her narrator frequently asks questions of herself and of some higher power, as if in constant conversation with her own intuition. When I said “Just be Stevie Nicks,” I was thinking of how her work had taught me to see such sensitivity as a source of strength. Nicks’s music is what you listen to when you need help listening to yourself.
Jill Spivey Caddell is a writer and teacher of U.S. literature, arts, and culture. She lives in the United Kingdom.
Editor: Krista Stevens
Copy Editor: Cheri Lucas Rowlands
Want more recommendations? Sign up for our weekly #LongreadsTop5 email, sent to your inbox every Friday.