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Stevie Nicks' Magic Act

With her new solo album, Fleetwood Mac's Good Fairy tries to balance two careers – and two personalities

September 3, 1981
Fleetwood Mac, Stevie Nicks, Mick Fleetwood, rolling stone archive, old, photo
Stevie Nicks on the cover of Rolling Stone
Annie Leibovitz

She would rock on the wide open porches and look at the sea, marveling over its changefulness. There were sunsets when the water resembled hammered gold under the golden light, or it would be running brass or whitely flowing beneath a white sky. Even the storms entranced her. She wanted to cry in ecstasy. She would sing and her marvelous voice would echo in the wide and tranquil evening silence. Dear God if there is a God in the worlddon't let her know. Never let her know what the world really is.

– Taylor Caldwell, Ceremony of the Innocent, Stevie Nicks' favorite novel

It is said that the door to the other side of this existence, to the Spirit Corridor and the Plain of Souls, has no knob on it and can only be opened from the outside. You, on this side of the door, must answer the spectral knock with a beckoning, for the Darkness cannot cross your threshold unless it is invited in. And so, on a cool night not long ago in an ancient chateau outside of Paris, there was no rest for a believer.

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.

The morning found her still frightened, and as she tried to orient herself, the arched French doors across from her bed swung wide with such force that they toppled the desk standing in front of them, sending Stevie's typewriter, a pair of pink vases and a delicate statuettelike candle sailing through the air.

"I just sat there and watched as these paned doors, two stories high, flew open," Nicks recalls, breathless. "The glass doors opened on a wrought-iron balcony overlooking a wishing well. It was quite dramatic, and the desk went over like whamp! I went into the kitchen, and the people who worked there said it was the ghost of the château. 'He is a good ghost, he will not hurt you, he just wants to make himself known,' they said. 'Nothing was broken, was it?'" It was then that Nicks realized nothing had been damaged, not even her slender jade-colored candle, which would have snapped if it had been dropped even at arm's length.

"The place is very old," says Nicks. "You get the sense of what it must have been like to live there hundreds of years ago. It hasn't changed much, and it feels as if it's full of ghosts." She pauses. "If the ghosts are friendly and willing to talk, I am ready to sit down at any time. I would love to."

She folds her arms and is gazing confidently at me from the long couch in the grand fiftieth-floor suite of the spooky Helmsley Palace hotel in Manhattan – when something makes her jump. Jimmy Iovine, Bella Donna's producer, has just bumped into a table in the vestibule, causing a shaded candelabra to shake eerily.

"Sorry about that," he says, walking into view.

"Oh, God," says Stevie, "that looked like a ghost."

Iovine answers with a bemused "Huh?"

Her face grows crimson.

"Oh, never mind!" she barks.

100 Greatest Singers of All Time: Stevie Nicks

She loves fairy tales and believes in spirits and will-o'-the-wisps and things that go bump in the daytime and the night. She would like to build her own pyramid and live in a little "witch house" on a cliff overlooking a turbulent sea. Halloween is her favorite night of the year, and although she can't explain the coincidences, certain symbols and words constantly crop up in her life. One of those words is Maya, also known as the Shakti goddess Devi, who represents in Hindu the illusory world of the senses. It's the name of her clothes designer's studios and of the cobbler's shop where she has her outmoded platform boots made. The symbols even invade her sleep.

In fact, the cover of Bella Donna was the result of one of her somnolent brainstorms. It looks like a greeting card from the Good Witch of the North: an ethereal assemblage of crystal balls, blue mists, silver tambourines and mystic trinities of white roses, with Stevie and a white bird in the center.

"I dreamed that I saw, against a background of blue, a white vertical line, which was me holding a bird," Stevie explains. "At five in the morning I called up Paul Fishkin [her former boyfriend, and founder with Danny Goldberg of her label, Modern Records]. I described to him the image, which became the front cover, and then the one on the back, where I've picked up the tambourine and the roses, and I'm looking through the crystal tambourine, which symbolizes a porthole, to see the sorrows of the world. I love the symbolism of the three roses, which is very pyramid, very Maya. The white outfit I'm wearing is the exact opposite of my black outfit on Rumours. Over that it says, 'Come in from the darkness.'"

The darkness?

"The dark side of anyone, the side that isn't optimistic, that isn't strong. I've got to become stronger because I am very sensitive, and everything really touches me. I love the mysterious, the fantastic. I like to look at things otherworldly and say, 'I wonder what goes on in there?' I think I was a monk in another life. I really do.

"'Bella Donna' is a term of endearment I use," she continues, "and the title is about making a lot of decisions in my life, making a change based on the turmoil in my soul. You get to a certain age where you want to slow down, be quieter. The title song was basically a warning to myself and a question to others. I'm thirty-three years old, and my life has been very up and down in the last six years."

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