Stevie Nicks' Magic Act

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To understand Stevie Nicks, it's important to be aware of the yin and yang of her muse. For instance, the original cover for Bella Donna was not quite so . . . visionary. Her more grounded nature was in command when she and photographer Herbert Worthington conceived a double-exposure portrait of the two sides of her personality. The photo depicted Stevie's threatening, take-charge yin fiercely scolding the idle, preoccupied yang. Nicks confides that "these two personalities are constantly fighting each other," and adds that she was prejudiced against the first cover because it looked "too heavy, too real." Most of us would like a temporary respite from life's serrated edges, and a few of us have secret gardens of the imagination into which we occasionally steal. The difference between Stevie Nicks and the rest of the world is that, given a choice, she usually opts for never-never land – and she brings along a lunch pail and a pup tent.

Stevie says that her favorite fairy tale is Beauty and the Beast. She loved the fable as a child, but when she saw the Jean Cocteau film rendition in later years, her fascination was cemented. She'll recount her version of the yarn at the drop of a hat, claiming that, at the end of the fable, "Beauty became the Beast, and he became the beautiful one."

The story line, as Stevie tells it, concerns the plight of a sweet-natured woman named Beauty, the youngest of three otherwise repellent sisters, who volunteers to become a captive angel in the Beast's castle after her father incurs his wrath by plucking one of his prized roses. Beauty rides to her palatial prison on a magic white horse sent by the Beast and settles into a grotesque lifestyle wherein she spurns the affections of her gentlemanly captor, breaking his heart a little more each day with her increasingly cruel taunts in the face of his love.

When Beauty learns her father is dying, the Beast allows her to go to him, but warns that if she does not return by the seventh day, he will expire from despair. On the eighth day, she leaves her dead father and venal sisters and rushes back to the castle to find that the Beast is done for. In his last breath, he says that all a beast who loves her can do is die for her.

A rather Gothic variation on the Cinderella myth, Beauty and the Beast seems to transcend mere allegory in Stevie's mind. Bewildered by the infinite number of possibilities in life, part of Nicks lets such fairy tales overtake her. (The trappings of this fable entranced Stevie to the extent that while she was at Le Château, she rode a borrowed white steed around the phantasmal grounds, her black cape flowing behind her, and almost fell off as the runaway horse threatened to tumble headlong into the crowded parking lot.)

Photos: Stevie Nicks Through The Years

Professionally, Nicks now possesses the means to do pretty much as she pleases. Her solo album and the duet single with Tom Petty, "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around," are selling well, and a tour with a not- yet-determined band is planned, probably ending just in time for her to promote the latest LP by Fleetwood Mac. On a personal level, though, she is beginning to realize that the enemy is within, and she is learning from experience that when fantasy doesn't fit or suddenly falls away to reveal stark truths, the impact on the dreamer can be acute.

"I was most frightened when we finished this last one-year Fleetwood Mac world tour," Stevie says, "because that's when I decided I had to stop living in the world of rock & roll. That had nothing to do with drugs or anything like that; it had to do with the fact that my life was completely and undeniably wrapped up in Fleetwood Mac. You can call in sick to a job, a boyfriend, even a husband, but you cannot call in sick to Fleetwood Mac – ever. If you have that kind of commitment, you can never really have any other plans for your life. I've had many relationships in the last six, seven years, starting with Lindsey [Buckingham; her latest is with Jimmy Iovine]. A year in Fleetwood Mac can put a knife in the heart of any relationship, because there are a lot of egos. And in relationships, I tend to cop out and say, 'I don't have the time! I'm too nervous! I have to get ready for a show!' Men who would like to take me out, I see it in their faces: 'Boy, is this a job!'"

Nicks' ascent to stardom was sudden. She was working as a waitress in a Beverly Hills restaurant when Mick Fleetwood and John and Christine McVie invited her and boyfriend Buckingham to join Fleetwood Mac. Among Nicks' personal contributions to the remarkably successful Fleetwood Mac LP that ensued was "Rhiannon," a surging, mesmerizing rocker about a Welsh witch, which, sparked by Stevie's reedy incantations, became a huge hit single. And Stevie herself quickly evolved into a concert cynosure, drifting spacily across stages in gossamer black chiffon, midnight suede riser boots and top hat.

"The princess onstage is my combination of Natalia Makarova and Greta Garbo and the elegant old rock & roll that I love," she says. "It's hard to be a fairy princess fifty percent of the time and just be a nice lady the other half. But I like my real self better. I don't walk around the house in dripping chiffon." (Though throughout our meetings, she wore chiffon dresses.)

Despite Stevie's vow to slow down, the time intended solely for her "real self" is rapidly being consumed by the effort she's putting into a second musical career. There's a mighty tug of war being waged inside her, but then burning ambition and the pitfalls that accompany it are a family tradition.

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