Stretched out wearily on the couch in her hotel room and sipping white wine, Stevie looks as if she's depending on that. "Sometimes you can't win for the losing," she says somberly. And when all the veils between her sadness and her nonacceptance are parted, and she cannot escape into the looking glass, she sometimes confides "in the unknown God, whoever he or she is. I don't go to church, but I am very religious. I was raised Episcopalian, but I went to Catholic schools here and there. I love Gregorian chants, and I write in chant structures, so I probably have been very religious in my time here during the last 3 million years. I pray when I'm upset about the outcome of my predicaments."
Among her many recent tribulations have been the voice problems she faced in the wake of Fleetwood Mac's incessant touring. And what made them especially upsetting were the nasty press notices that followed many of the shows in which her formidable vocals faltered or cut out altogether. Prior to joining the road-hungry group, she had never had to push her voice. Four-month outings grew into trips triple that duration, and her ravaged vocal chords never had time to heal.
"My vocal muscles got so bad I would have to go to a throat specialist, especially before we played the L.A. Forum or the Garden. They would give me shots that deswell your chords enough to allow you to sing. But it's not good to get those shots a lot with your chords in that shape. After two and a half hours of singing, you can shred them, truly blow them right out of your throat.
"The first time we played the Forum, I went immediately to the doctor for all the preparations, and as I was leaving, he said [solemnly], 'Good luck, my friend.' I said to myself, 'I am in big trouble.' At rehearsal, Lindsey started playing 'Landslide' and I couldn't sing it. I burst into tears."
She began to have nightmares in which she would take the stage, open her mouth and nothing would come forth, the huge crowd and the band staring at her in silence. She was near despair when a friend guided her to a Beverly Hills specialist who prescribed a routine of rest between concert stands – three days on, two off – and constantly speaking a bit higher, at a decidedly ungravelly pitch. She got into the habit of hurrying from plane to hotel room, shutting all windows and doors, putting cotton in her ears and napping for as long as possible before the sound check.
All was well; her voice became stronger than ever before, but then she learned that a woman in Grand Rapids, Michigan, was suing her for the rights to Stevie's favorite composition, "Sara." The woman claimed she had written it and sent a copy of the lyrics to Warner Bros, in November 1978.
The suit raged for months, despite Stevie's numerous witnesses (including Kenny Loggins) and a demo of the song cut at producer Gordon Perry's Dallas studio in July 1978. It was only a few months ago that the woman's lawyers finally gave up, stating, says Stevie, "We believe you."
"There were some great similarities [in the lyrics]," Stevie asserts, "and I never said she didn't write the words she wrote. Just don't tell me I didn't write the words I wrote. Most people think that the other party will settle out of court, but she picked the wrong songwriter. To call me a thief about my first love, my songs, that's going too far."
As her legal problems were clearing up, she resolved to do as much with her eyesight. Since childhood, it has been very poor, and when she began to make headway as a performer, she left her unflattering eyeglasses at home. Now she wears semipermanent contactless lenses and the difference is jarring.
"I was blind before," she assures with a laugh and a shiver. "I never, ever saw an audience until I recently did the Forum with Tom Petty! I can't see past four rows, even with my contacts. It's neat to see better, but there's not quite as much to hide behind as with my glasses, and that's a little scary, 'cause you can see people's eyes.
"For most of my life, every light blurred and became a star. I had this incredible light show going on because of the way I saw. Maybe that contributed to my magical outlook on life.
"I don't look at anything but in a romantic way," Stevie continues, adding that a song on Bella Donna called "The Highwayman" is about the Eagles, the male members of Fleetwood Mac and other masculine rockers. "They are the Errol Flynns and the Tyrone Powers of our day!" she exults slyly. "So as long as I have to live with them, I try to make them into the most wonderful bunch of guys I can possibly think up!"
While most of the other material on Bella Donna was written in recent years (the sorrowful, supportive "Think About It" was done for Christine McVie in 1974 as her seven-year marriage to John was ending), "After the Glitter Fades" came about in 1973 (misdated as 1975 on the sleeve) and therefore provides a rare glimpse of Stevie's attitudes on stardom before she joined Fleetwood Mac.
The loneliness of a one-night stand
Is hard to take
We all chase something
And maybe this is the dream
The timeless face of a rock and roll
Woman . . . while her heart breaks
Oh you know . . . the dream keeps coming
Even when you forget to feel.*
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