Gold Dust Woman: the mystery of the mystical Stevie Nicks - We Recommend - My Gay Toronto
Gold Dust Woman: the mystery of the mystical Stevie Nicks 5 March 2018.
by Drew Rowsome-
Stevie Nicks turns 70 in May of this year and though she has been a scrutinized celebrity for most of her life, she is somewhat of a mystery. That may be deliberate, she is an expert at giving intimate interviews that play to her persona and just add to her mystique. Or they might even be intentionally misleading. For anyone who isn't familiar with the basic outline of her story - her journey from fresh-faced chick singer to superstar to drugged-out joke to feminist survivor icon - Gold Dust Woman covers the entire saga. But when the recording of Rumours has already been an entire book on its own, there is an inevitable amount of condensing and omission that has to be done.
As a fan, I have a complicated relationship with Nick's persona and music, she can elicit eye rolls as easily as she elicits admiration and the desire to protect her. I own all her albums (2014's 24 Karat Gold being the most recent) and there is always a thrill of anticipation when I hear, even if it's just in my head, the guitar stutter that opens the "Edge of Seventeen." Leaving the theatrical concert event Rumours, I was humming the hits, weeks later it is the haunting refrains of Nick's songs that are still surfacing unbidden. So I admit that I am not approaching a biography without bias, expectations or assumptions.
Gold Dust Woman is Stevie Nicks' biography but her songs have been part of the soundtrack of my life, so the associations can't help but bleed into my reading of the text. I have a similar love/hate for Led Zeppelin, who incidentally, I learned from Gold Dust Woman, were a major influence on Nicks. She often encores with a cover of Zeppelin's "Rock and Roll" that varies from transcendent to sacrilegious - there are many versions on YouTube, I of course like the one with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, it genuinely rocks while also being utterly camp, Nicks sounds great but her eyes betray how stoned she appears to be - and when Robert Plant himself gave his approval, she felt vindicated. Gold Dust Woman quotes Nicks saying,
Robert Plant was there on the side of the stage and he congratulated me after our performance. He told me I did a great job. That meant the world to me - one of the great rock-and-roll moments of my life. I think Robert Plant and I are kindred spirits. I think we are both connected to the mystical side of things - but on different sides of the world.
That anecdote and its slant are my main problem with Gold Dust Woman. Author Stephen Davis has also written Hammer of the Gods, one of the two Led Zeppelin biographies I have read. Googling I discovered that, sadly, it was not the salacious one that I particularly enjoyed. But both detailed not only the context of the creation of the music but also the personal events and misadventures, particularly the sexual exploits for which Zeppelin was legendary. Nicks is also legendary for her exploits and the list of her liaisons is a long one.
But where the Zeppelin trysts are treated as conquests and awe-inspiring, Gold Dust Woman portrays Nicks' exploits as relationships where she was either a healing mother figure or using her sexuality to get, particularly with producers, what she wanted. Sexual relationships, even brief ones, are usually much more complicated or, in one anecdote that is glossed over, much simpler. Davis writes of Nicks' starting a sexual relationship with a band member that only existed for the length of the tour and, within the tour only for the length of time they were on the tour bus. When he offered to leave his girlfriend and move in with Nicks, she purportedly informed him that this wasn't going to work outside the tour bus parameters. Davis presents this as mildly shocking which, compared to Zeppelin's admired casual debauchery, seems unfortunate and sexist.
Nicks' relationship with Lindsey Buckingham, which forms the core of the Fleetwood Mac mythology, is examined in depth. We will probably never know how much was sincere love and hatred, and how much was manufactured for publicity and financial gain. Nicks and Buckingham, considering how much cocaine was consumed, may not know themselves. Davis' thesis is that Nicks felt she was dependent on Buckingham to arrange and edit her songs, to make them work, but when Nicks became a superstar and Buckingham did not, the relationship could not survive. This framework provides a compelling narrative of a woman finding her own voice and discovering her abilities, which dovetails nicely with Nicks' own current feminist role model persona. And makes for fascinating reading.
As Fleetwood Mac and Stevie Nicks have been extensively chronicled, some of the passages are familiar and there are even gossipy stories that are missing. However I was not acquainted with Nicks' early years, I had the chronology of her houses/sanctuaries and drug addictions in a different order, and found the names of a few of her sexual conquests surprising and thrilling. Davis also does a well-researched job of distilling Nicks' lyrical influences of Celtic mythology, witchcraft, etc, and how they intersect with her personal history. He also almost manages to disentangle most of the resentments, bitter business deals, feuds and infighting that is the history of Fleetwood Mac.
Davis' squeamishness about Nicks' sexual prowess and autonomy also extends to her gay fans who, despite supporting her during the fat and drugged-out years (we love our divas through thick and thin, especially thick), are only mentioned once. And then Davis makes one fatal mistake when he describes the drag queens who were instrumental in turning Nicks from a washed-up new-agey flake to a camp hero from where she could evolve into a triumphant survivor, in a condescending and circumspect way,
Stevie's music, sometimes remixed without official authorization, had been steadily growing in the discos. There was also this thing, "The Night of a Thousand Stevies," now an annual fetish rite in lower Manhattan, where fans from all over the world danced late into the wee hours wearing costumes based on Stevie's wardrobe. (Rhiannon-looking witches were huge; also Arthurian princesses, Scarlett O'Haras, Ladies from the Mountains, and other personae. Some came as White Winged Doves.) Sometimes at these events, Stevie's male fans outnumbered the ladies.
I'll just chalk that up to Davis' unfortunate self-identification as a rocker with a disdain for dance music (though rock and disco are intimately linked and as co-dependent as Nicks and Buckingham were) and ignore the whiff of homophobia by omission. Davis also spends precious ink trying to upgrade Fleetwood Mac's reputation as mellow popsters to that of rock and rollers. That may have something to do with having co-written Mick Fleetwood's autobiography, a project Nicks, as Davis tells us in Gold Dust Woman, refused to participate in. It's not only the reader who has baggage.
Nicks famously refused many interviews saying that she was saving her stories for an autobiography. What a loopy and wonderful book that would be! So despite Davis' copious research he is unable to get to the heart of who Nicks really is, I suspect that no-one will ever be able to accomplish that. In the interim Gold Dust Woman is a compelling overview, a strong introduction to Stevie Nicks, and a compelling read. Sadly Nicks seems to have changed her mind and Gold Dust Woman will be, for now, the definitive version. Davis quotes Nicks in a Billboard interview from October 4, 2014,
Because I wouldn't be able to tell the whole truth. The world is not ready for my memoir, I guarantee you. All of the men I hung out with are on their third wives by now, and the wives are all under 30. If I were to write what really happened between 1972 and now, a lot of people would be very angry with me. It'll happen some day, just not for a very long time. I won't write a book until everybody is so old that they no longer care. Like, "I'm 90, I don't care what you write about me . . . I am loyal to a fault. And I have a certain loyalty to these people that I love because I do love them, and I will always love them. I cannot throw any of them under the bus until I absolutely know that they will not care . . . The third wives are not ready. The husbands are not ready either . . . Yes, but you also have to be kind. Just because a relationship ended badly, and shitty things happened, you cannot tell that to the world. But you can write a song about it, in three verses and a bridge and a chorus, that tells the really magical moments.
As always it all comes back to the music which, having devoured Gold Dust Woman, is echoing symphonically through my mind. And that's a good thing.