When I was a little girl, I remember hearing the song, “Rhiannon” many times during the afternoons when my mom would have the radio on. Her voice, her mystical-looking presence, the glittering shawls she wore, her magical twirling on the album covers drew me in, but it has always been Stevie Nicks’ words which have kept me captivated over the years. Her ability to write relatable, heartfelt, bittersweet lessons within her lyrics is unprecedented.
Although Nicks is most known for being a musician, an artist, and a dancer, she is a writer at her very core. Of her writing history, Nicks says,
“I was never trained. Nobody ever sat down and taught me how to play the guitar or write a song or play the piano. I love to do it to this day, it’s the greatest love of my life. That doesn’t take any discipline for me, that’s what I like to do. Where other people would rather go out and party, I would rather stay at home with my grand piano and candles and incense and a glass of wine and an idea” (In Her Own Words).
Her passion for writing comes through strongly in her words and it’s a large reason her fans love her work. Nicks can weave a story like no other.
It all begins for her with the typewriter. For Nicks, it is as if her typewriter becomes an extension of her fingers as she taps away at the keyboard when inspiration hits. In an interview with Jim Ladd in 1983, she explained, “…..And I want to go on the beach with my silent typewriter and I don’t want anybody to bother me… because I want to enhance this planet. I came here for a reason. I didn’t come here to be a mother. I didn’t come here to be a nun. And I did not come here to be a cleaning lady. I came here to be a poet” (In Her Own Words). Fortunately for fans like me, her poetry at some point is joined with a melody, which then turns into a song that inspires and touches the heart.
There are many songs written by Nicks that deeply resonate for fans, but one in particular is her song, “Has Anyone Ever Written Anything For You.” Not only are the words breathtaking and meaningful to anyone who listens, but they are accompanied by the most beautiful piano melodies your ears could ever hope to hear. Just listening to the notes softly playing out before she sings gives me goosebumps from head to toe.
The story behind her inspiration for writing the song is amazing and not one I had known about until I started to do research on her for this project. It brought tears to my eyes. If I ever had a doubt about how much this woman’s words inspire me, it disappeared that very moment. She shared in an interview in 1983 with Jim Ladd, “It was written for one person and it was written as a song for somebody that had written a song for somebody else. And it was like, ‘Okay, you wrote this for that person. Now I’m gonna write this for you’” (In Her Own Words). The person she is speaking of is Joe Walsh, from The Eagles.
Nicks was struggling while on tour with Fleetwood Mac and had found a friend in Walsh. She had been complaining about being on the road, complaining about all kinds of little “first world problems” that many people tend to confide to their friends. Walsh decided to take Nicks on a long drive one day in Denver, Colorado when they were taking a break from touring. During the drive, Walsh shared a story with Nicks about losing his three year old daughter. It was his gentle way of showing her that although the smaller problems in life can seems so large, they really aren’t so terrible when compared with something like the sorrow of the loss of a child. The lesson changed her viewpoint about how to look at life and the dark parts of it that she may encounter along the way. Walsh wrote a song for his daughter, and Nicks decided he should have a song too. Inside the cover of her album, Timespace, she writes, “Thank you, Joe, for the most committed song I ever wrote. But more than that, thank you for inspiring me in so many ways. Nothing in my life ever seems as dark anymore, since we took that drive.” Writers often write about what they know and the lesson Nicks shares within this particular song is valuable to anyone who would choose to listen.
If a person hears Stevie Nicks mentioned, the song, “Rhiannon” is usually referred to in some way, shape, or form. It is her signature song. It is a song that has created a mythical presence inside of Nicks while she performs it onstage. She wrote it two months before she and Lindsey Buckingham became a part of the band, Fleetwood Mac. Fleetwood Mac recorded the song and it took on a life of its own. Nicks articulates the experience of writing the lyrics for “Rhiannon” in an interview in the 1970’s, “I read the name (Rhiannon) of it in a….in a….just a novel and really liked it and thought, ‘that’s really a beautiful name.’ Sat down, tap, tap, tap…about 10 minutes later wrote ‘Rhiannon.’ We think that she was, in fact, Queen and that her memory became the myth. I definitely feel that there’s a presence…” (In Her Own Words). It is my feeling that it adds to the magic of the song that there is a mysterious, unknown Welsh witch out there that Nicks believes in. She gives credence to an “otherworldly” aura without pushing her personal views on a person. Instead, the music washes over the listener and it creates a world in the mind that doesn’t have to be one certain way.
One of the things that cemented my feelings of connection with Nicks’ “Rhiannon” was that it was recorded the year I was born. That fact speaks to me and makes the song even more special. In a 1976 interview with Jim Ladd she explained,
“So it is….it’s just about, it’s just about a very mystical woman that is finds it very, very hard to be tied down in any kind of way, and she’s uplifting all through the song. That’s… that’s what I wanted to get and that’s what the band got really well was that uplifting of wings kind of a feel, you know, when you feel like you see a seagull and she’s, she’s like lifting up. Well, that’s, that’s Rhiannon. Rhiannon….yeah…..she’s moving up” (In Her Own Words).
When one reads the words of “Rhiannon,” it’s as if Nicks is creating a legend similar to those like King Arthur or Beowulf in the reader’s mind. It takes a special talent in a writer to create that kind of story, one which endures for decades. The words of “Rhiannon” weave a spell that speaks to the free spirit within us all.
Another personal favorite of mine is Nicks’ song “Gypsy.” It speaks to the adventuress in me, it helps to give me strength when I have failed at something and have to begin again. It centers me in a way that not many other songs can. If a person could have a theme song, “Gypsy” would be mine. When discovering the inspiration behind the song, the words made even more sense to me and it left me with a feeling that I understand Nicks’ writing much more than I had originally believed. Nicks shares her experience of writing the song in a 1988 interview, “And Gypsy was written when my best friend (Robin) died of Leukemia and uh …about the fact that she wasn’t going to see the rest of this: ‘I still see your bright eyes,’ it was like she wasn’t …going to make it. And uh, I was like the lone gypsy….this was my best friend from when I was 15 and so I was a solo gypsy all of a sudden and it was very sad for me and that’s sometimes when I write my very best songs. Robin had been on the road with Fleetwood Mac for five years. As my speech therapist and also management, an incredibly efficient helper. ‘I still miss your bright eyes’….that’s why we don’t do it on stage…..it’s because it’s really too hard for me to sing. ‘Lightning strikes maybe once, maybe twice…’ that means one time in your life you find a very good friend, and maybe if you’re incredibly lucky, you might find a second. ‘It all comes down to you,’ means but you have to look very hard” (In Her Own Words).
For me, it’s as simple as the lyrics, “To the gypsy that remains… faces freedom with a little fear….I have no fear, I have only love…” Sometimes, when a person has hit a wall or a crossroads in his or her life, it is essential to get back to the basics, recognize the person that they are inside. This song tells the story of going back to something familiar in order to gain strength to move on to the next phase life has to offer.
Stevie Nicks is known around the world for her beautiful, haunting voice and her magical presence on stage, but she is a writer first and foremost. It is at the very core of who she is. In a recent Rolling Stone interview, she said, “I’m lucky that my favorite evening is still going to a grand piano in a beautiful room with incense and candles and sitting down to write a song for the world” (Sheffield). When she writes, she does think of the fans, but her words come across on such a genuine level because she puts a piece of herself into every song. She explained to The Island Ear in 1994, “What a writer wants to do is put stuff out there and make people mull it over in their minds until suddenly it’s something that’s way more important than turning on the stereo” (In Her Own Words). It is fortunate for fans like myself that she still has many more songs within her waiting to come out onto paper and into our hearts.
In Her Own Words. Inherownwords.com, 2004. Web. 16 Nov. 2014. <http://www.inherownwords.com/index.htm>.
Sheffield, Rob. “Stevie Nicks on Twirling, Kicking Drugs and a Lifetime with Lindsey.” Rolling Stone 2 Oct. 2014: n. pag. Print.