Review: ‘Gold Dust Woman: A Biography of Stevie Nicks’

By | March 14, 2018

Gold Dust Woman (St. Martin’s Press), the unauthorized biography of Stevie Nicks by famed rock biographer Stephen Davis (Hammer of the Gods), brings to mind the quote, “Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, except backwards and in high heels.”

Throughout the singer’s five decades in rock ’n’ roll, she managed to blossom professionally in spite of the frequent dismissive treatment she endured from record companies, music producers, and her fellow band members, including her tempestuous boyfriend, guitarist Lindsey Buckingham.

Born in Phoenix on May 28, 1948, Nicks spent much of her youth moving around the country. At an early age, she sang harmonies with her grandfather AJ Nicks a struggling country & western singer, and later learned to play guitar and write songs at Menlo-Atherton High School in California. That’s where she met Buckingham, who invited her to be in his band, Fritz.

They move to Los Angeles and formed the band Buckingham Nicks, which released one album before the duo joined Fleetwood Mac in 1975. “I started off the year as a waitress and ended with Lindsey Buckingham and I millionaires,” Nicks reflected.

The album Fleetwood Mac, which included Nicks’ hit song “Rhiannon” (No. 11, 1976), was followed by Rumors, which reached No. 1 in 1977, won the Grammy award for Album of the Year in 1978, and eventually sold more than 20 million copies. This book was named for the last track on the album, written by Nicks.

By then, Nicks and Buckingham had broken up, singer/keyboardist Christine McVie and bassist John McVie were on the brink of divorce, and drummer Mick Fleetwood’s marriage was also on the rocks. By the time 1979’s critically panned Tusk came out, band members were barely speaking to each other.

Disillusioned by the scant credit she received for her contributions to Fleetwood Mac’s massive success, Nicks embarked on a solo career. Even though she had a number of hits in the ’80s (“Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” with Tom Petty, “Stand Back,” and “Talk to Me”), addiction to the sedative Klonopin clouded her path. While her overuse of cocaine is well known (yes, she apparently did burn a dime-sized hole through her septum), she blames Klonopin for turning her “into a zombie” for seven years. She eventually got clean.

EXCERPT: “Crazy Land was full of cocaine. The men snorted massive rails of white powder up their noses while Stevie and Christine wore tiny silver spoons around their necks, discreetly sniffing small doses until the men ran out and came looking for theirs.”

Because Gold Dust Woman is an unauthorized retelling of Nicks’ life, Davis relies heavily on previously published material. It reads like Fleetwood Mac for Dummies. For the Nicks newbie, the 332-page hardcover is an adequate way to get to know the singer, but dyed-in-the-wool fans will undoubtedly crave more.

In the current #MeToo climate, the shame here is that Nicks’ steely power and focus to succeed isn’t chronicled better. Strength and the ability to survive in the male-dominated music world come in all sizes. One could argue that any woman who succeeds in rock is a feminist icon.

Author Stephen Davis (photo by Peter Simon)

There’s something about Nicks that goes way beyond the overt sexuality of today’s top female artists. A self-proclaimed “prude,” she crafted and honed an archetypal look, invoking a spirit and digging a little deeper creatively for longer-lasting resonance with her fans.

Like Ginger Rogers, she performed as well as the male rockers of her time, only backwards and in black velvet platform boots. Perhaps a woman writing this biography would have gotten closer to the essential Stevie Nicks.

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