Carly and I will be joining Crispin Kott and Mike Katz to discuss their new book, Rock & Roll Explorer Guide to New York City at Rough Trade NYC. Come hear us talk about music, New York, and the history between the two. More details here.
Actress and author Carrie Fisher reportedly suffered a “massive heart attack” on a flight from London to Los Angeles Friday afternoon. She was rushed to a Los Angeles hospital, where her brother, Todd Fisher, told Variety she is currently out of emergency and in ICU, in stable condition, though “there’s no good news or bad news.”
News of the episode sparked an outpouring of support on social media and in the press. A common thread in all the discussion? Star Wars.
Identification of public figures is an important part of reporting. It makes sense to note that Fisher is most well-known for her role as Princess Leia — it gives the general public an iconic, familiar role to put a face to the name. It makes sense to lead with that, but not to make it the entire focus.
In the nearly 40 years since Fisher became an overnight icon as an outspoken princess with a memorable hairstyle, her resume has expanded to cover multiple fields. She has written four novels, three memoirs, two plays, and two screenplays, including the screenplay for the Academy Award-nominated adaptation of her first novel, Postcards from the Edge. She has acted in several other films, from Hannah and Her Sisters to When Harry Met Sally.
In the 1990s, she was considered one of Hollywood’s best script doctors (a writer brought in to rewrite or polish an already existing script), having worked on films like Hook, Sister Act, and The Wedding Singer. Her autobiographical one woman show Wishful Drinking was adapted into both a memoir and an HBO special.
Having suffered bipolar disorder and addictions to cocaine and prescription medicines, her activism around mental health and addiction has been recognized by multiple organizations, most recently Harvard University.
I shouldn’t have to list the contents of Carrie Fisher’s resume here. I shouldn’t have to remind people that she has done more in 40 years than don a pair of cinnamon roll hair buns and a white dress.
If we were talking about her co-star Harrison Ford in this situation, I’m fairly certain media outlets would not be focusing on his role as Han Solo. The overwhelming amount of tweets would have more than photos of Indiana Jones. Fisher doesn’t deserve to be reduced to a single role. She doesn’t deserve press coverage including a still of her as “slave Leia” — a degrading outfit she has vocally spoken out against — in their articles.
Women are reduced to singular roles, relationships, and images again and again and again. Women are constantly identified as someone’s wife or girlfriend, a single line summarizing their entire career, a former sex symbol. It isn’t lost on me that this time last year, Fisher was making news after a New York Post writer wrote a misogynistic opinion piece that if she was unhappy about people commenting on how she’s aged, she “should quit acting.”
Fisher is just one recent example. This is not unique; it is not special. It just shines yet another light on a problem. Women are more than one singular identity. It’s about time we started acknowledging it.
My friend Candace and I went to see JD Souther last night. My friends and I love to talk about how we tend to “lower the median age” at most events we attend — last week Carly said “To be honest, I sometimes rate how successful and fulfilling the night was based on how few people our age there are.”
Candace and I joked that we were aggressively lowering the median age tonight, joked about making a drinking game for every time a kind stranger our parents’ age or older approached us with “Now, you two are the youngest people here. How do you know this music?”
When the umpteenth much older stranger came up to us at the end of the show, I shot Candace a look, held back a giggle. But this was different:
HER: Excuse me, sorry, are you Carrie?
ME: … Yes? [I was literally stunned and confused]
HER: I follow you on Twitter! I just have to say, you’re like the musical daughter I never had, bringing our music to kids your age. You make us old women proud.
Candace wanted to die — “I can’t take you anywhere!” — meanwhile, I was left with a grin and sense of pride that stayed with me until I went to sleep that night. Being the millennial voice that carries the torch for generations before me is pretty much all I want to do. To get that endorsement from someone actually from the generation I so frequently preach about was a nice reassurance that I might actually be doing a good job.
(Oh, and JD Souther was fantastic.)
I was 21 years old when I heard Buckingham Nicks for the first time. I was home from school for a weekend, looking through my father’s vast record collection, when he pulled out an old, faded LP from 1973. The corners were tattered, the inner sleeve torn, but the record itself was in perfect form. “I think you’ll like this one,” he said. “It’s Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham before they were in Fleetwood Mac.”
Of course, I had known of the album, but it seemed almost like a myth, with its cult-like vinyl-only status. For my father to just hand it over nonchalantly seemed almost too easy, almost unreal. Just holding it in my hands, looking at the cover — a young, beautiful couple not much older than me, with their long, flowing hair and naked bodies the epitome of the free-spirited Laurel Canyon era California I had become obsessed with as a child — I immediately fell in love.
I think my dad maybe had an ulterior motive. I think he knew that I would go down the rabbit hole, as I am prone to do, and devour everything I could about the album and all of the people behind it. I think he knew how badly I needed to hear its story, maybe more than I needed to hear the music.
I was about to graduate college with a journalism degree. I had made four years of sacrifices so I could write as much as possible, and suddenly it all seemed like it was for nothing. I realized I couldn’t afford to take the entry level, $25K salary gigs my peers were scooping up if I wanted to stay in New York. I hated anyone who told me that I was a good writer, that I was a talented, desirable graduate, because in my mind, I had failed.
The more I listened to Buckingham Nicks, and the more I learned about it, the more I felt like I had crawled inside its world. I felt a kindred spirit with them. I felt hope. They were good. And they failed. They made sacrifices and worked and struggled and poured their lives into creating 37 beautiful minutes of music, and in the end, they were dropped like it was nothing. It would be a couple of years until they found success. I needed that album, and I needed its story.
In the preface to his book “Dusty Springfield’s Dusty in Memphis,” Warren Zanes writes:
“Records that last, those special few that refuse dust and return to the player again and again even as the world around them changes, ﬁnally become, in some odd way, collaborations between the listener and the listened to. […] The recordings that go beyond that level of correspondence become emblems of more than just one passage in our lives, they become — and I hate to make it all too lofty, but here it can’t be helped — emblems of us, artifacts of self-deﬁnition. Such special albums rattle our cages again and again (and sometimes we use them, with limited success, to rattle the cages of others). It’s hard to say why. But that’s what they do.”
That’s what Buckingham Nicks does to me. I still get lost in the building, frenzied guitar solo in “Frozen Love.” I still get sucked into the hypnotic ‘60s slow burn that is “Races Are Run,” and I still find myself falling in love again and again with the simplicity of “Stephanie.” But for me, this album has become about so much more than just the music. It’s stuck with me. It’s rattled my cage.
I turned 25 a few months ago and I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how I’m now the same age Stevie was when Buckingham Nicks was released. I realized how many times I’ve inadvertently used her timeline as a barometer of my own success. It’s okay that I’m not exactly where I want to be just yet — Stevie didn’t join Fleetwood Mac until she was 27. I have a friend who says 2016 is her 1973. I’m sure we’re not alone in thinking that way. That’s because Buckingham Nicks is an album that has that rare ability to both reflect the time period in which it was made and transcend it.
Because it’s about life — life at a very specific, tumultuous time — and all of the passion and fear and frustration that comes with it. It’s about that feeling that every 22 or 23 or 24-year-old gets and they think that they’re the first to have ever felt it: Like you’re very old and very young at the same time. Like life is both euphoric and terrifying. Like your brain is moving a million miles a minute and everything is happening and there’s so much to do, but you don’t have the time to do it all. Like you just can’t stop thinking about time. Time is of the essence. I’ve got nothing but time, no time for living. There’s too much time. There’s not enough.
It’s about being that age where you realize that everything you’ve been told as a kid — that you are good, that you are talented, that you can do anything you want if you just work hard — might not be true. You get out in the real world and realize you’ve got competition. All of the sudden, life is this giant race and you’re looking around at everyone else trying to do what you’re doing — so many different kinds of people trying to be the same — and you question if you’re good enough, question if you can keep up. Races are run; some people win, some people always have to lose — and you’re praying you’re not the latter.
It’s about making decisions that will affect the rest of your life. Do you always trust your first initial feeling? Special knowledge holds true, bears believing. It’s about the uncertainty of it all, about wanting independence, but wishing for a little bit of guidance once you suddenly get it. It’s about the overwhelming love you have for those rare people you find who stick by your side in the trenches — I turned around, and the water was closing all around me like a glove, like the love that finally found me.
I know this because I am in this period of life right now. It’s a funny feeling — feeling like two icons are your peers. But when I listen to this album, that’s how I feel. We’re just some kids masquerading as grown-ups while we try to figure out how to exactly be grown-ups, as we try to figure out how to be heard in this world, looking at others doing what we want to be doing with a mixture of admiration, envy, determination, and fear.
I wonder if I will forever love this album partly because of that, because it came into my world at such a distinct time in my life that lines up with theirs. I have a feeling that years from now, when I listen to it, I’ll hear memories. I’ll be able to immediately remember this very specific feeling tied to this very specific age that we are right now. I’ll probably find it romantic in hindsight. I’ll probably find it a little bit funny. I’ll probably think “God, was anyone ever so young?” This is where part of me wonders what it’s like to be them right now, what it will be like to look back on the things I’m writing at this age with more than 40 years of perspective.
I’ve said before that a great thing about some music’s ability to transcend time is that part of an artist will forever be preserved as the same age they were in the original recording. But there’s something to be said about the benefit of live performances or re-recordings or re-releases. They allow songs to change and evolve as time goes on (like how the “Landslide” of today has a different meaning and poignancy than the “Landslide” of 1975). They give new life to music, introduce it to new audiences.
That’s not the case with Buckingham Nicks. That may never be the case. Buckingham Nicks likes to talk about Buckingham Nicks, but they never really seem to do anything about Buckingham Nicks. Of the 10 songs, only three* have seen life after 1976, and those performances have been rare. Its elusive vinyl-only status, romantic as it is, is incredibly limiting; it makes it so much harder for people to discover organically. I’ve lost count of the number of times they’ve talked about a re-release only to see nothing materialize.
I wonder if time will forever be frozen on this album, only allowing the songs to live in their original form, forever performed by two 20-somethings. Part of that seems poetic to me, but a lot of it makes me sad. I wonder what will happen once the finite (and relatively small) number of physical copies are gone, what will happen when the few digital bootlegs get slapped with copyright claims and disappear. My father gave me his copy of the record. What will I give my daughter?
I find myself thinking about legacy a lot lately; I’ve been listening to the finale of Hamilton on repeat for a week. Legacy is a key theme of the show, something Alexander Hamilton was obsessed with, something that Lin-Manuel Miranda has made a lot of people reconsider. What is the narrative, and what is our role in it? Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?
I’ve been thinking a lot about how millions of people know who Fleetwood Mac is, how Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks are household names, yet only a small fraction of those people know about this album. They were a rags-to-riches success story that is so rare these days, one of the last few to really fulfill the American Dream. This album was the beginning. It was the catalyst for everything that was to come. It’s important. It’s more than just a footnote; it’s a story in and of itself that’s so often ignored. Years from now, what will it become of it? I don’t really know. All I know is that it’s a story I care too much about to let die.
*“Stephanie” was included in Lindsey’s last solo tour in 2012. “Don’t Let Me Down Again” was played sans Lindsey on Fleetwood Mac’s 1987 Tango In The Night tour; it popped up once on the 2004 Say You Will tour only to disappear again. “Crystal” was re-recorded by Stevie in 1998.
I used to climb trees. Great, big trees whose names I never bothered to learn until I plucked their leaves for a seventh grade science project, and even then, I forgot them just as quickly as I had put the assignment together.
I spent years nestled high in branches, lost in my own world, letting my imagination run wild. I made up stories where I was some sort of girl Tarzan who lived in the jungle with a house high in the trees. I was a fairy princess whose best friends were birds; I was a scientist studying a rare species away from home. My parents never had to look very hard for me on days when I “ran away” from home — I would usually be up in the tree, living out a dramatic storyline as an orphan runaway. I probably borrowed from more than one Disney film, but I can’t be sure.
When I was little, my grandfather nailed planks of wood to climb to the trunk of the tree in my grandparents’ back yard. The lowest branches were just out of reach; this opened up a whole new world of play for his grandchildren and their friends. I always climbed higher than everyone else.
Part of it was because I was the smallest and I could get to those upper branches, the ones that thinned out, without worrying that they’d break. Part of it was because I was a show-off. I desperately wanted the attention, wanted to win people’s affections and admiration by showing them how good I was, how much better I was because I could do something they couldn’t. Part of it was because, up there, I could be alone.
There was one branch, thin, bendy, and bouncy, that we would shimmy out and hang off. It was the kind of branch that drove our parents crazy with worry — it was so thin that they were convinced, one day, it would snap under our weight and someone would get hurt. None of us ever listened to their warnings to stay off, especially not me. If anything, I would take the biggest risk and wrap my legs around it and hang upside down. I can remember how the bark felt against the backs of my knees, scratchy, but secure. I was fine.
I did it because it felt fun, because I could get addicted to that rush of blood to my head. I did it because it was another thing I could do that no one else could. My sisters were too little. My cousin was too old — she said it wasn’t cool to climb trees anymore, and besides, she didn’t want anyone to see her bra when her shirt flipped up. But I was always a little in between the big kids and the little kids and a little uncool. And I never had a push-up bra I cared about anyone seeing, anyway; I started wearing extra-small Limited Too sports bras when I was 10 because I worried that my non-existent boobs made me look fat.
Twenty years later, that tree is still there with its thin, parental anxiety-inducing branch intact. Only, it’s not my grandparents’ backyard anymore. They’re both dead now and their children sold their house a month ago.
There are no trees to climb in New York. Not without stares, at least. Lately, all I can think of is how I can’t remember the last time I climbed that tree, and how I’ll never climb it again.
Sometimes I feel very old, like maybe I’ve missed my chance. (At what, exactly, I’m never really sure.) Sometimes I feel very tired, like I’ve spent the past few years screaming out into this enormous, loud universe just trying to be heard, but no one is listening because only a whisper is coming out. Sometimes I feel like I don’t understand anything at all. Sometimes I feel like I’m not enough, and maybe that’s my whole problem.
Mostly, sometimes I just really wish that I could be that little girl again, hanging from a tree in a backyard, letting that blood rush to her head and put a hypnotically hazy filter on her view of things. Sometimes I wish things could slow down the way they did in those moments. Because, somehow, that was the only time where I didn’t mind feeling like the world was upside down.
An analysis of Stevie Nicks’s Bella Donna, which was released 35 years ago today.
When most people think of Bella Donna, the debut album from Stevie Nicks as a solo artist, they paint their picture of it with broad brush strokes. The general public may not immediately know the album title, for instance, but they know the cover image, the iconic portrait of Stevie Nicks draped in chiffon with her white winged dove. They might think of the HBO concert special, one of the earliest and most watched specials on the network. They think of the singles it produced — ”Edge of Seventeen,” “Leather And Lace,” “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” — the songs you’ll hear the most on the radio, the ones that get scream-sung late at night when people who have had more than a few drinks try their hands at karaoke.
But good singles do not a good album make. Even if every song on the album is near perfection, it still may not be a good album. No, there has to be a relationship between tracks, a red thread from the first song to the last that ties everything together. There has to be a connection of sorts that makes the listener understand what exactly it is they’re feeling, how the puzzle pieces fit together to form the whole picture, even if they may not be cognizant of it.
A good album needs to accomplish the difficult task of having a concept without becoming a concept album. Not many albums can do this. Not even all Stevie Nicks albums do this. But Bella Donna does, and it succeeds in a way that few albums do.
Bella Donna is a trust album. It’s a loyalty album. From its inception to its songs — even the ones that were cut from the final output — to its legacy, the theme never wavers. It’s introspective and highly personal, at times clearly lines pulled from a diary, but it manages to convey feelings universal enough for others to identify with.
It poses questions about loyalty and trust in relationships: What do you do about the possibility that your lover may not be loyal when you’re not there — and why would he want to stray? How do you have faith that he’s telling the truth? Can you trust that someone will stop playing with your emotions? Can you trust yourself to know the difference between what is good in the heat of night and good in the reality of day? How do you ask for someone to be loyal to you without losing your independence, without seeming needy? Could you love me only? Really — could you? (“Kind of Woman,” “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around,” “How Still My Love,” “Leather And Lace,” “Outside The Rain”)
It makes you think about your own self: Can you stay loyal to who you are, truly, underneath all the things that change, particularly with fame and success? Do you have enough trust in yourself to not quit, to know that things will work out, no matter how hard it may get? Do you have enough trust in other people to relentlessly charge forward, to know that good people are out there, no matter how tragic or terrifying the world may seem? How do you stay loyal to your dreams and aspirations when they may be difficult, when they may be inconvenient for those around you, when you have to make sacrifices to do so?(“Bella Donna,” “Think About It,” “After The Glitter Fades,” “Edge of Seventeen,” “The Highwayman)
The themes of loyalty and trust seep out of the album and touch both its creation and legacy. It was a project pursued for personal reasons, out of a loyalty to herself. Nicks had to do something with the songs she had spent years putting away in storage, the ones she felt obligated to share with the world. She owed it to herself to make her voice heard just a little bit louder. To do so, she had to trust herself. Could she stand alone as an artist, without the support of Fleetwood Mac behind her?
In return, Fleetwood Mac had to invest trust in her. Very few bands see a lead singer pursue a solo project without it hurting the group as a whole. If they’re a breakout star, the band won’t survive — think Linda Ronstadt without the Stone Poneys, Phil Collins and Peter Gabriel without Genesis. If they bomb, it’s a lasting pockmark on the band’s history — see Mick Jagger sans the Rolling Stones or Roger Daltrey without the Who.
There had to be a mutual trust that Nicks would be okay, that the band would survive her wild success or her grand failure, whichever it may be. It wasn’t easy then, and it certainly wasn’t a move any successful band with the rarity of having a girl as one of their leads would make. It rarely works today, even, though Nicks’s anomalous success inspired a new generation to try their hand — look at No Doubt and Gwen Stefani, Rilo Kiley and Jenny Lewis, Destiny’s Child and Beyoncé.
And those who do succeed at finding their own identities outside bands change a little. They have new producers who help them find their new, different sound. Their backup band may change members. Their friends and collaborators may come and go.
But Stevie Nicks is loyal to a fault, and that is the legacy she created 35 years ago. She wasn’t going anywhere. She didn’t go anywhere. Bella Donna hit number one on the Billboard charts. It remained a bestseller for nearly three years. It firmly cemented her artistry and her ability to do things on by herself, with no one there to catch her if she fell. And still, she returned to Fleetwood Mac.
Stevie Nicks is great on her own, but she wasn’t going to turn her back on the people who make her better. She wasn’t going to leave the people who were there by her side when she was still a struggling artist, cleaning houses and waiting tables. Thirty-five years later, and her backup singers are still the same women who harmonized with her when they had no idea if the project would be a success or a bomb. Her band leader is still Waddy Wachtel, the same man who played on the first album she made with Lindsey Buckingham 43 years ago. She still sacrifices vacations and more solo projects and family to work with Fleetwood Mac. Thirty-five years later, and everything has changed, but everything still remains the same.
Songs, money, success — all that comes and goes. Loyalty and trust — those endure. And that’s what makes Bella Donna a great album: it’s more than the music. It’s the overall tone it sets between the lines and long after it stops playing.