On Buckingham Nicks, 44 years later

This piece originally appeared on Bed Crumbs. About six months ago, I submitted a proposal for a book on Buckingham Nicks for the 33 1/3 series. It’s in a weird limbo state now, but I’m really proud of the work I did, and I love these words about this album that I love so much that I couldn’t just put them in a drawer and just walk away and wait. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoyed writing them.

“Let me ask you a question first,” producer Keith Olsen says not even three minutes into our first phone call. It’s a warm, beautiful spring day in Lake Tahoe; he’s spent most of it trying to place tom-tom drums on a mix he’s been sent. It’s been tedious work — like Photoshop with a bad picture, he explains — but he’s worked with worse. In the meantime, my call is a welcome distraction.

“Sure,” I respond, caught a little off-guard at how quickly he jumps into things. I thought I was the one who was supposed to be asking the questions.
“Why?” he asks.
“Why?” I repeat his question back.
“Yeah. Why? Why are you writing about Buckingham Nicks? Why do you love this album?”

It’s a simple question, one I don’t have a simple answer to.

I first heard Buckingham Nicks when I was 21 years old, nearly four decades after it was released. I was home from college for a weekend, and though I didn’t even have a turntable of my own yet, I was still trying to build my personal library to have something to play when I did. My father’s seemingly endless record collection that sat untouched in our basement was — and continues to be — a reliable and plentiful resource, one I can sift through countless times and still find something I hadn’t noticed before.

“You’ll really like that one,” my father said when I showed him my selections. He wasn’t singling out his copy of Berlin or Excitable Boy, not Some Girls or Combat Rock or More Songs About Buildings and Food. He pointed to the old, faded LP from 1973 with a wind-blown, half-naked, young unknown couple on the cover, the album that you’d likely never see on a Pitchfork list of must-have albums. The corners were tattered, the inner sleeve torn, but when I pulled it out, the record itself was in perfect form. “It’s Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham before they were in Fleetwood Mac.”

I had known about Buckingham Nicks for a few years, but it seemed like a myth. Later, I would find bootleg digital rips on the internet, but at the time, I only knew it as a cult favorite long out of print on vinyl, never made available officially on cassette, CD, or any streaming service, and rarely talked about. It seemed like the holy grail of records, one that you were either lucky enough to find and hear or not.

Maybe that’s part of its enduring magic. It’s elusive. There’s no instant gratification, no shrink-wrapped copy at Urban Outfitters or quick download on iTunes or stream on Spotify. It isn’t music that presents itself to you. It has to be found, the same way I found it digging through crates of old records in a damp basement one day.

Buckingham Nicks isn’t technically remarkable. Its music and lyrics, at times, sound juvenile, show how young Buckingham and Nicks are, both in life and in art. There’s no clear focus; some tracks could belong on an entirely different project. But, still, I fell in love with it. I fell in love with it because it’s pure. It’s raw. I fell in love with it because, when I hear it, I don’t hear Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, rock icons. I hear Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, two kids my age, completely in love with each other, completely determined to become successful, however success may present itself, and not quite sure of much else.

I fell in love with it because it was unexpected, because it changed the way I looked at the Buckingham Nicks we know now, the ones I was first introduced to as a teenager, who had, until then, lived in my mind simply as two parental figures of rock and roll:

Lindsey plays the role of the aging father: there to tell tales of hedonistic glory days — the stories you can listen to and think of the way you think of your own parents in their youth, both impressed and embarrassed that they were once that cool — with a newly-mellowed and romantic outlook. There’s less of a sting to his art now. He’s less bitter, more sure of himself, but always eager to keep a hand in the game, still wanting to understand what it is the kids are doing these days.

Stevie Nicks is the great maternal comfort, the self-proclaimed fairy godmother to thousands of women and girls who find safety and comfort in her music, whose voice consistently serves as a lighthouse when feel like you have lost your way. Her words offer their guidance and encouragement, whisper confidence in your ears, sing you a soft lullaby when you can’t sleep at night.

By and large, Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks seem like two people who have, for the most part, figured their shit out.

But for 37 minutes, I can slip this record on and those figures disappear. For 37 minutes, they are two young 20-somethings, forever suspended in time and acetate as my peers. For 37 minutes, we are the same: kids masquerading as grown-ups while trying 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. For 37 minutes, they’re just two kids trying to make something happen, knowing where they wanted to be and still trying to figure out how to stumble towards a finish line that seems to keep move further and further away.

It’s odd to think of two icons as my peers, but when I’m lying on the floor of my small New York apartment, exhausted and exasperated and wondering “what am I doing with my life?” yet again, it’s comforting — and almost too easy — to fish this record, this record that my father bought as a 17-year-old kid and unexpectedly passed down to his 20-something daughter, out of its safe spot, put it on the turntable, and think of them as anything but.

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 23 or 24 or 25-year-old gets and they think that they’re the first to have ever felt it: 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. Suddenly, life is a 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.

In a few years, this feeling may no longer be true. It is not lost on me that I am now the same age Stevie was when Buckingham Nicks was released; it’s not lost on me how many times I’ve found myself inadvertently using her timeline as a barometer of my own success. It’s okay that I’m not exactly where I want to be just yet: Look where Stevie was at 23, 24, 25; don’t worry about it too much — Stevie didn’t even join Fleetwood Mac until she was 27.

In a few years, I will likely become like every other adult I’ve spoken about this album with: forever unable to separate it from this specific time in my life, forever unable to listen to it and hear anything other than my youth. I’ll probably hear memories. I’ll probably think “God, was anyone so young?”

Sometimes you love things so intensely for no reason other than because they have become a part of you, and maybe that’s why I’ve come to call Buckingham Nicks my favorite album. It’s not that it’s ahead of its time or profound or perfect. It’s just that, as much as I have wanted to crawl inside its world and stay there, it’s actually managed to do the opposite: it’s latched its claws in my skin, dug in, and embedded itself in my DNA.

*****

“So, we are going to play for you the oldest song we’ve ever played on stage. It’s from the Buckingham Nicks album and—”

Stevie Nicks is on her 19th solo date of 2016. The majority of the audience at Madison Square Garden have no idea that this isn’t her usual greatest hits tour. Most of them came for “Edge of Seventeen” and “Stand Back.” They are blissfully unaware that this tour is different; they haven’t trolled Twitter or message boards or set list sites. They don’t know that, for the two months she’s been on the road, Nicks has been filling the night with deep cuts — one, in particular, deeper than others. And yet, for such a little known album, the mere mention of it draws such screams from the crowd that she has to pause before she can continue.

Nicks continues that this song was intended to be the single, but the record didn’t sell well, so it, and the potential single, was dropped.* “We never played it. We went and joined Fleetwood Mac and we never played this song again, ever.”

In 1973, Nicks was a maid and a waitress, driving a car that was constantly breaking down and perpetually without reverse, trying to support herself and Lindsey Buckingham. Forty-three years later, as a 68-year-old woman — not a Beyoncé or a Rihanna or an Ariana Grande — she sells out Madison Square Garden as a headliner, one of few women in her demographic to do so as a solo headliner in this decade,** and she performs “Crying in the Night” live for the first time since it was recorded 43 years before.

“There were a lot of firsts with them,” Keith Olsen says.

Olsen had not heard from Buckingham and Nicks since Fritz’s demo session at Sound City in 1970 until he got a call from Stevie nearly a year later. Lindsey came down with mononucleosis and quit the band; Stevie had been nursing him back to health, she explained. They had begun writing songs together, cut their own demos on a four track machine, and wanted to visit Olsen in LA to play them for him.

“They came to my house with their four track machine and their little mixer and they set it up and pressed play and I was astounded. I said, ‘Yeah. Yeah, I think we can get a deal.’ So, I took those demos and I started shopping around. I got them, Waddy Wachtel, and Jorge Calderon all signed to one thing,” Olsen says.

In the span of six weeks, Olsen secured a $35,000 budget and a backing band that would find itself switched up more than once throughout the recording process. Wachtel was a staple, lending additional guitar parts and harmonies. Ronnie Tutt and Jerry Scheff, known at the time as Elvis’s rhythm section, snuck into sessions when they had spare time, but eventually had to leave to tour, only to be replaced with musicians like Warren Zevon collaborator Jorge Calderón and Jim Keltner, who had been building a reputation as a go-to session player for everyone from George Harrison to Carly Simon. With a brand new Neve console arriving at Sound City around the same time, Nicks, Buckingham, and Olsen were ready to start recording.

The sounds that have come out of Sound City studios defy the looks of it — even before it became better known for being a grimey, run-down hole-in-the-wall with stained brown shag carpets and chipping paint. For starters, it simply wasn’t built to be a studio. The layout has been compared to a barn — empty and cavernous, too open to contain sound. Somehow, the studio has produced an impressive list of albums, from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ Damn the Torpedos to Nirvana’s Nevermind, all recorded on the same magical analog Neve console that captured drum tracks like no other could and gave warmth and depth to an otherwise empty space.

Buckingham Nicks was the first album ever recorded on that Sound City console. The very first one,” Olsen explains. “I mean, it came out of the box, we plugged everything in that afternoon and into the early evening and it looked like everything was okay. I called in the guys and we cut ‘Crying in the Night.’ When we came in and listened back at the first playback, I remember Lindsey looking at me with a smile on his face saying, ‘Oh my God!’ Because that’s the Neve console. That was that English sound that we wanted to get really bad and there it was.”

Given the album’s stature as not only the first music recorded on the now iconic Neve board, but as the springboard for Buckingham and Nicks’s future careers with Fleetwood Mac, the question of how it has possibly remained “lost” work for 44 years astounds even their closest friends and colleagues.

“I don’t know that anybody really has an answer,” says Lori Nicks, Nicks’s friend, sister-in-law, and backup singer who first met Buckingham and Nicks in 1973 when visiting the studio with then-boyfriend and promoter Gordon Perry, and has worked with Nicks since 1978. “It’s the $64,000 question. I think that Keith would probably have a version of what happened or why it hasn’t happened yet. I think Lindsey would. I think Stevie would. And then their managers, probably, would have something to say about it, as well.”

It turns out, that’s exactly how it is: everyone involved with Buckingham Nicks meets the question of its still unreleased status with a different take, the only similarity between stories being a fuzziness recalling details of deals worked out decades ago and uncertainty of what has happened to the rights or the master tracks or the personal and professional relationships since then.

There are a slew of unanswered questions, but, at the end of the day, what matters most is this: This is a love story. This is a love story in its earliest form, before it burnt to the ground and was rebuilt and branded as a Love Story™. A love story about two kids from San Francisco, new to LA, bouncing checks at IHOP and falling behind on their rent, trying to make it as a duo, both in love and in music. A love story about Buckingham Nicks before they were Buckingham Nicks, America’s favorite musical soap opera.

This is a love story about love in its rawest, most genuine form, the kind that still lives on today when Buckingham Nicks, no longer a couple in real life, join hands and play one on stage, built from 50 years of shared history, a lowercase love story, there to give a sliver of veracity to their stage performances.

This is a love story about youth, about what it’s like to feel very young and very old at the same time, about the love you have for that time period both when you’re in it and when you’re looking back.

This is a love story about the kind of music that rattles your cage, that may not be the best album made, but crawls under your skin and lives there somewhere next to your heart. This is a love story about music that requires playing at every important moment in your life, music that makes you feel like someone else knows exactly how you feel.

Mostly, though, it’s a love story about a lost story. The Fleetwood Mac we know today, the band that has given pop culture not only a wealth of music, but a wealth of soap opera-worthy drama, would not exist without Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks. Buckingham Nicks was just the beginning, the catalyst for everything to come. Yet little known is about it, both its creation and its legacy. For years, and for what seems like years to come, its significance has been reduced to footnotes or mere paragraphs in articles and biographies that focus more on gossip, sensationalism, and rumors than music.

Time moves forward relentlessly and though the music itself is not finite, the vinyl that exclusively houses it is. One day the few mentions the album manages to get now will become shorter and shorter. The opportunities for future generations to discover the album, to fall in love with or identify with some bit of it and be curious about its story, will become increasingly rare. It falls to us to tell this story now, before time extinguishes too much of its light.

*Rare copies of a single version of “Crying in the Night” with “Stephanie” as the B-side have made occasional appearances online, and once, a few feet away from me at Bleecker Street Records, selling for the reasonable price of $120, which a not-so-reasonable 22-year-old me nearly bought before a more responsible 22-year-old reminded me that things like rent and student loan bills exist. 

**Being a woman over the age of 60 to play as a solo artist Madison Square Garden is a rarity in and of itself. Since 2010, only Nicks, Bette Midler, Blondie (co-headlining with Morrissey), and Patti Smith (supporting Neil Young and Crazy Horse) have done so. 

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when you weren’t going to write a buckingham mcvie hot take, but the internet asked you to…

This piece originally appeared on Bed Crumbs (prompted by two anonymous asks and a couple of tweet requests)

Anonymous said: Buckingham McVie has been out for a full day and you’ve been MIA with a think piece! Could you please share your thoughts on In My World? I’m very interested to know what you think about it.

Here you go:

This is what it sounds like when things fall apart. This is the moment of realization, the wistful, liminal moment between doubt and acceptance. This is the sound of nostalgia, the sound of growing older and growing apart. This is the sound of understanding that not everything can always stay how it used to be.

“In My World” marks a strong return of the older and more contemplative Lindsey Buckingham that has emerged in recent years. He’s less bitter, more introspective. There’s a sense that Buckingham has begun to play archaeologist of his own life, digging into his past, trying to understand what it says about his present, and it’s clearly at play here.

Though it’s an odd choice to introduce a “duets” album with such a solo-leaning first single, three out of four other Fleetwood Mac members leave distinguishable marks on the track. The McVies are used delicately: a tickle on the keys from Christine here and there, noticeable only if you listen closely, John’s bassline pointed and spare. There’s no embellishment for the sake of embellishment; they play only what’s needed, but continuously push the song forward with a feeling of underlying anxiety. Mick Fleetwood’s chugging drums take what could be a soft and tender acoustic tune and give it a bite — with all anguish there is an underlying feeling of resentment.

Maybe we’re lost without the cost of who we used to be.

Joan Didion once wrote that we are all best advised to keep on nodding terms with who we used to be. Some, it seems, are more adept at that than others. Some become lost in the spectacle of the now when they lose touch of the unassuming then. At some point, the road splits, and the further two people drift down their respective paths, the more difficult it will be to coexist in the same sphere. Maybe, then, it’s best for both people to finally admit the need to retreat into their own individual worlds, though that’s not without reluctance.

It may seem obvious to interpret some of the song as a pointed message at Stevie Nicks, but it wouldn’t be obvious if the two didn’t make it so, well, obvious. After more than 40 years of creating public dialogues, of communicating with each other through song, this is to be expected. The elephant in the room is being addressed right away: Buckingham McVie is essentially Fleetwood Mac, just without Nicks, and what do they have to say for that?

It’s been 14 years — to the day — since Fleetwood Mac’s last full length album. These past 14 years have been a game of will-they-or-won’t-they record a follow-up, with the verdict riding on Nicks’s agreement. For 14 years, save for a four song EP in 2013, Nicks has gone back and forth in the press, one day confirming her involvement, the next denying it, until a March 2017 interview with Rolling Stone seemed to make the most definitive statement:

I don’t think we’ll do another record. If the music business were different, I might feel different. I don’t think there’s any reason to spend a year and an amazing amount of money on a record that, even if it has great things, isn’t going to sell. What we do is go on the road, do a ton of shows and make lots of money. We have a lot of fun. Making a record isn’t all that much fun.

In my world, everybody stays, nobody wishes for words they couldn’t say.

You can’t have one foot in the door and one foot out. You’re in the band or you’re not. Buckingham gave the ultimatum to Christine McVie when she left the band in 1998. It wouldn’t be out of the question to assume he gave a similar one to Nicks, though that’s not to say that finding the words to do so was easy.

Even the grandest of disagreements can’t erase their 50 years of shared history. Buckingham’s animosity is laced with sadness. There’s a sense of longing, almost, that he could still fix things, that things could be the same as they were all those years ago, that it didn’t have to come to this. But people grow up and grow apart and things change and no matter how much we try or wish or dream about our own fantasy worlds, we have to move on, have to admit that we will never be the same as we were.

Sonically, “In My World” recalls the sound of Tango in the Night, from the usage of the “oohs” and “ahhs” prevalent on “Big Love,” to the glossy production, almost as if to give the darkness a sheen. Out of pain comes something of beauty. It’s sparse, though, full of space between the drums and simple guitar melody. That almost empty feeling would make sense in a solo composition — I can only envision it getting a quietly powerful acoustic performance similar to “Shut Us Down” — but as Fleetwood Mac-lite, it feels unfinished. Its incompleteness is most tellingly and painfully noticeable in the absence of the lush three part harmonies that have become synonymous with the classic Mac lineup. Perhaps this is deliberate: as much as it’s a song about letting go, there is still space; it’s still open to the possibility of another voice filling that empty spot.

At the end of the day, though, that feels like nothing more than wishful thinking, the lingering reluctance to let go and move on in a song about letting go and moving on. This is what it sounds like when things fall apart and you realize that, for your own sake, you cannot keep trying to put them back together.

Introducing the ’77 Music Club podcast

Last Halloween, my best friend, Carly Jordan, had an idea: what if we turned all the time we spent analyzing every little thing about albums for fun and turn it into a podcast? Every other week, we’d discuss a different album and share our unconventional love of older music; we’d try to bridge a generation gap; we’d try to carry the torch.

After a few months of questioning if it was an appropriate time to release a music podcast, it’s here. In the coming months you’ll hear us talk about a variety of albums, from Betty Davis to Talking Heads to Big Star. But to start, we kicked off with our favorite (obviously) — this little known nugget from Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham from their days before Fleetwood Mac — because how could we not? Sneak a peak of each post below and be sure to follow (details below) for more.

77-music-club-buckingham-nicksTwo years before joining Fleetwood Mac, Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham had no idea what lay ahead of them. They were just two kids who wanted to make great music — and they just happened to be in love.

A cult favorite of Fleetwood Mac fans, this album is curiously still only available on vinyl. While bootlegs of the album can be streamed on YouTube, it has never been (officially) released on cassette, CD, or to streaming services like Spotify. This is perhaps part of the attraction to the album — this is music that doesn’t outright present itself; it must be found.

In this episode, we discuss why we both call this album our favorite of all time, what makes it unique, and why it still takes our breath away hundreds of listens later.

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The enduring, necessary wisdom of Stevie Nicks

This piece originally appeared on Bed Crumbs

“This is my thought for you for tonight. The testament is: dreams do come true. Anything you want is out there for you to just reach out in the stars of Bella Donna and just grab one, because it is all there. […] You must continue to believe that you can have what you want. Don’t ever let anybody tell you that you’re not talented enough or smart enough or any of that, because you are. You’re totally beautiful. You’re totally talented. You can do anything you want. Never let anybody get in your way. Tell them to get out of your way. You are on your way to greater things.” — Stevie Nicks, 12.1.16

I believe that every human should spend a few hours at a Stevie Nicks concert at least once in their lives. Yes, she puts on a great show and sounds amazing, but it’s not just that. It’s that spending a few hours in her presence is good for your soul.

I’ve been thinking about this for the past twelve hours or so. Thinking about these words and the significance of hearing them after hearing “Crying in the Night,” and I’m finding it hard to come up with any other person more qualified to deliver such a speech. Forty-three years ago, she was my age, cleaning people’s houses and waiting tables, driving a car without reverse, barely getting by. She didn’t know how she was going to get to where she wanted to be, but she just knew she would get there someday.

Last night, a 68-year-old woman — not Beyoncé or Rihanna or Ariana Grande — sold out Madison Square Garden as a headliner, something none of her female contemporaries have done in recent years, something that makes me so proud of her and women everywhere. She got there, and then some.

Hearing her sing a song from this time in her life, when she was young and struggling and trying to figure everything out, now, to that kind of crowd, hit me on a deeper level than just excitement at hearing a deep cut live for the first time. It made me think about how many times I’ve doubted myself, how many times I’ve felt like I wasn’t enough, how many times I’ve worried that I can’t follow my dreams because someone else is going to get in my way and stop me.

Stevie Nicks has the incredible ability to address 18,000 people and still make it feel so personal, make it feel like she’s speaking straight into your soul, delivering important nuggets of wisdom, advice, and encouragement that you desperately need to hear. Her words are perhaps more essential now, when it feels like the world is upside down and it feels difficult to be an optimist. She believes in you, and she doesn’t even know you. She makes you believe in yourself, forces you to remain adamant that, yes, you are on your way to greater things.

If Stevie Nicks tells you that you can do anything, trust her. She knows.

43 years later, the significance of Buckingham Nicks belies its obscurity

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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.

“The Dealer,” the first single from Stevie Nicks’s first album in three years, 24 Karat Gold: Songs From The Vault, a collection of old demos and one-offs revisited years later, was released on this day in 2014. I typically save my essays or short thoughts for bigger things and more significant anniversaries, but this song holds a special spot in my heart that I had to share a little something.

I cannot listen to “The Dealer” without thinking about my first real year in New York, without remembering those terrifying months after graduation — the ones that bled into each other so much that I lost track of time and hadn’t even realized a year had passed and I was in the city not as a student, but as an adult. I cannot listen to it without thinking about living in my first real apartment, suddenly feeling like I’m right back in that overpriced closet-sized room without a closet where I could touch both walls while sitting on my bed. I cannot listen to it without thinking about all those evenings walking through Soho at golden hour with it on repeat on my way home from work, all those mornings running to it on repeat by the East River at 6:30 a.m. while most of the city slept. My feet still remember those steps, the exact buildings I would pass at exact points in the song.

“The Dealer” made me feel electrified and excited and magical. It made me feel so alive and free and so young, but in the best possible way. I was the mistress of my fate. It made me feel like New York was my own enchanted, charmed playground, like some golden-hued, filtered alternate reality full of infinite possibilities — it was 2014 and I was listening to new Stevie Nicks, new Stevie Nicks that sounded like old Stevie Nicks, so what year was it, really?

I can’t listen to “The Dealer” without remembering that serendipitous time when I started writing my best pieces, when those pieces led me to finding my best friend, the girl whose first message to me told me, without being cheesy, to “Rock on, ancient queen.”

I can’t listen to it without thinking of the accompanying 24 Karat Gold Polaroid gallery, how I thought I was going to throw up when I got a press invite to opening night — Me? I thought. Little me? Won’t people ask where my parents are? I can’t listen to it without remembering how long I shopped for the perfect dress, how my hands shook the whole day in anticipation, how the crisp air felt on my bare shoulders as I walked from the train to the gallery, how I felt like I was floating the whole evening. I didn’t touch the open bar, but I was drunk — drunk on that feeling when you know you’re in the presence of magic. I can’t listen to it without thinking about how I started to type out my review on my phone about five minutes after I left, how the words just poured out effortlessly because I was so inspired. I can’t listen to it without thinking about how I let it repeat again and again and again on the way home, feeling exhausted but too wired to sleep, feeling a little bit like I had finally found the closest thing possible to a time machine.

This is why I love music. Yes, I love the technical aspects — the melodies and harmonies, the chords, the guitar solos; yes, I love excellent songwriting. But the feel, and the way music can be so closely tied to memories — like a soundtrack to your life — is what really gets me.

On Bella Donna, Loyalty, and Trust

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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.