Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Gypsy That Remains

It's been a bit 'heavy' here at the blog lately, so I thought that I would lighten things up a bit as we ease out of July, and as I ease into my summer vacation. Last night I had finished up watching the Cubs-Brewers on ESPN and was getting ready to go to bed, and decided to do one last flick through the program listings. There on WHYY's local public broadcast 'Arts' channel was listed the program Soundstage, which features concert performances, and here they were offering a concert by one of the true loves of my lifetime, Stephanie Lynn 'Stevie' Nicks. I hadn't watched Stevie perform in some time, and the program information said that this concert was filmed this year, in 2008, and so I was curious to see just how she looked and sounded today. I wasn't disappointed. Stevie is still a beautiful woman, and her voice still rings true with that same raspy, story-teller quality that has made her a rock icon. Well, this kept me up for another hour watching the concert, but it was well worth it. Listening and watching her perform songs like 'Rhiannon', 'Gold Dust Woman', 'Edge of Seventeen', 'Landslide', and more took me back to thinking about various times in my life, especially remembering those times that I first heard her and the opportunities that I had to actually see her perform live and in-person. Much as the rest of the music fans of the world, I first fell in love with Stevie Nicks around the years 1975 & 1976 when I was just 14 years old. The band Fleetwood Mac, my all-time favorite rock band, had released their self-titled album and Stevie's voice began to fill the airwaves with the song "Rhiannon". This song about a Welsh witch captivated radio audiences, formed an enduring image of Stevie in the public consciousness, and with the overall high-caliber of music being performed by the band they became a top act in the arena-rock era. Fleetwood Mac had been a top blues-rock band for years prior to 1975, but they had a number of personnel changes and were looking to reinvigorate themselves. Drummer Mick Fleetwood was looking for something new to add to the group, which at that time included bassist John McVie (the band is named after Fleetwood and McVie) and McVie's keyboard-playing vocalist wife Christine. He came upon a young guitarist named Lindsey Buckingham, who was making music in California with his girlfriend, Stevie Nicks. The pair had released an album in 1973 titled 'Buckingham Nicks' which didn't fair well commercially, but which contained a number of California-style pop sounds that were easy on the ears. Fleetwood was an astute judge of talent, as Buckingham would prove to be one of the greatest guitarists in the history of rock music, but Fleetwood only wanted him, and Lindsey wouldn't come without Stevie along as a package deal. Fleetwood agreed, the two joined the band and began recording in late 1974, and the rest is rock-n-roll history. There is so much of a soap opera quality to the Fleetwood Mac story over the rest of the 1970's and into the 1980's that I could never capture it all here, but suffice it to say that if you enjoy reading the histories of musicians and bands, and want to look it up and read about it, you won't be disappointed. The bottom line is that Fleetwood Mac followed up that first 1975 release as a new band with the album 'Rumours' in February 1977, and my favorite band became the world's favorites. 'Rumours' spent 31 weeks at the top of the Billboard charts, and sold over 19 million copies to make it, at the time, the top-selling album of all-time. The album was highlighted by the #1 song, Stevie's 'Dreams', and also featured what is still today my all-time favorite song. 'The Chain' is a rock and roll classic signature song featuring the band's tight vocal harmonies from Christine McVie, Lindsey, and Stevie, as well as the cohesion of its legendary John McVie/Fleetwood rhythm section, and soaring guitar work by Buckingham. I finally got to see Fleetwood Mac in concert at the Spectrum here in Philly in the fall of 1982 as they toured for their multi-platinum release 'Mirage', and then got to see Stevie perform solo at the Spectrum in 1983. The Fleetwood Mac concert was one of the best that I have ever seen in my life, obviously colored by my love for Stevie and the band, but the fact is that they were still tight, and looked and sounded great, at the top of their games individually and as a group. The solo concert was less of a thrill in the end, as it marked a period in Stevie's life when she was going through problems relating to drug abuse. She didn't sound good and didn't look the same. The songs were there, but the musician was different than the one I had been in love with all those years, and it was almost a sad situation. Stevie continued to have issues over the next ten years with drugs and weight gain, and though she still recorded and performed both solo and with the band the performances were uneven, sometimes brilliant but often a shadow of her former rock queen self, and she became more reclusive. In 1993, Bill Clinton was elected as President of the United States, and had used Fleetwood Mac's song 'Don't Stop' from 'Rumours' as his campaign theme song. He invited the band to play at his inaugural celebration, and this led to a revitalization for them after a few years of inactivity as a group. For me at that point, I thought that I had seen the last of them. Music was changing, 'grunge' or 'garage' bands were becoming the rage, and a 70's act like Fleetwood Mac seemed left in the past. But the Clinton inauguration reminded their numerous fans of just how good they were, and they set out on a reunion tour, and once again established themselves for the rest of the 90's as a relevant band. Stevie was right out there in front, looking and sounding as good as ever as the band released and toured for 'The Dance' in 1997 & '98, and they were going strong as those 1990's came to an end. In 2003 the band, this time minus Christine McVie who had retired, issued the album 'Say You Will', and were rewarded by winning a prestigious American Music Award by beating out such contemporary hit acts as 3 Doors Down and Matchbox 20 for the honor. Today, there are rumors that the band will record again in fall 2008, this time with Stevie's good friend Sheryl Crow joining to take over the Chris McVie role, and that they will tour in 2009. Stevie's mystical image is stoked by romantic and ethereal lyrics, raspy and passionate singing, graceful movement, possessed performances, billowing chiffon skirts, top hats, shawls, layers of lace, high-heeled leather boots, big brown eyes, and that still-long, gorgeous blond hair. The woman has been sending chills up and down my spine for over three decades now, and when I saw her on that 'Soundstage' performance last night those chills were there again. My wife Debbie is absolutely the love of my life, but I can say without hesitation that Stevie Nicks has a piece of my heart and soul, and that will never change. Her story is much longer and more detailed than I have been able to capture here, filled with success, drama, romance, intrigue and, as with any person in the public eye for decades, a strong-willed desire to adapt, overcome, and move stronger into the future. Her songs endure as radio classics, including her duo turns with Kenny Loggins on 'Whenever I Call You Friend', John Stewart on 'Gold', Tom Petty on 'Stop Draggin' My Heart Around', and Don Henley on 'Leather and Lace'. Her Mac work will never be forgotten, the songs already mentioned here as well as 'Gypsy', 'Sisters of the Moon', Sara', 'No Questions Asked', 'Seven Wonders', and 'Silver Springs' among them. And her solo work will remain legendary with the songs already listed and those such as 'Bella Donna', 'Stand Back', 'If Anyone Falls', 'Nightbird', 'The Highwayman', 'Beauty and the Beast', and many more. Stevie turned 60 years old back in May of this year, but you would never know it to look at her on stage now. To me, she was beautiful and sounded great at 26, and she is beautiful and sounds great still at 60. You can catch the Soundstage performance on PBS' Arts channel, here in the local Philly area it is being repeated today at 4pm & 10:30pm, and then again at various times over the weekend and into early August. It features Stevie doing a few of her big solo hits, Fleetwood Mac songs, and even a couple of outstanding duets with Vanessa Carlton, and it is well worth a leisurely hour of your time. If you have never had the pleasure, explore the music of Stevie Nicks and Fleetwood Mac. My bet is that you will fall in love with the 'gypsy that remains', just like I have.

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