Sitting in a suite at the top of one of the fanciest hotels in Manhattan, Stevie Nicks plays with a diamond-encrusted silver moon necklace. The charm was given to her by the father of a young woman named Sara, who Nicks met through the Make-A-Wish foundation in 2005. Sara died in 2008 of a rare type of cancer and Nicks dedicated her 2011 album “In Your Dreams” to her. “I need to wear this because it’s the 32 diamonds of the 32 shows she came to,” Nicks said, pressing her fingertips to the moon. “If you flip it, it’s a gold moon. It’s whatever you want it to be.”
It had been a month since Nicks released her most recent album, “24 Karat Gold: Songs From The Vault,” comprised of unrecorded songs written between 1969 and 1995. “To me, these songs are the pieces of jewelry you put away in your special jewelry box and save and will someday give to your daughters,” she said, “or your fairy goddaughters or your nieces or the people you love that you will leave your jewelry to.”
At 66, Nicks is in the midst of some of the busiest years of her life. In the last 42 months, she released “In Your Dreams” and a documentary about its creation, toured endlessly with Fleetwood Mac, welcomed keyboardist and vocalist Christine McVie back to the band, appeared on both NBC’s “The Voice” and FX’s “American Horror Story: Coven,” debuted “24 Karat Gold” and opened a well-received exhibit of Polaroid self-portraits at the Morrison Hotel Gallery. With just a few days to spare in between show dates, Nicks came to New York to promote the record. She booked an appearance on "The Tonight Show," a “Today” show spot and multiple interviews.
“I don’t want this record to die,” she said, leaning back in a massive armchair draped in a bath towel to calm her dust allergy. “These old hotels,” she said before arranging herself. The sun had set hours ago, but ombre sunglasses sat low on her nose. “When I made this record I didn’t know it was going to be what I consider one of the best record I’ve ever made. I was just doing it to fulfill an obligation to my record company.”
Recorded in Nashville, “24 Karat Gold” was made in just 10 weeks, before Fleetwood Mac started rehearsals for the “On With The Show” tour. It’s a look back at Nicks’ storied past, dotted with allusions to former lovers and idols. “Mabel Normand” is her warning song against drugs. “Cathouse Blues” and “Lady” are specifically about her former lover and constant bandmate Lindsey Buckingham, whose shared history with Nicks could fill a book. Two tracks, “24 Karat Gold” and “Watch Chain,” were written about Mick Fleetwood, the six-foot-five Fleetwood Mac drummer whom Nicks had an affair with after she and Buckingham broke up. Fleetwood was married at the time, but is credited with introducing Nicks to the album’s namesake, 24-karat gold. She’d never seen that kind of metal before. “I was in love with Stevie, or the closest thing to knowing what that is,” Fleetwood said. “Who knows, I maybe bought her a few things of 24 karat. I hope I did.”
The songs were meant for the mothers and daughters who attend her concerts in matching, floor-length velvet coats. For the obsessive Stevie Nicks fan who goes to the Night of 1000 Stevies, the annual Stevie Nicks tribute party in New York City, like it’s church. For the “American Horror Story” fans who just discovered her witchy ways. For the diehard Fleetwood Mac fan who will listen to anything she writes because in a world where everything changes, Stevie Nicks is one constant.
“Any woman that is close with her would do anything for her."
“My songs are just one continuation from beginning to end, from 1965 when I wrote my first song when I was 15,” Nicks said, “just kind of the same song, goes along and we twist it and scramble it and change it a little bit. I just tell a neverending story.”
Along the way, she’s invented a mythology that explains her extreme Stevie-ness. She sings about birds, horses and fantastical magical castles where Nicks, or perhaps her alter-egos Rhiannon or the Gold Dust Woman, lives, reincarnated in real-time. Her Victorian aesthetic -- fitted velvet riding coats, long black skirts, top hats, platform boots and shawls (oh, those shawls!) -- never changes. On stage she’s a force, twirling expertly with a tambourine, often in front of two ex-boyfriends. “There’s really such a thin veil between the everyday Stevie and the Stevie on the stage,” her close friend , singer-songwriter Vanessa Carlton, said. “That is a testament to her really knowing who she is as a woman.”
Nicks’ influence on music is easily seen in bands like Haim, Destiny’s Child, Lady Antebellum and the Dixie Chicks. A long list of artists that includes Beyonce, Taylor Swift, Florence Welch and Courtney Love have spoken at length about how Nicks inspired them to be their own kinds of rock stars.
From where she stands now, arguably as rock and roll’s reigning queen, Nicks has found a greater role as mentor. From Carlton and Sheryl Crow to Rookie founder Tavi Gevinson and the Haim sisters, Nicks has created a coven, filled with disciples who aspire to the Stevie Nicks gospel: being emotionally direct in your work and the most honest version of yourself you can be.
“I’m looking for the great people, the legends,” she said. “These, I think, are legendary women. I want to do what I can do to help them stay on track.”
The one time I ever went to therapy,” Nicks said, sinking into her chair, “this lady said to me, ‘I think the saddest day of your life in a lot of ways was the day you joined Fleetwood Mac because you are such a caretaker. From that day on everybody wanted to take care of you and you didn’t really want that.’”
Nicks doesn’t drive, own a phone or a computer. Her assistant of 25 years, Karen Johnston, lives barely a mile from her in Los Angeles. She’s one of the biggest celebrities on the planet and has had to admit that, yes, she needs people to help her out. But her natural caretaking instincts kick in constantly. They fuel her desire to nurture relationships with the next generation of artists who are as dedicated to their crafts as she is to hers.
"She showed me how to put on a show," Carlton said, referring to the North American leg of Nicks' 2005 tour. That was the first time the two toured together. "As much as she herself is crafting and creating all of this stuff on her own, it’s really interesting to see how important the other element is to her, to serve and really entertain."
The Haim sisters connected with Nicks for a T Magazine story and remembered having dozens of questions to ask her during the five-hour shoot. "We asked her, 'Were you ever scared of the future? Were you ever worried about things?'" Alana Haim said. "And she said, 'Honestly from the start, I knew exactly what I wanted and I walked into a room saying, This is who I am. This is what I want.'" They spoke at length about their music and Danielle Haim came away with Nicks' biggest piece of advice: Don’t ever release a song you don’t believe in. "It was that song, 'Reconsider Me,'" Alana said. "She was like, 'No one could ever make me sing a song like that. I would never ask a man to reconsider me.' We would never do that either."
Any psychology student could muster up a connection between Nicks’ natural attraction to mentorship and not having kids. She’s quick to make the comparison herself, before waving the notion off. “But even if I had had a couple of daughters, I would still be doing this. I would still be looking around the music business or the arts business for people that I like and respect, that I think can carry on my tradition, which is just the tradition of simply being as great as you can be.”
“I feel like we maybe as a society have grown into what Stevie has always represented,” said New York Magazine reporter Jada Yuan, who wrote a profile of Nicks in 2013. “But there are so many women that are taking the path that she took, which was she found a love of music and she gave up being a mother and having a family to pursue something that she felt she had a greater purpose doing.”
For Nicks, her greater purpose lies in cultivation, in growth. “They know they can call me. I’m never far away,” she said. “I like to say a fairy godmother as opposed to a mom because I don’t become their moms. They have moms. They don’t need another mom, but maybe they need a fairy godmother.”
When I read that quote back to Carlton a few days later, she laughed. “That’s so Stevie. She very much looks at herself as a service to the people. I think that Stevie is like a sister to us. She feels more like an older sister to me than a mother.”
One word comes up in nearly every conversation about Stevie Nicks: generous.
“She’s a straight shooter,” Rolling Stone's Rob Sheffield, who’s been writing about Nicks for 25 years, said. “It’s fascinating to hear her talk because it’s coming from the same place, same wild heart, so to speak, as her music.”
It’s the same kind of selflessness that she puts into her performances. If you buy tickets to a Stevie Nicks show, you know she will twirl, bring out a gold shawl and seem infinitely taller than her five-foot-one frame. “The first time we performed together,” her longtime guitar player and bandleader Waddy Wachtel said, “I told her, ‘You’re a rock and roller. I never knew that about you and I will never forget it.’”
After Yuan's profile hit newsstands, Nicks dedicated “Landslide,” the fan-favorite Fleetwood Mac ballad, to her at a Jones Beach concert. “I cried,” Yuan said. “This is this incredibly generous act that somebody’s doing for me. That’s who she is. She knows what kind of impact that would have on me, for someone like her to do that for someone like me.”
Come Christmas, Nicks said she will fly back to New York to welcome Carlton’s new daughter with her husband, Deer Tick singer-guitarist John McCauley, whose wedding Nicks officiated. Last year, Carlton had emergency surgery for an ectopic pregnancy. “It almost killed me,” she said. “Honestly, Stevie is the first one to get me on the phone before and after that surgery. She’s right there with a hilarious story making me laugh even though you’re on all these drugs in the hospital. That’s the kind of friend she is.”
“She makes you feel good,” Carlton added. “The biggest thing I’ve taken away from my time knowing Stevie is that warmth. It doesn’t take much and it’s really powerful.”
As we spoke, Nicks brought up a letter she had written to the Haim sisters. The T Magazine shoot was meaningful for both parties, and Nicks was eager to continue a relationship with Este, Danielle and Alana. “When I get back, I want to spend time with them,” she said. “I would love to make a record with them. I would love to go on tour with them. I would love to be a part of their lives because I think they’re the best of the best to come along in a long, long time. I think they’re going to be a major force in rock and roll.”
At the end of their interview, Nicks gave each of the sisters (and their mother) a moon necklace, declaring them all Sisters of the Moon, a phrase taken from a 1979 Fleetwood Mac song by the same name. When performed, it’s known as the “speaking in tongues” song. Nicks becomes otherworldly, as if reaching out to gather her literal sisters of the moon. Nicks has given moons to Carlton, Gevinson and other people she’s fallen in love with over the years. “They deserve to have a moon. They deserve to have that inspiration and that little tip of my top hat to them to say I believe in you and I think that you’re amazing. So I’m telling you right now, you can have it all if you want it.”
“That moon necklace holds a lot of power,” Alana said. “Ever since I put it on, every single person I’ve met has been like, ‘Where did you get that necklace?’ People are drawn to the moon. I can’t express it.”
Nicks gave Carlton her moon a few weeks into their first tour together, and four years later “upgraded” it to a more solid gold one, Carlton remembered. “Jewelry holds energy so when you’ve worn something for five years it’s good to give it to your next person,” she said. “It’s her band of people. I think that’s what matters the most, connecting. Any woman that is close with her would do anything for her.”
Nicks didn’t have a true musical mentor in her early years. She was extremely close with her mother, who died suddenly after a bout with pneumonia in 2011, but her only female pseudo-role model came when she joined Fleetwood Mac. McVie, who was five years older, had experienced success and helped Nicks navigate the early stages of fame. “I did have a mentor and I did have somebody who was able to help me and be my friend, but understood that I was a really strong woman and that I didn’t need her to take care of me,” she said. “But did I have Stevie Nickses around to give me 24-karat moons or just the wisdom? No, I didn’t. I just had to figure it out … and I did figure it out.”
Last month, after Fleetwood Mac’s two-night Madison Square Garden run, I sat in my apartment with two friends rewatching old Stevie Nicks clips. Someone queued up the one where she doesn’t know she’s being filmed singing “Wild Heart” at a Rolling Stone cover shoot. I picked the one where she and Buckingham stare each other down on stage while singing “Silver Springs,” a song that can make your heart hurt just a little bit. We tried to pinpoint why we were all drawn to her, and came up with this: It was just music in the purest sense. You can love Stevie Nicks and her winding stories when you’re 8, 25 or 70 years old. Accessible and friendly, but dark and dramatic, Nicks’ music holds the answers to secret love affairs and bitter tragedies. She describes the scary parts of our world in ways we can understand: awe in “Seven Wonders,” innocence in “Edge of Seventeen,” courage in “Stand Back” and the comedown in “After The Glitter Fades.” “She has this confidence and magic,” Carlton said. “Her wings cannot be nailed down.”
“I want every woman in the world to meet her,” Alana Haim said. “After I met her, I’m telling you, I looked at the world a different way. She makes you feel like you’re a better person. Every time I see her I feel like I can lift a bus and throw it across the world.”
Stevie Nicks doesn’t care if her taste is “cool.” She likes what she likes: “Twilight” and “NCIS,” fairies and tiny dogs. She hasn’t changed her stage uniform in 40 years because she knows what looks best. She has lived on the brink of death, snorted enough cocaine to blow out her nose, gone to rehab twice, experienced great, tragic love stories, and lived to tell the tales in ways that rival the Pied Piper. “I got to sing, I got to dance/ I got to be a part of a great romance still forbidden, still outrageous,” she sings on “For What It’s Worth,” a song from “In Your Dreams.” It’s one of many Nicks songs that gets at the heart of human pain. She doesn't apologize for broadcasting her emotions. She doesn’t have to. Neither do we.
“Maybe you don’t have the greatest voice in the world, but maybe you have the greatest soul in the world and your music is going to be spectacular because you just have so much soul," Nicks said. “You might not be the best of the best, but you might be the one that’s famous.”