Music historian Simon Morrison has a new book out on singer, songwriter, and producer Stevie Nicks entitled Mirror in the Sky: The Life & Music of Stevie Nicks (University of California Press). The biography analyzes the Fleetwood Mac member’s enchanting vocals and poetic songcraft, and identifies her American folk and country influences. Drawing on oral histories and archival materials, Morrison offers a captivating portrait of one of the greatest pop songwriters of the 20th century. The book breaks down in detail some of Nicks’s most beloved compositions, including “Dreams,” “Rhiannon” and “Landslide” for Fleetwood Mac, as well as solo hits from her 1981 smash Bella Donna.
Morrison teaches music history at Princeton University. He specializes in Russian music of the 20th century and is a leading authority on composer Sergei Prokofiev. He is the author of Bolshoi Confidential: Secrets of the Russian Ballet from the Rule of the Tsars to Today and Lina and Serge: The Love and Wars of Lina Prokofiev.
Following are excerpts from a promotional interview in which Morrison discusses his inspiration to write the book, and what draws him to Stevie Nicks’s art and story.
What inspired you to write about Stevie Nicks?
Simon Morrison: The book arose about six years ago in conversation with people who love Stevie Nicks’s song “Dreams” just because they do, without needing or wanting to explain the love. I am one of those people, though writing about “Dreams” and other songs meant thinking about that love as opposed to leaving it be.
I’ve been listening to her music throughout my life, and I played the Fleetwood Mac album Tusk endlessly when it was released. Besides “Dreams,” I think “Sara” and “Storms” are two of the finest songs ever written, and I so adore “Angel” that I made her 1979 performance of that song in St. Louis the opening scene of the book. She sang it that night like a ‘20s showgirl while also treating the audience to something unexpected: buck-and-wing dancing, blending steps from the Mashed Potato and the Charleston, channeling the follies. It’s a great performance, one of the greatest in rock ‘n roll history, and researching how the song was written, recorded, and performed opened up an entire cosmos for me.
How does Mirror in the Sky differ from previous books on Nicks?
Reading the books and articles about her career I always found myself disappointed. There’s so much gossip and tattle out there but nothing that explores her creativity and immense power as a performer. Misogyny is a factor, I regret to say. Her femininity dominates her literary imaginings, her musical textures, and her deviations from girl-in-the-band compliance. Femininity has a fraught relationship with rock ‘n roll as chronicled by men. Much writing about the popular music 8industry exalts male artists, including those at the console adjusting inputs and outputs. I guess I wrote my book in response to the others, focusing on her process, her sources of inspiration, and the bond she has created with her audiences as truth-teller.
What’s the biggest misconception about Nicks as a songwriter and person?
The biggest misconception is that, as a songwriter, she wouldn’t have amounted to anything without her former partner Lindsey Buckingham. It’s just not true. He’s a brilliant guitarist, and a clever producer, but she has the true melodic gift and an eclectic manner of looking at the world that defines great artists. I was stunned listening to her various demos and unleased songs – Night Gallery,” for example, and “Joan of Arc” – which exceed a lot of the recorded stuff. Several wonderful songs were suppressed, or radically altered, by producers and collaborators, and so I made a point of discussing the unknown Stevie Nicks alongside the known.
The earlier demo of “Planets of Universe,” which she conceived for Rumours, is deeply affecting. I write a lot about it.
What were Nicks’s strongest early influences and where do you think she draws creative energy from now?
The music draws eclectically from the books she reads and movies she watches, but also from the songs of her grandfather, an itinerant country singer, and the music most liked by her grandmother Alice, whose mysticism informed her own. Musically there’s occasional Appalachian elements mixed with strains of the Kingston Trio. She’s a product of a late sixties, Laurel Canyon moment in music and its seventies commodification on the Southwest’s airwaves. She indulged synthpop for a while, as producer Jimmy Iovine advised her to do, but ultimately rejected it. Her highs were the music industry’s highs, her lows likewise, and when she reached the place in between the industry was no longer the same. Now everything she says about the past comments mostly on her present.
You write that “Landslide” is about “the beautiful tragedy of becoming history.” How is Nicks handling her legacy as she continues to tour into her ‘70s?
She’s not nostalgic. In fact, I think she hates looking back. “Landslide” looks back, but it’s a very early song. She’s influenced so much of the current and the recent scene – Taylor Swift, for example – that even if Stevie weren’t still creating and performing, we’d still be listening to her. She doesn’t worry about time; she’s in her 70s and on tour and sounds fabulous. She worries about evil and getting it out of her life, and out of her fans’ lives, in favor of the good and the beautiful. She loved that “Dreams” became popular again through a TikTok meme in 2020. It was an evil, disease-filled year, made just a bit better by her crystal visions.
What surprised you the most in working on the book? What’s your favorite anecdote from the book?
There are so many. I loved all of the interviews I conducted and the places I visited. I guess I’m most proud of all of the information about Stevie’s childhood and adolescence and years with the band “Fritz” that she herself had forgotten – including the place where she sang with her grandfather as a girl, Mickie’s Tavern in Altadena, California. I also loved writing about how her hit songs “Stand Back” and “I Can’t Wait” were made. The agonizing that went into them!
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