in Rock and Roll: An Analysis of
the Songs and Image of Stevie Nicks
University of Memphis
Carol L. Thompson
University of Arkansas at Little Rock
The purpose of this paper is to demonstrate general trends in audience expectations of women in rock and roll through a chronological analysis of the songs and image of Stevie Nicks as viewed through the theoretical lens of Kenneth Burke. Nicks’ career has seen great heights, low pitfalls, and great heights again. The trajectory of her career is in part due to her ability and her inability to meet audience expectations of what a woman rocker should be during a given time.
there is any analogue to Sunset Boulevard’s Norma Desmond,
it must be Stevie Nicks. Imagine Stevie roaming through
her mansion swaddled in frilly fabric, believing that the
world outside is still held in thrall by the Maxfield
Parrish-tinted visions of the glazed-eyed doe this middle-aged
woman no longer is. Her latest album, Street Angel,
is the aural equivalent to that clueless anachronistic script...
(Glen Kenney, Daily News, 1994 as cited by Ed Wincesten, 1995, p. 1.)
Ms. Nicks is encountering more than just
renewed favor ... Ms. Nicks is finding a new level of recognition
as one of the more influential women in modern rock.
(Bruni, 1997, p. B1).
face it, that Fleetwood Mac tour
[1998 Dance tour] was all about Stevie Nicks."
(Dunn, 1998, p. 30).
Stevie Nicks’ has had her share of both admiration and criticism, as the above quotes illustrate. In the 70s and early 80s, Nicks’ had a huge fanbase and was hailed as the " Reigning Queen of Rock" by Rolling Stone (Sept. 3, 1981). In the mid-to-late 80s and early-90s however, Nicks was forgotten or ignored, as evidenced by declines in her album sales and her lack of hit singles. In the late 90s, however, Nicks has found a resurgence of popularity.
This paper analyzes the appeal of Stevie Nicks from the 70s through the 90s by applying the theories of Kenneth Burke to her persona and her career, focusing primarily on Burke's forms of identification, and the phenomena of consubstantiation and mystification. It further demonstrates general trends in audience expectations of the image and music of rock and roll woman and how women rockers have confronted those trends, using a chronological case analysis of Stevie Nicks' lyrics and visual image. It is asserted here that the trajectory of Nicks’ career is in part due to her ability or inability to meet the audience's expectations of what a rock and roll woman should be. It is further asserted that Nicks, above many others in her profession, fosters a rich identification through her charismatic presence enabling people of various social groups to identify with who she is and the characters she portrays/describes in her music.
At the onset of Nicks’ career with Fleetwood Mac, audiences identified with Nicks as a woman rocker because of the interweaving of her identity as a woman into general rock and gender themes. Specifically, Nicks transcended gender boundaries in the male-dominated world of rock and roll through her associations with strong male musicians, her visual style, and her lyrics which alternately portrayed women as mysterious, wise, yet strong, (e. g., "Rhiannon," Fleetwood Mac, Rumors, 1975) or a powerful force to be reckoned with (e. g., "Stand Back," Wild Heart, 1983). Nicks' persona in this early period was a complex meld of vulnerability and hard core strength. Her power was subtle, however, yet readily apparent to devoted fans and to professional associates. As one commentator put it, "when it came to her work, she was as hard as nails." Later in her career, however, Nicks was unable to meet the audience's changing image of a woman rocker; audiences identified with her less and she could no longer transcend gender boundaries as she had earlier. During this period, Nicks’ style and music became more romantic and introspective, but audiences wanted a woman rocker who conveyed overt strength and power; they wanted women who could infuse masculine energy into the performance. Nicks’ owes her current resurgence of popularity to her influence on a new generation of young musicians and other, deeper reasons which are elicidated by Kenneth Burke's theories which we articulate in this paper.
Kenneth Burke and Women in Rock
Kenneth Burke’s concept of identification outlined in A Rhetoric of Motives (1950) offers understanding as to how musicians, including Stevie Nicks, affect their audiences. Central to this concept is the idea that humans are separated by nature--no two people are alike and it is impossible to truly know another person. It is possible, however, to create a sense of connectedness or common ground among people where one person may influence another. Burke's term for this deep connection is consubstantiation, a type of overlapping of the substance, or essence, of each person. Identification, then, is the process whereby "individuals attempt to bridge differences between themselves and others" in order to obtain a desired effect (Heath, 1986, p. 21). The process of identification can be acheived through: "speech, gesture, tonality, order, image, attitude, and idea" (Burke, 1931, p. 136). Thus, a identification is a complex process that can be achieved through verbal or nonverbal channels.
Obviously, some identification occurs with others simply because human beings share a basic humanness. A rock star is successful to the extent that she enhances the consubstantiality, that essential essence, between herself and her audience. Burke suggests this blending of personas in identification comes from three sources: material identification, idealistic identification and formal identification. With material identification the audience identifies with the star's material aspects: the clothing she wears, the stage makeup, the props she uses, the very theatricality of the performance. In idealistic identification, the audience identifies with the performer's feelings, attitudes, values, hopes and dreams. Formal identification, as applied to the rock context, suggests that a performer meets an audience's expectations in performance, in the organization of that ritualized form in which both audience and performer participate.
Burke's concept of hierarchy further explains this process. When hierarchical differences are diminished, the connection between performer and audience flourishes. When a person, such as a rock star, engenders a feeling in the audience of overlapping perspectives, hopes, dreams, or emotions, something akin to Burke's idea of consubstantiation occurs. As this sense of connection solidifies, the audience may also feel that the hierarchical differences between themselves and the performer have dissolved. Burke labels this mystification . The audience simultaneously perceives the performer to be the essence of what they desire to be, and hierarchical boundaries become fuzzy. The audience member then has the feeling that she "knows" the performer on a far more personal level than is actually possible. Performers such as Elvis Presley were masters at achieving this sense of mystification. Millions of fans simultaneously put him on a pedestal, yet felt they were his best friends. After his death in the seventies, millions of people were heard to say, "If only he had talked to me, I would have been his true friend."
Now let us look more specifically at the phenomenon of the rock star. All rock stars need fans--people who identify with them through their music and image. As implied in our discussion of Burke, above, the more the performer can convey this sense of consubstantiality between herself and her audience through performance, the more likely the phenomenon of mystification is to occur. Therefore, rock musicians use a variety of techniques to reach the audience. Examples are: song, lyrics, performance, music video, album covers, interviews, and so on.
Grossberg (1986) develops a theme similar to Burke's idea of formal identification, (i.e., the arrangement, ritual and other formalistic aspects of the rock concert), by suggesting that rock and roll is an "apparatus" of culture which engenders a sense of community in fans. Participants in a concert, for example, have certain expectations of what will occur; they are acquainted with the formalistic aspects of the performance; they are very much a part of that community. It is not uncommon for the entire audience to act as one body, swaying, dancing, singing, holding lighters to demonstrate their association with the performer after a particularly good performance. Yet, in this formal sense, it is a community largely created and defined by men. Women rockers have had to work doubly hard to create community between themselves and their audiences since they are defined as women first and musicians second (Garr, 1994). Even the term "women in rock" is evidence of this, since it implies a male standard. Imagine the incongruity of the phrase "men in rock." The way female rockers have managed their gender identity has defined their careers, and perhaps helped or hindered it. This might account for why Burke's idea of formal identification, or identification with the arrangement or form of an event, is more difficult for women than it is for men. The following examples from Nicks career (and some highlights of several other women musicians) will demonstrate Stevie Nicks’ attempts to initiate identification in Burke's formalistic sense, define herself as a female musician with whom millions can identify, and will show how her audiences responded to her efforts.
During the 1970’s, few women were solo artists or front-women for rock and roll bands. Some examples of popular women musicians during this time period are: Carol King, Joni Mitchell, Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart, to name a few of the few. While this list could be longer, the object of this paper is not to provide a history of women in rock and roll, as there are many books on this subject (Garr, 1994; O’Brien, 1995; Reynolds and Press, 1995). Rather, the objective here is to demonstrate the general trends in the evolution of the rock and roll woman and how one woman, Stevie Nicks, in the light of Burkian analysis, dealt with those trends and to what effect.
In the history of women in rock and roll, each female musician has had to confront the boundaries of gender. Although each female artist has dealt with gender issues in her own way, she has been constrained by the popular audiences’ expectations of women. For example, in the 60’s Janice Joplin struggled with confronting the male dominated world of rock and roll and maintaining her own sense of identity (O’Brien, 1995). Although Joplin was a forceful, dynamic artist, her "overwhelming aura was powerlessness, not artistic power" (p. 271). Although she tested gender boundaries, she isolated herself at the same time. Despite all her forcefulness, she was still vulnerable and unsure of her own identity (O’Brien, 1995). "Her masculine and feminine sides vied for attention: sometimes it was an out-and-out war" (p. 105). Thus, although Joplin tried to dissolve gender barriers to be accepted as a viable musician within the male designed rock context by adopting the form, arrangement and expectations of that formalistic identification Burke describes, she was still constrained by powerful gender expectations. In the end, the powerlessness that permeated Joplin's persona ultimately prevented the audience from identifying with her strongly enough to engender that overlayering of perspectives required for true consubstantiality. However much we admire Joplin's heart wrenching emotional style, we feel pity, not consubstantial with her.
Grace Slick, another woman from the 60s and 70s to have lasting impact on rock and roll, managed gender boundaries in a similar, yet different way. She became "one of the guys" and minimized gender differences in general, thus audiences could identify with her in Burke's formalistic sense in a way they couldn't with Joplin. Slick fulfilled her fan's expectations of the rock ritual; she was strong, rebellious and powerful, but in the process seemed to deny her femininity. Still, others like Joni Mitchell or Carol King affirmed their own femaleness in a "confessional" style of songwriting which featured introspection and emotional vulnerability as a form of self-realization. However, as Reynold and Press (1995) suggested, "Herein lies the danger of the confessional idiom, which so often slots woman into the stereotype of victim, vulnerable, and defenseless." (p. 255). This stereotype is not a part of the formalist rock ritual context. Power, rebellion, and male-driven energy, however, are. Thus, while audiences could identify with Mitchell and King in possibly the first two of Burke's sources of identification, material to some extent and idealistic to a larger extent, the formalistic identification, that of functioning in the male created ritual structure of the rock concert was a pale imitation of the real thing. Thus, although different women dealt with gender identity in different ways, they were all constrained by their audience's ability to relate, i.e., to identify with them the three contexts, material, idealistic, and formalistic, as females and musicians within the rock context.
Let us now look at how Stevie Nicks managed those same issues. Stevie Nicks achieved superstardom in the seventies as a front woman for Fleetwood Mac. She joined the band along with her boyfriend at the time, Lindsay Buckingham, in 1974 after the pair completed a folksy-rock album entitled "Buckingham Nicks" (1972). With the addition of the duo, the mid-range blues/rock band skyrocketed into superstardom. Nicks contributed several of the group's hit singles (e. g., "Rhiannon," Fleetwood Mac, 1975; "Sara," Tusk, 1979; and "Gypsy," Mirage, 1982). In fact, Nicks wrote the band's only number one single, "Dreams," which appeared the legendary Rumors (1977) album, an album which has sold 33 million copies and is the 3rd best selling album of all time.
Nicks’ image was ethereal, romantic, and beautiful with her diaphanous gowns, platform boots, and flowing hair, definitely female. But it was Nicks’ song "Rhiannon" (Fleetwood Mac, 1975) that "helped seal Stevie Nicks’s image as an ethereal nymph, with her gauzy clothes and head full of mythopoeic fancy and superstitious lore" (Reynolds and Press, 1995, p. 218). Rhiannon, a Welsh witch from Celtic mythology, is at once irresistible and unobtainable, hence the lyrics: "Rhiannon rings like a bell through the night/ And wouldn’t you love to love her. . .All your life you’ve never seen a woman/ Taken by the wind/Would you stay if she promised you heaven/Will you ever win?" (Fleetwood Mac, 1975). This song, which defined Nicks’ image indefinitely, may seem as an affirmation of female power in the sense that the female character is potent and powerful, but the image of the witch equates the character with the supernatural, thereby making it something fictional and mysterious and thus, not as threatening. Thus, Nicks subtly transcends gender boundaries by demonstrating feminine power, and transcendence of normal boundaries, through myth.
Butruille & Taylor (1983) noted, "But since masculine values have determined what is important in our culture, the poems and songs by women which have survived have been those which fit the male-determined stereotype" (p. 183). They describe three reoccurring images of women in song lyrics in the history of American song: Ideal woman/Madonna/Saint, evil or fickle Witch, or Sinner/Whore/Victim. The Witch/Sinner/Whore image is particularly popular in rock lyrics. Meade suggested (1971) that "women emerge either as insatiable, sex-crazed animals or All-American
emasculators. . .Seldom does one run across a mature, intelligent woman (p. 13). In contrast to songs such as Cream’s "Strange Brew" or the Eagle’s "Witchy Woman," "Rhiannon," transcends the evil-fickle witch stereotype by casting the heroine as irresistable, independent, and in control of her own destiny: "She rules her life like a bird in flight /And who would be her lover?" Thus, "Rhiannon" is a subtle yet affirmative expression of female power and a softer, but powerful rebellion against norms which traditionally affected how a women shared her soul in a rock context. The power implied in this song places Nicks well within the realm of that formalistic identification of the rock mystique that so many other equally talented women can not reach.
"Rhiannon" is a song that is instrumental in creating that mystique for which Stevie Nicks is famous. In this song she helps women transcend their ordinariness. We find that Nick's has achieved the idealistic identification Burke described. Through the mystical lyrics and out-of-this-world instrumentation, the song compels the listener to transcend boundaries to achieve a consubstantiation, an intimate connection with Nicks, her character, Rhiannon, and her audience. Moreover, the audience becomes subsumed into Rhiannon, taking on the witch's personal power and control which in turn spills back onto the performer herself, infusing her with an almost mythic strength, in a cyclic process. Simulatneously, the audience perceives Nicks as friend and as confidant. The process of mystification is complete.
"Dreams," (1977) Fleetwood Mac’s only number one single, is about a woman whose lover has dropped her. Similar to "Rhiannon," above, it is also a curious spin on female power. The heroine of the song is both vulnerable and strong. The heroine of the song is being left by a man who is characterized as a player who loves and leaves women. However, rather than being vengeful or helpless, Nicks approaches the break-up with wisdom, "Now here I go again/I see the crystal visions. I keep my visions to myself." The heroine will let time teach the man who has hurt her his lesson as evidenced by the lyric "Women, they will come and they will go/When the rain washes you clean you’ll know." Nicks isn't daunted, damaged or denied by losing her lover in this song. She emerges wiser and stronger. Both "Dreams" and "Rhiannon" represent Nicks’ way of surmounting gender identity. She is not as vocally forceful as Joplin, or "one of the guys" like Grace Slick, but Nick creates her own subtle rebellion, her powerful persona, with which audiences of her time could accept and identify, even within the formalistic ritual of the rock context.
Here again, the boundaries between performer and audience dissolve. Nicks sings of strength in adversity, the ubiquitous pain in love, and those crystalline visions of romantic dreams and attachments everyone has, now grounded and illustrated through Nick's musical lens. To put this in Burkean terms, we become her and she becomes us; we are consubstantial with her in our hopes and dreams, through our idealistic identification with this woman of song.
Moreover, in "Dreams," as well as in Nicks' entire performance repetoire, an element of Burke's material identification emerges. Her gauzy gowns, and flowing hair, her articulate movements, and deeply raspy voice electrify. We want to be like her, physically, materially. We want to participate in the environment she creates on stage, wear our own Nick's apparel, and dazzle others with assuming Nick's very material presence. In fact, at every concert women show up in Nicks attire, their way of solidifying the identification process.
In the Burkian construct, therefore, Nick's early in her career created three powerful mechanisms for identification, idealistic, in terms of linking into Nicks' hurts, hopes and dreams, material, wanting to look like and be like her, and formal, assuming the elemental power of the rock context. It is no wonder that she, above many others, was successful in bridging the gender gap of rock.
It should not go unnoticed, however, that Nicks gained her entry into the male-dominated world of rock and roll as one half of the Buckingham-Nicks duo and became a major success as part of Fleetwood Mac. Although she was not "one of the guys" in style, part of her success came with her association with strong male musicians. So this may account for her initial acceptance into rock's formalistic organization. After gaining entry, Nicks had freedom to create her own identity as a premier woman in rock and roll.
The 1980s brought a shift in the image of the female rocker and the way women were portrayed in popular song lyrics. Female artists proliferated who seemed to stretch the gender the boundaries of rock and roll (Oglesbee, 1987) by establishing their independence. "Rock and roll used to be all-man, but the ubiquitous MTV has put a new face on it: Cyndi Lauper’s screwball charm, Joan Jett’s bitter stance, Tine Weymouth’s debutante practicality, and Madonna’s studied lust. . .they’ve made the word "girl" acceptable again" (Burbach, p. 330). As the quote suggests, one way of stretching boundaries was through music video. These women began to succeed within the formalistic identification context described by Burke by assuming that very power, arrogance and rebellion expected of male rock musicians.
Lewis (1986) examined the use of music video as a way of challenging gender boundaries. She argued that by appropriating, altering or bypassing male discourse in video, a practice she called "female address," women artists challenge traditional boundaries that create cultural inequality. She analyzed female addresses in the videos of four women: Cindy Lauper, Madonna, Pat Benetar, and Tina Turner. Through their videos, these women addressed the conflict girls experience between the limiting aspects of gender equality and a culture which highlights gender difference.
The streets, for example, are culturally regarded as male territory. Women, therefore, are denied the leisure activities, bonding experiences, and subcultural formation privileges that males enjoy. In the streets, a loitering women is likely to be labeled a prostitute. The women mentioned above have appropriated the symbol of the streets (and its privileges) in their videos. Cindy Lauper for example, did this in her video, "Girls Just Want to Have Fun." Lauper led her girlfriends in a take over of the streets of New York in a carnavalesque display of frenzied dancing in which they push through a group of construction workers who operate as a symbol of female harassment. Their chant of the lyric "Girls just want to have fun" became a cry for the access of male privilege of fun and freedom.
Gender boundaries were also challenged through song lyrics. Endres (1984) observes that by 1980, women artists actively and openly pursued men. Endres (1984) cites three examples. First, Debbie Harry, the female lead singer for the band Blondie, sings the theme song from the movie American Giggilo (as cited by Endres):
me with kisses, baby,
Cover me with Love.
Roll me in designer sheets,
I’ll never get enough.
Another woman actively pursuing males, observes Endres (1884), is Barbara Streisand in "Woman in Love," who sings she will "do anything to get you into my world/And hold you within." Finally, Olivia Newton-John’s song "Magic" provides another example, as the heroine of the song beckons the object of her desire to trust in her, saying that they will reach their dreams through her guidance.
In addition to female singers becoming more active, personality characteristics of men and women in lyrics have changed since Stevie Nicks began in the 70s. Endres (1984) examined 36 number one songs from (one from each month in the years 1960, 1970, and 1980) and found that in 1960, women were portrayed as passive figures in the plot of the songs, with the exception of one song recorded by a woman. In 1970, women were still being portrayed as passive figures, with the exception of one song, again recorded by a woman, but, the role of men in lyrics underwent a change. Although men were portrayed as active, dominant and self-confident, they became more sensitive and kind. Simon & Garfunkle’s "Bridge Over Troubled Water" and "I’ll be There" are examples of the male--the hero of the song--offering strength and understanding. In both 1960 and 1970 no women were portrayed as actively seeking a man. In 1980, that changed, as previously described. Endres (1980) suggested that buying particular records mirrors changes in American society. She posited that the changes she described are were at least partly the result of women’s involvement in American economic, political and social life.
In 1981, Stevie Nicks launched her solo career apart from Fleetwood Mac with the release of Bella Donna. This album was a major success, selling more than three million copies and producing the three Top-20 singles: "Edge of Seventeen," "Leather and Lace" and "Stop Dragging My Heart Around." It is interesting to note that two of these songs are duets with two highly successful male rock musicians: Don Henley of the Eagles and Tom Petty. This successor to this album Wild Heart (1983) was also highly successful. "Stand Back" and "If Anyone Falls" were both Top-20 hits.
Acknowledging the trend for women to become active and assertive in rock and roll that began in earnest in the early 80’s, it is interesting to note that the height of Stevie Nicks’ popularity as a solo artist was in the early to mid 80’s. At this time she recorded two songs which could be classified as active and self-confident. These are "Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around" with Tom Petty (Bella Donna, 1981) and "Stand Back" (Wild Heart, 1983). In "Stop Draggin My Heart Around," (which Petty actually wrote) the heroine is sick of her boyfriend playing games with her and tells him that it has got to stop. As the hero of the song states (sung by Tom Petty), "I know you really want to be your own girl." "Stand Back" is the song of a woman scorned. She is angry at the person who hurt her and warns him to get out of her way. This is in sharp contrast to the previously discussed heroine of "Dreams" (Fleetwood Mac, Rumors, 1978) who, although she conveys a sense of power about who she is, is not scornful but rather is resigned in the knowledge that the man who hurt her will learn his lesson. During this same time period, Fleetwood Mac released Tango in the Night (1985). In Nicks’ hit from this album "Seven Wonders," the heroine also is more active and self-confident. Although the song is about lost love, the heroine does not appear to be defeated by the loss. Nicks sings:
You touched my hand
All the way
All the way down to Emmiline
But if our paths never cross
Well, you know, I’m sorry but
If I live to see the Seven Wonders
I’ll make a path to the rainbow’s end
I’ll never live to match the
The rainbow’s end
However, as strong as Nicks came on in the beginning of her solo career in the early 80s, she made a shift with the release of 1985’s Rock a Little. A Rolling Stone review of this album (Coleman, 1986) began with, "Nicks slips out of touch." Coleman wrote: "The sensitive rock artiste, making self-indulgent solo statements in a vacuum, supposedly died out in the late Seventies. . .The real shame is that Nicks could make a good record again, if she’ll only take her advice and rock a little" (p. 45). The reviewer is thus criticizing Nicks for not coming on strong enough. In fact, although not a hit, the reviewer criticized one of Nicks’ songs in particular, "I Sing for the Things," as "post feminist" (i. e., "reclaiming some of the stereotypical aspects of femininity," (Reynolds & Press, 1995, p. 318). In this song, Nicks says, "I’ll take off my cape for you. . .I’ll sit home and wait for you. . . Anything you want me to do, my love." The two top 10 hits from this album were "I Can’t Wait" and "Talk to Me." "I Can’t Wait" does come on strong and has a driving beat. The heroine of the song, however, is obsessed with her lover and can’t wait to see him again. In "Talk to Me," the heroine plays the role of the supportive female who says, "You can talk to me/You can set your secrets free." Thus, this album shifted away from the undercurrents of strength, power and aggression of her initial albums to a more passive, vulnerable stance.
Nicks’ next album The Other Side of the Mirror (1989) was not successful compared to her earlier albums. Although it produced the hit single "Rooms on Fire" it floundered after a brief appearance on the charts. The entire album has a romantic feel to it in terms of music, lyrics, and style. The video for "Rooms on Fire" showed Nicks in a mansion recalling romantic scenes such as dancing in a long, red, satin dress outside by the pool at night with her lover who has since died. At the end of the video, the lover comes for Nicks and they walk into the clouds together. Although Nicks has always used romantic images in videos such as the boudoir scene and dreamlike landscape of "Gypsy" (Fleetwood Mac, Mirage, 1982) or "Seven Wonders", (Fleetwood Mac, Tango in the Night, 1985) Nicks no longer had an audience that identified with women rockers as obstensibly passive, vulnerable figures anymore, and Nicks’ earlier undercurrent of power and strength that seemed to infiltrate her vulnerability was no longer recognizable by audiences of the late 80s. She work didn’t have the "bite" of earlier works like "Stand Back" to counterbalance her romantic image.
Recognizing that audiences now expected a stronger, sassier female rocker, Nicks’ management company made a calculated attempt to change Nicks’ image to an overtly harder, stronger persona. Gone was the subtle but powerful rebellion against traditional norms of the seventies. This transformation was attempted through the single, "Sometimes It's a Bitch" off Nicks’ greatest hits album TimeSpace (1992). Although this song was intended to appeal to a newer audience, the song failed to do well on the charts. Stevie Nicks, however, was aware of problems. Ed Wincesten (1995), quoted Stevie Nicks telling Vox magazine, a British publication: I knew that just me singing that kind of song wasn’t going to go over with a lot of my fans, which it hasn’t. But I was told by the industry, by management, by the record companies, and by everybody else, that if I did not do this, and reach this new audience that my career was simply, finally, completely over" (97).
The public’s desire to have Nicks conform to the gender trends that flourished in the 80s and 90s was unappeased with the 1994 release of Street Angel. Audience's were bored with Stevie's subtle power demonstrated through songs like Rhiannon and Dreams; they didn't want to look for hidden strength; they wanted overt brashness and a masculine driving energy. In fact, now Nicks was seen as almost a helpness innocent. As Rolling Stone album reviewer Kara Manning observed (1994): "Although Stevie Nicks’s child woman personality has served her 20 years, it's long overdue for the doe-eyed innocent to get tough. . .Refusing to spit and kick like Bonnie Raitt or Kim Gordon, she trembles instead, A little girl made helpless by uncaring men and her own isolation: (p. 78). The album cover for Street Angel (1994) depicted Nicks wrapped in a pink blanket admist a pink background. She is looking down with her eyes averted, her blonde bangs in her eyes, clutching the blanket around her. She looks extremely vunerable and soft. The video from this albums was a live performance. It received minimal rotation on MTV or even VH1, who normally courts artists of long standing.
The two singles from this album were "Maybe Love Will Change Your Mind" and "Blue Denim." Neither did well on the charts and received only token airplay. "Blue Denim" is a nostalgic look at a past relationship and "Maybe Love Will Change Your Mind" is a hopeful plea for love. The songs are on the album are confessional in nature and "Love, loneliness, and survival are recurring themes" (Carmody, People, 1994). As this evidence suggests, Nicks was out of touch with her audience during this time period. Audiences at this time demanded a more forceful type of woman rocker. The powerful ways she engendered identification in Burkean terms earlier in her career diminished. The quality of mystification mentioned earlier was not occurring for audiences of the late eighties and early ninties because she did not fit their needs for an overtly powerful, spitting-fire performer. The audience wanted females to be something else, and ethereal Nicks, with that formerly compelling undercurrent of power just did not fit that bill.
Another reason why Street Angel (1994) and the few albums proceeding it didn’t do well commercially could be because Nicks gained a lot of weight during this period. Thus, the females in her audience could no longer identify with her material presence. As she was no longer someone many of them could aspire to be, she lost that important source of identification. As we saw earlier, part of Stevie's ability to enhance an audience's identification with her was through that Burkean source of identification focused on the material, or physical aspects of the performance. When Nicks no longer looked good on stage, when her flowing gowns looked cumbersome, her movements less graceful and precise, only die hard fans wanted to continue the association. Most of her audience could no longer identify with this aspect of her persona since during that time period, people were rushing to the gym to attain their perfect , painfully thin, "hard bodies." Obviously, gaining weight should not affect Nicks popularity as an artist, but the work of female artists is too often judged in terms of their femininity, i. e., their female bodies. As Kearney (1985) suggested, "It is no surprise then that the article [Rolling Stone’s (1993)] special issue on female rockers] rarely mentions the music of female rock bands, supposedly the topic of this "special issue." Like other articles on "women in rock," the spotlight is focused instead on the musician’s expressions of sexuality and, of course, on their female bodies (p. 4). Meade (1971) also made a case for the sexual exploitation of females in rock music lyrics.
Since the release of Street Angel (1994) however, Nicks has experienced a resurgence of popularity. No doubt, the fact that Fleetwood Mac reunited to produce The Dance (1997) has had something to do with this. This album featured a slimmed-down Nicks singing the songs people have grown to love, "Rhiannon," "Dreams," "Gypsy" and a newer version of B-side single from Rumors (1977), the heart-wrenchingly beautiful love song "Silver Springs," with her former compatriots. This single was a success and Nicks was nominated for performance of the year at the 1997 Grammy awards. Additionally, Fleetwood Mac was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Once again, the public seemed to revel in Nicks’ archetypal rock and roll gypsy image. Coming off the success of The Dance (1997), Nicks released a box set called Enchanted (1998). The tour sales lagged, perhaps because fans had shelled out money to see her with Fleetwood Mac, but album sales were respectable and earlier albums such as Street Angel (1994) were getting more notice.
Several reasons could explain Nicks’ renewed popularity. One, the public forgot how good Nicks’ songs were until Fleetwood Mac reconvened and revived them. Two, a new generation of female artists have publicly acknowledged Nicks as a source of inspiration for them. Nicks and Sheryl Crow collaborated on Nicks’ songs from the 1998 soundtrack Practical Magic. Additionally, Nicks made a guest appearance on Crow’s "Storytellers" episode from VH1. Other admirers of Nicks amidst this new generation of rock and rollers are Courtney Love of Hole, who stated "She had a huge effect on everybody whether they admit it or not" (Bruni, 1997, p. B1), Sara MacLachlan, Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins, and Tori Amos and Jewel have spoken of Nicks’ influence. These younger artists form a bridge between Nicks and younger audiences as they establish her once again as a credible performer, an artist worthy of their identification. Three, the definition of what it means to be a rock musican may have expanded. While it still reeks of power, rebellion, and energy, it may be more acceptable in the 90s to translate that into female power, female rebellion, and female energy. It may be that Nicks' particular interpretation of these elements have finally received recognition in the late nineties. Yet, unfortunately, another reason for Nicks popularity is that she has slimmed down. While this should not affect her popularity of an artist, it has already been demonstrated that women artists can not be separated from their bodies.
Additionally, the late 90s may have more fluid gender boundaries than earlier decades. It is thus acceptable to write in the confessional style of Jewel or a more confrontational style like Alanis Morrissette. In fact, even pop icon Madonna has seemed to become more introspective and less aggressive in the late 90s, a move which did not damage her career. Thus, the late 90s audience may have a more complex notion of the gender identity of the female rocker and may find it easier to identify with different types of female expression and as we've discussed above Nicks appeals to audiences using all three of Burke's overlapping sources of identification. Audiences identify with the material aspects of her performance persona, the silken gowns, the cascades of yellow hair, and snow white skin under moody lighting so on. They also identify with Nicks on Burke's idealistic level in which they relate to her implicit power and strength, intertwined with that compelling vulnerability as she sings of lost love and hopes and dreams. Finally, she constructs identification through the formalistic elements of the rock context. She demonstrates power in her vulnerability, a denial of the traditional norm of female passivity and shows that women can be rebellious and demonstrate power in a variety of ways which she translates into the expectations of her performance. In short, she meets the audience's need to identify with a performer and that identification overlaps with what the audience believes to be its own persona, achieving that consubstantiation Burke wrote about. Nicks, however, goes further. She reaches the level of mystification, because she enables the audience to adore her, but at the same time, she allows them to transcend hierarchical boundaries that separate them. In short, the audience feels as if they are her friend. In any event, Nick's subtle manipulation of these elements raises her to the status of icon--a place above time and space.
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