American musician Stevie Nicks of the band Fleetwood Mac performs at the Rosemont Horizon, Rosemont, Illinois, May 14, 1980. (Photo by Paul Natkin/Getty Images)
Getty Images/Paul Natkin
Stevie the great.
WILD HEART

This candid 1981 video shows why Stevie Nicks belongs in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

By Jenni Avins

People have all sorts of ways of coping with the sort of emotional stress that requires immediate attention and can strike when they’re perhaps alone on a weekday or stuck at a computer. Some take a deep breath and count backwards from 10. Others go for a walk around the block or make a cup of tea.

I watch this four-minute video of Stevie Nicks singing, while someone brushes powder onto her cheeks, in 1981.

I share this with you because I share it with everyone for any possible reason, and today that reason is that Stevie Nicks is being inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. She already made it there with the rest of Fleetwood Mac, but tonight (March 29) she’ll be honored for her solo career, and this video captures Stevie in a moment of spontaneous solo glory, demonstrating the unbridled emotion, sheer talent, and singular style that make her a treasure.

There are none of the shawls, warring egos, or wounded lovers that make Fleetwood Mac an unstoppable force onstage. It’s just Stevie Nicks in a white tank top with some ladies—Makeup artists? Background singers? Nymphs?—in what I imagine to be a New York loft with a light breeze blowing through, singing a song to soothe your head and heart until you feel better, or you can start it again.

Nothing about this video—apparently filmed in 1981 during a photo shoot at Annie Leibovitz’s studio for Nicks’ first solo Rolling Stone cover story—isn’t magic. Nicks breaks into singing acappella, and a woman briefly harmonizes with her before the music kicks in off-camera, prompting her to point at its source the way you or I might point at a speaker at a club that just started playing a really good song. Except this is a song that Nicks is apparently in the process of creating. The music is a demo of Fleetwood Mac’s “Can’t Go Back,” which was written by the band’s guitarist (and Nicks’ ex-lover) Lindsey Buckingham and released in 1983, but the words are part of Nicks’ “Wild Heart,” which became the title track of her’ second solo album the same year. The result is greater than the sum of its parts.

Nicks sits there like a little sprite while this woman continues powdering her face, briefly plays an air guitar when the bass line starts, then sways easily before she starts to belt out lyrics in her unmistakable vibrato. You can see the makeup artist briefly consider attempting eyeliner, and then think better of it. They sing the whole song, which is mostly just a few lines of the chorus, again and again, and when they’re done the makeup artist applauds.

It’s the sort of moment that today might be streamed in an Instagram story and then lost to the morass of social media content. Or that might not occur at all, because how could such a beautiful performance, so devoid of self-consciousness, even exist in the age of cell phone cameras? But I’m deeply grateful that this bit of footage found its way to YouTube.

When I start to suspect the internet is trash I watch this video and think that maybe after all, it’s magic.