Sunday, July 6, 2014

The White Winged Dove Needed A Thesaurus

Sings a song sounds like she's singing, "Ooh, baby, ooh, said ooh"? Not much of a song is it? I mean, if I were a white winged dove, I'd sure have a better song to sing than that.

Seriously, that chorus is like something you would make up in your living room at 3:00 in the morning and then revise at some point later on when you realized you were actually going to put it on a record. First of all, there are too many variations of the word "sing" in one sentence, and secondly, after such a portentous build-up, it all culminates in a meaningless stream of infantile gobbledygook. It is ridiculous. It is a chorus so ridiculous, in fact, that it only could have worked ... in the '80s.

The human race may not know a bigger fan of Fleetwood Mac than yours truly, but does that mean I'm a fan of "Stevie Nicks"? Consequently, is there anybody who's a fan of Stevie Nicks but not Fleetwood Mac? "Yeah, those other people were annoying, they just got in the way of all the potions and capes and things." I'm pretty sure there are even some casual music fans, God help them, who think that Fleetwood Mac is Stevie Nicks. Well, Lindsey Buckingham, Christine McVie, Bob Welch, Danny Kirwan, Jeremy Spencer, and Peter Green would like a word with you. Saying Stevie Nicks is Fleetwood Mac is like saying that Daniel Craig is James Bond. You may think you've just demonstrated that you know what you're talking about, but all you've done is instantly given yourself away.

Although Fleetwood Mac didn't break up in the '80s - they released two hit albums in fact - they didn't really become part of the '80s. Stevie Nicks, on the other hand, became part of the '80s. The enchantress embraced it: the sleaze, the raunch, the neon, the hairspray, the drugs, etc. Let's just admit it, her '80s sound owed more to Pat Benatar and Bonnie Tyler than it ever did to Joni Mitchell and Carole King. In short, Fleetwood Mac were more like a '70s band that hung around in the '80s. But solo Stevie Nicks? She was a Woman Who Rocked ... In The '80s.

Of course the most rocking, and most '80s, Stevie Nicks song is that one about the dove and the wings and the white and the edging and the singing and the coming away and the whoo-wooing. And no, it is not called "Just Like the White Winged Dove," nor is it called "Just Like the Wild One Does" or "Just Like The One-Winged Dove" or whatever else your brain seems to hear. And what the hell is she talking about, anyway? For 34 years, the casual listener has probably assumed this song was just a bunch of mystical Wiccan nonsense. But according to Stevie Nicks, it was actually a eulogy of sorts to two people who died within a week of each other: her uncle and John Lennon (!).

First, there's that bewildering title. Apparently is was accidentally inspired by a conversation Nicks was having with Tom Petty's wife Jane:
She was telling me about Tom, about when she met him, and she has an incredible Southern accent...and she said that she met him at the age of seventeen, but I thought she said 'edge,' and she said 'no ... age' and I said, 'Jane, forget it, it's got to be 'edge.' The 'Edge of Seventeen' is perfect.
To quote The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, "When the legend becomes fact, print the legend." Then a pair of tumultuous events gave her new inspiration:
Although Nicks had originally planned to use the title for a song about Tom and Jane Petty, the deaths of both her uncle Jonathan and John Lennon during the same week of December 1980 inspired a new song for which Nicks used the title. Nicks's producer and friend, Jimmy Iovine, was a close friend of Lennon, and Nicks felt helpless to comfort him. Soon after, she flew home to Phoenix, Arizona, to be with her uncle Jonathan, who was dying of cancer. She remained with her uncle and his family until his death.
OK. Raise your hand if you caught any of that from these lyrics. I wonder if it's just a story Nicks made up in retrospect. Well, this part does seem to be about visiting her uncle in the hospital:
Well then suddenly
There was no one left standing
In the hall
In a flood of tears
That no one really ever heard fall at all
When I went searchin' for an answer
Up the stairs and down the hall
Not to find an answer
Just to hear the call
Of a nightbird singin'
(Come away)
(Come away)
But where's the part about John Lennon? "But the moment that I first laid eyes on him/All alone on the edge of seventeen"? Well, Nicks would have only been about fifteen when Beatlemania hit, but hey, close enough. "With the words of a poet/And a voice from a choir/And a melody/ Nothing else mattered"? John Lennon didn't have a voice like a choir. He had a voice like a juvenile delinquent. A soulful and sensitive juvenile delinquent, sure, but a juvenile delinquent nonetheless. Whatever. I'll just take her word for it.

Then there's that guitar riff, which her band member Waddy Wachtel claims to have lifted from The Police's Regatta de Blanc album track "Bring On The Night." Apparently, Stevie did not know this until shortly after the song's release, and when she finally heard the Police song, she freaked out, went up to Wachtel and said something along the lines of, "Don't ever do that again!" What, don't ever craft the insistent guitar riff for your signature song again? Taken care of.

Also, I know that Lindsey Buckingham isn't singing backing vocals, but the guy she found to sing backing vocals sounds just like Lindsey Buckingham. Is this just a subconscious thing that happens with all these solo performers? Don Henley finds a guy who sounds just like Glenn Frey, Stevie Nicks finds a guy who sounds just like Lindsey Buckingham ... I'll say one thing: for better or worse, at least no one could have mistaken Yoko or Linda for either Paul or John.

Even the drummer in this live clip looks just like Mick Fleetwood, but it's not Mick Fleetwood. Also, check out the intense moment at 3:34 where Stevie starts speaking in tongues, and also the last minute or so where she wanders across the stage clutching bouquets of flowers, like an exhausted beauty pageant contestant, as well as a Snoopy stuffed animal (whom she promptly thanks). He's a beagle, not a dove, but close enough.


Herr Zrbo said...

Thanks for calling out these lyrics. I love the sound of this song but the lyrics bother me. The urgency in her voice makes it seem like she's singing something really profound... and then it's just kind of meaningless.

Even the backing vocals fail. When they repeat her lines I think "they must be repeating the line for emphasis, this must be something Stevie really wants to get through" and all they're repeating are "I'm a few years older than you". Hmm, okay, and???

Little Earl said...

Geez, you don't understand the significance of "I'm a few years older than you"??? It's obvious. Stevie wants you to know that she is neither the same age as you, nor several years older than you, but rather, she is simply "a few" years older than you.

Such symbolism. Such expression. Such mystery.