A highlight of Fleetwood Mac and Stevie Nicks shows has always been Landslide, which is a song that seems to get stronger with age.
In later live performances its clear that the song is almost a cathartic singalong, with Stevie; once the great Californian sex symbol, now fairy godmother to the classic rock generation, rising to the occasion.
Her audience comes dressed in homage – top hats, shawls, feathers, long long hair and flowing black fabric. Perhaps a hint of patchouli and wacky baccy.
At the shows more than a few tears are shed during the song, with ,as writer Jan Yuan in New York Magazine put it recently, “that chorus you might casually dismiss as cliché until you find yourself singing it in unison with 15,000 fans: “Time makes you bolder / Children get older / I’m getting older, too.” The song steals the show every night, a five-foot-one pixie singing with raspy conviction about her own heartbreak and resilience on the same stage as two men who’ve caused her pain”.
Rolling Stone’s Brian Hiatt is even more lyrical , calling her an “intuitive, mystical, prolific composer, with a hoarse, trilling miracle of a voice and an unearthly, shamanic stage manner – a maker of myths, a wearer of shawls, a genre unto herself, a woman taken by the sky.”
The song Landslide has had a long and winding path on its way down the mountain. It was originally released to the world on side two of 1975’s self titled LP and seemed destined to stay there. Yet it became a firm live favourite, and several exceptional cover versions by Smashing Pumpkins and Dixie Chicks put it back on AM radio.
The song predates Fleetwood Mac, and speaks of troubled times during her relationship with guitarist Lindsay Buckingham, who she’s known since high school. They’d worked together personally and professionally for three solid years, practicing four days a week and gigging two.
The story’s well told, but worth telling again as there are variations and subtleties. The central metaphor revolves around swirling snow falling on the mountains of Aspen, Colorado.
She’d been working with Lindsay Buckingham for nearly six years, initially as a member of the Bay area rock band Fritz. They worked well together as singers and looked great as a couple, which they became soon after deciding to break out as a duo. She quit studies and shacked up in Los Angeles with her genius boyfriend and set about recording that breakthrough ‘Buckingham Nicks’ album. Only it didn’t sell and the label, Polydor dropped them.
Soon money was tight and Stevie picked up waitressing and hostessing work to cover the rent while tortured genius Lindsay stayed home practicing and writing.
“I believed Lindsay shouldn’t have to work. I believed he should just practice guitar every day. And as I watched him become more brilliant every day I felt very gratified. I never worried about not being successful; I wanted to make it possible for him to be successful. When you feel that way about somebody it’s easy to take your own personality and quiet it down. I knew my career was going to work out fine. I wasn’t g0ing to lose myself” Stevie Nicks, Spin Magazine 1987
The two starving artists were really struggling at this time. After the recording of Buckingham Nicks The couple had driven to Aspen for him to rehearse for two weeks with Don Everly (the Everly Brothers, ever volatile had spilt and Lindsey was going to take Phil’s place).
After rehearsals Lindsay left on a short tour leaving Stevie back in Aspen with one of her girlfriends and her poodle for company. She read, wrote poetry and took in the amazing Colorado mountainscape.
“I had been a waitress and a cleaning lady, and I didn’t mind any of this. I was perfectly delighted to work and support us so that Lindsey could produce and work and fix our songs and make our music. But I had gotten to a point where it was like, “I’m not happy. I am tired. But I don’t know if we can do any better than this. If nobody likes this, then what are we going to do?” Stevie Nicks
Will the Landslide Bring it Down
Landslide came out of this situation. The couple were always on the edge, and Lindsay’s mood was black too. “We thought he was going to make lots of money. He didn’t”. The couple fought and broke up. Buckingham reportedly got the beat up Toyota car started, picked up the dog and drove off into the snow leaving her with just a few dollars to her name.
Thanks to her parents wiring a plane ticket she got back to LA, and stayed with producer Keith Olsen and wrote Landslide overnight, reflecting on the ‘snow-covered hills’ aware that a sudden noise could bring it all crashing down. Words jotted down in poems suddenly came together perfectly.
The song was also written during a period of worries about her father’s health – Jess Nicks had been suffering from heart problems forcing him to retire at just 49 – and it has since become a symbol of a loving relationship between a daughter and a father.
Stevie on Landslide
The cover versions of Landslide also show us just how much power that the song has. To some, the landslide is time, slipping away. The seasons, the passing of loved ones and happy times. The fragile nature of life. Do we demonstrate our love by holding tight or letting go or does time make the decision for us. There is a strong pull of parenthood too, of children leaving their parents and making their own way.
A beautiful song, rightly revered.
The Smashing Pumpkins – Landslide
Stacey Kent – Landslide
Bush – Landslide
Dave Grohl and Stevie Nicks – Landslide
ABOUT THE AUTHOR