When I was 16, I saw Stevie Nicks perform live at a place called Red Rocks, a gorgeous venue carved out of a natural amphitheater in the Colorado mountains. It wasn’t my first concert. It wasn’t even my first Red Rocks concert, though I think it was the first concert where I was at all close to the stage (I was probably in the 5th row or so.) It was, however, the first show that affected me deeply. In fact, I’d even say it changed my life.
Going into the show, I didn’t know from Stevie Nicks. She was just somebody I’d vaguely heard on the radio, and that some friends wanted to go see. I didn’t even know from Fleetwood Mac, though I recognized one or two of the songs as having been staples on my parents’ AM radio station when I was a kid. Coming out of the show, I needed to know more about this music, and about this singer. I read and listened to everything Stevie Nicks that I could get my hands on. She became my favorite artist, and still is.
I’m not sure I can explain why this happened. Something about that show took me in, connected with a part of me that really needed connection at that time. Certainly the stage of life I was in played a big part. Adam Cadre has written elsewhere, about his own abiding love for “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, that while it’s possible that the future may reveal a song whose individual parts he prefers, that song “won’t hold the same power. It won’t come out when [he’s] seventeen years old.” Something similar is at work here for me with Stevie. The Red Rocks concert gave me music that was pure emotion, something I really needed an outlet for at the time, though I didn’t know it. It was rock as drama, the same expressionistic charge that some of my peers were getting out of The Cure (who I also like very much — I just happened to connect with Stevie first.) Feeding the drama was the fact that Stevie herself was very much a mess at the time — she felt like she was on the edge of dying, and that these shows would be her last. Again, I didn’t know all that then, but part of what blew me away about her performance was her total, passionate commitment to her singing, a commitment so intense she occasionally seemed to be possessed and speaking in tongues. I know now that this was cocaine-fueled, but even that doesn’t take away my awe at what I saw on that stage.
Passion and commitment are what I primarily respond to in music, I find. That’s not to say that I can’t appreciate the disappointed bemusement of an Aimee Mann, or the cerebral pyrotechnics of somebody like Stephin Merritt, but when somebody writes and sings material that is completely vulnerable, fully inhabited without a trace of self-consciousness, that turns me on like nothing else. It’s the kind of thing that’s so sincere, so intense, that it dances on the edge of being silly — Springsteen is a good example of this kind of performer. Stevie Nicks is another, especially before she checked into Betty Ford (which she did shortly after this Red Rocks show.) Her performance annexed a part of me that hadn’t been touched before, and I’m loyal to that experience.
I was moved to think about all this because I just got a DVD copy of Stevie Nicks Live At Red Rocks, which records a show taped a month or so after the show I saw (a taping I missed, to my eternal regret.) In some ways, this concert video doesn’t do a great job of representing the qualities that so captured me on that first Red Rocks night. The last shot of the video flashes the credit “A Cream Cheese Production,” and this is a very apt moniker. From the incredibly fakey post-effects of lightning flashes behind the stage during the “thunder only happens when it’s raining” bit of “Dreams” to the painful dance sequence in the instrumental break of “Stand Back”, the cheese factor is quite high. Giant 80s hair abounds throughout the band (Stevie’s look has stayed basically the same throughout her career, with the exception of her hair, which always shifts with the times.) Also, and most unfortunately, the director (and probably Stevie herself) chose to do a ton of post-production video, and to insert it into the concert footage. Thus, the whole thing is strewn with super-tight closeups of Stevie’s face looking made-up and flawless, inexpertly lip-syncing to the concert audio. These shots are annoying not just because they drain the authenticity of the film as a record of the concert, being so obviously not from the same performance, but because they seem to insist on presenting a less messy and ragged Stevie, superimposed on the one who actually had such a powerful effect on me.
Despite it all, though, I love this video. I think it means something to me that it can’t mean to people who weren’t at one of those shows, or at least to people who haven’t imprinted on Stevie. I hear it, I see it, and the sixteen-year-old in me throws up his arms and dances for joy.