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Rooms On Fire: The Story Behind Stevie Nicks’ Blazing Love Song
In Depth

Rooms On Fire: The Story Behind Stevie Nicks’ Blazing Love Song

Documenting a short-lived but white-hot love affair, Rooms On Fire burns with all the intensity of the best Stevie Nicks songs.

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“Rooms On Fire is about me,” Stevie Nicks told the BBC in 1989, speaking of her new single, the first from her album The Other Side Of The Mirror. “A girl who is a rock’n’roll star who has pretty much accepted the fact that she will never ever be able to be married, or have those children that she wanted, or the husband that she wanted, or that deep, deep love that she wanted – and she’s accepted it.”

Listen to the best of Stevie Nicks here.

The inspiration: “He was different from anyone else I had ever known”

By the late 80s, the Fleetwood Mac icon had experienced more than her share of romantic turmoil. Most recently, she had become involved with Rupert Hine – the producer working on The Other Side Of The Mirror and Rooms On Fire. In the liner notes to Timespace: The Best Of Stevie Nicks, Nicks says Rooms On Fire was written for and inspired by him. “There was a connection between us that everyone around us instantly picked up on, and everyone was very careful to respect our space,” she wrote.

“The night I met Rupert Hine was a dangerous one,” she also wrote. “He was different from anyone else I had ever known… he was older, and he was smarter, and we both knew it.”

The writing: “We had made a spiritual agreement to do a magic album”

When Nicks hired Hine to produce her, “it seemed that we had made a spiritual agreement to do a magic album”, she has recalled. Nicks, her musicians and Hine went to the Netherlands for four and a half months, creating the album while living in a Dutch castle nestled in the mountains. “It always seemed to me that whenever Rupert walked into one of those old, dark castle rooms, that the rooms were on fire,” she later reflected.

Creatively, Nicks was at a zenith in the late 80s. Fleetwood Mac’s 1987 album, Tango In The Night, had proved a mega-seller, and though Nicks was in a fragile, post-rehab state, her finest track on the album, Welcome To The Room… Sara, was one of the best Stevie Nicks songs to date: a jittery, autobiographical account of checking in to the Betty Ford Center, where she received treatment for cocaine addiction.

However, as an aid to her recovery, Nicks was prescribed the tranquilizer Klonopin. She became dependent on the sedative for eight years, the medication eventually leaving her memory seriously impaired and her creativity blunted. This would reach its frustrating peak as she made her 1994 album, Street Angel; but the Klonopin use was already starting to affect her wellbeing. While Rooms On Fire sounds big, beautiful and alive with possibility, Nicks herself was feeling vulnerable.

The metaphor: “I always seem to be running”

“Alice is Stevie writing about Alice in parallel back to Stevie,” Nicks said in 1989, in the promotional video Reflections From The Other Side Of The Mirror, which was issued ahead of the album’s 11 May release. “I’m really writing about Alice’s adventures in comparison to my adventures.” The album’s title made the link clear, and what particularly drew Nicks to Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland was the idea of constant movement between two spaces. She related this to the two separate domains of her solo career and her part in Fleetwood Mac; she also saw the metaphor in the travel between her public persona and her private life – “which there isn’t very much of”, she said about the latter, “but I always seem to be running, to one place or another”.

But Nicks was crystal clear, at this point, that she only wrote about things that had happened to her, and that she did not write fiction; the imagery she used in Rooms On Fire was to enhance the autobiography and not to create a new story. “My purpose is to document this incredible adventure,” she said, “before the years have become too clouded.”

The break-up: “The fire had been stolen from us”

The Nicks-Hine love affair was, in the end, relatively brief. Following their time in the castle, the producer went on ahead to London to mix the recordings; Nicks followed a month later, but it was the beginning of the end. “Something happened to him that simply made it impossible for us ever to be together again. I left him there… the rooms were still burning, but the fire had been stolen from us,” she said.

Nicks went back to Los Angeles “a very changed woman”, she said. However, the hot memory of that love affair was branded in her memory.

The release: “My mission maybe wasn’t to be a mom and a wife”

Released as a single on 24 April 1989, Rooms On Fire was accompanied by a promo video that mixed past aristocratic and current Hollywood glamour. A big hit in 1989, it cemented Nicks’ status as a solo artist, reaching the Top 20 in both the US and the UK, and it has remained a beloved radio staple ever since. The song’s success must have helped Nicks’ confidence in her own music, and was likely a contributing factor to her decision to leave Fleetwood Mac in 1990. The 1991 release of the Timespace collection underlined the quality of a solo career that had begun a decade earlier, with the release of Nicks’ debut album, Bella Donna.

In her personal life, and just as she explored in Rooms On Fire, Nicks never had children, nor wed again following a three-month marriage to Kim Anderson, in 1983. Yet she has spoken of the joy she finds in her extended family, her philanthropy and her work as a minister with the Universal Life Church. In 2001, Nicks reflected on this, while subtly revisiting the inspiration for Rooms On Fire. “My mission maybe wasn’t to be a mom and a wife,” she said. “Maybe my particular mission was to write songs to make moms and wives feel better.”

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