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‘The Wild Heart’: How Stevie Nicks Recovered From Tragedy
In Depth

‘The Wild Heart’: How Stevie Nicks Recovered From Tragedy

Reeling from the death of her closest friend, Stevie Nicks created ‘The Wild Heart’ album in an outpouring of grief and love.

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“This music is dedicated to Robin,” Stevie Nicks wrote on the back cover to her emotional second solo album, 1983’s The Wild Heart. “For her brave, wild heart and the gypsies that remain.” The story of The Wild Heart is not one of songwriting, production and release; it’s one of friendship, grief and the green shoots of emotional recovery.

Listen to ‘The Wild Heart’ here.

The backstory: “She was the one person that knew me for the person I really was”

Robin Snyder Anderson was the dearest friend of Stevie Nicks. “She had been in my life since I was 14,” Nicks remembered in 1998. “She was the one person that knew me for the person I really was and not for the famous Stevie, and it was good to have someone who knew the real you besides just your mom and dad.”

In 1981, Nicks released her debut solo album, Bella Donna, to great acclaim. Fleetwood Mac, too, were riding high, with their first live album – simply titled Live – released at the end of 1980, mainly documenting the immense, lengthy Tusk album tour of 1979 to 1980. “When Bella Donna came out, Fleetwood Mac was at the top of their game. It was the most incredible time,” Nicks said in 1997. “But then my best friend, Robin, was diagnosed with leukaemia and that overshadowed everything. I really didn’t get to enjoy Bella Donna. I found out that Robin was dying on the same day it went No.1.”

Snyder Anderson was also pregnant at the time, and the rapid progress of her cancer meant that her baby boy, Matthew, was delivered prematurely. Two days later, Snyder Anderson died. “She was breathtaking, and that’s why it’s so wild that she could possibly have died,” Nicks said in 1983. “It just doesn’t make any sense at all.”

The heartbreak: “I just went insane. And so did her husband”

Nicks was united in mourning with Kim Anderson, Robin’s husband, who was in a similar state of shock and disbelief – and he had a newborn son to look after as well. “I just went insane. And so did her husband,” Nicks said in 1990. “And we were the only two that could really understand the depth of the grief that we were going through. And I was determined to take care of that baby, so I said to Kim, ‘I don’t know, I guess we should just get married.’”

Stevie Nicks and Kim Anderson married three months after Robin’s death, and divorced three months later. “It was a terrible, terrible mistake,” Nicks said in 1990. “We didn’t get married because we were in love, we got married because we were grieving and it was the only way that we could feel like we were doing anything.”

The songs: “Real black-hearted”

Stevie Nicks has always been candid about how she mines her inner life for inspiration. She claims not to create fiction, but instead to reflect her lived experiences through lyrics and atmosphere. Nicks had already written the song Gypsy (on Fleetwood Mac’s Mirage album) for Snyder Anderson. Given how Snyder Anderson’s death and Nicks’ unhappy, rushed marriage were overwhelming her, these emotions surged in The Wild Heart’s songs.

The album’s title track was already written – in fact it was begun at the time of Bella Donna – but it was completely reworked after Snyder Anderson’s death. Nicks now included a new opening line, “Something in my heart died last night,” and has called the song “real black-hearted. It has an air about it that’s so intense that it just wrenches your heart.”

Beauty And The Beast, the album’s closer, was inspired by Jean Cocteau’s 1946 film of the same name. “Beauty And The Beast surrounds me everywhere,” Nicks has said. “Everybody I know is either being the Beauty or The Beast. The experience of recording this song was so special.” The released version was a live take, recorded in a converted church and wrapped in three hours. Nicks sang while wearing a long black dress, providing champagne for all of the musicians.

In contrast to the Gothic splendour of Wild Heart and Beauty And The Beast, Stand Back had more prosaic origins. Not long into her marriage, Nicks heard Prince’s Little Red Corvette on the radio. She was immediately inspired to write Stand Back, one of the biggest songs on The Wild Heart, and picked it as the album’s first single. Prince added synths to the recording, flattered that his song had been an inspiration to Nicks.

Prince’s (uncredited) appearance was one guest spot among many on The Wild Heart, an album famed for its many and diverse collaborators. Tom Petty co-wrote I Will Run To You, and both he and The Heartbreakers performed with Nicks on the song; Nicks’ bandmate Mick Fleetwood guested on Sable On Blond; and Toto’s guitarist, Steve Lukather, featured on Stand Back.

Most significantly, singer-songwriter Sandy Stewart co-wrote If Anyone Falls, Nightbird and Nothing Ever Changes, also duetting with Nicks on Nightbird. As one of the most influential female musicians in rock, Nicks conceived it as a continuation of Edge Of Seventeen, where “it’s about the difficulties of female rock’n’roll singers”, but seen now in the light of Snyder Anderson’s passing. “It’s about my friend Robin, it’s about death, it’s a spirit calling,” Nicks said at the time of The Wild Heart’s release. “Wearing boots all summer long is like, always being ready for a flood or avalanche to happen, for the worst to happen. Because when you really look at life, all the money, material things and dreams we all search after could not save one small girl.”

One song in particular, If Anyone Falls, looks to the future and suggests the power of love enduring through pain. It also foreshadows the grand passion of 1989’s Rooms On Fire. “There was a time when I was falling out of one love and into another,” Nicks reflected in the sleevenotes to her 1991 best-of album, Timespace. “Nothing else seemed to matter except this person.” She was speaking of guitarist Waddy Wachtel, a musician who frequently collaborated with her, on record and in performance. She wrote that “he became me, and no one dared intrude upon this union”. One of the best Stevie Nicks songs of all time, If Anyone Falls is dedicated to him.

The recovery: “It’s real strong and emotional”

Released on 10 June 1983, The Wild Heart is, as its title suggests, unbound and windswept; it’s fantastical and melodramatic. Despite the trauma underpinning it, Nicks created the album quickly and was ultimately happy with how she processed her emotions on it, and the bravery this took. In 1983, she characterised it as “more reckless” than Bella Donna, adding, “I’m very pleased with the album because there are no holds barred on it. It’s real strong and emotional.

“And everybody’s heart is wild, so it’s not like I’ve got any kind of hold on it,” she continued. “This entire album was written for everybody and their wild heart. This was very much meant to be shared and given to people to have them just love the idea that they have wild hearts, ’cause I love that – I love that.”

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