Brush with greatness

Wikimedia Commons/Matt Becker

When someone asks, “Who is the most famous person you’ve met?” I continue to say Stevie Nicks. If I’m asked what was the most starstruck I ever felt, the answer is the same.

She is the only one I’ve met from a personal pantheon containing artists like Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, Van Morrison, Joni Mitchell, Prince, Leonard Cohen, and David Bowie. In the same way the Greeks looked to Mt. Olympus, I look to them. That sounds hyperbolic, but it isn’t. For me, these artists’ work is as close to magic, to transcendence, as I have experienced.

Of course, intellectually I know they’re “just human.” Their work, however, changed my life. Their music is my Torah, my Talmud, my Koran, my Bible. No organized – or disorganized – religion connects me to the divine like their music.

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Stevie Nicks and I had a pretty extensive phone conversation. It was 2011, and she was releasing her solo album In Your Dreams, produced by Eurythmics’ Dave Stewart. Over the course of our chat, she promised to make an excursion to Woodstock to sit in on a songwriting class I was teaching at Woodstock Day School. Sadly, this did not come to pass.

The interview was for New York magazine’s online platform. I was extremely nervous in the lead-up to the interview: sweaty hands, racing heartbeat, irritability. I was a mess.

In dealing with occasional anxiety most of my adult life, I’ve learned to use mindfulness to slow down my cardiovascular system with deep breathing, and to ask myself questions like, “What exactly are you afraid of?”

In the case of Stevie Nicks, I was making real time contact with someone whose music occupies a dreamscape where intense and potentially uncontrollable emotions reside, impulses I govern with the social skills I’ve learned, everything from erotic fascination, to romantic longing, to nostalgia-in-amber for hazy, glorious days. Would I retain my control upon meeting the source?

I’m not thrilled to admit that my anxiety also came because I was in a headspace wherein I considered myself less of a person, because I failed to become famous. Again, I know intellectually that is toxic bullshit. Yet, ever since childhood, I’d looked at fame as a rarified place where the best reside. I ached to be one of them, enjoying adulation, overwhelming confirmation of my worth.

I hadn’t reached that, and in moments of weakness I would tell myself it was because I was a lesser human. Imposter Syndrome would say, “What the hell am I doing with Stevie Nicks? I should not be here. Someone else, someone better, should be in my place.”

Once I heard Stevie’s voice, all of that vanished. It was like I’d taken a sedative, except I was sharp. Now I read the Q & A transcript, and I’m still impressed. She talked about her new album of course, but also her love of cassettes, her armoire archive of them in Phoenix. Thrillingly, several times, she said, “Off the record…”

I mentioned I was teaching a songwriting class in which kids were encouraged to perform their work. “That sounds just like Glee!,” she said. She would talk to her people about arranging a stopover on her upcoming tour, so she could watch me work, meet the kids. She was adamant.

Minutes after we hung up, her assistant called me back to say there would be no time for such a thing, and to make sure I understood. I did. Even as she’d said it, I’d doubted it would happen, because I’d gotten to know her a little. I felt like I’d always known her.

I came away with deepened admiration but less starry-eyed “idol love” for Stevie Nicks, in part because she completely disarmed me once I powered through my doubt. The arms I had taken up were against myself. It was a battle against imaginary gods I was more than happy to lose.


Read more installments of Village Voices by Robert Burke Warren.

There is one comment

  1. Mary Ann Arnold-Mays

    There are not enough shade trees in Saugerties Village…this is probably true elsewhere. Shade is a wonderful way to keep pavement, people on pavement and houses near them cooler. Properly selected and placed they may keep winter wind from stealing a house’s heat, too. However, some older trees are gone : they age , die or interfer with something significant. These absent trees need replacement and more planted. Climate change hasn’t closed down because of Covid-19. Look around where can any one of us plant a big or compact tree or just a bush…and care for it. No place of your own to plant? Than think about giving cash to the Town’s Arbor Commission (No, I am not a member.) I am sure they would like to get a pot of cash for village owned spaces to be planted. So, if you have noticed the heat when walking in the village you know the value of shade. There’s not enough of it.
    Also, if you plant a tree yourself, don’t worry about raking leave…just run the mover overthem. It’s good for the soil.

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