‘I was dancing at the edge of danger’: An historical figure sparked one of Stevie Nicks’ best new songs

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A documentary on a largely forgotten 1920s-era silent-movie star ended up sparking Stevie Nicks’ favorite track on her forthcoming 24 Karat Gold: Songs from the Vault. In that moment, as Nicks learned the awful truth of Mabel Normand, she saw herself. That led to a striking mid-1980s demo, though the song somehow sat dormant until now.

“In 1985, I was dancing at the edge of danger myself, just like she was,” Nicks tells Out magazine. “I was just doing so much coke. And it had already backfired on me completely. I saw this documentary, and I felt this union with her: Oh my God, the same thing that happened to this woman in the ’20s is happening to me in the ’80s — how can this be? Then she died, and that really scared me. She was rich, she was famous, she had everything. She had it all. And I very well could have died just as easily as she did.”

As with the rest of 24 Karat Gold, due October 7, 2014 through Reprise Records, “Mabel Normand” has been given a sharp new reading — but it retains that stirring sense of portent. It’s one of Nicks’ most personal, and most devastatingly honest, lyrics in recent memory. Even if it was sparked by an historical figure.

Not long after seeing the Normand film, and penning this song, Nicks would finally check herself into the Betty Ford Clinic to get cleaned up. Unfortunately, she ended up trading an addiction to cocaine for an addicition to tranquilizers. It would be the 1990s before Nicks emerged.

Along the way, she never forgot “Mabel Norman,” a song that Nicks approaches almost as if it’s a public-service announcement — though that certainly belies its depth of emotion. “I wanted it to be something that somebody having a problem with drugs can sit down and listen to 5,000 times,” she adds. “Try to let it be an epiphany for you, 18-year-old person that is doing a lot of coke and smoking heroin and taking ecstasy and is on a dead-end road to hell.”

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