If there is anything that makes my staunch atheism bend, it’s music. There are artists whose bodies of work have inspired me, and there are songs that are the sonic equivalent of guardian angels. I’m referring to the tunes that follow us through life, that show up right when we need to hear them, and that don’t whither with the passing of time. Personally, I place “Landslide” in this category. Maybe you’ve heard the Dixie Chicks cover it, but “Landslide” is a Fleetwood Mac song, penned by the incomparable Stevie Nicks. Though it’s difficult to pin down what brings a song close to godliness, I can say without reservation that, regardless of who’s singing it, “Landslide” is one of those rare perfect songs.
In 1994, the Smashing Pumpkins released Pisces Iscariot, which contained the single “Landslide.” While Billy Corgan’s voice usually makes me break plates over my head, I adored the song nonetheless. Why was I so captivated? Was it the chord progression? The melody? The lyrics? At the time, my grasp of music history was relatively limited, but I soon found out that the Pumpkins were playing a cover, originally written by some strange, mystical gold-dust witch woman.
I later discovered Fleetwood Mac. I’d been reading about them incessantly since my mother bought me a copy of their Greatest Hits vinyl. While I loved that record, it didn’t contain the one song I was longing to hear. Luckily for me, my friend’s mother was getting rid of her record collection, and I inherited the iconic Rumours, as well as the 1975 self-titled album that contained “Landslide.”
In 1997, Fleetwood Mac released The Dance, a live concert album. Because of that record, Nicks’s “Landslide” was promoted as a single for the first time, 23 years after its original release. One of my best friends bought the single, and we would sit together in her parents’ basement listening to Stevie sing, her vocals rich with texture and time. This definitive version opens with Nicks dedicating the piece to her father with a simple “This is for you daddy.”
As with many queer narratives, I knew I was different at an early age. However, I only came out to friends when I was 20. From there, it took me nearly a decade to come out to my parents. No matter how you calculate it, I spent an inordinate amount of time living a double life, avoiding incriminating questions and evading any hint of what my real self might expose. Telling my parents was the most difficult part of the coming out process, and it took the longest. I knew I liked men when I was five. I came out to my parents 23 years later. That’s 23 years of hiding, lying and shame.
Carrying this kind of burden does not go unnoticed by the body. Instead, it manifests in all sorts of malignant ways. Because I kept my mouth shut for so long, a variety of ailments have sprung up in that general area in the recent past. An inexplicable abscess appeared in my jaw, causing my teeth to ache, a black spot on an otherwise pallid x-ray. In the span of one night, I became asthmatic, my chest a constricting cinder block. While preparing to record vocal tracks with my band, my bandmate tried to show me some warm-up exercises to loosen up the face, throat and chest. Yet I couldn’t perform even the most basic act of relaxing my mouth and lips. Only in failing this exercise did I realize how much stress and tension I was carrying in my face and jaw.
I came out to my parents a year ago, on Dec 1, 2008. It was a positive experience, an evening of discussion, tears, apologies and honesty. Suddenly I felt like a real human being, alive for the first time, so much weight evaporating in one single act of disclosure. I left my parents’ home that night and caught a bus back to my house. The driver had his portable radio on, and just a few minutes into the ride, I could hear the telltale plucking of guitar chords, audience applause and a signature voice saying, “This is for you daddy.” Stevie crooned, “I’ve been afraid of changing because I built my life around you. But time makes you bolder, children get older, and I’m getting older too.” While I’ve always loved that passage, at that moment the lyrics resonated with my newfound metamorphosis. My heart grew to twice its size with joy.
Last March I saw Fleetwood Mac perform. While the band was fantastic and each member legendary in their own right, Stevie had me spellbound. Her scarves and shawls! Her spins and twirls! Her classic side-part with bangs! How epic! However, when Lindsey Buckingham began playing those familiar notes, I didn’t dare breathe. It was both surreal and cathartic to actually see Stevie Nicks in the flesh, performing a song I had loved, admired and taken comfort in for close to 15 years.
This piece of music has accompanied me through different stages in my life. It witnessed me lying to myself, it was there in the basements of post-adolescence where I began voicing my secret, and it stood by when I finally put to rest decades of charades and shame. No matter how much effort you put into building a bluff to camouflage who you really are, a “Landslide” will bring it down.