Gypsy is a song by the rock group Fleetwood Mac. Stevie Nicks wrote the song originally circa 1979, and the earliest demo recordings were recorded in early 1980 with Tom Moncrieff for possible inclusion on her solo debut Bella Donna. However, when Nicks’ friend Robin Anderson died of leukemia, the song took on a new significance and Nicks held it over for Fleetwood Mac. Gypsy was the second single release and second biggest hit from the Mirage album following Hold Me. Gypsy reached # 12 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Shortly after Robin Anderson died, Stevie Nicks married her husband, Kim Anderson. In a 1990 interview with US magazine, Nicks explained:
“Robin was one of the few women who ever got leukemia and then got pregnant. And they had to take the baby [named Matthew] at 6 and a half months, and then she died 2 days later. And when she died, I went crazy. I just went insane. And so did her husband. 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.’ And so we got married 3 months after she died, and it was a terrible, terrible mistake. 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. And we got divorced 3 months later. I haven’t seen Kim, nor have I seen Matthew, since that day. I suppose that Matthew will find me when he’s ready. I mean, I am, really, next to Robin, his mommy. But Kim and I can’t deal with each other at all. So when the baby’s old enough, I have all of his mother’s things, and I have her life on film for 14, 15 years. I have us on tape singing, I have a beautiful book that I wrote the year that she died, I have a roomful of stuff for him. I have his mother to give back to him when he’s ready.”
Editor’s note: In 2013 Stevie Nicks did a Oprah special where she said that she and Mathew talk often and that she has paid for his college education.
There are two points of inspiration behind Gypsy, as stated by Stevie Nicks. The first of which is a point of nostalgia for Nicks: her life before Fleetwood Mac. Before joining the iconic band, Nicks lived with Lindsey Buckingham, who would also join Fleetwood Mac. Nicks and Buckingham were partners in both the musical and romantic sense; however, only their musical partnership has survived. Nicks met Buckingham at a high school party, where he was singing California Dreaming by the Mamas and the Papas. Nicks joined in with perfect harmony, then they introduced themselves. They didn’t see each other again until college, where they started a relationship, and started a duo called Buckingham Nicks. They barely got by with Nicks’ waitress and cleaning-lady income. They couldn’t afford a bed frame, so they slept on a single mattress, directly on the floor. Nicks says the mattress was decorated in lace, with a vase and a flower at its side. Whenever she feels her famous life getting to her, she goes “back to her roots,” and takes her mattress off the frame and puts it “back to the floor” and decorates it with “some lace, and paper flowers.” It takes her back to the days when she had no wealth—back to herself as a poor gypsy. Some speculate the rest of this song is directed at Buckingham, assuming the lyrics depict her leaving him.
On March 31, 2009, Nicks gave an interview to Entertainment Weekly discussing the inspiration for the song:
“Oh boy, I’ve never really spoken about this, so I get verklempt, and then I’ve got the story and I start to screw it up. Okay: In the old days, before Fleetwood Mac, Lindsey [Buckingham] and I had no money, so we had a king-size mattress, but we just had it on the floor. I had old vintage coverlets on it, and even though we had no money it was still really pretty… Just that and a lamp on the floor, and that was it—there was a certain calmness about it. To this day, when I’m feeling cluttered, I will take my mattress off of my beautiful bed, wherever that may be, and put it outside my bedroom, with a table and a little lamp.”
On March 25, 2009 during a show in Montreal on Fleetwood Mac’s Unleashed Tour, Stevie Nicks gave a short history of the inspiration behind Gypsy. She explained it was written sometime in 1978-79, when the band had become “very famous, very fast,” and it was a song that brought her back to an earlier time, to an apartment in San Francisco where she had taken the mattress off her bed and put it on the floor. To contextualize, she voiced the lyrics:
“So I’m back, to the velvet underground. Back to the floor, that I love. To a room with some lace and paper flowers. Back to the gypsy that I was.”
Those are the words: ‘So I’m back to the velvet underground‘—which is a clothing store in downtown San Francisco, where Janis Joplin got her clothes, and Grace Slick from Jefferson Airplane. It was this little hole in the wall, amazing, beautiful stuff—’back to the floor that I love, to a room with some lace and paper flowers, back to the gypsy that I was.'”
The second, and most emotional, subject of this song is the message as a tribute to someone’s passing. On October 5, 1982, Robin Snyder Anderson, Stevie’s best friend, died of leukemia (see more of the story above).
Fleetwood Mac recorded this at Le Chateau Studios in France, which was known as the “Honky Chateau” – Elton John recorded there and named his 1972 album after the studio’s nickname.
Mick Fleetwood has cited this as one of his favorite Fleetwood Mac songs. He has said of the song:
“It really crystallizes that whole period of the early 1980s, when we were in our mid-30s and beginning to look back at our lost youth.“
The video for this song, (see above) was the highest-budget music video ever produced at the time. It used several locations including a highly detailed portrayal of a forest, and required many costumes and dancers. It was the very first “World Premiere Video” on MTV in 1982.
Interpersonal difficulties among the band members complicated the shoot, much as they had with the earlier video for Hold Me. When he was pairing them during blocking, Mulcahy recalls,
“people were pulling me aside saying ‘No no. Those two were fucking and then they split up and now he’s sleeping with her’. I got very confused, who was sleeping with whom.”
Stevie Nicks especially remembers the experience as unpleasant. Two weeks beforehand, she had gone into rehabilitation to attempt to end her cocaine addiction. However, the video shoot could not be rescheduled, and she had to take a break for it. Near the end of the first of three days, she was exhausted and said she wanted some cocaine. A small bottle that was discreetly brought to her was later thrown out before she could use any.
“I think we would probably have gone on to make many more great videos like ‘Gypsy’ had we not been so into drugs.”
Those issues were further strained by having to work closely with her former boyfriend, Lindsey Buckingham.
“We weren’t getting along well then. I didn’t want to be anywhere near him; I certainly didn’t want to be in his arms,” she says of the scene where the two are dancing. “If you watch the video, you’ll see I wasn’t happy. And he wasn’t a very good dancer.”
Editor’s Note: As a young girl my favorite Halloween costume, or anytime costume really, was a gypsy. There is a big part of me that is very akin to the notion of being a gypsy, as I am always itching to go somewhere new, to move and change, and see a different part of the world, even if it is just the next city over. This song has always been one of my personal favorites that I hold close in a “me soundtrack” kind of way.