What you had and what you lost: Rooms on Fire (1989)



I’m nine years old.

Each Sunday morning, with religious precision, I videotape the music videos on Rage. In this pre-YouTube era, it’s how you get your daily fix of the promotional clips for Ian Moss, Madonna, Martika, Billy Joel, Jive Bunny.

The one video I never record for Stevie Nicks’ Rooms on Fire. Stevie’s in Fleetwood Mac, I know that much. Fleetwood Mac is an old person’s band, the kind my parents like (their cassette copy of Tango in the Night is a road trip mainstay).

I wanna be cool. Stevie Nicks ain’t cool.


Rooms on Fire: Dreaming of wanton luxuries

On the surface, Rooms on Fire is routine fare. The tune tells the tale of a woman who’s overwhelmed by the very presence of a paramour. Here’s a snippet:

Well maybe I’m just thinking that the rooms are all on fire
Everytime that you walk in the room
Well there is magic all around you, if I do say so myself
I have known this much longer than I’ve known you

This is a long way from the lyrical virtuosity of Dreams or Edge of Seventeen. And yet, delivered in Nicks’ distinctive, nicotine-stained falsetto, the song just … works. You can feel the magic bouncing off the burning walls as our mystical woman-child is wooed by her enigmatic Valentino.

Now to the video:



Yes, this is 4.29 minutes of a costume-changing, bouffant-clad Nicks pining for a man with a mullet. This is a vanity project. This is a tribute to 80s hairdressing.

That being said, you really believe that Nicks is a kind of late twentieth century Rhiannon meets Alice in Wonderland, bathing in ‘her wanton luxury’ and dreaming of the lover with the pyrotechnic power. You really believe he’ll take her hand and guide her through The Other Side of the Mirror.


We meet at a student conference. Months after the September 11 demo outside the corporate scumbag forum, and months before that other September 11. A time when we (mostly, though not exclusively, white and middle-class) students thought we could bring forth the revolution, one chant at a time.

We meet at the bar. I’m quiet and reserved. Your every word is uttered with don’t-give-a-fuck confidence. My flannelette is post-grunge suburbia. You’re decked out in the kind of urban, counter-cultural-esque couture I couldn’t bring myself to wear.

You’ve produced zines that get shared around, discussed on message boards of the online variety. I want to be a writer. I’ve written some reviews for my university’s student magazine, so that’s a start, yeah? Everyone at the conference knows your name. Noone seems to know mine.

At some point, somehow, we begin talking. We bond over Stevie Nicks. She’s cool now, or at least since she was interviewed by a certain grunge icon in the late 90s. We bond over discussions of favourite Stevie songs and videos.

Yeah, this is cool. You’re cool. I wanna be cool, dammit!


Rooms on Fire: Stevie speaks, Part One

‘I guess the single [Rooms on Fire] is about when you’re in a crowded room and you see a kind of person and your heart goes, ‘Wow!’ The whole world seems to be ablaze at that particular moment.’



Our paths cross at a rally one hot January evening. Your op shop chic doesn’t go unnoticed by our fellow demonstrators. I’m trying to look anti-establishment in smart-casual Myer threads. You’ve just moved down to Melbourne. I don’t admit that I’ve never left.

You’ve got a public service job, the apparently cruisy, job-for-life kind. I’m paying my way through a postgrad degree via call centre work. I’ve written a review for academic journals. So the writer dream is coming along, I guess?

No rooms, and no flames, either, at this point.

What to say? How to break the ice after these years? There’s a silence. You mention Stevie. ‘Did you know,’ you begin, ‘that Stevie was addicted to Klonopin? She can’t even remember an entire tour from that time.’

What a random utterance. How strange that you uttered it. The ice has finally melted in this city humidity.

The rally begins. We get talking. Talking about what, or for how long, I can’t recall. I But that’s not the point. The point is, we’re talking. The point is that we’re cool.


Rooms on Fire: Revisiting The Other Side of the Mirror

The Other Side of the Mirror is Stevie’s fourth solo album. The album’s success is largely due to Rooms on Fire. Stevie tours to promote this album, though she will claim that she cannot recall this tour due to a dependence on Klonopin.

Says the artist herself:


‘The biggest mistake I ever made was giving in to my friends and going to see a psychiatrist. It was in the mid-1980s, and I had just gotten out of Betty Ford. I was feeling buoyant and saved and fantastic. But everyone said, “We’re sure you’re going to start using again. You should go to a psychiatrist.” Finally, I said, “All right!” and went. What this man said was: “In order to keep you off cocaine we should put you on the drug that we’re using a lot these days called Klonopin.” Stupidly, I said, “All right.” And the next eight years of my life were destroyed.’

Klonopin is in the Valium family, but Valium is fuzzy and Klonopin is insidious because it’s so subtle that you can hardly tell you took it… [W]hat started happening was that if I didn’t take it, my hands started to shake. I felt like I had a neurological disease or Parkinson’s. I started not being able to get to Lindsey Buckingham’s house on time, and I would get there and everybody was drinking, so I’d have a glass of wine. Don’t mix tranquilizers and wine.’


I’m on the edge of 17 when I learn about this part of Stevie’s life. Shortly after her interview with the grunge icon, when I realised it was okay to like my parents’ cassette tapes. When I wished I had videotaped the Rooms on Fire video, cos hell, how else am I gonna see it now?

I wonder what Klonopin feels like. I wonder what it feels like to not feel (if indeed that’s what Klonopin feels like). I wonder what it’s like to forget an entire tour. I decide that I don’t want to know the answers to these questions, so I forget about them.



Your thirtieth birthday. You’re at the bar, drawing a crowd (the who’s-who of the 2001 student Left). You’re wearing tennis whites (why not?), and you’ve still got that familiar, fiery voice.

You’re cool.

Cool bordering on frosty, at least when I walk in the room. I’ve seen you half a dozen times these last twelve months, but this time is different. This time there’s a distance. There’s nothing to break the ice.

This time, there’s no Stevie.

I ask about your job. You mutter something about this being a Saturday night, let’s have fun, okay? You ask about my writing. I tell you about those op-eds I’ve written for that online magazine, but your eyes are elsewhere (or am I looking away? I can’t remember).

I blurt out goodbyes and leave.

Months pass. You delete me from Facebook. The twenty-first century version of ‘it’s over’, but of course, budding scholar that I am, I read more into it. Ah, so maybe you didn’t ‘like’ one of your updates? Or maybe you just didn’t like mine?

Maybe what I wrote was uncool? Or maybe we are just not cool? Who knows? I forget about that question. I forget about you.


Rooms on Fire: Stevie speaks, Part Two

‘Rooms on Fire is about me. Rooms on Fire is about ~ um ~ a girl who is a rock’n’roll star who has pretty much accepted the fact that she will never ever be able to be married or have those children that she wanted or the husband that she wanted or that deep, deep love that she wanted and she’s accepted it.

            And then one night at one of those everlasting parties that we all have to go to that we really don’t want to go to, and we go make an appearance and leave as quickly as possible ~ um ~ a man comes into the room … I look up and he’s there. And he asks me to dance, and we end up getting married and I end up having a little baby girl and we live together for twenty ~ twenty-five years and the sad thing is that I waited for him all my life and then he dies before me and I wait for him for the rest of my life and he comes back after I am very, very old and gets me. And takes me with him back to where ever he comes from.’



I’m thirty-six years old, and in a taxi.

It’s another sweltering January evening. Ten years since running into you at that rally. Seven days since I learned about your passing via Facebook (the twenty-first century version of news delivery, if ever there was one). Seven days since I learned of how, in your last months, you were prescribed Klonopin.

I’m feeling … what? Nothing? Actually, it’s something like disbelief. No more vibrant voice or iconoclastic outfits. No more ice-breaking chats in bars and at protests.

My phone vibrates with messages. Article accepted with amendments. Two more comments on your blog. Another day in the life of a writer/researcher. Another day of wanton luxury.

‘Rooms on Fire’ begins playing on the stereo. Of course. I’d watched the clip hours before on YouTube. So much for those late 80s video mixtapes.

The airport looms ahead. My mind roams elsewhere. I want to believe that I am the person in the song, the boy who will never ever have that friendship he wanted. But that’s just a crude projection, so I forget it.

I want to believe that this is a message from you, from wherever you are now, but that’s just cheesy. And cheesy ain’t cool, so I don’t go there.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s