This beautiful, soothing song by Stevie is among her most enigmatic. For each line, gorgeously wrapped in lyrical imagery, there could be two or three possible interpretations.
This is a song of liberation - it is about facing your fears to become fearless. No one is fearless, of course - except superheroes, which we sometimes expect our icons to be. We forget that they are real people with worries and insecurities and that they make mistakes and they worry about failure. Anyone can fail and everyone does sometimes. What's courageous though, is to keep going, to keep trying, to keep soaring to new heights.
After Fleetwood Mac completed the recording of Tusk, Stevie went to Chile for about six weeks to recuperate and reflect on her life. She came back to Phoenix to begin composing, feeling more refreshed. She was quoted as saying, "I was scared to death and intimidated and insecure, afraid and lonely and tired, and I just didn't know what to do really...and Bella Donna really got in there and saved my life".
Although the song seems to mainly deal with Stevie's personal journey, there are parts of the song that may very well have something to do with Lindsey Buckingham. After all, her strong feelings for him are very closely tied to her own quest for happiness and independence.
We know that Stevie has an elusive way of writing. As she said in a 1997 Spin magazine article, she never gives all her secrets away. Even when she gives interviews, she never tells what her songs are about completely. We also know that there are other songs on Bella Donna that deal with her feelings for Lindsey, so it is entirely possible that this song does too.
You can ride high atop your pony
I know you won't fall...
'Cause the whole thing's phony.
You can fly swinging from your trapeze
Scaring all the people...
But you'll never scare me
These lines seem to refer to the world of stardom, which Stevie recognizes as being superficial, vs. what's real and lasting. Stevie is a down-to-earth person. Despite the glamour in her life, she knows that there is much, much more to life than the glitter of fame. She urges herself not to forget about what's really important - love, honesty, personal integrity.
Stevie seems to be reminding herself that she has the goods. She's talented enough and strong enough to have a happy life and a successful solo career. She worries about having enough control, but decides that she does indeed have what it takes.
She may also be referring to Lindsey when she says "you'll never scare me". She knows him so well - they've known each other for so many years, before either of them became famous. They were lovers and soulmates. They broke up and she watched him find seek out other women and she was jealous and hurt. Their work relationship was often hostile and combative during these years. She may be saying here that certain things that he does - such as competing with Stevie, and getting caught up in other women - are phony.
It is also possible that she is addressing Lindsey's fears and insecurities as well as her own. She's watched him go through a lot of doubt and artistic torment and maybe she says "you'll never scare me" to reassure him that he will be all right no matter what happens.
My Bella donna...
Women took Bella donna years ago and used it as a cosmetic enhancement, to make their eyes wider. That may have some symbolism here - about Stevie opening up her eyes and seeing herself and her life and what she wants out of life more clearly. Bella donna is the muse inside of her that keeps her strong, that keeps her ideals going, and it is also her music.
Bella donna means both beautiful woman and poisonous drug. Stevie was quoted as saying, "Bella donna is a thing that if you take enough of it, if you're like in terrible pain,it can be used as a painkiller. It's a root...but if you take too much, you'll die. That's kind of what rock 'n' roll is, and that's kind of what I felt I was getting into doing was. I was gonna find out where in between this good thing and this bad thing I was."
And we fight for the northern star...
This is another mysterious line that could have different meanings. The North star, Polaris, is always in the night sky. It was used by sailors long ago as a navigational guide; if you got lost, you could always figure out your direction by Polaris.
Stevie might be talking about her and Lindsey, since she says "We". Maybe they are fighting for love, for the purest love, a love that will conquer all. Or maybe the northern star represents ultimate popularity. Stevie's popularity was a source of competition between Stevie and Lindsey and she may be saying here that they are both fighting to be the best.
Stevie really needed this album, and to have a solo career. She felt that, confined to the band, she could never reach her full potential; she had too much music inside of her to simply contain it to the parameters of the band.
No speed limit - this is the fast lane
It's just the way that it is here
And you say - I never thought it could
The fast lane refers to the wild, hectic rock 'n' roll lifestyle that is her life now. She is a big rock and roll star and there is no getting away from that. Once upon a time, she was a struggling young musician with no money, no fame - it is hard to believe that her life has changed so much. In this roller coaster ride of her life, she stops to think - 'Wow I'm really here! - but do I like it?'
And we fight for the northern star
And the lady's feeling
Just like the moon that she loved
Don't you know that
The stars are a part of us
And the lady's feeling
Just like the moon that she loved
Stevie has a powerful connection with all things mystical, so it is not surprising that she speaks of the moon and stars. The moon is lonely but it shines brightly - it comes out of the darkness and it can be a guide, just like the northern star. Sometimes she can't believe that she has actually made her wildest dreams come true. But she looks to the stars and the moon as her guides, as if her fate was determined long before she arrived on earth. And she realizes that she has found her rightful place in the universe.
She may also be speaking to Lindsey here, telling him that the stars are a part of them, that destiny will decide their fates. Being on her own has given her new insight and confidence. In Fleetwood Mac, Stevie often felt that she was in Lindsey's shadow. Maybe she felt she didn't have her own light, so she needed to go out on her own. She is a big success, but sometimes she feels lonely, both within Fleetwood Mac, and in her solo career. As the saying goes, it's lonely at the top. But Stevie is a star - a bright shining star on stage - and her grateful fans need her, they need to bask in her glowing light.
And you say...that I never thought it could
My Bella donna...
Come in out of the darkness
She has reached heights and depths beyond her wildest dreams. She has also been down in the depths of darkness, but she urges herself to pull herself out of it. In an interview about the album, Stevie said, "It was me asking myself to come in out of the darkness,and in so asking myself, asking everybody else to come in out of the darkness too." She said that line serves as a summary for the whole song. "and Bella Donna says 'come in out of the darkness', and that's basically what the whole song means. It was me making a decision whether I wanted to be...I was pretty unhappy and whether I wanted to continue in that unhappy vein, or whether I wanted to be lifted up out of it.."
You are in love with...
And I'm ready to sail...
It's just a feeling...
Sort of captures your soul
Stevie is in love with Fleetwood Mac, she loves being a part of it, but she has to keep growing. She needs to sail into brave new waters and see what's out there. She knows that there is so much out there, and she needs to be open to the possibilities. It is a delicious feeling of freedom for her.
She may also be referring to Lindsey, that he is in love with someone else. This encourages Stevie to take flight - it gives her the push that she needs. Love is always there, both strengthening her - opening up her heart - and weakening her - making her hurt and vulnerable. Her wish for happiness in her career is not entirely separate from her love for Lindsey. It is impossible to be completely happy without all areas of your life working out...which never does seem to happen.
Stevie may feel she has to make a choice. Even though she and Lindsey had been apart for some time, she may have still had wishful feelings that they would somehow get back together.
And the woman may be awestruck
And the woman may truly care
But the woman is so tired
So the woman disappears
She still cares deeply about Fleetwood Mac and about her bandmates, but she is tired of all of the negativity within the band and of the crazy, grueling pace of their life.
Stevie has also gotten caught up in drugs and she is very tired and afraid of losing herself. The real person that she is temporarily disappears behind the superstar facade.
She knows that she needs to slow down and come in out of the darkness, even though it takes her a long time.
Come in out of the darkness...
Bella donna....my soul....
She's calling out to that secret part of herself - her muse, asking for the strength that she knows, deep down, is always within her. Her music is also part of her soul and she knows that it will be her salvation.
Don't change...baby please don't change
And you say...
And your face becomes thin
And you never thought it could
Come in out of the darkness
She may be asking Lindsey not to change or asking herself not to change. She never thought her life would change the way it has, and Lindsey hadn't known things would change so much either. He is starting to realize what a strong woman Stevie is. She can survive without him, both as a person and as a performer. He has his own fears and insecurities and the rock 'n' roll life has taken a toll on both of them. Perhaps Stevie is inviting him to come in out of the darkness with her.
You are in love with
And I'm ready to sail
It's just a feeling....
She looks towards the future - feeling optimistic about her career and her life. I feel Stevie singing this song to herself as a lullaby the same way that she sings it to us, soothing and providing comfort, the way that the Bella donna does for her. The Bella donna is her blessing and her curse. Her talent gives her everything good - fame, success, adulation - but it has also been the source of her misery - strife, jealousy, tension, excess,loneliness.
But through it all - Stevie knows that she would not give up her life - it is her destiny.
(The interpretations to these lyrics were compiled through discussions on the message boards of the Penguin, The Ledge. It is entirely possible that the artists had something completely different in mind.)