As popular a song as Stevie Nicks’ Gold Dust Woman is, it is also one of the most obscure and ambiguous. Stevie once said that a woman should "never tell all your secrets, that you should never tell everybody all about you. I never have." And despite a week of analysis on The Ledge, the meaning behind this song remains one of her secrets.
In fact, Christine McVie said in the Making of Rumours video, that:
"Stevie’s words can be pretty obscure… at best. Sometimes I didn’t know what she was singing about, but in her mind those words made complete sense and I often used to wonder what on earth she was talking about. But then, you didn’t care because the words just sounded so good."
Lindsey Buckingham, her bandmate and ex-lover, said "This song is very dark and somewhat acrimonious. I’m guessing that the acrimony was directed at me at the time."
In fact, Stevie herself was unsure in an interview with Courtney Love in Spin Magazine (October, 1997): "You know what, Courtney? I don't really know what 'Gold Dust Woman’ is about. I know there was cocaine there and that I fancied it gold dust, somehow. I'm going to have to go back to my journals and see if I can pull something out about ‘Gold Dust Woman.’ Because I don't really know. It's weird that I'm not quite sure. It can't be all about cocaine."
I think we Ledgies can feel better about the mystery of Gold Dust Woman after hearing that the band and even Stevie herself didn’t always understand all the lyrics! Instead, with a song like this, you have to listen and draw your own meanings from the images presented. The listener projects as much of him/herself into the meaning as the words themselves do. Perhaps that explains the popularity of a song no one claims to understand fully!
There are several themes presented, and there is no single clear-cut meaning. Instead, as may have been her intent, there are multiple meanings and interpretations which I will try to summarize. These themes include drug use, band groupies, pain and vengeance of her breakup with Lindsey, and the effects of sudden fame. Stevie has said the song was a little about drugs, and also about fame; but also, she said it was written before they joined FM and they were not doing drugs then.
Rock on, gold dust woman
Take your silver spoon
And dig your grave
To many, this is a drug statement. Certainly the image of almost killing one’s self with cocaine would in a few short years describe the band in general, and Stevie in particular.
It can also be a statement about her-- the Gold Dust Woman-- some great rock star woman who lives this fabulous life full of riches and gold; and by seeing only the materialistic part of her life, she digs her own grave.
Well it's a heartless challenge
To pick your path and then you pray
This is saying the road to stardom is full of people who don't care about you as a person, they are heartless, the road is heartless so you pick the way you want to go and pray it works out. It may also symbolize the fact that you can make wrong choices or take the wrong path; and you know that you are doing it, and that it is wrong, but you don't stop or can't stop. This is that "double-edged sword" kind of thing where you know it's wrong or dangerous but you feel helpless or too weak to stop....nothing left but prayer.
You wake up in the morning
You see your sunrise-- loves-- go down
Lousy lovers-- they pick their prey
But they never cry out loud
(No they don't cry out, cry out)
You are the star - you wake up with lots of men. But they leave. You see the sunrise as you are up all night (partying, doing drugs, having lovers). Things can look so much less sparkling in the harsh light of day. The lovers are lousy as they don't mean anything - they use you. She says that they don’t cry, implying that she herself does, and she is bitter.
Happy people are happy in the mornings. Those caught in depression often dread the new day, with it’s cold reality and lack of shadows to hide in.
Well did she make you cry
Make you break down
Shatter your illusions of love?
Is it over now? Do you know how
To pick up the pieces and go home?
This is very likely an acrimonious part towards Lindsey. Possibly they were at odds or broken up (this line and the "rulers" one could have been written later, when they broke up - Stevie does write things in parts at times). She is saying did the woman make him cry and make him feel remorse for what he did? Will he see that Stevie is the one that's worth it and come home? Does he know how? Also, it's interesting they look straight at each other during this line on the Dance concert.
Is there a guy on the planet who hasn’t felt the sting of the above words, when he’s heard the song after a breakup? And do you wonder exactly where "home" is when you hear them?
So rock on- ancient queen
Follow those who pale
In your shadow
These words are so powerful, yet vague. Who is the queen? Is it Stevie herself, following the groupies that themselves sought Lindsey after her? Rock on - Rock star. Same thing? Follow other stars, maybe Janis Joplin? Or maybe the queen is cocaine, following those damaged, hooked and weakened by its effects.
They say rulers, they make bad lovers
You'd better put your kingdom up for sale
(Well, you better sell it, sell it)
What does the "kingdom" refer to? Some say it is fame and the inflated ego of the superstar. You have to get down to earth before you can love for real again.
Others think this is aimed at Lindsey. He has been characterized (rightly or wrongly) as rather controlling, especially in the studio. Is Stevie telling him to step down and not be so controlling, lest he lose her for good? Or perhaps she is being even more personal, saying that those in charge are bad lovers. She tells him to put his kingdom up for sale - his manliness - everything he has. An interesting link is a later lyric from Lindsey’s Big Love: "I built you a kingdom on that house on the hill" - maybe the same reference?
Lastly, in the Spin Magazine interview , Stevie called herself the ruler, due to her sudden fame with Fleetwood Mac.
Oooh, pale shadow of a woman
Oooh, black widow, oh yeah
Oooh, pale shadow, she's a dragon
Gold dust woman
Running in the shadows...
Running in the shadows...
"Run in the shadows" was also a line in The Chain. She used it both places, and note that she wrote most of The Chain before they joined FM, so these are from the same period of her writing. Something or someone is hiding in the shadows, and doesn't want to be seen.
Is it the drugs, the dangerous black widow? Or is it the groupies, always trying to sneak in and see the band, and Lindsey in particular (we know Stevie was hurt by the stream of women Lindsey seemed to have with him after their breakup). Or is it Stevie herself, always dressed in black, angry like the dragon, broken and pale from the drugs and her breakup? She watches, or follows the groupies who are, after all, following her as Lindsey’s lover.
A very haunting, acrimonious song about bitterness toward a lover and feelings of their power. Also, feelings of stardom and what it does to you, with the drugs, the power, etc. You loose a lot of yourself, and end up "running in the shadows."
There is also a line of interpretation that considers the Gold Dust Woman to be cocaine itself. It rules you; it has a hidden danger lurking in the shadows; it shatters you and challenges you to find your way home.
The song is bitter and somber. As Lindsey said in the Rumours video, as he listened to the isolated vocals of Stevie, looking uneasy himself as heard her gut-wrenching wailing at the end of the song: "I’d say we were under duress." Stevie: "Devastation leads to writing very good things." This certainly is the case with Gold Dust Woman.
Stevie: "Gold Dust Woman was really my symbolic look about somebody going through a bad relationship, and doing a lot of drugs, and trying to… just make it, trying to live, trying to get through it to the next thing."
One final note about this song that contributes to its mystique. In an article in Goldmine last year, Mick said that:
"She did her first take of 'Gold Dust Woman' in a fully lit studio, and as take followed take, she began withdrawing into herself. So we dimmed the lights, brought her a chair, a supply of tissues, a Vicks inhaler, a box of lozenges for her sore throat, and a bottle of mineral water. And on the eighth take, at four in the morning, she sang the lyric straight through to perfection."
Oh, to have been a fly on the wall in that studio!
(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.)