As an elementary school student, I never understood why my mom made me dress up for church. When I fidgeted in my dress, pulled up my tights and brushed my hair just as I was told, I thought the entire idea of having to look nice for a supposedly understanding God was stupid. In my mind, he should love me just as much in my PJs as in a dress and should understand that I was mainly there for the doughnuts, especially after the nun who was my second-grade teacher told me my odds of achieving sainthood were slim to none.
But as I walked down Shattuck Avenue on Sunday, Nov. 25 as fast as my legs would take me, Fleetwood Mac’s remastered “Oh Well” blaring through my cheap earbuds, running late for BART because I took an extra minute to apply highlighter, I understood. I was wearing my own Sunday best for the Fleetwood Mac concert at Oracle Arena: my lucky jean jacket, a white cropped sweater from my dear friend, a shiny pair of loafers and the delicate feather necklace my mom gave me when I left for college. I was dressed for my lord and savior, Stevie Nicks, though I knew she wouldn’t see me in the crowd.
I greeted my mom at the stadium, and she humble-bragged about it being her fourth time seeing Fleetwood Mac. The last time she saw the band, she was 21 — the age I am now. My mom was not the one who introduced me to Fleetwood Mac; I bonded with her after developing an intense love for the band over the past two years. Now, she plays her extensive collection of its discography on her record player when I come home, and we swap recommendations of lesser-known tracks over the phone. My mom was also not the one who encouraged my intense religious devotion as a child — she sent me to Catholic school for its educational quality and was understandably freaked out when I returned home one time and made a prayer corner in my room, completing the rosary before continuing on with my day.
Growing up in the Roman Catholic Church, I was frustrated by the gender discrimination I could perceive as early as kindergarten. In the first grade, I pestered my teacher about why girls couldn’t be priests. I wasn’t allowed to play Jesus in the school play because I was a girl — even though I proclaimed myself the best actor in the class and had played men on stage before. I’ve since left the church — more so from not believing in God than from being gay or a woman — but I’ve found a new religion, one cemented when I watched Stevie Nicks perform “Black Magic Woman” live just after she declared 2018 “the year of the woman,” changing the lyrics to sing in the first person.
The concert began with the best song of all time — “The Chain” — and I started to cry. I’ve written about it before, but my melodramatic tendencies flare when the chorus of that Frankensteinian track kicks in, when Stevie Nicks sings of moving on for good but of never breaking one’s connection to the past. The miniscule details came to mind: I remembered my last date with my ex-girlfriend when I bought Rumours on vinyl for my mom, making fun of myself for being cliche with the Amoeba San Francisco cashier. I thought of my Fleetwood Mac-heavy breakup playlist, of the days when I’d only press play on Fleetwood Mac’s Spotify profile and listen to whatever the algorithm brought to my ears. But as stated in “Don’t Stop,” “Yesterday’s gone.”
It might have been the wine talking, but I realized with each passing song that this would be the only time I would see my favorite band perform the songs I’d listened to when rushing to BART, working on homework and recovering from heartache alike — Fleetwood Mac has been with me through it all. There was an overwhelming sense of mortality, of nostalgia for each passing second.
I tried my best to savor each word, to squint toward the tiny figures on stage and occasionally give up to stare at their images on the Jumbotron, to dance to the beat and to receive my mom’s thoughts after each performance. I remembered a lecture I’d heard during a Christmas Mass about a man who was so busy taking photos of his vacation that he didn’t have a single memory that wasn’t set behind the camera, and I thought of how especially inane that speech was as I lifted my phone camera every once in a while to capture the staging and other miniscule details I knew I’d later forget.
The concert ended with a little-known Fleetwood Mac duet off Time, “All Over Again.” I’d never heard the track before, but in truly feminist and queer fashion, Nicks and Christine McVie took lead vocals. As they sang, “Finally break the chain,” I understood that I needed to accept the fleeting nature of relationships and concerts themselves — after all, experiences pass. I realized that this just might be how people feel after especially poignant sermons, experiencing the elation I recalled sensing around me when I went to church as a child.
In the second grade, I received my first Holy Communion. Back then, I wondered if I’d get drunk off the tiny sip of church wine they’d allowed us. At the Oracle Arena, buzzed off two glasses of overpriced white wine, I grabbed my mom’s hand and brought her up to the stage so that we could be a mere 10 feet from the legend herself. And maybe, just maybe, Stevie Nicks, my lord and savior, watched from above as a security guard told us to return to our seats.
Contact Caroline Smith at [email protected].