The Penguin Lyric Interpretations


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Written by Stevie Nicks.

Contributors to this interpretation included: Erik M. Grebner, Justine, Lesley, Lauren, Julie, Scott, Bonnie, Sarah, Villavic, and Jessica.

Special thanks go out to Lauren who through constant e-mails was able to send Erik all individual interpretations over winter break.

Two people wearing Walkmans who know absolutely nothing about each other just so happen to walk past each other on a quiet street on a quiet afternoon. It just so happens that they are both listening to Fleetwood Mac albums. Noticing this fact, both stop and remark about their common interests. During the course of this conversation, three distinct questions come up:

  1. What is your favorite album?
  2. Who is your favorite group member?
  3. What do YOU think "Sara" is about?

It has often become both a joke and a frustration of various Fleetwood Mac members figuring out the meaning of "Sara", Stevie Nicks’ most ambiguously written song. Perhaps it is this mystery which makes the song so well-received among Fleetwood Mac fans—an independent poll on The Penguin website lists it as second in the "Favorite Song" category.

But why is "Sara" a mystery? Perhaps it is the fact that many people (including Don Henley and Mick Fleetwood) have claimed that parts of the song are about them, yet Stevie does not confirm any of these claims. Perhaps it is the controversy surrounding many elements of Stevie’s life. Perhaps it is the fact that Stevie wrote it within a recovery period from three different relationships—Henley, Fleetwood, and Lindsey Buckingham, her live-in lover and singing partner for six years. Perhaps the overall musical experimentation of the Tusk album, where "Sara" first appeared, makes the simplistic F-major pattern of the music stand out. Perhaps it is the abstract and metaphorical imagery conveyed through many of the lyrics.

Whatever the reason, "Sara" is draped in an indelible and delicate shroud of esotericism which appeals to the audience much like the tumultuous affairs of the group attracted many to the album Rumours. It emotionally connects with the listener in ways very few other songs do, and many people make personal or analytical connections to the ambiguous lyricism.

Wait a minute baby . . .
Stay with me awhile . . .
Said you’d give me light . . .
But you never told me about the fire . . .

Many of Stevie’s lyrics could be about many people, even those who don’t stake a claim. Here, she calls to a particular person, a person she is very close to. That person could very well be Lindsey Buckingham, who promised devotion and happiness for many years. Though the years were hard, her years with Lindsey, at least at the start, were basked in a joyful love, one that shined and gave off this promised light of happiness. Behind this light, though, was another source, this one more emotional and intense, such as the flames of a fire. Joining Fleetwood Mac took its emotional and physical toll on Stevie, whose attitude on life and love began to change. Lindsey changed, as well, and the fiery intensity of this metamorphosis to fame led to the severing of their true love. This fire was unexpected for Stevie, who may have felt that she and Lindsey were going to last, but the stress eventually became too much. If not Lindsey, it could be the man in any of her relationships. A relationship that fails often begins sweet and glorious before falling into the flames of breakup.

Drowning in the sea of love
Where everyone would love to drown

Love, for many people, is one that envelops us all. It envelops our heart, our mind, our body, our soul. When one is in love, he or she wants to embrace it and never let go, never escape. If love were a sea, according to Stevie, one would want to drown there, surrendering him or herself to an eternity in the glorious waters. As Stevie went through quickly successive relationships with Lindsey, Don Henley, and Mick Fleetwood, she found herself falling in and out of love quite often. She constantly desired to drown herself, even if it would mean heartbreak later.

And now it’s gone
It doesn’t matter anymore

Through various reasons, Stevie is constantly thwarted in her attempts to drown herself in love. It escapes her and leaves her. To protect her feelings and detach herself from the pain, she became indifferent. Instead of relationships, she would focus on her other source of pleasure, music, to get away from it all.

When you build your house
Call me home

Stevie may not be as detached from love as she seemed. Perhaps she doesn’t really want to be indifferent, and actually wants to keep some options open. A home (not a house, a HOME) is symbolic of comfort, relaxation, stability, three things Stevie did not have the luxury of having this time of her life. She would later come to regret not settling down and having a family, but she found the prospects of juggling a sane life and her need to satisfy her muse in 1979 to be near impossible. Still, she cannot totally deny herself, so she hopes for someone to "call" her to a home. At the time "Sara" was written, Don Henley was building a house, so she could literally be referring to his. A house and a home, though, are two different things.

And he was just like a great dark wing
Within the wings of a storm

Stevie’s oft-brilliant use of metaphor is best shown in these two lines. A wing is, in the simplest sense, a protrusion that serves to help achieve flight. Each member of Fleetwood Mac was surely flying high. Each one did not make a single bird, though; they all had to work together. They were merely extensions of one great bird of music. To Stevie, one particular wing was both large and mysterious. Mick Fleetwood both physically and mentally fits this persona; besides his height, his actions on stage and in public often gave the impression that Mick was a little bit crazy, but crazy in a good way. Mick himself has confirmed that he is indeed the great, dark wing (Stevie has not confirmed his opinion).

The storm could then be associated with their relationship. Following the energy-charged, acrimonious breakup between Lindsey and Stevie (and the less-acrimonious breakups of John and Christine McVie, Mick and Jenny Boyd), a certain ominous tension had to be present. A romantic relationship between any two other members would create quite a stir. Stevie to this day says that Lindsey and Mick have never discussed the relationship between her and the great, dark wing; the tension remains, but is now quite subdued. In 1980, though, the storm had to have been great.

I think I had met my match
He was singing
And undoing the laces
Undoing the laces

Stevie’s "match" would be one who is both the spiritual and the emotional match to herself. For many, this match in our lives becomes a future husband or wife, a true love. Stevie, though, HAD this match, and he is no longer present in her romantic life. This match was singing; this, in turn, eliminates Mick as the match in her life. One reason for the ambiguity of this song is the fact that Stevie, at times, seems to be singing about a person in the first part of a stanza and then somebody entirely different at the end. Her match is one who melted her heart, undoing her lacy (and, therefore, delicate) soul with only the sound of his voice. She exposed and surrendered herself to this love. This could mean either Lindsey or Don, since both were accomplished singers in a group. Her longer relationship with Lindsey leans to the line being more about him.

Hold on
The night is coming and the starling flew for days
I’d stay home at night all the time
I’d go anywhere, anywhere
Ask me and I’m there because I care

Stevie now attempts to deal with her life by separating herself. She knows there are two people inside of her—one who wants to be musical, one who wants to have love. She gives her musical self the form of a starling, a bird of simplicity who possesses an elegance of its own. As the starling flies, she imagines herself being home, away from it all. Without the starling, she sees herself staying home at night, finding the relaxation and rest she so deserves. When relaxed, she is willing to travel anywhere, see anything, because she is not obligated to do so. She can fulfill any obligation she has. She will not have the band to answer to or tour with. She can also now find her love, and if that love asks her to be with him forever, she will be there, because now, she has the ability to care.

You’re the poet in my heart
Never change, never stop
And now it’s gone
It doesn’t matter what for
When you build your house
I’ll come by

Who is Sara? Stevie’s best friend, also named Sara, was staying at her house during her and Mick’s relationship. This friend would later marry Mick, which leads to believe that the song is a love song to Sara told in the point of view to Mick (and a sign that she forgives him).

Sara, in reality, is much more than that. When Stevie checked herself into the Betty Ford Center in 1986, she did so under the name of "Sara." Sara, in a way, is the second personality of Stevie. But whom does Sara relate to—the musical starling or the one who strives for a simpler life with relationship?

Sara is the poet in Stevie’s heart, her eternal muse, the starling, and, as Stevie realizes with both melancholy and regret, her true love. The musical spirit and soul within her is what guides her life. It never has an ego, and it never comes home late. Sara is her spiritual and emotional match. A family and a more stable life will only be dreams for Stevie, good dreams, and as much as she would like to throw it all away, she knows she would be cutting her heart out in the process.

Sara is a part of her that will never change its attitude, never stop loving her back. Only through Sara does she have the strength to try to be indifferent to the love of others. Perhaps she would date, have a steady boyfriend, possibly marry later in life. But the love could never be as true or as strong as that which she devotes to her muse, Sara. It is Sara for whom she sacrifices her want of comfort, for now when the house of comfort and safety she so desired is finished or ready for her, when called, she will only visit, and continue to dream.

All I ever wanted
Was to know that you were dreaming

Throughout this song, she has been speaking either to or about her muse. Now, Sara, the starling, the great muse within her, speaks back to her. Sara lets her know that it is not wrong to dream, to keep the idea of a relationship open. Sara is also speaking to the others that had been in Stevie’s life, asking for forgiveness, apologizing, letting them know her love for them had been genuine. She appreciates their love, and it saddens her to know she cannot return it equally.

There’s a heartbeat
And it never really died

When two people are in a romantic relationship, whether it is for six days or six years, it leaves an imprint on a person’s heart, one of love for each other. The strength of that love depends on the length or intensity of the relationship, but it is still there. Anybody who has had a bad breakup with another person may feel anger, melancholy, or even indifference for a period of time. However, one never really stops caring for the person, remembering the times they shared together. Within Stevie remains the love and passion that she shared with Lindsey, Mick, Don, and anyone else she did or shall love. Her heart still beats for these people. Her heart also beats for Sara, and though it may flutter, it will never really die.

Through its melancholy, torment, passion, and inner struggles, "Sara" is by far the most complicated work Stevie Nicks has ever written and is truly her masterpiece. Perhaps this is why she no longer performs the number in concert—the heart-wrenching emotion has become too much of a burden to bear. She also may feel like singing "Sara" to an audience exposes her to the world. Every songwriter faces this struggle, but "Sara" is something different, something personal, and one should feel privileged that we even heard it once.

There is an interesting footnote to this song. "Sara" originally appeared on the Tusk album at an approximate six-and-a-half minute length. That length would be altered for the Tusk CD, but the full radio version can be heard on the Greatest Hits album. Besides these two versions, however, several longer versions do exist, and some are attainable through bootlegs and copies of demo tapes.

According to several sources, among them Stevie, the original "Sara", the one first recorded, was sixteen minutes long, nearly three times the original length. As far as anyone knows, this recording either no longer exists or is unattainable. Stevie Nicks has also refused to sing this song in concert as well as releasing the lyrics to the public.

One can only assume by its elusiveness that within this sixteen-minute version lies the true song of "Sara." Stevie is keeping it secret, and one should respect her wishes. For this reason, despite how much we interpret, how many associations we make to her music, how much we assume, how much we accuse, how much we analyze, truncate, debate, joke, laugh, cry, or just listen, we must realize that the only real interpretation of "Sara" lies in the heart of Stevie Nicks.

Transcribed to HTML by Marty Adelson.

Copyright © 1995-2001, Martin and Lisa Adelson
All Rights Reserved.