John Lennon was shot dead in New York City the next week, and Stevie Nicks’ uncle John passed away after a protracted fight with cancer. Her famous song “Edge of Seventeen” was driven by the anguish and sadness of the two incidents.
The verses of “Edge of Seventeen” depict a grieving Nicks who was dealing with the assassination of John Lennon within the same week in December 1980, as well as the loss of her uncle Jonathan who ended his struggle with cancer.
“‘And the days go by like a strand in the wind,’ that’s how fast those days were going by during my uncle’s illness, and it was so upsetting to me,” Nicks commented on the lyrics in an interview from 1981. “The part that says ‘I went today… maybe I will go again… tomorrow’ refers to seeing him the day before he died. He was home and my aunt had some music softly playing, and it was a perfect place for the spirit to go away. The white-winged dove in the song is a spirit that is leaving a body, and I felt a great loss at how both Johns were taken. ‘I hear the call of the nightbird singing, come away, come away.’”
Nicks was influenced when composing the piece due to the way Lennon and her uncle died and how the term “white-winged dove” refers to the idea of the spirit leaving one’s body.
“It became a song about violent death, which was very scary to me because at that point no one in my family had died,” Nicks went on to explain the significance of the line. “To me, the white-winged dove was for John Lennon the dove of peace, and for my uncle, it was the white-winged dove who lives in the saguaro cactus—that’s how I found out about the white-winged dove, and it does make a sound like ‘whooo, whooo, whooo.’ I read that somewhere in Phoenix and thought I would use that in this song.”
Nicks added, “The dove became exciting and sad and tragic and incredibly dramatic. Every time I sing this song I have that ability to go back to that two-month period where it all came down.”