Rock's greatest soap opera,
FLEETWOOD MAC went to hell and back to bring the
world some of the most popular and most perfect, hard-centered easy listening
music pf all time. But it nearly cost them their sanity. And their lives....
AUGUST 7, 1987. Fleetwood
Mac arc enjoying a third burst of success after the Peter Green/"Albatross"
years and Rumours heyday. Their new album, Tango In The Night has just topped
the charts in Britain and America on its way to global sales that will
eventually approach l0 million. But all is not well in the camp. When the band meets at Christine McVie's Hollywood home to resolve their
differences, the atmosphere is venomous A row breaks out over Lindsey Buckingham's refusal to
tour, and when former lover Stevie Nicks tries to remonstrate with him, the
highly strung guitarist explodes. "get this bitch out of my way. And fuck the
lot of you" he screams, as he pushes her over the hood of his car and delivers a
slap. Vowing never to speak to the band again, he drives off into the sunset
with the parting shot, "You're a bunch of selfish bastards.
Flash back more than a decade. You could be forgiven for thinking that the
pinnacle of Fleetwood Mac's convoluted, incestuous, drug-fuelled, trash novel
insanity had been reached in 1976 when they were recording Rumours. In fact, it
was only the start of what was to become rock'n'roll's longest running real life soap opera. The omens could not have been less propitious when the
band went into the Record Plant studio in Sausalito, San Francisco. Their
previous album, 1975's Fleetwood Mac, sat at the top of the US charts. But
nobody knew if they could stay together long enough even to complete the follow
up. The torrid six year romance between Nicks and Buckingham has recently ended
in bitterness and rancour and the two are only speaking to each other to hurl
insults and recriminations, John McVie and Christine McVie, married for eight
years, are not speaking at all, except through the expensive lawyers negotiating
their messy divorce. Mick Fleetwood, too, is going through a divorce of his own
and is about to complicate matters further by embarking on an affair with Nicks.
Outside of being trapped in the same band and writing songs to each other,
detailing every jealousy and betrayal in the emotional maelstrom they have
created, the only common currency is the huge, velvet bag of cocaine which
engineer Ken Calliat keeps under the mixing desk and which the band demand at regular intervals to 'refresh' themselves. Yet out of this traumatically
troubled and tangled web comes the bestselling album of all time (at least until
Michael Jackson cleans up with Thriller). Ultimately, Rumours will shift more
than 25 million copies and set Fleetwood Mac up on millionaire's row for life,
an amazing achievement for a band one with an entire pre history born out of the
British '60s blues boom.
The phenomenal success of Rumours keeps Fleetwood Mac together, but it's against
all rational judgement, and at a price. In the intervening decade the
dysfunction and trauma they turned to such positive and creative effect on
Rumours has gone from bad to worse. Much worse. With lifestyles that would not
have been out of place on the set of Dallas or Dynasty and the most outrageous
touring circus this side of Led Zeppelin, the band descends into a collective
drink and drugs hell. Excess of every kind is the order of the day. Nicks has an
affair with Don Henley of The Eagles, falls offstage and checks into the Betty
Ford Clinic for cocaine addiction. Then, on her release, she sinks into an even
deeper and more debilitating dependency on the tranquilliser Klonopin and nearly
dies all over again. John McVie has an alcohol induced seizure and is busted at
his Hawaii home with four and a half grammes of pure cocaine and a collection of
illegal firearms. Christine McVie has an affair with the band's lighting
director and then falls for doomed Beach Boys wild man Dennis Wilson. By her own
admission, it's taking a magnum of vintage Dora Perignon a day just for her to
get by. Mick Fleetwood is busy blowing his millions on debauchery and is deep in
his own brain frying self destruction, involving industrial quantities of
cocaine washed down with bottles of brandy.
BY 1986,WHEN IT COMES to recording Tango In The Night after a four year lay off,
the task of ensuring the record is not a complete disaster has fallen
overwhelmingly on the intense and nervy figure of Buckingham. Nicks, little more
than a sedated zombie, barely attends the year long sessions, and Buckingham is
forced to doctor the tapes to kid the world into believing she is on songs that
she has never even heard. A half-crazed Fleetwood spends much of the recording
nodding out in a Winnebago parked outside Buckingham's home studio. Bass player
John McVie only turns up when absolutely necessary to put down his basslines,
while his ex-wife Christine, for whom he still carries a torch, views all the
madness with increasing distaste. Left almost single-handedly to fashion the
album and having successfully delivered his less industrious colleagues yet
another bank filling, career saving, multi-platinum winner, a frustrated
Buckingham decides he has finally had enough. His colleagues are appalled.
However out of it they may be, they're not too far gone to realise that, without
their main musical focus, they're in trouble. Throughout the summer of 1987, the
rest of the band has attempted to twist his arm to join them on their
forthcoming world tour. At one point, Buckingham's agreement appears to have
been secured and a celebratory dinner is arranged. By that evening, he has
changed his mind again and fails show up at the restaurant.
Tired of his vacillating, the rest of the band summon him to a final showdown at
Christine McVie's house. When their pleading and cajoiling continues to fall on
deaf ears, the exchanges grow angrier. Finally, when Nicks intervenes,
Buckingham snaps. Although the couple had broken up back in 1976, a decade's
worth of pent-up emotion spews forth and Buckingham walks out on the band.
MORE THAN 15 YEARS LATER, Buckingham is back, rehearsing for a new stadium tour
at Culver City Studios, Los Angeles, and with a new Fleetwood Mac studio album.
Christine McVie has gone, having moved back to England to retire with her
husband to a big house in Kent. Otherwise, it is the classic Fleetwood Mac
line-up. Older and wiser and a little less volatile. But back with the same
melodic and beguiling sound they perfected on albums such as Fleetwood Mac,
Rumours and Tusk. And after years of being regarded as the enemy, it seems that
Fleetwood Mac are cool again. "I think the intriguing thing to a lot of people
is that there's never been a period in rock as debauched as the period after
Rumours," said Courtney Love, who in the late 90's covered Stevie Nicks'
cocaine-inspired "Gold Dust Woman". "Nobody's touched it. "Ex-Smashing Pumpkins
leader Billy Corgan is another fan (in the mid-90's he recorded a cover version
of "Landslide" from 1975's Fleetwood Mac). And when Uncut recently visited
Tricky at his home in Venice Beach, California, even the dark one was playing
Fleetwood Mac, proclaiming them to be "fucking brilliant".
For Buckingham, Say You Will
is the first Fleetwood Mac studio album he has been involved with since the
fateful Tango in the Night, and although he disputes some of the details of the
confrontation that resulted in his 1987 departure, he concedes euphemistically
it was "not a happy day". Yet he regards the new album as a "vindication" of his
walk-out. "If I hadn't left then, I wouldn't be in this place now," he reasons.
"So it all makes sense in some way. That's part of the beauty of us being back
together". At 55, Buckingham seems far more relaxed and less intense than the
character we met on Fleetwood Mac's 1997 reunion tour. Sitting cross-legged and
relaxed on a couch at the Culver City Sound Stage rehearsal space in LA, he
scratches his head and laughs a lot. When the band's US publicist sticks her head around the door to say," five more minutes," he replies, "Hey, 10, 15,
whatever, it's cool." "I'm now married and I have a four-and-a half-year-old son
and a two-and-a-half-year-old daughter," he explains. "I think all that calms
you down in increments, without you even being aware of it. You get more balance
and you feel like there's something greater than yourself in the scheme of
things. I'm just happier. I spent quite a few years in emotional exile and that
includes all my time in Fleetwood Mac, really." There was never a time in the
band when his relationship with Nicks wasn't characterised as "dysfunctional"
and "denial", he admits with total candour. "That sounds strange when we split
up so many years earlier. But most couples in that position don't carry on
seeing each other all the time. Being in a band is like still living with
someone. We weren't able to resolve things because I don't think we were focused
enough even to know what needed to be resolved." Even on the 1997 tour he feels
there was still a "residue". Since then he gained a family of his own for the
first time and has finally been able to move on. "And this time when we started
again I found I really liked the chemistry of the band without the baggage we
carried around for so long. We can acknowledge what happened. But we are
Talking to Mick Fleetwood at the rehearsal studio where the band are preparing
for their forthcoming tour, the drummer agrees. But he also says that the unique
chemistry that created Rumours has not entirely dissipated. " There's an
incredible amount of emotional investment outside of the music within this band.
The vibration of what happened is still alive. It's not theatre, it's real," he
adds, stretching his long frame across a couch, still the elegant English dandy.
"Christine has gone, but Stevie is surrounded by three men, two of whom she's
had relationships with. This makes for an interesting copy. My friendship and
absolute love for Stevie is still able to exist. She's my wife's best friend and
we've all just come back from a vacation in Hawaii together. It's not corporate.
It's still a powerful thing emotionally. There are area's for Stevie and Lindsey
that are still sticky for them. But we've found a road map where this can
TALKING TO NICKS, who seems
animated and incredibly open, the Fleetwood Mac story is not so much soap opera
as gothic romance. Either way, it's a tale in which she believed the final
chapter had been written with the band's 1997 reunion tour and the subsequent
departure of Christine McVie. "Not all the King's horses and all the King's men
could put it back together," she sang on "fall From Grace", from her 2001 solo
album, Trouble in Shangri-La. "Yes, that was totally about the band," she admits
now. Yet she had no hesitation in signing on again when approached. "it's like
the restless spirit of Fleetwood Mac still needs to find peace," she says. "That
sounds a bit Wuthering Heights. But in a way it is. I don't think any of us
could be in any other band."
Say You Will feature 18 tracks, nine written by Nicks and nine by Buckingham,
who also produced (with assistance on some tracks by Rob Cavallo). "It's really
like a Buckingham-Nicks record with the power trio backing," says Nicks. She
admits to missing Christine McVie, who she hasn't seen in five years. The day
after the Grammy awards in 1998 (where Fleetwood Mac had three nominations but
went away empty-handed), McVie packed up, sold her house and car and left for
Britain. "I'm not ungrateful to Hollywood but I've lived there for 28 years and
I'm homesick<" she told this writer shortly before the move. "I want to spend
more time with my English family and open a restaurant." She hasn't been back to
LA since. "Chris did not enjoy the experience of being back on the road at all,"
nicks says. "And I can understand why she left. She's now 59 and so I'm now the
same age she was on that last 1997 tour. It's very hard on a woman to do this.
But with her in the band we had a feminine power and I wish she'd stayed." At
54, and even without make-up, it is still possible to see what it was that once
made Nicks one of the most desirable women on the planet when she twisted and
twirled her mystical way through "Rhiannon" in her trademark black lace and
chiffon. Today, however, she's damaged her hip, and mounts the studio steps
gingerly. "You become more brittle as you get old. But it's all a state of
mind-I'm trying to have a young attitude. There's still nobody can dance like
me," she says defiantly. Several of her nine songs on Say you Will are equally
venerable. In 2001, when she was about to go on tour with her last solo album,
she handed over a collection of 17 demos to Buckingham, Fleetwood and John Mcvie.
"I went back through my vaults of tunes and picked all the ones I really liked
but which for one reason or another had never seen the light of day," she
recounts. Her colleagues picked five of them for the new album including
"Goodbye Baby" and "Smile At You", written in 1975-76 and which "could easily
have ended up on Rumours", according to Nicks. While she was away on tour, the
"power trio" of Fleetwood, john McVie and Buckingham rented a house in Bel Air,
installed Buckingham's home studio and worked on the songs. "When I came back
off tour I was happy with what they'd done. but I listened and I said, "This
isn't going to be good unless we have some new material." In December 2001 she
went back home for Christmas to the house she has kept in Phoenix for more than
20 years. A month later, she returned to LA with four new songs. "I was totally
nervous," she recalls. " I knew they wouldn't like the songs. Your self-esteem
plummets and you feel you're the worst songwriter in the world. But I played
them and they flipped out." One of them, "Illume", was inspired by 9/11, after
Nicks had flown into New York the night before and found herself stranded in the
stricken city. "Lindsey had tears in his eyes," she recalls. "He put his hand on
my knee and said 'How do you do this?' "In the absence of Christine McVie's
sisterly support, Nicks recruited bosom friend Sheryl Crow to guest on two of
the new songs, "Silver Girl" and the title track. "I penned "Silver Girl" about
Sheryl," she says. "It's an ode to a lady rock star who's always on the road and
has a very hard time having relationships and settling down. So it's also
totally about me." Although she admits she couldn't give up the lifestyle the
band has afforded her, Nicks can't conceal a certain bitterness based on her
conviction that being in Fleetwood Mac has forced her to make huge sacrifices in
other areas of her life. "Being a female rock star is great and it's fabulous
and you make lots of money. But it makes it very hard to do anything else. As a
woman you give up part of yourself in a band," she laments. It's not so much
self-pity. Simply a statement of fact. "Every relationship I've ever had, great
or small, and whether I was going out with a rock star or a lawyer, has been
destroyed by the business."
Yet, in many way Say You
Will is primarily Lindsey Buckingham's album. "The focus was led completely by
Lindsey," Fleetwood confirms. "Even on Stevie's songs, because she was out on
tour, she handed the reins to Lindsey, which was a very trusting thing. None of
this would have happened without him." Most of Buckingham's nine compositions
were originally destined for a solo album he began recording in the mid-90's.
"Then we met at Christine's house six years ago and everybody intervened and
said to me 'You've got to stop your solo album and help get the band together
and do this tour' "Having been 'guilted', as he puts it, into the 1997 reunion,
his intention was to return to his solo record. " But Mick was playing on my
solo stuff, John was playing bass on it. Even Christine was on it on a limited
basis. So to all intents and purposes it was Fleetwood Mac doing a Lindsey
Buckingham album. Nobody said, 'We've got to make this a Fleetwood Mac LP'. It
just grew into that. In the end, all we had to do with my material was for
Stevie to add her vocals and it was a Fleetwood Mac record."
Fleetwood confirms that,
when he began recording with Buckingham again, it was not in his agenda to get
the band back together. " I thought I was going to spend three weeks doing
overdubs on Lindsey's album. My whole thing is Fleetwood Mac forever. But I
prefaced my renewed relationship with Lindsey by saying, 'You know I want
Fleetwood Mac back together. But I don't want you thinking that's why I'm here.'
But it went so well that it was Lindsey who said maybe we could turn this into a
Fleetwood Mac record." Even without Christine McVie's songwriting, between them
Buckingham and Nicks had so many songs that, at one point, Say You Will was
going to be a double album. "I thought it would be an intriguing thing for a
band to return with something that had such ambition. We even got into
sequencing it as a double," Buckingham says. "Eventually we pulled back on that
for issues of prising and so on. But we kept the core and from my point of view
it's the best work we've ever done in terms of the execution and sophistication.
Which I guess is appropriate for a bunch of people who are all in their fifties
now." The 1997 tour and accompanying live album, The Dance, were " as good a job
as we could do in going out and restating our body of work," he says. "But for
me, this is the beginning of a whole other thing because it's new songs." With
Nicks out on her solo tour, Buckingham particularly enjoyed working in an
all-male environment. "There was a lot of bonding between the three of us and it
was a good place to start building a reconfigured dynamic between us. It was
very difficult for me for years to have to work with Stevie when I didn't want
to be around her. And it was always hard for John to rise to his higher self
around Christine. There was never a sense that we were in any way crippled
without Chris because we've made a record that's at least as potent."
Nicks, meanwhile, seems
genuinely pleased that Buckingham's restless spirit appears finally to have
found musical and personal satisfaction. "Hopefully this record will give him
back a sense of purpose and delight. He's in a way better space now and it's
wonderful for me to see that. I care about him and his life and what he does and
if he's happy. I so want him to be ok. This record is his baby and I really
think he's gone and done that great thing he always wanted to do."
The Uncut review:
Return of the Mac
Tasty box of All-Sorts from mainstream monsters of
Say You Will
* * * *
More than most bands, FLEETWOOD
MAC evince complex, unresolved feelings. On the one hand they're the ultimate
mainstream soft rock dinosaur, past masters of glossy emotions and overcooked arrangements. On the other hand......On the other hand what, exactly? It's not
like Fleetwood Mac are Abba - So Uncool They're Cool. But nor have Fleetwood Mac
ever been So Cool They're Uncool...if you know what I mean. So what are they,
and why does a goodly percentage of their music stand up after decades? I guess
because a) witchy woman Stevie Nicks has the voice of a petulant siren: b)
studio geek Lindsey Buckingham still wants to be Brian Wilson: and c) Fleetwood
Mac were and are truly a band for boys and girls. Good things all. So here they
come again, in a post-post-punk, hip hop-dominated universe, keen to make
meaningful music. And there's a historical parallel here: just as 1979's 'brave,
of-the-wall' double album Tusk followed 1977's stratosphere-busting Rumours, so
the almost-double CD Say You Will follows the play-safe 'live greatest hits'
thing that was 1997's The Dance.
The funny thing is that
Tusk, when you revisit it, doesn't sound off the wall at all. Which makes Say
You Will all the more out-there as mainstream rock product. Next to Tusk,
indeed, this 18-track opus is a box of All-Sorts replete with countless
different colours and moods.
As one would expect, there's
a slew of those Stevie Nicks songs that are essentially narcissistic hymns to,
well, Stevie Nicks. One of them is called "Silver Girl", no less. Another
"Illume", is a bongo-driven meditation on life post 9/11 and boasts the
priceless line, "I am a cliff dweller from the old school". Gotta love the
woman: on the closing "Goodbye Baby" she sounds like Kate Bush spliced with
Victoria Williams Then there are Lindsey's songs, some of which date back to the
solo 'project' that should have come out after his 1992 opus Out Of The Cradle.
What makes Say You Will really great are Lindsey tracks like "Red Rover",
"Come" and "Say Goodbye".
The heady melodicism and hyper-syncopation of "Rover" are intoxicating. The
shimmering "Say Goodbye" - all dappled guitars and whispered vocals - suggests
Lindsey has been listening to modern-day troubadours like Elliot Smith. The
album peaks somewhere in the middle, with "Rover" followed by the effortlessly
shiny Steviepop of the title track and then by first single "Peacekeeper", a
true Buck/Nicks joint effort. Both pack killer choruses, as insidiously
sweet-sad as vintage Mac classics from "Silver Springs" to "Gypsy". Nicks
"Running Through The Garden" is early-80's hippie power pop, with a layered
keyboard hook and chugging noo wave guitar. For the obvious reasons the only
flavour missing on Say You Will is the departed Christine's perfect Tango in The
Night bop-pop, making the album more Buckingham- Nicks Redux than anything else.
(You can hear Chrissie, though, on the moody, thumping "Murrow".) That's OK,
because there's so much here to get one's teeth into. Tusk this isn't, but Tusk
it doesn't need to be. In an age of off-the-shelf Linda Perry pop, the Mac keep
the mainstream interesting. Say you'll give it a spin.
Thanks to Pip Fidler who transcribed most of this article.
Please note that the Uncut article also tells of the history of Fleetwood
Mac, this large section of the article following this except has not been
transcribed here in this article. The complete magazine carries 21 pages of
Fleetwood Mac pictures and articles.