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Fleetwood Mac: Back on the Chain Gang

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Without quite denying such incidents, Buckingham looks genuinely a bit puzzled to hear them played back. "What I do remember," he says, "is a show where I purposely sang much of the set out of tune. We got offstage, and everyone was irate, obviously. They were talking about firing me and getting Clapton. Very well-founded, because it was not a professional thing to do."

Ultimately, the guitarist's voluntary departure, in 1987, stopped the toxic brawls. In fact, except for a couple of weeks in the studio when the band cut Tango in the Night, in 1986, Nicks says she spent little time in the '80s around Buckingham "and his insane kind of going-insane thing."

Nicks had her own battle to wage – against the cocaine that had become her key companion during her solo years. "I haven't done cocaine since 1985," she says, "when somebody advised me to go and see a plastic surgeon. He said to me, 'The next toot that you do could be your last. The tissue in your nose is very delicate. It could go straight up to your head, and then you could drop to the floor and die a lousy, two-hour death.' So what I did was finish my tour. I had to be very careful – just a tiny little bit, very careful."

Nicks came off the road and packed her bags for 28 days of rehab at the Betty Ford Clinic. "They are hard-nosed," she says. "They're harder on you if you're famous – 'Oh, if it isn't Miss Special.' It's awful. But it works. Now, I don't do things that make me feel bad, 'cause I have way too much work to do. When they told me that my brain might blow up, it was very easy to quit."

 

For Fleetwood, the warnings would take longer to arrive. His marriage to Jenny Boyd was in trouble, his father was dying of cancer before his eyes, and he was spending the $3 million he'd already made from Rumours on cocaine and real estate. And despite, or almost because of, his cash influx, Buckingham was writhing uncomfortably as the band got huge. Distracted though he was, Fleetwood could see that Buckingham, "our chief architect and creator," was under the spell of the Clash and other Brit-punk bands, and intended to kick the next album well to the left of Rumours. Buckingham told Fleetwood that he felt stifled by the band format and wanted to record some of his tracks at his home studio; further, he was sick of pouring his best musical ideas into the others' songs.

Yet there were plenty such songs, and the band was ready to make the double album that would be named Tusk, after Fleetwood's slang for an erect male member. ("We just liked the sound of the word in the abstract," he later lied to People.) His father died, in the summer of 1978. In the life reassessment that followed, Fleetwood confessed to Jenny about the now-cooling Nicks affair; Jenny went back to England for good soon after. By year's end, he had taken up with Nicks' pal, model Sara Recor, who happened to be married.

The band was making new music: Buckingham's plaintive "Walk a Thin Line" ("I said, 'Stay by my side'/But no one said nothin'") and lurching "What Makes You Think You're the One" and "Not That Funny"; Nicks' "Sara" (where the libidinous Fleetwood appears "just like a great dark wing"); Christine McVie's poppy "Think About Me." The title track was recorded with the USC marching band. The persisting joke is that Warner Bros. execs heard the scattershot, challenging two-record set and saw their Christmas bonuses fly out the window. To make the battle more uphill, Warner Bros. issued it in September 1979 with a price of $16, about three bucks more than was typical. Fleetwood Mac survived another wearying world tour – the ailing Buckingham undergoing a diagnostic spinal tap that left him on all fours in pain and caused the cancellation of a gig for 80,000 people in Cleveland – and fetched up back in L.A. so worn out that Buckingham impulsively told a crowd that it would be a long time before anyone saw the band again. Within days, after the four other band members told Fleetwood that they wanted more professional counseling than his Seedy Management could offer, the band agreed to take nine months off. Fleetwood flew to Ghana to make a record with some pals and the local hotshot players. He drummed all day and led sprees all night. On one, grousing about poverty, he took off his $8,000 Rolex President and smashed it to bits with the heel of a beer bottle. Buckingham immortalized the expedition in his sardonic solo song "Bwana." "We all have our demons/And sometimes they escape," he wailed. "The jungle cries for more."

Fleetwood's demons were definitely about. He bought a house in the same L.A. canyon as Don Henley and Barbra Streisand, dubbed it the Blue Whale and made it the clubhouse of his Zoo band – many musicians, too much coke. Making payments on two sizable homes, running the parties, he was finally forced to declare bankruptcy. Christine McVie remembers the sad epoch when Big Daddy became Little Daddy: "Everything about him became little. He wasn't walking with his shoulders straight like he always used to. It was sad to see that. He didn't seem happy, didn't know how to function unless he was high. He would just sleep the whole time – just hooked on drugs, about as low as he could get. I remember him telling me he was living in somebody's basement with a damp carpet. The carpet was soaking wet, and the bed was damp, and he used to lie in bed watching soap operas all day long."

For the recording of 1987's Tango in the Night, Fleetwood was functional enough to play the drums. Buckingham, encouraged by the band's willingness to come to his home studio, labored long and hard to produce the album's rich sonic sheen. His own unfettered "Big Love" featured overlapping sex moans (Buckingham's voice equalized into something many thought was Nicks'). Christine McVie's "Everywhere" took the band's vocal formula to a teeth-achingly pretty extreme. But Buckingham had put off his third solo record – for 17 months – and torn his favorite songs out of it for Tango. Here's how he remembers those era-closing sessions: "I think the final snapshot I have is from that period of time, making Tango up at my house. We had a Winnebago parked in front because we didn't want the whole house to be used for a lounge, so to speak. I had a girlfriend then who was very threatened by the whole situation, and that didn't really work very well, either. But the snapshot would be us trying to get things done in an atmosphere where there was just a lot of crazy stuff going on and not a lot of focus, and not a lot of unity and certainty. And no sense of us wanting to do this for . . . for the reasons we originally got into it for. That's my last snapshot of 1987. And then a little 10-year vacation."

The night after it amazed Winona Ryder, the band reconvened for another show. Once again, the invited 400 seemed to want the Mac thing very much. Brought to attention by "The Chain," stroked by "Everywhere," almost chastened by the rigors of "I'm So Afraid," the band settled in during the deceptively peaceful opening strains of "Silver Springs." But Nicks, who had shown a good deal of power the previous night, was clearly going for the whole enchilada this time. "Time has cast a spell on you, but you won't forget me/I know I could have loved you, but you would not let me," chanted all three singers as Nicks gathered herself, then gripped the mike and turned toward her ex-lover with every semblance of smoldering anger and hurt: "You'll never get away from the sound of the woman that loved you."

By the time Nicks was virtually shouting, "Was I just a fool?" and "Give me just a chance," Buckingham was peering sideways as he sang his part, eyes guarded behind whatever masking his guitar and mike stand could afford him. " 'Silver Springs' always ends up in that place for me," says Buckingham later, "because she's always very committed to what those words are about, and I remember what they were about then. Now it's all irony, you know, but there is no way you can't get drawn into the end of that song."

It's four months later as night settles in outside Stevie Nicks' L.A. house, and a couple of dozen candles stacked around the room flicker in the breeze coming through the open French doors. "At night the ocean gets really loud," Nicks says. "And then you realize how close you are to it." An oversize original print of her and Buckingham bare-shouldered, as they appeared on Buckingham-Nicks, sits nearby, awaiting shipping to a museum. She's discussing her performance of "Silver Springs" that will be seen in a few days on MTV. "I never did that before," she says of her fervent, face-off reading of the song. "I left that for Friday night. The earlier shows were good. I just paced myself. They weren't the shows I wanted to leave behind for posterity, just in case Fleetwood Mac never did another thing."

"I think," says Buckingham, "some people are probably getting the impression that we are back together or something along those lines. Which is certainly not true. Not yet, anyway. You never know. I don't foresee that at all. But, you know, things . . ."

Stevie Nicks sits up very straight when she hears that notion: "Over my dead body. See, I don't want to be part of that darkness. He knows that. When we're up there singing songs to each other, we probably say more to each other than we ever would in real life. If you offered me a passionate love affair and you offered me a high-priestess role in a fabulous castle above a cliff where I can just, like, live a very spiritual kind of religious-library-communing-with-the-stars, learning kind of existence, I'm going to go for the high priestess."

 

Mick Fleetwood has invited Lynn, his wife of two years, to come out on the road and see a few shows – just not the early ones. "Lynn and I were talking to someone who is new to this whole thing called Fleetwood Mac," he says. "And she said, 'What you've got to understand is that these people have something in between them that is extraordinarily theirs. And you will never know. It is you and them, but you have to get used to it, because when these people are together, there is an unspoken thing that absolutely exists.' "You know, this whole thing is not happening as a bunch of corporate decisions. The celebration that Stevie and Lindsey are now able to have is interesting to watch. It's good – an understanding of where they've come from. I would hate to see anyone walking away or something going wrong, because now they're at the point in their lives where they can relate to the fact that they did come as a couple – first as a couple musically, then they joined this thing called Fleetwood Mac. And then they went to hell and back, basically. And now they are able to talk about that. It's also a celebration for me and John – I sometimes go, 'Wow, this man has been standing next to me for 30 damn years.' Christine, too. It's something to be proud of."

Christine McVie, singing a couple of songs at stage front for the first time, says she occasionally feels "like I've stood up in an airplane that's in turbulence." But back behind her keyboards, she thinks of history, too: "I do have flashbacks occasionally. The beast might have had its nails clipped a bit – I don't know. We're certainly not as dangerous for each other as we used to be. If anything, I'm hoping that we're now going to be good for each other. Wouldn't that be a nice way for things to turn out?"

This story is from the October 30th, 1997 issue of Rolling Stone.


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