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Fleetwood Mac: Happy at the Top

For the five personalities touring behind the Number One album in the country, tolerating one another is the road to survival

Stevie Nicks, Lindsey Buckingham, Christine McVie, Mick Fleetwood, and John McVie backstage at circa 1982 in Brendan Byrne, New Jersey.
Ebet Roberts/Redferns/Getty
October 28, 1982

Mick Fleetwood was amused. He'd just heard a radio report that Fleetwood Mac – the group in which he's played drums for fifteen years – was breaking in a new singer. This, he thought, was funny. The band was rehearsing for its first tour in more than two years, but a new singer? "They literally thought it was true," he said, grinning.

"I wonder where they get that stuff," puzzled singer and guitarist Lindsey Buckingham. He looked at Fleetwood. "Or is this your way of telling me I'm fired?"

The mood of the band members as they sat by the pool at the Hollywood Hills home of their publicist was light and relaxed. After all, what's a little talk when your latest album is Mirage, and it is the country's Number One LP?

Sure, the stories are still told: like the rumors that singer Stevie Nicks tried to buy her way out of the band after the huge success of her solo album, Bella Donna. But Nicks wasn't around to comment; on the advice of her manager, Irving Azoff, she was the only group member who declined to speak to Rolling Stone.

But the four other band members remained unconcerned. "I'm not saying that we might not hate each other by the time we get off this tour," said the lean, high-voiced Buckingham. "But right at this time, everyone is having a good time."

Yes, they admit, it's possible that Nicks will leave; it's also possible – though less so – that Buckingham or singer-keyboardist Christine McVie might leave. But so what? Since 1967, Mick Fleetwood and bassist John McVie have lost Jeremy Spencer and Peter Green and Bob Welch, and if this tour turns into the swan song for this lineup – always a possibility – then they'll probably go out and find somebody else.

"We must sound like a band of nutters," said John McVie, usually the quietest and most distracted member, but also the bluntest and most outspoken when he decides to speak.

"People wonder how we can possibly get along," said Christine McVie, laughing. "We are five very different individuals, I'll say that. Also very strong-minded. That's the nature of the beast. But this is a good combination of musicians."

"I think there's a lot of tolerance in this band," added John McVie, quietly.

His ex-wife laughed. "Yeah, there is that, John."

"That's why I said it, dear." He looked down. "Enough said."

Lindsey Buckingham knows all about tolerance. Two weeks later, he sat in the back of a limousine that was taking him and his bodyguard – one of the band's five – to New Jersey's Meadowlands for the group's New York-area appearance; while the other members each took individual limos to the show, Buckingham talked about the work habits that separate him from the rest of the band.

"I'm not trying to be reactionary or anything," said the man who recorded part of the band's quirky 1979 Tusk album on his hands and knees, singing into a microphone on his bathroom floor. "But when you have limitations on your tools, it opens things up. They become more honest, more interesting."

Once the obvious questions about Fleetwood Mac – "Are they breaking up?" and its corollary, "Is Stevie leaving?" – are deflected, the story of this band is one of a dedicated eccentric trying to fit his idiosyncrasies into a sleek, hit-making machine. Buckingham is almost single-handedly responsible for the brave, audacious Tusk; he's the one member dedicated to flailing away at the constraints of Big Rock & Roll.

Things came to a head for Buckingham four years ago, on the heels of the polished Rumours, a 16 million seller Mick Fleetwood describes as "a freak." Typecast as the shaggy Northern California hippie, Buckingham found himself fascinated by the New Wave music he began hearing. "That stuff really gave me a kick in the ass," he said. "Maybe it was something I had wanted to do but didn't know how. Or maybe I just didn't want to make waves – I don't know. But it was exciting."

The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time: Fleetwood Mac, 'Rumours'

Buckingham, though, was stuck in Fleetwood Mac. "I think he was seeing this big shadow over him," said Mick Fleetwood. "Like he thought Fleetwood Mac was gonna potentially stop him. So he came over, and we spent three days sitting on my front lawn wondering what the fuck we were gonna do.

"Mainly, Lindsey was saying, 'I don't know how to ask you or John – what if I want to play drums or do something on my own?' I had to say, 'Well, if it sounds good, who gives a shit?' It doesn't say much for this situation if after fifteen years it can't take care of everyone within it."

"It's always hard for me to ask for something," said Buckingham. "It was real hard to work up the courage to say, 'Listen, guys, this is something I have to do. It's not gonna make it easier for you if I'm home doing my own song in my bathroom or my garage, but I have to.' Mick understood, but John and Chris really didn't, and it did cause problems during the making of the album. Maybe I was being selfish—I don't know."

The result was what Fleetwood calls "the most important album Fleetwood Mac will ever make," the record that kept Buckingham happy and paved the way for Law and Order, his nervy, quietly subversive solo pop LP. Other Macs also found outside work: Nicks recorded Bella Donna, Fleetwood went to Africa to make the percussion-oriented The Visitor, and John McVie toured with John Mayall and Mick Taylor in a reunited Bluesbreakers.

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