Fleetwood Mac: They Dared To Be Different

Fleetwood Mac is more than the sum of its parts

February 7, 1980
Fleetwood Mac, Stevie Nicks, Mick Fleetwood, rolling stone archive, old, photo
Stevie Nicks and Mick Fleetwood on the cover of Rolling Stone.
Richard Avedon

Stevie Nicks is in the bathroom of her publicist's office on Sunset Boulevard, fixing her hair. She can get all of her thick, shag-cut tresses to stay on top of her head with a single pin, she tells me. Sure enough, she has them coaxed into a neat, Victorian-style topknot in less than fifteen seconds with three strokes of a borrowed brush. "If you stop to think about it," she explains," it never works."

A short drive down Sunset, inside a film soundstage that once housed lavish production numbers, the rest of the Fleetwood Mac entourage is gathering for tonight's rehearsal. It was officially scheduled to begin at 4:30, and it's past six now, but nobody here seems particularly concerned. People traipse in and out. A buffet dinner is waiting. A Japanese masseur kneads someone's shoulders. Two women ride bicycles round the perimeter of the studio (which is the size of a small airplane hangar) while a tiny, shaggy dog runs alongside them. In two weeks, Fleetwood Mac's nine-month-long world tour, their first in over a year, opens in Pocatello, Idaho.

"That's Lindsey. It's perfect," says a tall woman standing next to me. She introduces herself as Lindsey Buckingham's sister-in-law, Eileen. Lindsey is at the dinner table a few feet away from us, facing a half-eaten plateful of food while doodling with a guitar that's in his lap. "When I first met him, he was about nineteen. And he had his guitar, always. He played all the time." Of course, when Eileen met Lindsey, he was not playing a custom-built electric guitar with a built-in transmitter that sent his every random riff ricocheting through a column of loudspeakers.

Someone tells me that John McVie hasn't been feeling well, so when we are introduced, I ask him if his cold is better. He is shaking my hand with both of his.

"It isn't a cold."

"Well, then I hope your stomach is better," I offer, running down the list of typical health problems.

"It's, uh, lower than that."

We both giggle in embarrassment, then joke about latenight TV commercials for Preparation H. McVie laughs easily, but there's melancholy in his smile: Emmett Kelly with an electric bass. After five minutes of conversation, I notice we're still shaking hands.

Mick Fleetwood strides through this assemblage of pets, friends, relatives and crew personnel, a man with a mission. Eighteen years of the rock & roll life have not eroded his English boarding-school composure. "I am always aware of what I'm doing," he tells me later. Right now, he is collecting the other band members for a meeting to choose which songs will be included in the tour set, and what the order will be. Shortly, McVie, Fleetwood, Christine McVie, Buckingham and Nicks (who has since arrived) are sitting cross-legged on the floor of the sound-stage, huddled in caucus.

Meanwhile, Sharon and I are having a talk; Sharon is Stevie Nicks' friend, a beautiful, dark-eyed girl of about twenty-two who looks as if she floated out of a Gauguin. Sharon used to live on Maui, and she sang lead in a rock & roll band that played clubs and hotels. Until one night last year, when Nicks happened to be in the audience. "She jumped up onstage and sang with me," Sharon recalls, blushing. "We did all her tunes." Sharon left her band. Now she lives in Stevie's house in Los Angeles. They work together making demos, and Sharon is Stevie's wardrobe mistress for the tour. "Stevie says this will be like an education for me," she explains. The meeting concluded, Christine McVie whips by on a bicycle. "You see," Sharon continues, "when the tour is over, I'll never have to wonder what rock stardom is like. I will have seen that for myself."

It's just another day in Los Angeles, California, to all of the Day of the Locust characters ambling up and down Hollywood Boulevard; just one more October afternoon when the bright, high sun makes the stars cemented in rows along the pavement seem to sparkle like polished hubcaps. The kids lined up with their autograph books and their Cheryl Ladd T-shirts in front of Frederick's of Hollywood know better. Today is Fleetwood Mac Day in Los Angeles, by special proclamation of the office of Mayor Tom Bradley. And today, a Fleetwood Mac star will be dedicated on Hollywood Boulevard after a short, traditional ceremony.

Inside Frederick's, the band is being presented with commemorative underwear. Outside, a crowd of about 200 is gathered in the street and in two sets of bleachers set up along the sidewalk. A pair of loudspeakers blares Rumours, the 1977 album that sold 15 million copies worldwide, more than any other LP by a single group in recording history. Fleetwood Mac's new album, Tusk, will be unveiled tonight at a record-company party; it is an ambitious, double-record set that took thirteen months and cost over a million dollars to make. Alongside the bleachers are sidewalk vending machines filled with today's Los Angeles Herald Examiner; there are ominous headlines about a stock-market tumble that may signal a coming recession. One wonders if today is a good day for the release of ambitious double-record sets that list at $15.98.

500 Greatest Albums of All Time: Fleetwood Mac, Rumours

"Making a double album is something that I wanted very much to do," Mick Fleetwood told me earlier. "We have three songwriters, and it is hard for them to develop their different aspects without room . . . they're artistically stifled. That's why people leave bands, you know."

Maybe the band members should rub the tummy of Holly, the Autograph Hound – Bill Welsh, the master of ceremonies at this 156th Star Presentation, says that it brings good luck. Holly, an unidentified person in a dog suit, bobs and weaves through the crowd while fifteen members of the University of Southern California Marching Band file through the front doors of Frederick's playing "Tusk." (One hundred twelve members of the USC Marching Band played on the single.) Mo Ostin, president of Warner Bros. Records, steps up to the platform microphone and makes a speech in which he says, "I don't think we can measure how important Fleetwood Mac has been to Warner Bros., and to the record industry in general." What he does not say – and what is on the minds of more than a few people at Warner Bros., and the record industry in general – is that there is quite a bit riding on the success or failure of Tusk in the marketplace.

Ostin finishes his speech, and one by one, the band members come up to the mike to say thank-yous.

"Thank you for being . . . uh . . . Americans," John McVie deadpans.

Stevie Nicks follows, her white satin skirt swirling.

"Thank you for believing in the crystal vision," she says quickly, a little disconnected. "Crystal visions really do come true."

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