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Fleetwood Mac: They Dared To Be Different

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Crystal visions come true. The more I learn about the members of Fleetwood Mac and their entourage, the more I find myself struggling with notions I thought I dismissed years ago: karma, destiny, karass, hand of fate. The relationships – and not necessarily the sexual ones – among the members of the band and the people around them are as complicated as the plot of a Russian novel. For example: seven years ago, close buddies Lindsey Buckingham, Tom Moncrieff, Richard Dashut and Stephanie Nicks lived together in a small house in Los Angeles. Now, Buckingham and Nicks are in the band, Dashut is their coproducer and Moncrieff most recently played bass for Walter Egan's band – which Buckingham has produced – and helps Stevie make demos. Twelve years ago, Buckingham played bass in a bar band in Palo Alto, and his number-one musical hero was Brian Wilson. Now he knows Wilson, has discussed music with him, and his fellow band member, Christine McVie, is about to marry Brian's brother Dennis. Sixteen years ago, Mick Fleetwood quit boarding school and went to live in his sister Sally's flat in London. He'd been playing drums for three weeks in her garage when a keyboard player, Peter Bardens, who lived across the mews, heard him and wandered over. Through Bardens, Fleetwood met guitarist Peter Green, and eventually the two formed the original Fleetwood Mac. Tonight, Sally Fleetwood Hartnoll will arrive from London and watch her brother play drums in a room that is much larger than any garage.

Of course, there is that most unlikely set of circumstances – does anybody not know this melodrama by now? A California singer/songwriter couple makes one album that goes nowhere. The engineer of the recording studio where the album was made plays it to demonstrate his studio's capabilities for the leader of a British band that is having personnel problems. The bandleader likes the studio, and likes the duo even better. In the middle of their New Year's Eve Party, 1975, the couple gets a message – do they want to join a band? The newly re-formed version of Fleetwood Mac makes a record (Fleetwood Mac) that is one of the largest selling in Warner Bros.' history. The couples in the band – Buckingham-Nicks, McVie-McVie – break up in 1976, but the band carries on. The next album sells 5 million copies.

There is something romantic in these stories of interlocking lives, chance encounters and bonds that do not break when hearts do. Dreams do not always come true, and the idea that a rock & roll band can be a community, an extended family, seems faintly silly in 1980, like patchouli incense sticks. And yet, you want to believe in a Fleetwood Mac. Just as a child wants to believe his divorced parents will reconcile, or a teenager wants to think his high-school gang will endure beyond graduation, just as we all would like to see John, Paul, George and Ringo together onstage again, one more time. People are saying that Tusk is Fleetwood Mac's White Album, and in some ways, the comparison appears reasonable. Each song on Tusk is immediately recognizable as the work of a particular songwriter, and there is very little musical overlap between McVie's breathy love tunes, Buckingham's playful rock & roll and Nicks' extended confessional poems. But the White Album was the product of a band that was in the process of disintegrating, each song a shard from a broken mirror. Tusk is more like a puzzle. You get the feeling that if you spent enough time with this album, and this band, you could figure out how and why the pieces fit together. Or at least why you wanted them to.

The rehearsal studio is damp, dark and cold, the kind of chill that makes you think you're about to come down with the flu. "Fleetwood Mac is a job," Nicks says to me at one point. "It's a wonderful job. But there are some nights when I just do not want to go to that rehearsal hall." After sitting around with the band for several hours, I understand what she means. Even with the masseur, the bicycles, the friends and family, the food, the fully stocked bar, there is nothing fun about working all night on songs you've played hundreds of times before.

The True Life Confessions of Fleetwood Mac

Time passes, slowly. The band works for a while onstage, breaks, then each member drifts off to a separate corner of this cavernous building, like planets drifting off into deep space. In the dark isolation, you lose track of the sequence of events, but you remember pictures: there is Christine McVie, dressed in black, thinner and paler than her photographs indicate, sitting on the floor of the stage, dwarfed by her banks of keyboards. "Do I have any free time this week?" she asks pleadingly, looking up at the road manager. There is Nicks, in high heels, long satin skirt and dancer's woolen leg warmers, scampering offstage in the middle of songs when she isn't needed, then huddling in conversation with two or three of her women friends, who always seem to be close by. There is John McVie, chainsmoking, half-hidden behind amplifiers, playing bass lines constantly, whether Fleetwood and Buckingham care to jam or not.

There isn't much conversation besides what needs to be said to get the job done. It's not that this rehearsal isn't friendly; it's just that these people seem to have evolved beyond camaraderie. They've spent too much time with each other, though lately not so much.

Buckingham, casually passing by Fleetwood, stops to ask him what he did after the record company party last night.

"We definitely transcended. Ended up jamming with Curry [Grant, the lighting director] till the wee hours. Actually, we were playing one of your songs; from Buckingham Nicks," Fleetwood says, mentioning the album that prompted him to ask Lindsey and Stevie to join the band five years ago.

"Oh, really?" Buckingham says, suddenly interested. "Which song?"

"Uh . . . I forget the name," says Fleetwood sheepishly.

"Was it 'Don't Let Me Down Again'?"

"Noooo. . . ."

"Without a Leg to Stand On'?"

"Nooo . . . well, I'm not sure," Fleetwood answers. "It could've been. Yeah."

They smile politely and Buckingham goes his way, Fleetwood his.

The song "Tusk," like Rumours' centerpiece, "The Chain," is an assemblage of pieces; ideas that didn't go anywhere until they were attached, almost as a whim, to other ideas that didn't go anywhere, some late night in the recording studio. "Tusk" started out as a drum riff that Fleetwood played onstage to warm the band up before the opening of every concert. Buckingham wrote words and a melody to it, then set it aside. Later, in the studio, Fleetwood's drum riff found its way onto another song that never got completed. Instead, Buckingham and coproducer Richard Dashut took a twenty-second section of the drum track, sped it up and rerecorded it over and over to make a rhythm bed for what eventually became "Tusk."

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