Fleetwood Mac: They Dared To Be Different

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As Buckingham explains it, the twenty-second section of drums was "enough tape to go all the way across the board to the other side of the control room. We had to have someone in the middle of the room holding the tape up to make sure it didn't sag, then we made a copy, from one twenty-four-track machine to another, of this huge, sped-up tape loop rolling around the room." The idea for the USC Marching Band came from Fleetwood, who'd been enchanted by a brass band he'd seen at a village celebration in northern France that summer; the Trojans' track was recorded live at the USC football stadium, then added. Fleetwood also came up with the word tusk. It had been his slang term for a certain male appendage, and by coincidence, the album package designed by Peter Beard came back with elephant images all over it.

"Tusk" emerged from these bits, brainstorms and splices; this is the way Fleetwood Mac seems to work best. The creative process, the collaboration, doesn't take place in group jams but on tape, in the studio. In fact, the way this band works, it isn't necessary or even expedient for them all to be in the studio at once, ever. Only two of the tracks on Rumours, Dashut says, were played and recorded at the same time. In other words, virtually every track on that album is either an overdub or lifted from a separate take of that particular song. What you hear on the record is the best pieces assembled, a true aural collage.

And yet, Rumours and Tusk can hardly be called sterile records; they may be made with the most advanced equipment platinum can purchase, but they sound human, quirky, less than perfect. When I try to imagine what Studio D, Village Recorder, Los Angeles, was like during the thirteen months Fleetwood Mac was in residence, I don't conjure up pictures of engineers huddled over the printout of a digital machine, debating the perfect millisecond in which to make their splice. The picture that sticks in my mind is of Buckingham and the engineers standing in the corners of the studio, holding that thirty-foot-long ribbon of tape as it weaves around the room. All this technology so they can play with tape like it was a giant cat's cradle, and make hit singles from brass bands and jungle noises.

Lindsey Buckingham, telling a story about his childhood: "We were in the fifth grade, my friend and I, and we had a little section of my backyard that was just all woods. Very small. My friend and I had just been to Disneyland, and we went on the jungle cruise. When we got back, we went out into the backyard, and dug a little river, filled it with water from the garden hose and made our own jungle. It was great – we even had sound effects. I dragged a speaker from the record player out there and put on a sound-effects record so we'd have noises: Ooook ooook akkkk! Jungle noises. I don't think many kids did things like that."

Photos: Fleetwood Mac 'Unleashed' And On Stage

One night, sometime before they began working on Tusk, Lindsey Buckingham went over to Mick Fleetwood's house in Bel Air to talk. Buckingham won't say the meeting was a confrontation, but from the way he tells the story, you get the feeling something very heavy passed between them, that he said things that had been bubbling under his surface for quite a while. Early on, during the making of Rumours, Buckingham says he'd gotten frustrated that his songs weren't coming out the way he "heard them in my head. And Mick just said, 'Well, maybe you don't want to be in a band.' It was a black-and-white situation."

Buckingham swallowed his objections, and Fleetwood Mac went on the road in 1977 and stayed on tour an entire year. Sometime during that tour – in Philadelphia, he thinks – Buckingham blacked out in the shower of his hotel room. He was rushed to a hospital, given all kinds of tests, and it was discovered he has a mild form of epilepsy, which is now under control. Sometime during that same tour, he began carrying around an eight-track Tascam tape recorder. Using "all the bathrooms of the country" for echo chambers and Kleenex boxes for snare drums, he put together six or seven songs of his own. That, he says, got his confidence up. "When it came time to go into the studio, I just had to stick my neck out. I told Mick that I wanted to put a machine in my house, to work on my things there. I had to pursue things that were in my head, and not be intimidated into thinking they were the wrong things to do."

Buckingham grew up in Atherton, a comfortable, conservative California suburb, and attended college in the late Sixties, a combination of factors that has produced a personality that is at once self-disciplined and spacy. His older brother won a silver medal for swimming in the 1968 Olympics, and Buckingham remembers being awed by his strict routine. "He'd get up at six in the morning, work out, go to school, work out till dinner, go to sleep and start all over again." Buckingham never "got into that" – he grew long hair and joined a rock band. But Buckingham's schedule while he was working on Tusk wasn't all that different from his brother's – up in the morning, working on tapes at home, afternoons and late nights in the studio, all to capture the music he was "hearing in his head."

Sometimes, according to Mick Fleetwood, Buckingham would get so serious, so wound up, that he'd just disappear for two days. "You have to allow yourself to get totally drawn into the music," Buckingham explains, his blue eyes flashing intently. "Once you're there, the hardest thing to do is let yourself do anything outside that. I'd come out of my basement studio after about six hours, and Carol, my girlfriend, would be sitting in the living room watching TV or something, and I just wouldn't have much to say. My mind would be racing. I love it." Several of his Tusk songs were recorded almost entirely in his basement, with Buckingham playing all the instruments. "'The Ledge' was crazy . . . there are about four or five vocals there that are not particularly tight, and all of them were sung in my bathroom. I stuck the mike on the floor and did them down on my knees." He did a lot of vocals that way, he says, and he gets down on the floor to demonstrate. "I did it just because I liked it. Because it sounded weird."

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