Fleetwood Mac: They Dared To Be Different

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Another Story From the Fleetwood Mac history book:

In the autumn of 1973, Mick Fleetwood discovered that his then-wife, Jenny, was sleeping with the band's guitarist, an Englishman named Bob Weston. Fleetwood's discovery was particularly inopportune because the band was just beginning a long American tour to promote the album it hoped would be its first big commercial success here, Mystery to Me. Fleetwood fired Weston, the band broke up temporarily, and Fleetwood went to Africa, alone. (Meanwhile, the band's manager, Clifford Davis, hastily slapped a group of pickup musicians together, dubbed them the "New Fleetwood Mac," and sent them out on the road in place of the real Mac so he wouldn't have to cancel the already-booked tour dates. The bogus Fleetwood Mac tour was a disaster. The real Fleetwood Mac sued Davis for damages and won after years of litigation.) The whole story gives you a good idea of how resilient Mick Fleetwood is. He returned from Africa, put his marriage and his band back together, and without any business experience, took over as manager of the group he and John McVie started in 1967. Fleetwood Mac would continue to have financial problems, personnel changes and love troubles, but the band would never fall apart again; the bonds might crack, but they would not break. Fleetwood was the glue.

"You have to have a pivot point when there's five people wandering around," he says with certainty. "No one else thinks about things like where to record, where we'll play on tour, whether we'll make a single or a double album – they don't particularly want to. And I do."

Fleetwood is bone thin, over six feet six and has a penetrating, slightly frightening gaze; one imagines him in a black waistcoat, a headmaster in a Brontë novel. This afternoon, we are sitting across a table from each other in the offices of Penguin Promotions in Hollywood, which also houses Seedy Management (Fleetwood Mac's organization) and Limited Management (which supervises the solo career of ex-Mac guitarist Bob Welch, among others). Along with his role as drummer in his band, Fleetwood supervises all aspects of Penguin's business. "I like working," he says, and tosses off the suggestion that he is "hard-nosed." "I may crack a whip every now and then," he chuckles, "but I don't crave command. I'm exactly the way I was at school."

School, for Fleetwood, was Sherbourne, a proper British boys academy. He was sent there by his father. Mike Fleetwood, a wing commander in the Royal Air Force. "I was absolutely hopeless in classes. I still don't know my four times tables. And I'm pushed to repeat the alphabet. I don't read books; I've read two in my life. But I get along very well with people. I was always being put in charge of things. I like that,"

He leans forward, striking a theatrical pose. "Look, this band doesn't always get on like Gleem adverts, everything all bright and sunny. This is a healthy compromise. If it needs someone hitting a Kleenex box instead of me hitting snare drums, then we're going to hit the Kleenex box!"

He pauses long enough for me to ask him what the two books were.

"The books I read? Oh . . . Sherlock Holmes – I remember I had to read that one for class. And Alice in Wonderland."

I feel a little like Alice in Wonderland up here." Stevie Nicks is in bed, recovering from a root-canal session, propped up in a mountain of pillows. You have to take a running jump to get up on the bed with her – it is an antique four-poster, with a thick mattress about three feet high. I sit across from her, at the foot, and think of The Princess and the Pea. And of the nineteenth century, for Nicks has a lot of the qualities one generally associates with ladies who wrote sentimental fiction and poetry in Victorian England. She is the kind of woman who keeps a journal. She is the kind of woman who wakes up too early in Buffalo, New York, on the morning after a concert, and so writes a long verse about what she sees outside her motel-room window. She believes in fairies, runs a large, mock-Tudor house in the hills above Sunset that's always full of visiting friends and relatives; she studies ballet and composes songs about seeing her "reflection in the snowcovered hills." She is thirty-one years old.

Nicks grew up in California and Arizona, the only daughter of a well-to-do corporation president. Her grandfather, A.J. Nicks, a country & western singer, sparked her love of music, and her mother, Barbara, introduced her to the world of fairy tales and fantasy. "She was very protective of me," Stevie says. "All out of love. But I was kept in more than most people were." Years later, Nicks is still protected from the outside world – only now, her guardians are road managers and friends. "I don't want to be so spoiled that I can't carry on my life when there's no more Fleetwood Mac. I'm not gonna stop doing things. I don't want to be Cinderella anymore," she tells me.

Photos: Fleetwood Mac Through The Years

A tiny poodle jumps into her lap. The puppy coughs, piteously.

"Poor Ginny . . . she just can't get used to this air in Los Angeles. I'm real nervous about her."

She lifts Ginny, gently, by the neck. There is a thin, pinkish scar across the poodle's belly.

"She just had a hysterectomy, and I'm afraid she's gonna open up the incision from all that coughing."

A few minutes later, Stevie's younger brother, Chris, comes in. They confer briefly and come to a decision. That night, Ginny is put on a plane and sent to their mother's house in Phoenix.

Stevie takes me downstairs to her music room because she wants to show me what her songs sound like before they are arranged by Buckingham. "I write my songs, but Lindsey puts the magic in, and there's no way . . . well, I could pay him ten percent. I could walk up to him and thank him. If I were to play you a song the way I wrote it and gave it to them, and then play you the way it is on the album, you would see what Lindsey did."

The music room is dark; there are antique lamps draped with shawls, but she does not turn the lights on. And the tapes she ends up pulling out of her library are not rough Fleetwood Mac demos but works-in-progress for her solo project, a film and soundtrack album based on the myth of Rhiannon, the Welsh witch. Earlier in 1979, Nicks signed on as a solo artist with Modern records, a label headed by former boyfriend Paul Fishkin and Danny Goldberg. For a while the move prompted rumors that she was preparing to leave Fleetwood Mac.

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