Fleetwood Mac: They Dared To Be Different

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"The legend of Rhiannon is about the song of the birds that take away pain and relieve suffering," she says. "That's what music is to me. I don't want any pain." She puts a cassette in the deck and sits down cross-legged on the carpet, between the stereo speakers. The music begins; a gentle roll of piano chords. Nicks' own version of "Rhiannon" is softer, more emotional than Fleetwood Mac's. "It's not a rock & roll song," she says, closing her eyes.

When the tape ends, she rummages in a drawer and pulls out a collection of photographs, her "private stash." "This is Rhiannon, without a doubt." The picture is of Nicks, onstage with the rest of Fleetwood Mac, in her witch costume. But it does not look like her, and I say so.

"Well, you see, it turns. It goes right into. . ."

She pulls out another photograph, of herself onstage with Lindsey.

"This is the killer. And the pale shadow of Dragon Boy, always behind me, always behind me." She is speaking almost to herself, in a hoarse whisper.

"You see, I just want to make you realize that when I get carried off, really carried off into Rhiannon, it doesn't necessarily mean I'm not carried off into Fleetwood Mac. 'Cause I'm just as carried off into them. Rhiannon has to wait. She just has to wait; that's all there is to it."

I ask Stevie why she refers to Rhiannon as she.

"Well, because . . . I don't know why. She is some sort of reality. If I didn't know she was a mythological character, I would think maybe she lived down the street."

Rehearsal starts very late tonight. When I get there, a little past 8:30, some powerful Afghanistan pot is being circulated, and a couple of people are trading long hits off a bottle of Harvey's Bristol Cream. Stevie is not around yet, neither is Christine, and the buzz around the crew is that neither of the women is feeling very well. John McVie shows up on crutches with a cast covering his left leg from the ankle to just below the knee. "I got drunk and kicked a door," he says whenever anybody asks. On a blackboard by the studio door is the schedule of rehearsals for the next two weeks; eight more left. Over this list, someone's scribbled: it's not that funny, is it?

Some time later, McVie arrives, then Nicks. The band plays "Say That You Love Me," the first song planned for the set, and it does not go well. Christine has a bad cold, and is trying to save her voice, but nobody else seems to be able to muster up the enthusiasm to compensate. Then, without a word, Fleetwood takes up the slow, steady drumbeat to "Chain." One by one, without stopping to think about it, the rest of the band falls into place: Buckingham on guitar, then John McVie, then Christine, then Stevie, all with such a sense of purpose that suddenly everyone else in the room has stopped talking.

"Chain," more than any other song, is the story of Fleetwood Mac, their only five-way collaboration, finished long before the wounds of the celebrated breakups had a chance to heal. And watching them play it now, I realize how powerful it is. Never break the chain. For a while, I have been trying to summon the nerve to ask these people one question: what are you still doing here? The song ends, leaving a scary, charged silence in the hall. Right now, there seems to be no reason to ask.

In an hour or so, things are edgy again. New material isn't working out. Serious drinking is under way. Stevie Nicks comes over during a short break.

"That song!" She is talking about "Go Your Own Way," Buckingham's song.

"The harmony part is too high and I have to hurt and strain every time I sing it." She is upset, a little tipsy. She leans forward and whispers something to me in a voice that seems too silly to be serious.

"Now, I want you to know – that line about 'shacking up'? I never shacked up with anybody when I was with him! People will hear the song and think that! I was the one who broke up with him."

She smiles conspiratorially.

"All he wanted to do was fall asleep with that guitar."

Stevie drifts away to a far corner of the hall to talk to Sharon and some other friends. Over in the opposite corner, Buckingham's girlfriend, Carol, is sitting on a couch, looking very sad, being consoled by Christine. Fleetwood paces the perimeter of the stage, visibly worried about something. What's going on? Do all these emotional currents add up to anything? The band, back onstage now, plays another song. I don't want to know the reason why I love you. Stevie, smiling, shares a mike with Lindsey; what can they be thinking? Christine looks sharply at McVie. I don't want to know. . . . Fifteen million people bought the album with this song on it. Maybe because part of the fascination of Fleetwood Mac is that you do want to know.

The backstage area of the Salt Palace in Salt Lake City is small, neon-lit and feels a little like a crowded elevator stuck between floors. Buckingham sits in a couch in one corner while his friend Carol dabs a small amount of makeup on his cheeks. Fleetwood, dressed in black velvet, with two balls on strings dangling between his legs, struts in front of a mirror. Tonight's show is not sold out, and the latest word on the sales of Tusk has been disappointing (at press time, 2.5 million copies had been sold). But Fleetwood is smiling, and so is John McVie, who is over in another corner, absorbed in Mad magazine. It's the third night of the tour, and everyone's spirits are up.

Five minutes before show time, Stevie Nicks dances into the backstage lounge, her hair piled on top of her head in a mass of gnarled ringlets.

"Well, how does everybody like this?" She pirouettes. There is a hairbrush handle sticking out from the side of her head. Everybody laughs except tour manager John Courage, who pretends to be shocked.

"Get back in there, Stevie," he barks. Two roadies shove her, playfully, back into her dressing room.

Just before the cue to go onstage, Nicks approaches me in the corridor and touches my cheek, impulsively. Things on the tour have been really good so far, she says, and she's much happier than she was during rehearsal. "This is the best rock band in the world, and I'm proud of it." Her hand is shaking slightly when she adds, "I love this band."

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