I'm not trying to compete with Kris Kross now, just like I didn't try to compete with Christopher Cross in the old days."
Lindsey Buckingham – the pop genius and sonic architect behind Fleetwood Mac's string of platinum successes in the Seventies and Eighties – is sitting under a velvet Elvis portrait in his home studio in the lovely hills of Bel Air, California. Buckingham has spent a substantial portion of the last four years in this room. Now, however, he's finally on the verge of sharing with the public some of the music that he and Richard Dashut, his coproducer and writing partner, have been creating here, and he's considering the question of how popular his eccentric brand of melodic pop will be these days.
"I guess it's obvious that making this album hasn't been an especially speedy process," says the master of the understatement. "But I had to let a lot of emotional dust settle. People might think I've been off on some island getting my ya-yas out. The truth is, I've basically been here twelve hours a day. I've been goofing off only in the most productive sense."
Asked if he's grown sick of the windowless room, Buckingham pauses as if he hasn't considered the issue before. "Well, I'm not really sick of it," he says finally. "But I haven't come inside here for a while, and I'm not sure why. A couple of weeks ago, I opened the door and just looked in. And I couldn't relate to having spent the amount of time I did in here. This room became more my reality than the rest of the house. At times the whole thing seems like a weird dream to me."
Buckingham pauses again and looks around the room. "You know," he adds, "actually, I guess I am pretty damn sick of this place."
Happily, all of Buckingham's work has paid off. Out of the Cradle – his first release since he decided to go his own way and leave the Big Mac shortly after the release of 1987's album Tango in the Night – is a wildly impressive coming-out party for the forty-two-year-old Buckingham. A veritable one-man show, the album is an artfully crafted song cycle whose romantic lushness is effectively balanced by a healthy dose of ripping guitar. More ambitious than the two solo albums he squeezed in between Mac projects – 1981's Law and Order and 1984's Go Insane – Out of the Cradle represents Buckingham's finest work since 1979's Tusk, the album that established a creative high-water mark for his former group. That album – the controversial follow-up to 1977's Rumours, one of the best-selling records of all time – was also, according to Buckingham, the beginning of the end for him and Fleetwood Mac.
Buckingham and his then creative and romantic partner, Stevie Nicks, joined Fleetwood Mac in late 1974. At the time, Buckingham was already a "complete studio rat." He first caught the bug when he set up a recording room at his father's coffee plant, in Daly City, California, after dropping out of college in the early Seventies. Around the same time, he and Nicks started playing together with a Bay Area group called Fritz. They moved to Los Angeles in 1973, recording an album as Buckingham-Nicks the next year. "Our record company had no idea what to do with us," says Buckingham. "They said something about wanting us to be the new Jim Stafford, and they wanted us to play steakhouses." Opportunity knocked when Mick Fleetwood went to check out an L.A. studio and producer Keith Olsen played a track from the record he'd done with Buckingham-Nicks as a demonstration. Impressed, Fleetwood asked the pair to join his band a week later. It would prove to be a savvy decision. The reconstituted Mac – with Buckingham and Nicks joining bassist John McVie; his then wife, keyboardist and vocalist Christine McVie; and Fleetwood – debuted with 1975's Fleetwood Mac, a multiplatinum smash that sold nearly 6 million copies worldwide, followed by the classic Rumours two years later.
Yet Buckingham says it was never an easy fit – though at first the tensions within the band fueled the music. "Fleetwood Mac was one big lesson in adaptation for me," says Buckingham. "There were five very different personalities, and I suppose that made it great for a while. Obviously, having two couples – and soon enough, ex-couples – added a lot more tension and some great subject matter to the mix. But the problems really kicked in when you started adding five managers and five lawyers to the equation. Once Stevie was singled out and selected as the star of the band, the machinery of the rock business clicked in, and things really got stupid. By the time of Tango, you could hardly fit all these people in one room for a band meeting. It was a heartbreaking thing to watch, until it became almost comical."
Musically, however, things just got better and better for Buckingham until the release of Tusk, an under-appreciated pop epic that met with a mixed response commercially, selling only 2 million copies. "It was a bizarre left turn," Buckingham says. "But I knew if we made Rumours II that we'd have to make Rumours III and Rumours IV. We'd sold 14 million copies of Rumours [21 million worldwide], so we were in that mega-Michael Jackson area, and that's a dangerous place to be. There was a big backlash. It wasn't like the people around me at the time were saying, 'Hey, Lindsey, let's keep going in that interesting direction where we sell a lot less records than we used to.' I really had the wind taken out of my sails, and I felt set adrift for a while."
In 1982 the band returned to the top of the charts with the more user-friendly Mirage, but for Buckingham the thrill was gone. "It became more and more this big machine that had to have hits to keep working," he says. "There was no room to grow. After Tusk, it was basically all disappointment for me. It became a soap opera."
Partly in an attempt to give Fleetwood Mac a more fitting swan song, Buckingham and Dashut returned to help whip Tango in the Night into shape. In the end, that record became the group's biggest album since Rumours, with sales of 8 million. Still, the experience was hardly an easy one. "It was a mess," he says. "Whatever was going on in people's personal lives, I can't really say. I was never the one up all night creating shenanigans and high jinks anyway – I was the one who went up to my room to work on songs. But for whatever reasons, there was no camaraderie left. Just getting people in the same room to create more semblance of a group became a huge hassle. Especially with Stevie, who was probably around for something like ten days for that whole record."
Buckingham's split with the band came when he decided he couldn't tour to support the album. "They'd smoothed things over and coerced me, and I'd kind of agreed to go," he says. "Then I realized I just couldn't do it. I called another meeting, and they were shocked and hurt. I knew they wouldn't leave it at that, so basically you could say I was let go."
The group added two new members, Billy Burnette and Rick Vito, in an attempt to fill the void left by Buckingham's departure. Diplomatically, Buckingham says only that Behind the Mask – the 1990 record the group made without him – was "not an album I can say I took to heart." Buckingham did, however, take to heart some of the slights meted out by Fleetwood in his 1990 tell-all tome, Fleetwood. "I didn't read the whole book," Buckingham says, "but I did skim it, and there were a lot of . . . untruths, shall we say. Mick was basically trying to underplay my contribution, but the thing that really upset me is the incident he describes of the night I left the band. He had this thing in there about me slapping Stevie. I mean, she probably deserved to be slapped. But it never happened that way. I don't know what Mick was talking about."
"Wrong," one of the tracks on Out of the Cradle, was inspired in part by Buckingham's reaction to Fleetwood. The rest of the album reflects Buckingham's experiences with the group in a much more vague and positive manner. "There's no sense in my hiding from the association," he says. "I feel like fifteen years with Fleetwood Mac was like working on my thesis, doing research for some kind of paper. And I wanted to make an album that sort of put it all in a real healthy perspective with maybe a little more maturity in there somewhere. Because even though I feel younger than I did ten years ago, the fact is, I'm not eighteen and there's no point in pretending I am."
Buckingham decided to bury the hatchet with his former band mates and made a cameo appearance onstage at the end of Fleetwood Mac's last concert in 1990. More recently, he agreed to work with the group on some new tracks for an upcoming box set, if time permits. "Going up onstage with them one more time wasn't any sort of nail in the coffin for me emotionally," he says, "because I already felt pretty detached. Still, the minute I saw Mick, the chemistry was still there, and that was pretty much the case with everyone. It was a gas." As for the new songs, Buckingham says: "There's no reason for me not to do it. I'd have to feel a lot of animosity toward those people not to work with them, and I don't feel that way.
"I left Fleetwood Mac to make myself happy," says Buckingham, "and fortunately it worked. That's why I spent all this time in the garage – trying to make something that made me happy." And though Buckingham says that "so much in my life is work right now," he admits to having left the studio occasionally to spend time with longtime girlfriend Cheri Caspari, whom he met while making Go Insane.
Still, Buckingham says, he's more than willing to leave his home long enough to support Out of the Cradle by hitting the road. "It'll be great to get out of the studio, get some air and play with some other musicians," he says. "In the Fleetwood Mac days we got used to the private jets and everything when we toured, but this time I'll take the public bus if I have to."
At the same time, Buckingham wouldn't mind selling some records, too. "My other solo records were made quickly as sidebars to a more mainstream situation," he says. "That's not the case anymore, so there's no point in my being esoteric just for the sake of it now. I'm certainly not interested in making a cheap-shot sellout. This is no longer the sideshow, this is the main event, and I hope there are hits on there somewhere."
Lenny Waronker, president of Warner Bros. Records, Buckingham's label, believes there's no shortage of hits. "It's the height of great songwriting and record-making," he says, "and I think the power and quality of the music will bring people in."
Buckingham named the album Out of the Cradle after the Walt Whitman poem "Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking." "The phrase just had a certain resonance," Buckingham says. "Some people thought there was an unnecessary reference in the title to my leaving Fleetwood Mac, and I suppose you could make an argument for that. You could also argue that there's something ironic and weird about a guy over forty thinking of himself as leaving any sort of cradle. But that's the way it feels. And it feels very good."
This story is from the June 25th, 1992 issue of Rolling Stone.