When Christine McVie joined Fleetwood Mac in 1970, she had no idea she was kicking off a five-decade odyssey that would produce not only some of the most beloved songs of the rock era, but also more heartache and anguish than perhaps any other band in history. But during that time, McVie stayed remarkably levelheaded and did her best to bring the group’s warring factions back together again and again. She acquired a lot of wisdom along the way, making her a perfect subject for our Last Word interview series. McVie spoke to Rolling Stone ahead of Songbird, a new collection of her solo work that’s out June 24.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Not to lie. To be honest. That came from my parents. I can’t imagine better advice coming from one’s parents. I try to stick by that rule and to be as good a person as I can.
What music still moves you the most?
I’m a big fan of Steely Dan; the Beach Boys; Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young. I like quite a broad range of people, and my favorite … the Beatles, of course. Some of their songs move me to tears.
The Beach Boys must be extra special to you because of your relationship with Dennis Wilson.
Definitely. I related to them, and obviously to Dennis really well, although Dennis was a bit of a madman. But we got on really well. I just really loved their music. Carl Wilson in particular — loved his voice.
What did you learn from your time with Dennis?
Not really very much. I mean, he was an interesting guy, but he was a bit barking mad, honestly.
How do you relax these days?
I watch a lot of TV. Really, that’s about it. I don’t really write songs to relax. When I feel a bit of pressure coming on, I’ll get to the piano and see what I can come up with.
What’s the worst part of success?
Being noticed if you don’t want to be noticed. I’m not one of these people that’s an extrovert. That said, I try to really be kind to people when they talk to me, if they ask for autographs. One shouldn’t mind, because after all, they’re paying you a terrific compliment.
What’s the most indulgent purchase you ever made?
My Rolls-Royce. That was about when I was living in L.A., and I just went to the dealer and bought it off the lot. I just wanted to buy some beautiful car. I drove it home. It’s gone now, I’m afraid. I don’t drive anything very much anymore because you can get a cab everywhere in London.
If you could travel back in time to 1976, when the new version of Fleetwood Mac was just starting to take off, what advice would you give yourself?
I think I followed my map pretty well in the course of my life.… To be honest with you, I don’t think I gave myself any advice. I think I just kind of got on with what I was doing and thoroughly enjoyed it. Obviously, my best beautiful days were when we were the Buckingham-Nicks Fleetwood Mac version. That was the best to me.
You were seen by many as the calm and reasonable person in the eye of the hurricane that was Fleetwood Mac.
That is apparently true, but I didn’t realize that at the time. Yes, I was supposedly like the Mother Teresa who would hang out with everybody or just try and [keep] everything nice and cool and relaxed. But they were great people; they were great friends.
What sort of toll did that take on you emotionally, to be that Mother Teresa figure?
I don’t think I thought about it that much. I enjoyed the storm.… Even though I am quite a peaceful person, I did enjoy that storm. Although it’s said that we fought a lot, we actually did spend a lot of our time laughing. So, that must have been forgotten. Great sense of humor.
People spent so much time talking about the Lindsey-Stevie dynamic that they overlooked that you were in the band for nearly five decades with your ex-husband, John McVie. What’s that relationship like?
Well, we used to fight occasionally, but not that often. I think we sorted our differences out by then, and we actually got on really well.… It was never as melodramatic as Stevie and Lindsey. And right now, we don’t live in the same hemisphere. He lives in L.A.; I live in London. But we occasionally write to each other or phone each other.… He’s been suffering with a few health problems, but he’s OK. So we talk a fair bit. He’s a good man, John.
You took a 15-year break from the band in the early 2000s. How did you grow as a person in that time?
I just enjoyed having my dogs, living in the country, going for long walks. I just wasn’t interested in playing music at that point. Then the feeling came back. Mick and I have always been in touch, and he said, “Do you ever think you’ll come back?” I said, “I don’t know.” Suffice to say that I did decide to return and never regretted it.
How did you feel that night in 2013 when you came onstage in London as a surprise guest and played “Don’t Stop”?
I couldn’t believe it. I really couldn’t believe it. It was something spectacular. To be on the stage again with John and Mick and Stevie and Lindsey again, it was something just sensational.
Looking back at your whole history with Fleetwood Mac, when you do you think you were happiest?
I think I was happy pretty much all the time. I was happy with Bob Welch. I was happy with that era. I was always happy with Stevie and Lindsey and loved what they brought to the table musically. Also, I loved being with Neil Finn and Mike Campbell. They were a couple of great guys. I loved working with them. But Mick and John and Stevie and I all got on well, contrary to public opinion.
I know you weren’t there for much of the Peter Green era, but I’m always astounded by the number of great songs he wrote in that little window of time.
He was brilliant. And he was a tremendous man. Just phenomenal. Great sense of humor. Had a great laugh and a twinkle in his eye. He was just a very, very gifted man.
It was great that you did that tribute concert for him just before he died. I know he wasn’t there, but he knew about it and he knew how loved he was.
I’m sure he was on the stage with us.
Are you hoping Stevie and Lindsey are going to find a way to make peace at some point?
Well, I don’t think they are enemies anymore, but they just don’t hang out. I mean, there is, I think, a certain peace that they have now, but you’d have to ask them.
Are you ever tempted to write a book?
I’ve thought about it, but I don’t know. It would have to be funny, and that would require my brother being involved. I wouldn’t want to have a dark, depressing story. No, it would have to be with a sense of humor.
Do you see your own story as dark and depressing?
No, not at all. It’d very easy to lean that way if you wanted to, but I never got depressed by it.
I’ve heard rumblings about a Fleetwood Mac biopic. Do you support that idea?
Gosh, I’ve not heard about that. So I wouldn’t know.
If it does happen, I hope it focuses more on the music than the fights.
There weren’t that many fights. When you think about it, we really did not fight that much. There were moments when it got a bit beefy, but all in all we got on really quite well.
Are you working on any new songs right now?
No, not at the moment. I’m not doing anything right now. I’m just trying to get my back better and get myself into decent shape again.
What exactly is wrong with your back?
It’s scoliosis. Some days it’s better than others, but it’s not much fun.
What are your goals over the next few years?
Stay alive, hopefully. Well, I’ll be 80 next year. So, I’m just hoping for a few more years, and we’ll see what happens.