HOLLYWOOD — Hundreds of people get lost in Los Angeles every day. Most of them just forget their way and need directions; others seek to forget where they’ve been, and they just want to get away.
Jeremy Spencer, vocalist, lead guitarist, and composer for Fleetwood Mac, sits somewhere between the accidentally and the deliberately lost. He sits, in tattered rags, among hundreds of so-called “Bible freaks,” in the Children of God “mission” near downtown Los Angeles. He dances, chants, sings, prays, eats – and lives – with the Children of God. And only a week before, he had arrived in town, with the rest of Fleetwood Mac, ready to do a three-day gig at the Whisky.
Spencer may not consider himself lost. Along with former Fleetwood Mac guitarist Peter Green, he had been deeply religious for a long time. In summer of 1969, the two announced plans to produce an “orchestral-choral” biography of Jesus Christ. “We believe in God, and this is a serious venture,” the quiet fragile Spencer had said then. The album never quite came off; instead, he put out a “solo” LP in England, a parody/tribute to Fifties and Sixties rock and roll, backed by Mick Fleetwood, John McVie, Danny Kirwan, Peter Green, and saxophonist Stephen Gregory.
And last year, Green flipped himself out of the band, and with Spencer at the lead, Fleetwood went from blues to rock on Kiln House, and from there to an eight-week tour that began February 6th in Vermont. It proceeded smoothly on to Los Angeles, where the 22-year-old Spencer disappeared.
That Monday, the band remembered, he had left the Hotel Hawaiian, just blocks away from Hollywood and Vine. It was about 2 PM when he left, bags still unpacked, to go to the grocery, with some $200 in his pocket. He never returned.
Fleetwood cancelled opening night, and club-owner Elmer Valentine, along with people from Warner Bros., employees at the British Consulate, and, finally, the police, joined the band’s manager, Clifford Davis and two road managers in the search for the guitarist. By the second day, Walt Calloway, head of artists relations at Warners, was reporting the band’s guesses that “he’s been spirited away.”
Hollywood and Vine is action central for the various God Squads, as they’re called. Fundamentalist/fanatics; families of “spiritual revolutionaries” like the Tony and Suzie Alamo Christian Foundation, broken up into two- and three-man squadrons, whose members surround pedestrians and shout doomy Slogans like, “Repent! Or you’re going to Hell!” The Alamo people were finally kicked out of their headquarters in Hollywod after complaints about their early-AM services. They’re now settled in Saugus, in the mountains north of the San Fernando Valley.
The Children of God are a separate organization of spiritualist revolutionaries, centered in LA and with a branch commune, “The Soul Clinic,” near Mingus, Texas, west of Fort Worth. They’ve been on national TV and all over front pages for demonstrations staged by their “Prophets of Doom.” Dressed in red sackcloth (their sign of mourning) and armed with staves and banners bearing doomsday messages, the Prophets – 50 or so at a time – stand in deathly silent vigil at rallies and marches, interrupting the silence with periodic pounding of their staves on the pavement. On Hollywood Boulevard, their approach is less theatrical and, compared to the Alamo “God Squad,” less fanatic. They offer tracts and say only “Hello,” waiting for an opening.
Jeremy Spencer’s friends and hunters thought the guitarist might have been taken to the Alamo commune in Saugus, but two visits there – one by police – failed to find him. Finally, on Thursday, the band’s two road managers were led to the Children of God, at their four-story warehouse home on Towne Street in the downtown industrial sector of Los Angeles. There, Davis found Spencer, his straggly long hair cut short, his clothes exchanged for rags. He had given his $200 to the mission to distribute among his 400 or so brethren, and he told Davis that he wouldn’t rejoin the band. He also renounced his wife and two children, who live in London where all the band members share a house. “Jesus will take care of them,” he reportedly told Davis.
According to Calloway, “While Cliff was talking to him, about 100 of the guys stood around. One guy kept rubbing Jeremy, saying ‘You’re just a little God.’ He looked hypnotized.”
Another visitor to the building – who’d met Spencer last year – didn’t get the impression that Jeremy had been coerced. “One of the guys there said Jeremy felt he didn’t know why he was so long in doing this. He felt that playing rock and roll had become a vanity thing, that he was no longer performing for people, but just for himself.” The Children, he said were all young – average age about 23 – and friendly. They were at a loss to explain why Spencer hadn’t called the group at the hotel; they, too, thought that an explanation would have been only proper.
One Child of God also said that Spencer was free to talk with anyone – he had spent a couple of hours with Fleetwood Mac’s manager when he was first found – but when Spencer met his old acquaintances – two photographers – he only smiled and shook their hands.
The group believed Spencer, but they were still stunned. John McVie, bassist, said, “This whole thing is not like him at all. He doesn’t want to play any more, just serve Jesus and God. That’s fair enough, but there should be a balance.” Mick Fleetwood said Spencer was a changed man, that he didn’t think they’d try to get him back in the band.
Given the news of Spencer’s action, the group called on Peter Green in London to rejoin them for the duration of the tour. After an hour on the phone, Green agreed – but only to finish out the tour, which ends in Long Island March 27th. Green, whose departure was partly attributable to his own devotion to Christianity, flew in on Friday, the 19th, to join the band in San Bernardino, California. He refused to talk about the Spencer case and emphasized only that the reunion with Fleetwood Mac is temporary.
At 6th and Towne Streets, meanwhile, Jeremy Spencer smiled, oblivious to the confusion he had caused. His new family was singing “Oh Happy Day.”
This story is from the March 18th, 1971 issue of Rolling Stone.