Lindsey Buckingham, Lonely Guy
Lindsey Buckingham wants a girlfriend. The handsome, intelligent and reclusive musical mastermind behind Fleetwood Mac is living by himself these days. A solitary man. And he doesn’t dig it. He’s a millionaire at thirty-four, a rock star and, actually, quite a charming fellow. But: ”My personal life is fairly barren,” he says, sitting in his $2 million home, which is hidden near the end of a dead-end street, far above Los Angeles in exclusive Bel Air.
Buckingham would seem to have it all. Nice house, nice car, nice pool. Nice twenty-four-track recording studio right across the hall from his bedroom. Yet, since the painful break-up of a relationship that had lasted six years, his life has become, well, not so meaningful. He’d like nothing better than for a ”wonderful, sensitive, soul-mate girl” to knock on his door.
He glances around his expensively furnished living room, complete with a six-foot-high statue of King Tut and several small glass pyramids. ”A house full of new furniture doesn’t mean a whole lot,” he says in his slightly high-pitched voice. ”It doesn’t mean shit. It just means you have a nice place to watch TV. But so what?”
He stares at a color TV a few feet away, where Frank Sinatra is crooning his way through a new video, ”L.A. Is My Lady.” ”Yes, it’s lonely,” continues Buckingham, munching on some potato chips. ”I feel pretty isolated at the moment. I’m sort of like a guy on the top of a hill in a little castle of his own. I hope that won’t last forever.”
The hot Southern California sun streams in through the floor-to-ceiling windows that make up at least one wall of nearly every room in the house. It’s bright, airy, spacious. Palm trees outside; bamboo plants inside. It’s as if the house itself were attempting to pull its owner out of the emotional slump of a failed love affair.
The phone rings. Buckingham chats about how his new album, Go Insane, is doing, then says to the caller, ”You’ve got a nice girlfriend, I’ve got a nice pool table.” He laughs dryly. ”It’s gotten hard to be shallow. Hard to just bring a girl in. How did we used to do that?”
When he wants to, Buckingham can look just like a genuine L.A. rock star. Not affected, but slightly larger than life. Nouveau riche. A bit arrogant. Very cool. This is just how he looks today, strolling into his classy living room. His curly brown hair is stylishly cut à la Eraserhead, and his expressive blue-gray eyes are hidden behind large tortoise-shell shades.
He’s the kind of millionaire who wears the same black shirt, blue denims and scruffy gray cowboy boots for days on end, and who mixes those jeans with an expensive black-and-white-striped sport coat. He has few friends but greets the ones he has with a casual ”Hey, dude.” A down-home kind of rock star. A guy who hangs framed stills from Elvis‘ Jailhouse Rock in his bathroom, stocks his Seeburg 200 Select-O-Matic jukebox with records like the Marcels’ ”Blue Moon” and Frank Sinatra’s ”I’ve Got You under My Skin” and the Beach Boys‘ ”I Get Around,” and leaves a platinum album celebrating the multimillion sales of Rumours shunted aside in the corner of a room, as if it didn’t mean a thing.
The Lindsey Buckingham the world never sees is the one who spends much of his time by himself in his home recording studio. ”He’s a studio rat,” says his manager, Michael Brokaw. On a typical afternoon, sounds waft down a long hallway from the direction of the studio – strange, syncopated sounds. A plucked violin string. Electronic drums. A funky synthesizer. Spacey, high-pitched chipmunk vocals. Very rhythmic, very oddball. Very Lindsey Buckingham. ”I love to be in the studio,” says the shy rock star, surrounded by instruments and electronic equipment. ”That’s what I like to do best.”
He takes his music making very seriously. It was his obsessive desire to do something new that led him to pull away from the formula Fleetwood Mac had developed on the albums Fleetwood Mac and Rumours. His offbeat work on Tusk, the band’s next album, confounded many of the 15 million people who had purchased Rumours. On Mirage, the group’s latest LP, they returned to the less adventurous sound that had characterized their earlier success. One senses that Buckingham derived a perverse satisfaction from the failure of the album to match the sales of Rumours.
Here in the studio, away from the realities of day-to-day life, Buckingham seems confident, at ease. This is where he has been creating a sonic world all his own. Inspired in part by the unconventional late-Sixties work of Beach Boy Brian Wilson and the spirit of the Seventies punk movement, but playing by his own rules, Buckingham has been stretching the traditional idea of a pop song, turning strange sounds into hooks, slowing down or speeding up his voice to create intricate, otherworldly harmonies, experimenting with a drum machine and a Fairlight computer, attempting to find new sounds, create a truly new song. ”I’m trying to break down preconceptions about what pop music is,” says Buckingham, who played nearly every instrument and sang all the vocals on Go Insane. ”I’m struggling to be original.”
Out of the studio, it’s another story. Fleetwood Mac may have sold millions and millions of records, and Buckingham may be a rock star, but behind the shades he’s plainly insecure. ”That’s something that’s always been there,” says his forty-one-year-old brother, Jeff Buckingham, an insurance broker. ”Just a little self-doubt.”
His manager describes him as ”private” and ”introverted.” His brother Jeff says he’s always been a loner. Growing up in Palo Alto, a suburb less than an hour south of San Francisco, Lindsey used to spend hours by himself, listening to Jeff’s 45s, hits by Elvis and Buddy Holly and Little Richard. Later, after Lindsey learned how to play a few songs on a plastic Mickey Mouse guitar, his parents bought him a real instrument. He taught himself to play by accompanying Kingston Trio records. In high school, he joined Fritz, the only band he has ever played in besides Fleetwood Mac.
He is still unsure of himself. He wonders aloud it he’s interesting enough to be written about. Reassurances don’t help. ”Do you think you have enough for a feature story?” he nervously asks on several occasions. He worries visibly about being the good host. ”Can I get you anything? Are you sure everything is all right?” And later: ”I don’t really do that much. I told you it was going to be boring. Want to play a game of pool? Croquet?”
Even in his own home, Buckingham seems the outsider.
I’ve been trying to get to you.
Hey, little girl, leave the little drug alone.
I just can’t seen to get through.
Hey, little girl, leave the little drug alone.
– Lindsey Buckingham, ”I Must Go”
His house didn’t always seem so empty. For six years. Lindsey Buckingham lived with Carol Ann Harris. Go Insane is about their relationship and is dedicated to Harris. An attractive blond who grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Harris was a twenty-three-year-old receptionist at Producer’s Workshop, a Hollywood recording studio, when Buckingham met her while mixing Rumours in 1977. ”At first, she was just another conquest,” he says, sipping a light beer. ”And then later, obviously not.”
”I had been in Europe, and it was my first day back at work,” says Harris in a separate interview, recalling how they met. ”I walked in and saw Lindsey and that was it.”
Friends say the relationship was an intense one. The two were inseparable, and as Fleetwood Mac producer Richard Dashut, a close friend of Lindsey’s for over ten years, puts it. ”They were both very much in love. They saw things in a very serious way. I can’t say either one of them bad a real sense of humor together. For the first two or three years they were very, very happy and very close. In fact, I think that was one of the happiest times in his life.”
Buckingham and Harris kept to themselves. ”We lived in seclusion a great deal of the time,” she says, ”Even on the road, when everyone would be out partying, Lindsey and I would close ourselves off and stay together. He needs a lot of peace and quiet.”
But living with a rock star who spent so much of his time in the studio became difficult – especially for a woman who didn’t have a life of her own. ”It was very lonely,” says Harris. ”I think I lived my life for Lindsey. I really felt it was important for me to be there for him, whether or not he was there physically, but for him to know I was there at home. He needed me there emotionally. It was rough. I don’t think I can remember relaxing the whole time I was with him,”
Life in the rock & roll fast lane also took its toll. There were ”personal problems” that neither Harris nor Buckingham will talk about. There were drugs, especially cocaine. ”That was a problem” admits Harris. ”For him, too. It’s very easy to get lost, and I’m sure I did. But I’m in much better shape now than I’ve ever been. And I still like cocaine. I must admit to that vice.” (Buckingham says cocaine was never a problem for him.)
”She was a sweet young girl, very pleasant.” recalls Lindsey’s brother Jeff. ”But she changed to a music [scene]-hardened, drug-hardened person. It just wasn’t the same.”
”Probably, if I had known what I was getting into, I would have thought twice about it,” says Harris. ”That was right before Rumours broke. So when I met him, it was entering a world that was, to say the least, a little bit hardcore. But I fell in love with him. I had no choice. It’s not a life I would have chosen for myself. Thinking back, I’ve been through the worst of times and the best of times. But it is a very rough world. Especially at the top. A lot of people are changed by it, not in a good way. It leaves a lot of victims. A lot of it’s not very pretty. It’s easy to get very cut off from reality. Trying to keep one foot in the real world and one foot in the rock & roll world is not easy.”
”She got pulled into this whole little world that maybe she wasn’t ready for,” agrees Lindsey. ”She’s a girl from a small town who found herself in a world of people who were not particularly responsible.” He is silent for a few moments. ”I don’t really want to talk about that, I don’t think it would be very fair. I think it would hurt her.”
About a year ago, after much soul-searching, they separated. Buckingham helped Harris move into a place of her own. She has been studying acting and, as she puts it, ”finding myself.” ”It got to the point where she had to move out,” he says quietly. ”She’s still not working. I’m still supporting her, for the time being. We worked out an agreement where I would sort of keep her afloat for a couple of years. I don’t mind doing that.”
His former lover has mixed feelings about having their relationship turned into Go Insane. ”Some of it makes me angry . . . sad. A lot of it is upsetting,” she says. ”But I think there’s a lot of love there. It’s hard for me to listen to it.”
Buckingham doesn’t regret writing about something so personal. ”I didn’t have too many second thoughts, mainly because it was either that or go to a shrink,” he says. ”I know that sounds a little flippant. I think it was something that had to be addressed. People who write things that mean something, usually they’re a little too personal for somebody else. That’s a risk that has to be taken.”
Lindsey Buckingham seems to thrive on taking risks. He is doing his best to leave behind the band he helped turn into a superstar act and establish a successful solo career for himself. After recording the critically acclaimed solo album Law and Order (which contained the hit single ”Trouble”) in 1981 for Asylum, Buckingham hired high-powered manager Brokaw, signed a multi-album deal with Elektra, spent a year recording the eccentric but excellent Go Insane and flew to London to make a surreal video. ”Punching out of the Fleetwood Mac microcosm,” he calls it.
What he has not been doing is spending any time with the other members of Fleetwood Mac – in or out of the studio. Aside from a brief, inconsequential meeting backstage at a Christine McVie concert, it’s been two years since he’s seen any of them. Yet despite his intentions, Buckingham can’t seem to let go completely of Fleetwood Mac. One finds the platinum albums and old magazine photos around the house. Stevie Nicks just sent him a tape of a new song that she wants him to hear. Mick Fleetwood called this morning, asking if he could use Lindsey’s studio for a few hours. And as he talks, with or without prompting, Lindsey often refers to Fleetwood Mac.
Ten years ago, Lindsey and then-girlfriend Stevie Nicks, who were performing together as a folk-rock duo and had recorded one unsuccessful album, Buckingham-Nicks, were asked by Mick Fleetwood to join his relatively unsuccessful British blues band. The rejuvenated Fleetwood Mac’s first album, Fleetwood Mac, was a big hit.
Attempting to follow up their success, Fleetwood Mac spent nearly a year recording the pop-rock soap opera Rumours, which documented the breakup of both Buckingham and Nicks’ relationship and Christine and John McVie’s marriage. Even then, there were musical differences. ”I can remember during Rumours,” recalls Buckingham, ”saying to Mick, ‘Well, things don’t seem to be going exactly the way I would like them to go.’ And he said, ‘Well, maybe you don’t want to be in a group.”’
Despite the conflicts, Buckingham was the major force behind Rumours. ”His contribution to the album was tremendous,” confirms Richard Dashut. ”If any one person had the most to do with the production and the arranging and the inspiration, it was Lindsey.” Although Fleetwood Mac is listed as the producer, along with Dashut, Ken Caillat and Cris Morris, Buckingham now says, ”I can’t figure out why I didn’t ask for production credit.”
Rumours went on to become one of the biggest-selling records of all time. Yet for Buckingham it was a bittersweet experience. ”When Rumours went crazy, I just couldn’t bring myself to feel that strongly about the album. At some point, all the stuff surrounding it started to become the main focus. There was a gap between what I felt was important internally – what I had accomplished musically – and the popular acclaim.”
Tusk was ”a rebellion against that.” For Buckingham, who had become excited by the spirit of punk and New Wave – Dashut remembers Lindsey playing him records by the Sex Pistols, the Clash and Talking Heads – it meant abandoning the pop formula that had made Rumours such a success and plunging into the unknown. On tour he began using a portable studio to record in his hotel rooms. Back in L.A., he put together songs by himself in a spare room at his house, taping vocals in the bathroom. His efforts were not well received by the band. Still, Buckingham got his way. ”Basically, if Lindsey hadn’t been allowed to do what he did on Tusk, I think that you wouldn’t have had a band,” says Dashut. ”Or that they would have got another guitar player. I think that everybody else went along to save the band, as opposed to really agreeing with where his head was at.”
Buckingham remembers things differently. ”I would bring tunes in, and everyone would go, ‘Oh, that’s great.’ When Mick took the Tusk album down to Warner Bros., everyone was jumping up and down, going, ‘Oh, this is really one of the neatest things we ever heard’– although I have subsequently heard that when a lot of those people at Warner Bros, heard that album, they saw their Christmas bonuses flying out the window. I do think there was a time when everyone in the band was quite carried away with the spirit of experimentation. But when it began to become apparent that it wasn’t going to sell 15 million copies, then everyone from the band looked at me and went, ‘Oh, you blew it, buddy.”’
Today, Buckingham feels removed from the other members of Fleetwood Mac, though they were never close socially. ”We never hung out. Never,” he says. ”We were never friends in the sense that I would call Mick up and go hang out.” Now there isn’t much of a creative bond, either. ”What used to keep them together was the music,” says Dashut. ”These days he doesn’t share much in common musically with everybody else.”
Buckingham is plainly bored, and a little disappointed, with what his colleagues have been up to on their own. ”I’ve seen Stevie’s show, I’ve seen Christine’s show. To me, they both bordered on being lounge acts, simply because they were resting so heavily on Fleetwood Mac’s laurels. But I think you owe it to yourself and you owe it to your audience to try at least.”
He is vague about his future with Fleetwood Mac. He might make another album with the group. Still, as he says, referring to Go insane, ”If this album becomes quite successful, everything’s going to change radically.
”I’ve heard rumors that if I was not ready to do an album in the next three or four months, or at least talk about it, they were going to seek out somebody else,” he says. ”Like Pete Townshend. That’s probably an idle rumor that’s somehow gotten around. But at the same time I can’t say that doesn’t more or less coincide with the kind of psychology I’ve seen go on in the group at certain times. If something needs to get done, they’ll get it done one way or another. And if Lindsey doesn’t want to play ball, then fuck him. They’ll fire him and get somebody else. That’s the way the band works.”
Lindsey Buckingham is standing in the ”rain room.” This is his favorite room in the house – other than the recording studio. The room has a glass ceiling. Flip a switch and a gentle shower of water begins pitter-pattering against the roof – as if it were raining. ”It’s great for freaking people out,” he says, smiling. ”You just turn it on without saying anything, and you’re in here talking, and suddenly they think it’s raining.” The room also contains an immense pine tree growing right out of the floor and up through a hole in the ceiling.
As he stands in the kitchen, there is a knock on the door. A moment later Mick Fleetwood breezes in, followed by a couple of guys lugging boxes of recording tape. Fleetwood wants to use the studio to listen to live recordings of his band, Mick Fleetwood’s Zoo. The two members of Fleetwood Mac greet each other warmly, but there is a slight undercurrent of tension. Fleetwood finds himself a beer. Lindsey doesn’t ask Fleetwood about those Pete Townshend rumors.
The phone rings, and as Lindsey answers it, Fleetwood wanders out of the room. He returns a moment later with a novelty item, a life-size rubber hand with a wire running from it to a button. When the button is pushed, the fingers move. ”I’ve got to have this,” says the drummer. Then he unzips his pants and arranges the rubber hand so that it sticks out of his fly like a mutant phallus. Pushing the button, Fleetwood grins like a maniac as the fingers wiggle.
Chatting on the phone, Buckingham appears oblivious to Fleetwood’s antics. Eventually, the drummer and his entourage move back to the studio and the Zoo tape is played. The music is bluesy, meat-and-potatoes rock & roll. Lindsey stays in the studio for just a few minutes, then slips away. The next day he says, ”I didn’t feel comfortable with the music they were playing. I was almost getting embarrassed. So soon we forget. You see Mick, and all the chemistry comes back, and then all the downside comes back, too.”
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As it turned out, Mick Fleetwood and his buddies kept Lindsey up until five a.m. ”Finally I had to say, ‘Mick, I have to go to sleep now. Mick!’ It brought back being in the studio and wanting to leave,” said the lonesome rock star. ”Only I really had nowhere else to go. I mean, this is my house.”
This story is from the October 25th, 1984 issue of Rolling Stone.
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