For years, superstar Stevie Nicks’ life was fueled by cocaine. She talks to Cynthia McFadden about the successes and failures of her tumultuous life.
Stevie Nicks has been in the public spotlight for 30 years as a member of Fleetwood Mac and then as a successful solo artist. In an interview during her “Trouble in Shangri-La” tour, ABCNEWS’ Cynthia McFadden talked to the rock icon.
You got your first guitar at 16… then what happened?
The day before my 16th birthday I got my guitar. And on my birthday, then I wrote a song about my first love affair… It was a relationship at 15-and-a-half, where I was absolutely crazy about this guy. And he broke up with me. Thank God he broke up with me, because if he hadn’t… I wouldn’t have been spurred on to write that song… I don’t know what would have happened if it hadn’t have been for that. And when that song was done, I knew that I was going to be a songwriter. And I think my mom and dad knew it too.
When did you first use cocaine?
I think the first time that I used coke was when I was a cleaning lady and I was cleaning somebody’s house and as a joke, they left a line of coke underneath something, just to see if I was really a thorough house cleaner. And of course I was, and of course I found it. That’s the first time that I actually remember using it… That was like 1973…
It was amazing how when people talked about it, how not a big thing it was. Nobody was scared. Nobody had any idea how insidious and dangerous and horrible it was.
How much did you spend on cocaine?
Millions. Millions. And yes, don’t I wish that we had that money and I could give it to cancer research today. Yes, I do.
I would be happy if nobody had ever shown me that drug. And that’s what I always want to be careful to tell people is that… just like everything else, for two, three years it was really fun. But it turns into a monster. So it’s not worth it to do it for those two or three years of fun because it will eventually kill you.
How do you finally realize that you have to stop?
I went to a plastic surgeon who told me, “You know, you’re really going to have a lot of problems with your nose if you don’t stop doing this.” And [that] really scared me. And then I went and did a seven-month tour… and I came home and I went straight to Betty Ford. And nobody had to make me go. I wanted to go as quick as possible.
I realized that I had this problem with my nose and that that could affect my voice. And then what would I do if I couldn’t sing anymore?… I could not get to Betty Ford fast enough at the end of that tour in 1986… Once I really realized it and really realized that it was just killing me, that drive to Betty Ford wasn’t so very difficult.
Do you drink or use drugs now?
I never want to be drunk in public again, ever, because that is not me. I never want to be totally drugged out again in public, ever, because I like me, I like who I am. And so that stops me from even considering going down any kind of a route like that again, ever.
Was Lindsey Buckingham the love of your life?
He was the musical love of my life. And I would have really given up anything for him, because of that. It was more than just a love relationship. It was everything… We really did get in a car and drive from San Francisco to Los Angeles, and having no idea what we were going to do or how we were going to do it… But we were going to do it.
What I tell Sheryl Crow [who collaborated with Nicks on her new cd]: Don’t get interested in somebody who’s going to go back on the road… Men are going to go out on the road and they’re going to find other women. So if you really want to save yourself a whole lot of heartache, do not fall in love with somebody in a band. Just don’t. Because it just doesn’t ever work. It’s too much to ask of them to be true… In my book, it’s a rule. It’s just an invitation to heartache… If you want to find somebody and you want to be married and you want to have children, don’t make it a rock star.
You chose career over family. Why?
I couldn’t have really done both. Now, many women can do both. I’m not saying it can’t be done. But for me, I knew that if I had a baby, I would have to take care of that baby, and I wouldn’t have been happy with a nanny taking care of my baby and walking into the room and having my child run across the room to another woman. I am very jealous and I would have hated that. So under those circumstances, if I couldn’t be a great mom, then I decided it would be better not to, and to go ahead and do what I do, write my songs, try to help people that way…
There’s an old country psalm that goes: “I never will marry, I’ll be no man’s wife, I intend to stay single all the rest of my life.” Well, I was singing that song at 16, so I think I just kind of always knew. That just wasn’t going to be for me. And, who knows, maybe when I’m 65 I’ll meet my soul mate and that’s very possible. But for now and for the last many, many years I needed to devote myself to this…
If everything came to an end for some reason tomorrow, I would feel OK about it. I would feel like I did most of what I need to do.
Why do you think your music touches people?
I think that’s what makes people connect to my songs is that they are, each one a little very truthful vignette about an experience that we’re all going to have.
Why did you do your first album cover naked?
That was not my idea. And I was not happy about that either. And I really was kind of forced to do that. That was one of those things, “Well don’t be a child, and don’t be a prude, and you know, this is art”… And I was like “Well, my parents are not going to be happy about this art. “… I was truly horrified. As horrified as I’ve ever been in my life. I was horrified on that day … I should have said no because I didn’t want to do it.
Now all those years are gone. It’s been so long that it’s all right now. And I know people love the cover. I know people love that picture. So I can kind of deal with it and accept it more now.
What’s it like to be a rock star at 53?
I really actually like being my age. I like all that I know. I like how wise I am now. And I wasn’t so very wise 25 years ago, so I like the knowledge. I like the fact that I’m very experienced. I like the fact that I know exactly what I’m doing when I’m on stage. I like the fact that if I had to completely take care of myself, pack my bags, get in a car and drive back to Los Angeles, I could do it.… If I get tired, I tend to blame everything on the fact that I’m older. And I think that really I’m as strong and as healthy and as able to do stuff as I ever was. I’m much more physical now than I was when I was in my 20s.… I was just a lazy rock star in those days.
What’s next for you?
When I stop doing this, I’ll write books and I’ll write children’s books and I’ll do children’s books with music. So I have so many things that I want to do, that when I decide I’m too old to rock on the stage, then I will switch into a whole other art thing.
And a little bit of me looks forward to that because there are many things that I really want to do. I paint and I draw and I have 40 or 50 of what I think are really beautiful paintings. And nobody’s seen them. So I have a whole ‘nother life that I can go into.
A fog is pouring over the Pacific Coast Highway toward Stevie Nicks’ Southern California home, but the singer’s mood could hardly be brighter. The Fleetwood Mac alumna’s Trouble in Shangri-La has just entered the Billboard 200 at an impressive Number Five. Sheryl Crow, who co-produced five tracks, joined Nicks on the album, as did Macy Gray, Sarah McLachlan and Dixie Chick Natalie Maines. Nicks is also recovering from drug addiction— her latest was to the tranquilizer Klonopin. More recently, she’s come back from shooting her part in Destiny’s Child’s video for “Bootylicious,” which samples the Nicks classic “Edge of Seventeen.” “The wild thing is we’re together at, like, Number One and Number Five, and, of course, there’s about a 5,000-year age difference,” Nicks says with a sunny laugh.
RS: Do you feel you’ve become a sort of Mother Superior for women in music?
I do. I do. And it’s a nice feeling — I certainly would have never gone out looking for that, but it seems to be coming to me. I guess these are just all my lost children coming back into my arms.
RS: What do you think of how women in music sell their sexuality these days?
I definitely used my sexuality in a certain way. I kind of draped it all in chiffon and soft lights and suede boots. Everybody now is just much more blatant Personally, I think that being a little more mysterious works better, and it lasts longer. You should be very careful that you don’t build everything you have around how cute you are or how sexy you are, because, unfortunately, no matter how cute you are or how sexy you are, in fifteen years, that won’t be the most important part of your music. I knew that in my twenties. And I prepared for that.
RS: Do players really only love you when they’re playing?
That’s just about groupies and rock stars and what happens out there on the road. It really doesn’t happen out there on the road to women. It didn’t really happen to me, but I saw it happening all around me.
RS: I hear you’re into doing Pilates these days. Has Pilates replaced Klonopin for you?
No, nothing replaces Klonopin. I’m not addicted to working out. I enjoy it, and I am doing it now not because I want to be thin but because I want to be healthy in twenty years.
RS: With all that you’ve lived through, are you surprised you’re still alive?
I am amazed. I feel very lucky. If I had not caught that Klonopin thing, I am absolutely sure I would have been dead in a year — no doubt in my mind. I feel really lucky that somebody tapped me on the shoulder — some little spirit — and said, You know what? You better go to a hospital right now and get better.
RS: Did drugs ever erode your love for music?
The Klonopin eroded my love for everything. Klonopin is a tranquilizer. So between Klonopin for the calm and some Prozac for the wellness feeling, you are never inspired. That’s what it does.
RS: Did you sense that this album was going to turn things around for you?
Well, I knew that this record would either make me or break me. I figured if I could do an album that the world loved after being addicted to that Klonopin stuff for eight years, and just having that be such a black hole, that I would be back on my way. That’s kind of how I feel. And the Fleetwood Mac reunion just slipped in there. I didn’t ever think that Fleetwood Mac would get back together. On that tour, I really regained my power, so when I came home from the Fleetwood Mac tour, I was really ready to finish this record.
RS: Even though Christine McVie has now retired from the group, is it safe to say there is a future for Fleetwood Mac?
Totally. Lindsey [Buckingham] and I and Mick [Fleetwood] and John [McVie], we are going to do this. Christine is OK. She has set us free and let us go. And she wants us to do this if we want to. And so we are going to do it. As soon as I get done with this [Shangri-La tour], and Lindsey is finished doing whatever he does in the next year, we’ll be done and we’ll come together, and we’ll do a record. And there’s a possibility that Sheryl could be a little involved in that.
RS: As someone who lived through the ultimate rock & roll interoffice romance, do you have any advice for us on the subject?
It doesn’t work. It just doesn’t, because when all the business and everything else is blended, you don’t have any space for anything.
RS: On the other hand, you’ve had some fascinating men in your life — Lindsey Buckingham, Don Henley, Jimmy Iovine.
They are all still my really good friends today. I just talked to Don Henley an hour and a half ago. We just did an incredible benefit for MS (Multiple Sclerosis) in Dallas two weeks ago. All the men who were in my life I’m friends with now, and it’s really nice. I chose to not be married. I chose to be single. I have a lot of fun this way. I can do anything I want, go anywhere I want, be with anybody I want, and I’m not angering anybody. Nobody is ever upset with me.
RS: It must be intimidating to ask you out. It’s like asking out Cinderella.
I would think it would be very intimidating for people. That’s probably why most people don’t, you know, because they’re scared [laughs]. I figure if there’s a soul mate for me out there somewhere, I’ll find him. He’ll find me.
RS: Is the secret to your success that you really are a witch after all?
I’m not a witch.
RS: Not even a good witch, Stevie?
I just like Halloween, and I thought that blondes look skinnier in black. That was my whole idea for that whole thing — a long, cool woman in a black dress, right?
Sitting two feet in front of Stevie Nicks, it is difficult to tell this is the same Fleetwood Mac siren who once lived the sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle so severely that she has the quarter-sized hole in the cartilage of her nose to prove it.
Not only did the 10-year cocaine habit (which she quit in 1985) leave her permanently damaged, the addiction to tranquilizers that followed for eight years afterwards also nearly killed her. Then there were the breast implants that left her poisoned with the Epstein-Barr virus, causing lethargy, followed by a 30-pound weight gain in the mid-90s, which depressed Nicks to the point she swore never to sing in public again.
Combine all of that with the three decades she has spent on the road with Fleetwood Mac and as a solo artist, and you would expect Nicks to look a bit bedraggled.
Instead, the singer/songwriter, who turns 53 on May 26, remains radiant, and claims she is the healthiest she has ever been.
Nicks gives some of the credit for her slim, tiny frame and smooth skin to her high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet, and a vow at age 30 to stop sunbathing.
“Even in the worst of times, I kind of think I tried to take care of myself. I’ve never had a facelift,” says Nicks in a recent interview during a press-tour stop in Toronto to promote her latest solo album, Trouble in Shangri-La.
Nicks, dressed in form-fitting shiny blue pants, a long black shirt and open-toed black sandals, her signature straight blond hair resting on her chest, says she would consider having cosmetic surgery around her neck, but not on her face.
“The idea of really changing my face, I don’t want to do that,” she says. “I don’t want to look like another person. All of those other people who have plastic surgery don’t look the way they look.”
The what-you-see-is-what-you-get attitude is also evident on Nicks’s new album, which she describes as a reflection of her own life experiences.
“The whole concept of the record, Trouble in Shangri-La, is really about people making it to the top of their field and messing it up really bad.”
While the album is not about O.J. Simpson, it was written during the last two months of the trial, Nicks says.
Its release last week also fits in nicely with the recent career dive actor Robert Downey Jr. is experiencing after his arrest again last month for illegal drug use.
“I think Robert Downey fits right into my Shangri-La mode. Someone who is as respected and loved as he is — it is just Shangri-La and the fall of Shangri-La.”
Nicks acknowledges her own storied background fits into the same fall-from-utopia category, but she says the album is not all autobiographical.
“Of course I went through it, but sometimes you write more about other people than you do yourself. If you are sad about something, maybe you don’t write so much about it. When you see someone else go through it, well, there you go.”
Trouble in Shangri-La also features such guests as Sheryl Crow, Dixie Chick singer Natalie Maines, Macy Gray and Canadian singer/songwriter Sarah McLachlan.
While Crow made the largest contribution, co-producing and performing on five of the songs, McLachlan sings background vocals and plays guitar and piano on “Love Is,” the final track.
McLachlan’s husband, Ash Sood, also plays drums on “Love Is,” which is one of the first songs Nicks wrote when she started working on the album six years ago.
Nicks first learned of McLachlan in 1994 while hearing her song “Possession” on the radio, while fast asleep during a visit in her hometown of Phoenix, Arizona.
“It woke me up … I sat up and said ‘Who is this?’ “ Nicks recalls. She bought the CD the next day.
She calls McLachlan’s contribution to her new album “one of those perfect accidents.”
Canadian producer Pierre Marchand was supposed to go to Los Angeles to record “Love Is” with Nicks, but had trouble crossing the border, and instead arranged a meeting in Vancouver. He then asked Nicks if she was interested in having McLachlan, now on a career hiatus and living in Vancouver, perform on the album.
Nicks agreed, and spent time with McLachlan and Sood at their home for a week in November.
“I really got to hang out with her. It was really neat.”
Not only are McLachlan’s musical talents on the album, but her artwork as well. She drew the ‘S,’ used to spell out ‘Stevie Nicks’ on the cover of Trouble in Shangri-La. Turned upside down, the ‘S’ is meant to be a picture of a dragon.
Nicks says she saw McLachlan’s drawing on the coffee table in the Vancouver studio and asked if she could use it on the album.
“This record was very hand-stitched,” Nicks says. “I love that part about this record, that everybody did a really special thing.”
Also appearing on the album is Nicks’s ex, Lindsey Buckingham, with whom she recorded her first album in 1973, Buckingham-Nicks, where the couple appeared nude. (She calls doing the nude cover “the most terrifying moment of my entire life.”) A year later, thanks to the nude cover, which got them noticed, the couple joined Fleetwood Mac, which became one of rock’s most storied and highly successful acts. That band’s 1977 album, Rumours, sold more than 17 million copies, and stood as the all-time best-selling album for several years.
Despite the band’s acrimonious past, which included Nicks’s affair with Mick Fleetwood after she and Buckingham split, Nicks says members of the band remain friends.
She rejoined Fleetwood Mac in 1997 on tour for the album The Dance. Since then, Buckingham has remarried and has a child, which Nicks says has been good for their professional relationship.
“It is all good now,” says Nicks, who is single and has no plans to have children. “He is very married, which kind of takes out that thing of ‘Will Lindsey and Stevie get back together when they are 90?’ It makes it easier for us.”
Nicks begins touring for Trouble in Shangri-La in early July in the United States. No Canadian dates have yet been scheduled.
Meantime, she says Fleetwood Mac will head back into the studio again at the end of the year. The band will record another album, but this time without singer and keyboard player Christine McVie.
Nicks is also considering collaborating with the all-girl group Destiny’s Child, who have asked her to play guitar in the video of their next single, “Bootylicious,” which uses music from Nicks’s 1982 solo song (single) “Edge of Seventeen.”
Peter Green didn’t want his 30,000 [pounds] a year. The money was royalties from his work with his old blues band, Fleetwood Mac. He’d quit the band in 1970, saying he wanted to live a Christian life. He gave his money away and eventually took various menial jobs, including one as a gravedigger.
But now, as more and more people acquaint themselves with Fleetwood Mac and dig back to old reissues, this money keeps arriving. He tries to get rid of it, but it’s all just a bother. “I want to lead a new life,” he would say. “I don’t want to be followed around by the past”.
When Green could tolerate it no longer, he paid his accountant a visit, brandishing a pump-action 22 shotgun. He wanted the money stopped. Soon Green was standing in Marlebone Court in London, listening calmly as the judge read this verdict. Peter Green, blues-guitar-star-turned-ascetic, was ordered committed to a mental institution.
After ten years and a particularly lean time just before the group’s 1975 smash, Fleetwood Mac, broke loose, everybody loves this quiet little British-American band that could. Fleetwood Mac’s music has evolved into a sophisticated pop and rock sound that’s just right for the Seventies, thanks primarily to two women, old-timer Christine McVie and newcomer Stevie Nicks. The group’s latest album is being shipped out in greater quantities than any other record in the history of Warner Bros. There are, of course, reasons for Warner’s optimism: Fleetwood Mac produced three hit singles (“Over my head” and “Say you love me” by McVie; “Rhiannon” by Nicks), sold 4 million units, has danced around the top half of the album charts for over 80 weeks and is Warner’s all-time best seller.
And adding to everyone’s enthusiasm were shows like the one at LA’s Universal Amphitheater last fall. There, in front of an adorning crowd that included Elton John and two princesses of Iran, FM looked like they were feeling good. New energy was being supplied by Stevie Nicks and the other most recent addition Lindsey Buckingham. What with Buckingham prowling around the stage, dropping feisty lead runs into all the right places, and singer Nicks playing the whirling dervish Welsh witch Rhiannon, the group’s dignified reserve was clearly a thing of the past.
Even drummer Mick Fleetwood finally ventured out from behind his drum kit to play the African talking drum on “World Turning”. And Christine McVie, Fleetwood Mac’s brandy-voiced keyboardist of six years, recently overcoming a phobia against talking to the audience. Only John McVie, perhaps in the grand tradition of bassists, remains impassive and faultlessly proficient.
But one would soon learn that their minds were elsewhere – namely, in the tiny studio across town from the Amphitheater, where they were still struggling to finish their very latefollow LP, a trouble child, called Rumours.
Work on the album began in February ’76, immediately after the group had introduced their new lineup on a marathon six-month cross-country tour. Traveling to the Record Plant Studios in Sausalito, just north of San Francisco, FM had walked straight into an emotional holocaust. Christine and John McVie, married for almost 8 years, had recently split up and weren’t talking to each other. Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham were about to do likewise. And Mick Fleetwood certainly wasn’t talking to anybody. The father of two children, he and his wife Jenny were in the midst of divorce proceedings.
“Everybody was pretty weirded out”, Christine McVie explained. “Somehow Mick was there, the figurehead: “We must carry on… let’s be mature about this, sort it out. – Somehow we waded through it.”
They returned to LA, but the tapes from their nine weeks in the Sausalito studio – many of them mangled by a “recording machine” that earned the nickname “Jaws” – sounded strange wherever they played them. They were almost resigned to starting all over when one of their crew found a cramped dubbing room in the porno district of Hollywood Boulevard, a studio that perfectly accommodated what they had recorded. A fully booked fall tour was canceled, and there, while films like Squirm and Dick City played next door, Fleetwood Mac started the mixing process. As the songs took shape, the album began to sound like True Confessions: the band’s three writers – Christine McVie, Nicks, and Buckingham – were all writing about their crumbled relationships.
As they added finishing touches to an album more intimate than they had ever anticipated, the band firmly closed their studio doors. “It was clumsy sometimes,” said John McVie. “I’m sitting there in the studio and I get a little lump in my throat especially when you turn around and the writer’s sitting right there.” So they asked that interviews be done separately.
I always did have a kind of candle shining for Peter Green. I mean, he was my god. I thought, “Give me one chance at him…” Christine McVie, who looks considerably younger than her 33 years, grew up alongside Fleetwood Mac on the British blues circuit. Mick Fleetwood and John McVie are loath to dwell on FM’s many past lives, but sitting in this cluttered office adjoining the studio where she has just finished mixing Rumours, Christine is happy to play the keeper of the FM legacy.
She pours a tall glass of white wine and surprises even herself with a fan’s diary that is by turns, melancholy and passionate. “I dearly remember the old days… FM had this one-of-a-kind charm. They were gregarious, charming and cheeky on-stage. Very cheeky. They’d have a good time. Peter Green just made the audience laugh at this funny little cocky Jewboy. Jeremy Spencer was really dirty on-stage. At the Marquee one night he put a dildo in his trousers, came out and did an impersonation of Cliff Richard. Half the women left, escorted by their boyfriends.” Green had also created a dark, mystical aura about the band. “He had this tremendous, subtle power,” says Christine.
By the time she made friends with the group, Christine Perfect was already a journeywoman blues-circuit rocker herself. As a “real tubby” teenager – she weighed 160 pounds at 16 – Christine and a girlfriend/singing partner snuck away from their strict parents in Birmingham and visited every talent agency they could find in London. Their act consisted of strumming guitars and warbling Everly Brothers hits. Their career, which was highlighted by a obe-song pub appearance backed by the Shadows, was cut short when their parents found them out. Christine was sent to art college in Birmingham where she joined a folk club. “We’d meet every Tuesday night, above a pub somewhere, and drink cheap beer. Whoever could, would play a folk song or violin, whatever they could do. Anyway, one night in strolls this devastatingly handsome man, who was from Birmingham University. It was Spencer Davis. I just fell in love with Spence. I swore I would get thin and go out with him.
“And I did.”
Christine and Spencer began singing together, fronting the university’s jazz band, but, she says, their relationship proved more musical than illicit. “Stevie Winwood was about 14, still in school and playing at a jazz club called the ChappelPub at lunchtime,” Christine says. “He met Spencer Davis Group.”
“I used to trail around religiously. Boy, they were so hot. Nothing was like that. Stevie Winwood played like I’d never heard anybody play before. It just gave me goose bumps. They were just a blues band, but a really, really great blues band. He [Winwood] could yell the blues. A 15-year-old boy. No one could believe it. The 19-20-year-old girls would have the hots for him.”
Christine joined another blues band called Chicken Shack. The gruesome cover photo, showing severed fingers in a can, won as art award for their first album. Forty Blue Fingers Packed and Ready to Serve. “We had an underground following,” Christine deadpans.
Chicken Shack did occasional gigs with Fleetwood Mac, and Christine, now, playing piano, was invited to guest on some of Fleetwood Mac’s early sessions because she “played the blues the way Peter liked.” She never had designs on any of the band, she says. Besides, both Green and McVie already had girlfriends.
Christine stops and slaps her forehead. “I’m forgetting a whole two-year episode with a Swedish guy I was engaged to. Ended up totally traumatizing my kitten who hated me evermore ’cause I just ran around the house screaming when he left me. I scared the shit out of it.”
Caught up in her story-telling, Christine in not the same woman Stevie Nicks has characterized as “very private, very much to herself.” She shakes her head, as if she’s been talking too much. “I can’t believe I’m remembering all these things.” But, she continues, “I went to see Fleetwood Mac one night. John didn’t have his girlfriend… He asked me if I wanted to have a drink and we sat down, had a few laughs, then they had to go on-stage. All the time I was kind of eyeballing ol’ Greenie. After the concert was over, John came over and said, ‘Shall I take you out to dinner sometime? I went, ‘Whoa… I thought you were engaged or something.’ He said, ‘Nah, ‘sall over.’ I thought he was devastatingly attractive but it never occurred to me to look at him.”
They went out for a time, then John McVie disappeared overseas for Fleetwood Mac’s first American tour. “By this time I was really crazy about him,” Christine recalls, “but I didn’t know what was happening with him. Chicken Shack did a ten-day stint at the Blow-Up Club in Munich and I had this strange relationship with a crazy German DJ who wanted to whisk me off and marry me. I turned him down… and wrote John a big letter.”
Fleetwood Mac returned from America and McVie proposed. They were married ten days later, mostly to please Christine’s dying mother. But John and Christine didn’t see much of each other. Both bands toured often and when she left Chicken Shack, she tried a disastrously unprepared solo tour and LP. Christine gladly retired to be John McVie’s old lady.
“I thought it was extremely romantic,” she says. “Obviously a little bit of the glamour of what Fleetwood Mac was in those days rubbed off. It was almost like someone marrying a Beatle. You married one of the locks in the chain and you were part of them.
“We were very very happy. Very happy for probably three years and then the strain of me being in the same band as him started to take its toll. When you’re in the same band as somebody, you’re seeing them almost more than 24 hours a day. you start to see an awful lot of the bad side ’cause touring is no easy thing. There’s a lot of drinking… John is not the most pleasant of people when he’s drunk. Very belligerent. I was seeing more Hyde than Jekyll.”
Peter Green, in a sudden plea for Christ, left the band in late ’70, and Christine McVie came out of her retirement, adding keyboards to the band. Green’s departure, says Christine, “was an out-of-the-blue shock to everybody. Peter had been quite happy and was starting to write this really incredible music like “Green Manalishi.” It was like he was being lifted. He’d wrung the blues dry and already played 50 times better than most of the black guitarists.”
In the midst of a German tour the group’s first peak of popularity, Green fell in with some people Christine remembers as “jet-setters.” The band had recorded a Green composition, “Black Magic Woman,” and, ironically, the group he ran into were reportedly into black magic and the occult. They turned him on to acid. He left Fleetwood Mac on that same tour.
“Something snapped in him,” Christine says, looking saddened. “He dropped this fatal tab of acid and withdrew. He still has this amazing power, but it’s negative. You don’t want him around. We’ve all cried a lot of tears over Peter. We’ve all spent so much energy talking him into more positive channels. He’ll just sit there and laugh. “Fuck it…”
Not long ago, exasperated at being asked the perennial reunion question, Mick Fleetwood told an interviewer that sure, someday, maybe on an English tour, the original Fleetwood Mac might get on-stage one night.
Later, when the band arrived in London, Peter Green was waiting for them in the lobby of their hotel. Unannounced, Christine didn’t recognize the flabby, slept-in figure carrying a disco-droning cassette machine. “I heard this voice say, Hello Chris, I turned around and see this rotund little guy with a big beer gut and pint in his hand. I couldn’t believe it. I said, Aren’t you embarrassed?, Nah, he says, fuck it, what the hell.” We gave him a room at the hotel for a few nights. He’d knock on your door, come in and just sit there on your bed. He wouldn’t volunteer anything.”
Jeremy Spencer left Fleetwood Mac a year after Peter Green, under vaguely similar circumstances. He stepped onto a Children of God bus in Hollywood and never returned. The writer met Spencer recently on a London Street, blank-eyed and selling Children of God books. His pitch: “I used to be in a group called Fleetwood Mac until I found…”
Christine meticulously recollects the details of all the ensuing clock-in/clock-out personnel changes during Fleetwood Mac’s lean years between their Future Games and Fleetwood Mac LPs. But she places particular emphasis only on Bob Welch. “I have so much love for Bob,” she says, “He is such a big part of the band. I don’t really get off on what he’s doing in Paris [Welch’s current band]. When he quit, he was getting into a real feel of the kind of guitar playing that Peter used to have and Lindsey definitely has got a lot of. It’s very nebulous quality, very difficult to explain. It’s a question of what note not to play.”
Welch’s last LP with the groups was Heroes are Hard to Find, their first as a transplanted LA band. After breaking up with their manager they had moved to LA to start all over. The McVies lived in a small three-room in Malibu. It was there, on a portable Hohner piano in the bedroom that she wrote “Over my Head” and “Say you Love me.”
“I don’t struggle over my songs,” she offers. “I write them quickly and I’ve never written a lot. I write what is required of me. For me, people like Joni Mitchell are making too much of a statement. I don’t really write about myself, which puts me in a safe little cocoon… I’m a pretty basic love song writer.”
Christine shrugs off the suddenly massive acceptance of Fleetwood Mac as “a lot of rewards for a lot of hard work.” And it wasn’t the flush of super-stardom, she stresses, that caused her to split with John McVie. She explains compassionately: “I broke up with John in the middle of a tour. I was aware of it being irresponsible. I had to do it for my sanity. It was either that or me ending up in a lunatic asylum. I still worry for him more than I would ever dare tell him. I still have a lot of love for John. Let’s face it, as far as I’m concerned, it was him that stopped me loving him. He constantly tested what limits of endurance I would go to. He just went one step too far. If he knew that I cared and worried so much about him, I think he’d play on it.”
“There’s no doubt about the fact that he hasn’t really been a happy man since I left him. I know that. Sure, I could make him happy tomorrow and say, yeah John, I’ll come back to you. Then I would be miserable. I’m not that unselfish.”
Then there were the Sausalito sessions. “Trauma,” Christine groans. “Trau-ma.” The sessions were like a cocktail party every night – people everywhere. We ended up staying in these weird hospital rooms… and of course John and me were not exactly the best of friends. Stevie and I spent a lot of time together. She was going through a bit of a hard time too because she was the one that axed it. Lindsey was pretty down about it for a while, then he just woke up one morning and said, Fuck this, I don’t want to be unhappy, and started getting some girlfriends together.
Then Stevie couldn’t handle it…
Almost immediately Christine McVie entered into a romance with Curry Grant, FM’s strapping lighting director. They lived together for a year in Christine’s home, above Sunset Strip. “I haven’t been without a man in my life for… God, it must be 12 years. I can’t imagine what it’s like not to have an old man… but I have no intention of getting married. I don’t think I’m in love…” She considers that for a few seconds. “I don’t really know what the hell love is.” Then, she suddenly adds, “I’m proud of having been John’s wife.” She still wears McVie’s ring, but on another finger. Maybe we don’t feel the same about each other anymore, but I wouldn’t like to wipe that off board. John can’t handle Curry too well, even though he’s much more at ease with other women around me than I am with men in front of him. He’s making an effort. But if I was the kind of girl who wandered in with a new boyfriend every week, enjoying my newfound freedom, I don’t know how he could handle that.”
Isn’t she tempted to play the field?
“It would be a new experience,” she says shyly, growing amused at the thought. “Sure, you know.” She leans toward a telephone. “Kenny Loggins! Call me up. I’d love to have a load of dates. I haven’t done that since I was at college. But it’s really out of the question. I mean I hardly meet anybody. I’m so involved in the band.”
Christine McVie’s eyes light up with a revelation. “Seven more years until I’m forty. Then I’ll start all over again…”
John McVie stares silently out across a windy Marina del Rey, a half-hour away from Hollywood. “Two choppy today,” he mumbles. “We shouldn’t take the boat out.” Having had this 41-foot schooner a year now, he is brisk and expert at tidying it up, taking down the sail and draining out side compartments before we find seats outside, on the stern, to talk.
For years, McVie dreamt about buying a boat. With the success of Fleetwood Mac, he was able to get one of the best. And when Christine asked for a separation, he moved on board, storing away everything, but some sailing books, a radio, a television set and numerous statuettes of penguins.
McVie, who is 30, claims that he’s “much more comfortable here than in a house anyway.” But he seems oddly unhappy. He is a solemn man. If he is pleased with realizing one of his fantasies, his poker face doesn’t show it.
One wonders what success has meant to him.
“This,” he says quietly, knocking the stern of the boat, “the freedom to be here, rather than slogging your heart out in Hollywood. But this isn’t… would you say this is a luxury? If there was a house with it, I’d say so. But this is half the price of a house.”
John McVie, the Mac in Fleetwood Mac, started the band with Mick Fleetwood, Jeremy Spencer and Peter Green in ’67. Before that he was a four-year charter member of John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. He has seen Fleetwood Mac through the complete musical spectrum – 6 guitarists, 3 label changes, innumerable tours, every album and many, many, times more bad than good.
If Fleetwood Mac had been a mediocre-selling album for the band, there would have been no desperation or breakup. If Buckingham or Nicks hadn’t worked out, McVie would have dutifully helped find replacements. He’s a strange creature to rock and roll: a patient man.
“Fleetwood Mac was doing fine before that album,” he figures. “People are always asking me how does it feel to have made it. If that’s the case, what do I do now? Now that I’ve made it. I hate that phrase.” For once, his voice is audible above the din of the marina. “I didn’t anticipate all the commotion around the last album,” he says. “Not as much as 4 million sales. There’s a lot of good albums we’ve done. It’s just one of those things – the right album the right time. But that’s the criteria of making it in this business: a big album. Then you get your own TV show, you go make a movie. It’s not important. Being seen wearing a Gucci suit… that syndrome is so sad.”
So what’s the motivation to be around it for more than 14 years?
“Playing bass,” comes the ready reply. “I’m not a dedicated musician particularly, but it’s the one thing I enjoy doing.”
Would he soon consider retiring?
What would I do? Sit on the boat, but that would get as boring as sitting around the studio…”
One cautiously broaches the subject of his split with Christine. It must have been a major turning point…
“Yeah,” McVie agrees. “It still affects me. I’m still adjusting to the fact that it’s not John and Chris anymore. It goes up and down.”
Feeling suddenly awkward, McVie stops and assembles a statement explaining himself. “Its difficult to tell someone, yeah, I’m this kind of person… the quiet thing is fine,” he says softly. “If I had anything that I thought was world shaking or profound, I’d say something. I really can come up with anything on politics, state of society, the relation of music to society… it’s just horseshit. I play bass.”
McVie sounds like his soft-spoken fellow member from the Bluesbreakers, Eric Clapton, in both philosophy and personality. (Christine McVie: “those two? They’re like two peas out of the same pod”).
Clapton has said he finds his personality by drinking…
“I drink too much, period,” McVie bristles, “but when I’ve drunk too much, a personality comes out. It’s not very pleasant to be around.”
In the end, John McVie is a droll, likable gentleman with a sullen aura. Used to touring and recording with his wife and band, he is suddenly alone on his boat.
“He’ll cheer up,” an associate of the band says with a laugh. “He always does. Everyone’s attitude is just leave him to himself. They know there’s only one thing that could bring him around instantly: an affair with Linda Rondstandt.”
McVie wistfully admits to this crush. Last year, suspiciously soon after learning that Fleetwood Mac would be on the Rock Music Awards show with Rondstandt as a fellow nominee, he bought an exquisitely tailored burgundy velvet, three-piece outfit. He wore it that night, and Fleetwood Mac won Rock Group of the Year, among other honors.
Rondstandt never showed up.
Mick Fleetwood’s the tall menacing-looking one who is, for all purposes, the manager of the band. When former manager Clifford Davis burned his bridges by sending out a bogus band with the same name and owners of the name, Fleetwood Mac was too broke to find another. Decisions fell directly to Fleetwood and McVie, the original members and owners of the name. McVie held no ambitions as a businessman, but Fleetwood became obsessed with the music business. He grew to love the new responsibility of managing himself. Fleetwood retained a lawyer, Michael “Mickey” Shapiro, and together they guided the band’s career.
Fleetwood is surely in his element this morning. We’re sitting in the executive conference room at the tip of a private Warner’s jet returning to LA from a last minute Fleetwood Mac benefit in Indiana for Birch Bayh.
“Everything has taken a very natural course,” he reflects pleasantly. “We’ve never made records with the attitude of making hits. With us, it’s potluck. The fact that they are is great. That’s not just from the present lineup of the band, that’s going back years and years. Like when Peter Green wrote “Albatross” [FM’s first successful single in England]. Everyone thought it was a concerted effort. It was a complete accident that it was a hit. The BBC used it for some wildlife program and then someone put it on Top of The Tops and it was a hit. If Rumours was a radical failure, I’m sure we’d all be disturbed, but we wouldn’t feel disillusioned.”
Mick Fleetwood, like John McVie, cannot think of a time when he was ever frustrated with the band’s stalled sales figures. After ten years, they value Fleetwood Mac more as a way of life than as a business investment. Success was a pleasant surprise. “You go to the office every day and you don’t think about it in the end, you just go,” Fleetwood explains. “That’s what we were doing. Being part of Fleetwood Mac, playing through the ups and downs.”
Fleetwood is resolute: “I could have never planned any of this. I don’t even believe in making plans. They only create an atmosphere of disappointment. So, it’s not a day-to-day situation with us, but there’s always full potential of either great things happening. That is very important to me personally… Fleetwood Mac, from point one, has been like that. We’ll always be able to move without breaking a leg… I definitely want to have a baby in the next four years. For sure, I want to have one or two children and I don’t want to wait any further than, say, 34. This is all part of my plan. By that time I hope that I’ll be living up in the mountains somewhere with a very pretty house and a piano and a tape recorder, just writing, and then going to New York every once in a while to shop. I love that too, but I mostly like to be in a really warm place with a bunch of animals, dogs and cats.”
It’s a long way from Peter Green.
Twenty-eight-year-old Stephanie “Stevie” Nicks is an endearing blend of beatnik poet and sassy rock and roller. One thing is for sure: success does not faze her. She has, in fact, lived around it much of her life. Until heart surgery forced him into early retirement two years ago, her father, Jess Nicks, was simultaneously executive vice-president of Greyhound and president of Armour Meats. Stevie, the only girl, was “the star in my family’s sky.”
Born in Phoenix and raised along her father’s corporate climb in LA, New Mexico, Texas, Utah, and finally San Francisco, she nearly graduated from San Jose State with a degree in speech communication. Instead, she quit a few months early to go on the road in 1968 with an acid-rock band called Fritz.
“That did not amuse my parents too much,” Stevie notes wryly. Just out of the shower and toweling off her mousy-brown-flecked-with green-tint hair on an antique couch in her Hollywood Hills duplex, she makes easy conversation. “They wanted me to do what I wanted to do. They were just worried I was going to get down to 80 pounds and be a miserable, burnt out 27-year-old.”
Despite a senior citizen’s penchant for detailing her various aches and pains – she’s always got a sore throat or a cold – the one thing Stevie Nicks does not exude is weakness.
Through the three and a half year existence of Fritz, her all-male band members made a private agreement: hands off Stevie. That included Lindsey Buckingham, the slender, curly-haired bass player with whom she shared lead vocals.
“I think there was always something between me and Lindsey, but nobody in that band really wanted me as their girlfriend because I was just too ambitious for them. But they didn’t want anybody else to have me either. If anybody in the band started spending any time with me, the other three would literally pick that person apart. To the death. They all thought I was in it for the attention. These guys didn’t take me seriously at all. I was just a girl singer, and they hated the fact that I got a lot of credit.”
Nicks flouts the memory, laughing with defiance, “They would kill themselves practicing for ten hours, and people would call up and say: ‘We want to book that band with the little brownish-blondish-haired girl.’ There was always just really weird things going on between us.” Now she is charged up and scoots to the edge of her sofa to make her point: “I could never figure out why I stayed in that band. Now I know that was the preparation for Fleetwood Mac.”
But it would be another two years between the inevitable breakup of Fritz and an invitation to join Fleetwood Mac. Stevie and Lindsey chose to stay together as a duo, calling themselves Buckingham Nicks. “We started spending a lot of time together working out songs. Pretty soon we started spending all our time together and… it just happened.”
They moved down to LA, started knocking on doors, and eventually signed a contract with Polydor Records. They released an album and toured to good audience reaction. The band even developed a cult following in Birmingham, Alabama.
In New York, however, Polydor was not impressed and dropped them before they could finish a second album. Lindsey resorted to a phone-soliciting job. Stevie became a $1.50-an-hour waitress in a Beverly Hills singles restaurant.
Waiting on tables? What about mom and dad?
“I’d get money from them here and there,” says Stevie, “but if I wanted to go back to school, if I wanted to move back home, then they would support me… If I was gonna be here in LA, doing my trip, I was gonna have to do it on my own.”
They auditioned for Russ Regan, head of 20th Century records, who, Buckingham recalls, “thought we were a smash act but couldn’t sign us” and Ode records president and artist’s manager Lou Adler, who listened to half of one song and thanked them very much. Another manager recommended they learn the Top 40 and play steak and lobster houses.
When she visited home just seven months before joining Fleetwood Mac, her father was also discouraging. “He saw me getting skinnier and I wasn’t very happy. He said, ‘I think you better start setting some time limits here,’ they saw, I really think, shades of my grandfather A.J. (Aaron Jeff Nicks). He was a country and western singer and he drank way too much. He was unhappy, trying to make it. He wanted to make it very badly. He turned into a very embittered person and he died that way.”
In late 1974, Keith Olsen, engineer on the Buckingham Nicks LP, met with Mick Fleetwood. Olsen, pitching himself and his studio for the Fleetwood Mac account, presented Stevie and Lindsey’s demo and his studio portfolio. Fleetwood listened to the album and made a mental note. When Bob Welch left Fleetwood Mac six weeks later, he looked up Stevie and Lindsey.
They went up to Mick Fleetwood’s house in Laurel Canyon to talk. Buckingham offered to do an audition, but Fleetwood declined. Instead, he simply asked: ‘Want to join?’ The two looked at each other and said, ‘Yes.’
“John and Mick,” Buckingham says, “have always been open to having a lot of different people in the band – which is odd. I would never be able to do that. I would think it was real important to keep an identity. I remember being a kid – if a new member joined a group, I just didn’t like that at all. But that openness is what’s kept them going for so long.”
But he and Nicks had one more commitment: a headlining concert in Birmingham. The show drew a screaming sellout crowd of more than 6000 fans who knew all the words to their songs. “We went out in style,” says Buckingham.
Fleetwood went directly into the studio, reworking such Buckingham Nicks material as “Monday Morning,” “Landslide,” and a new song written originally on acoustic piano about a Welsh witch Stevie had read about named “Rhiannon.” “Everything was already worked out,” says Buckingham. He plucked up a belly-backed acoustic guitar and played the introduction to “Rhiannon.”
The newest members of the band were happy with the album, but Stevie Nicks went through an anxious period of self-doubt. She can quote entire passages from a review in Rolling Stone that, she says, almost caused her to quit. “They said my singing was ‘callow’ and that really hurt my feelings.” She began to think that maybe she wasn’t that good, and that she had been asked into the band only because she was with Buckingham. “Time after time I would read: ‘…the raucous voice of Stevie Nicks and the golden-throated voice of Christine McVie, who’s the only saving grace of the band.’ When it comes to competition, I won’t compete for a man and I won’t compete for a place on that stage either. If I’m not wanted, I’ll get out. I was bummed.”
But the bum didn’t last long: Fleetwood Mac immediately became a gold album and Christine’s ethereal song, “Over my head,” broke big in both pop and easy-listening radio. Nicks, who’d done harmonies on the track, felt better. And when “Rhiannon” found an even bigger audience, with its mainstream rock and roll getting both AM and FM airplay, she forgot all about quitting.
She also became Rhiannon, a witch in Welsh mythology. “I see her as a good witch,” Stevie says. “Very positive. I sink into that whole trip when I’m on stage.” With her diaphanous black outfits, her chiffon and lace, and a graceful way around the stage, she just as quickly became the band’s first willing star/focal point.
There was, of course, a price for all this. Last year, during the ill-fated stretch in Sausalito, she separated from Buckingham after over six years.
“The best explanation is: try working with your secretary… in a raucous office… and then come home with her at night. See how long you could stand her. I could be no comfort to Lindsey when he needed comfort.”
She cites an example from Sausalito. Lindsey was feeling depressed because he couldn’t quite get some guitar parts down right. “So we’d go back to where we were staying and he would really need comfort from me, for me to say, ‘it’s all right, who cares about them?’, you know, be an old lady.”
One problem, “I was also pissed off because he hadn’t gotten the guitar part on. So I’m trying to defend their point of view at the same time trying to make him feel better. It doesn’t work. I couldn’t be all those things.”
Stevie has kept mostly to herself since the breakup with Lindsey. Outside of a short romance with drummer/singer Don Henley of The Eagles, she’s spent her days either in the studio or at home writing and taping her songs. She icily denies talk of an affair with Paul Kantner.
“It’s strange for me,” she says in confidential tones, “I’ve never been a dater. I don’t really like parties. I’m very alone now. I’m not one of those women who are just willing to go out and sit at the rainbow. In my position I could meet a lot of people just because of the band I’m in. Well, I don’t want to meet anybody because of the band I’m in.”
Stevie doesn’t mind airing her personal life like this at all. “I don’t care that everybody knows me and Chris and John and Lindsey and Mick all broke up,” she declares. “Because we did. So that’s fact. I just don’t want people to pick up a magazine and go, ‘oh, another interview from Fleetwood Mac,’ if it’s interesting, I’m not opposed to giving out information”.
“On this album, all the songs that I wrote except maybe ‘Gold Dust Woman’ – and even that comes into it – are definitely about the people in the band… Chris’ relationships, John’s relationship, Mick’s, Lindsey’s and mine. They’re all there and they’re very honest and people will know exactly what I’m talking about… people will really enjoy listening to what happened since the last album”.
The sun sets in Hollywood and Stevie lets her house darken along with it. “I’ll tell you an interesting thing that hit me after the Rock Awards,” she says. “We won the Best Group and the Best Album awards – that was very far out and everybody was really blessed out over that and we went to some party at the Hilton or something afterward and just stayed about 30 minutes. My brother Chris and I got in our limousine and came home. And it really struck me, driving home in the back seat of a black limousine. I was so lonely.”
“I thought, ‘Here I am, we just won these fantastic awards, we’ve just been on TV, everybody is singing our praises and here I am driving home in my black limousine,’ terribly alone. Sort of knowing how it would feel to be Marilyn Monroe or something. It was a very strange feeling and I didn’t like it at all.”
Stevie Nicks opens her eyes very wide. “It scared me.”
Lindsey Buckingham is no doubt the first member of Fleetwood Mac to list Brian Wilson as a major inspiration. Lindsey’s California influence on the band is legitimate too. Born and raised in Palo Alto, Buckingham was “another jock in a family of swimming jocks.” His brother Greg won a silver medal in the ’68 Olympics. Late in high school Lindsey drifted into a rock and roll band and was sufficiently smitten to spoil family tradition. He quit the water polo team. “My coach went insane,” Lindsey says. “He started screaming, ‘you’re nothing, you’ll always be a nothing.'”
And he was nothing for a while, when that band went psychedelic and became Fritz. Buckingham couldn’t master mind-blowing lead guitar and was put on bass for the next three and a half years. “I was just a young kid who thought it was really neat that we were in a band,” he says. Then he teamed up with Nicks, and finally they joined Fleetwood Mac.
Now, Buckingham lopes into the house of a mutual friend, looking a little dazed. Listening to the radio on the way over he’d finally heard himself singing the just released single, “Go your own way.” “It sounded real weird,” he shrugs. “I just want it to be so good that I got paranoid. I have to relax, get this whole time behind us…”
Ten months devoted to Fleetwood Mac’s album has left Buckingham spindly and studio wan. He gives a rundown of how a group can spend so long taping 45 minutes of music: “there’s one track on the album that started out as a one song in Sausalito. We decided it needed a bridge, so we cut a bridge and edited it into the rest of the song. We didn’t get a vocal and left it for a long time in a bunch of pieces. It almost went off the album. Then we listened back and decided we liked the bridge, but didn’t like the rest of the song. So I wrote verses for that bridge, which was originally not in the song and edited those in. We saved the ending. The ending was the only thing left from the original track. We ended up calling it “The Chain,” because it was a bunch of pieces.”
His face lights up as he realizes that it’s all behind him now. “I feel really lucky that I’ve had the opportunity to go through some of the heartaches and shit we’ve been through the past year. it’s had a profound effect on me. I feel a lot older. I feel like I’ve learned a whole lot by taking on a large responsibility slightly unaided.” Buckingham laughs to himself. “Being in this band really fucks up relationships with chicks. Since Stevie, I have found that to be true. I could meet someone that I really like, have maybe a few days to get it together and that’s about it. The rest of the time I’m too into Fleetwood Mac”.
Buckingham has overcome the breakup with Nicks. “It was a little lonely there for a while,” he admits. “The thought of being on my own really terrified me. But then I realized being alone is a really cleansing thing… as I began to feel myself again. I’m surprised we lasted as long as we did.”
Buckingham doesn’t object to the confessional tone of Rumours either. “I’m not ashamed of my personal life,” he proclaims. “Just ’cause you’re in the public eye doesn’t mean you don’t go through the same bullshit.”
Lindsey Buckingham sets down the guitar. “Tonight I just want to get drunk,” he announces. “I know the exact place too. They let me throw the foos…”
The two doormen at Kowloon’s Chines restaurant greet Buckingham and his party warmly. They know him as the young gentleman who leaves a big mess and a bigger tip.
“Do you know who he is?” one doorman asks the other.
The other doorman nods casually. “He’s an actor or something. I think he plays in a soap opera…”