Will It Ever Be Cool To Like Fleetwood Mac?

Fleetwood Mac
Fleetwood Mac

Fleetwood Mac are back and bigger than ever, but is it finally time guitar fans dropped their pretensions and embraced one of the greatest “uncool” acts of the 1970s?

By David Hayter
Guitar Planet Magazine
Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Rampaging commercial success will not earn an artist the acceptance of the wider rock fraternity. Music fans can be more than a little sniffy. The second a band breaks through the glass ceiling and becomes a pop culture staple, eyebrows arch and skepticism takes hold. It’s a bizarre phenomenon but one that every music fan can recognize. There is no magic formula to earn credibility and kudos. Every critic in the land can fall in line and exalt an artist’s latest work, but it won’t stop the second-guessing and it won’t make you cool.

Fleetwood Mac represent the ultimate contradiction. When they ditched the trappings of blues-rock and embraced folk-pop they became the biggest band in the world. The critics adore Rumours and the public grabbed copies in their millions — but the Mac were never cool. Indulgent, genteel, and contrived, to their adversaries Fleetwood Mac were regressive and safe when music was at its madcap revolutionary best. Lindsey Buckingham was never on trend as far as guitarists were concerned — he chose to askew his considerable technical talents in favour of chart friendly sheen.

Fleetwood Mac’s guilty pleasure status has only grown with age. Chatting with young rock fans at Sonisphere Festival 2010 about the best live bands they’d seen in the last year, it was amusing to witness a fan try and couch his enjoyment at seeing Fleetwood Mac live. After a minute of mumbling hedges (“Well they’re not my kind of thing,” “Of course I didn’t expect to enjoy it”) he meekly came to the conclusion, in hushed tones, that “you know, when they played “The Chain” and really got going, they’re pretty good…if you like that sort of thing.”

It was truly astounding, not the length this one rock fan went to hide his clear admiration for the Mac, but the fact that he had to hide it in the first place. This was a Festival that featured prominent performances by the likes of Europe and Motley Crue, and the gent in question was wearing a Whitesnake tee! Surely if hair metal has been redeemed to the point where hardened rock fans will proudly don the garb of their poodle haired icons, it should be socially acceptable to admit that “you know, Fleetwood Mac are kind of alright.”

Perhaps the time is now. Fleetwood Mac have reformed with more fanfare than either their 2004 or 2009 sojourns and Rumours has been reissued to ravenous reviews. Even Pitchfork, the hipster bible which historically avoids dolling out top marks to even the most highly regarded middle of the road releases (see The Joshua Tree), took the plunge and gave Rumours a perfect 10. The fans are certainly excited, selling out a mammoth arena tour and forcing the band to add two extra dates in London. It’s self-evident: Fleetwood Mac are still relevant.

But if the band has always been this beloved, it begs the question…

Why Were Fleetwood Mac So Uncool In The First Place?

Victims of circumstance: the injection of pop songsmiths Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks in 1975 happened to coincide with one of the most revolutionary periods in pop music history. New genres and new sounds were being invented on a monthly basis and if the 70s could be distilled down into one succinct musical motto it would read: never look back.

David Bowie encapsulated this sense of experimentation as he ditched twee mod-pop, rushed through psychedelic isolation, mastered glam, went crazy on cocaine and released two Krautrock masterpieces in the space of seven short years.

Consider the breadth of innovation in the years when Fleetwood Mac released their best work – look at how dramatically music was evolving with each passing year:

1975 (Fleetwood Mac): Blood On The Tracks (Bob Dylan), Psychical Graffiti (Led Zeppelin), Blow By Blow (Jeff Beck), Wish You Were Here (Pink Floyd), Born To Run (Bruce Springsteen), A Night At The Opera (Queen), Horses (Patti Smith), Another Green World (Brian Eno), Captain Fantastic… (Elton John), Neu ’75 (Neu!), Mothership Connection (Parliament), Ted Nugent (Ted Nugent)

1977 (Rumours): Marquee Moon (Television), Never Mind The Bollocks (The Sex Pistols), Low & Heroes (David Bowie), Animals (Pink Floyd), The Clash (The Clash), Exodus (Bob Marley), My Aim Is True (Elvis Costello), Bat Out Of Hell (Meatloaf), Trans-Europe Express (Kraftwerk), Rocket To Russia (The Ramones), Pink Flag (Wire), Talking Heads 77 (Talking Heads), The Idiot (Iggy Pop), The Heart Of The Congos (The Congos), Saturday Night Fever (The Beegees)

1979 (Tusk): London Calling (The Clash), Unknown Pleasures (Joy Division), Highway To Hell (AC/DC), The Wall (Pink Floyd), Entertainment (Gang Of Four), Off The Wall (Michael Jackson), Specials (The Specials), Metal Box (PIL), Singles Going Steady (The Buzzocks), Y (The Pop Group), Three Imaginary Boys (The Cure), 20 Jazz Funk Greats (Throbbing Gristle)

In four years the music world went from the height of excess back to its barest punk bones and came out the other side with a desire to rip it up and start again. By comparison the latter-day Fleetwood Mac feel cosy. When the rock world was living life on the edge, they occupied the middle ground, recreating the easy life aesthetic of the Californian pop maestros (albeit with the help of a boat load of cocaine).

But it’s 2013! Kraftwerk and The Clash are classic rock, and all that progression is ancient history…it’s time to ask the immortal question:

Fleetwood Mac
Fleetwood Mac

Is It Okay To Like Fleetwood Mac?

Revisiting the three classic albums of the Nicks/Buckingham era with fresh ears is next to impossible. The bizzarest aspect of listening to Fleetwood Mac, Rumours and Tusk is how unnervingly familiar the first two records sound. The hits are unavoidable of course, “Dreams” remains seductive and “Go Your Own Way” is an eternal toe tapper, but the albums (particularly Rumours) have been absorbed so thoroughly into the popular consciousness that every hook, harmony and sly riff is already buried in the deepest recesses of your mind.

Listening to Rumours is simply the trigger device. A signal is unleashed; a little microchip goes off in the back of your brain instantly alerting you to the Mac’s entire oeuvre. The sound of this album (which was already steeped in pop culture familiarity) has gone on to inform three further generations of radio rock and pristine pop.

This certainly doesn’t help “Don’t Stop”, or “Second Hand News” (with its nauseating bow-bow-bow adlibs), sound exhilarating in 2013. The thrill of discovery is rendered null and void by decades of pre-conditioning, but thankfully the highly touted tension remains in tact.

To the unconverted the endless discussion of the fraught Nicks/Buckingham relationship adds little depth to the music. Hearing “Go Your Own Way” on the radio is like sitting in on an episode of a soap opera that you’re not remotely invested in. Rumours brings the outsider up to speed in an instant as heart-breaking scorn, revengeful lyrics, and biting personal critiques are stacked curtly atop one another. It’s a bruising emotional affair. Neither party manages to land the knock out punch and both Buckingham and Nicks emerge the worse for wear.

Tusk, the much-derided flop of a follow up to Rumours, holds the most excitement for the intrigued newcomer. It’s still entirely off its rocker and thankfully it hasn’t been watered down by years of radio play. Tusk retains the capacity to astonish and had it been a commercial success, it would have been a daring triumph of weird progressive pop. Buckingham’s million pound pet project holds some of the band’s most austere ballads (“Never Make Me Cry”) and delicately crafted gems (“Storms”), but also their barmiest inventions and loosest playing.

Tusk is full of detours; mad country marches, explorations of new wave, and strange predictions of what pop might (and ultimately would) sound like in the next decade. It’s Fleetwood Mac’s cocaine record. It lurches from moments of despair and paranoid lethargy into explosive bursts of unfettered energy. Where Rumours sounded effortless, Tusk sounds on edge; it could careen off the rails at any point (and arguably does, repeatedly). If “Strawberry Fields Forever” nailed the mind altering allure of LSD then “Tusk” captures the skittish, near psychopathic, blend of paranoia and frustration that only cocaine and heartache can induce. Hardly easy listening.

Ultimately, Tusk represents a chance for the modern guitar rock fan to hear those mellifluous harmonies and slick riffs in a new context. Allowing a younger audience to understand the band’s brilliance without being burdened by the sheer familiarity of Rumours.

Will Fleetwood Mac ever be as cool or as socially acceptable as Jimi Hendrix? Probably not (just look at them), but in 2013 it’s time rock fans dropped their pretentions, fell in love with the precision-engineered arrangements of Rumours and embraced the insanity of Tusk.

Fleetwood Mac’s strangely savage ‘Tusk’ was the band’s weirdest hit

Tusk promo
Fleetwood Mac, circa 1979

By Todd VanDerWerff
A.V. Club
Thursday, January 30, 2013

In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well—some inspired by a weekly theme and some not, but always songs worth hearing.

For most of Fleetwood Mac’s life, the band has been a hits machine, and it used that reputation to propel a singularly weird song—one vastly different from its usual output—into the Billboard top 10 in 1979. “Tusk,” which is featured prominently and often in the première of FX’s The Americans tonight, is a work of strange savagery, overlaid with jungle sounds and a thudding, endlessly repetitive drum riff that drives everything that happens in the song. The lyrics are simple enough to be a Dr. Seuss exploration of a relationship that’s crumbling, Lindsey Buckingham softly crooning “Why don’t you ask him if he going to stay? / Why don’t you ask him if he’s going away?” over the horrors building up beneath him.

It all explodes in the chorus, when Buckingham and backing vocalists Stevie Nicks and Christine McVie hiss “Don’t say that you love me!” to the unseen addressee, while the USC Trojan Marching Band’s urgent backing music heads off in another direction entirely. It’s a song at odds with itself, the various voices all tugging at the tune in different directions until everything unites when the vocalists scream the song’s title, an enigmatic moment that means… what, exactly? This relationship was doomed to begin with? These people are going to kill each other eventually? All love has violence inside of it somewhere? That “Tusk” is able to suggest all three of these things—and also have elements of wounded tenderness inside of it—makes it one of Fleetwood Mac’s very best, yet also easily its strangest song to hit on the charts.

Back on the chain gang

By Fred Schruers
Rolling Stone 772
October 30, 1997

WERE THE LOVINGEST, FIGHTINGEST, DRUGGINGEST BAND OF THE ‘70s. TWENTY YEARS LATER, THE PSYCHODRAMA CONTINUES …

TWENTY MINUTES AFTER COMING OFFSTAGE IN Burbank, Calif., Stevie Nicks and Christine McVie look just a touch stunned in the unsparing light of a trailer that’s serving as their ad hoc lounge. A film of sweat fights it out with their foundation makeup. They’ve just played go minutes’ worth of what was meant to be Fleetwood Mac gems. Tonight’s show wasn’t entirely to their liking: Nicks muffed the first verse of “Dreams” while crane-mounted TV cameras cruised and snooped, and McVie simply seemed to be hoarding strength for the next taped show Friday evening, I9 hours from now. They have the wideeyed graciousness of party givers who can’t get their guests to leave as they politely shake hands and slump back beside a zealously beaming Winona Ryder, who rises to depart with a fervent observation: “Weren’t they amazing?”

You can see on the ladies’ faces that they don’t feel that amazing tonight, but they’re glad for Ryder’s dewy-eyed vote of confidence. When a man is tired of London, said the essayist, he is tired of life; and if you tire of this rejuvenated band, you are tired of, well, classic rock. You could feel both audience and band rediscovering that in the first few measures of the first number, “The Chain”: Mick Fleetwood’s peaty bring-out-your-dead opening drumbeats; Lindsey Buckingham’s astringent guitar; Christine McVie, Nicks and Buckingham’s baleful harmony “Listen to the wind blow/Watch the sun rise . . .”; and John McVie’s darkly muttering bass combined to pretty well blow the dust off the legacy and bring you forward in your seat – this is as bleakly intoxicating as what the trade magazines call pop music can get. By the time Buckingham was squeezing out an anguished “And if you don’t love me now/ You will never love me again,” he had reclaimed, at 47, the title of angriest dog in rock. Fleetwood’s face, which in repose is capable of a kind of distracted, offputting gravity that wouldn’t be out of place in an old German vampire movie, creased happily as he patted the song to a close.

It’s from 1977’s Rumours, of course, the only cut on which all five shared the writing credit. It’s also the band’s old and new testament to its own tortured togetherness, because it perfectly captures the ominousness of that chain letter warning you of loneliness and loss: “I can still hear you saying/You must never break the chain.”

As we know, this band did individually suffer whether because it broke the chain or because it really could not – a string of woes including but not limited to heartbreak, enmity, alcoholism, cocaine addiction, penury, divorce, carpal tunnel syndrome and, as Fleetwood tried to pound the body back to life, being sandwiched on a nostalgia package tour, in 1995, between REO Speedwagon and Pat Benatar. In place of FRED SCHRUERS last wrote about Fleetwood Mac in RS 344, when he traveled to Ghana with Mick Fleetwood.

Buckingham and Nicks, that Mac iteration featured such unlikely figures as one-time Traffic operative Dave Mason and Bekka Bramlett, daughter of the redoubtable ‘70s rock duo Delaney and Bonnie.

It was Buckingham, of course, who left the gate open for the impostors with his repeated walkouts on the band, but he is also the creative linchpin of the fivesome. Nicks had her solo hits like “Edge of Seventeen” and a pair of great duets with Tom Petty; Christine McVie is a viable solo artist with (like Nicks and Buckingham) a label deal at the Mac home base of Warner/Reprise; and Fleetwood and bassist John McVie are always employable as what Fleetwood calls “gigsters” – but Buckingham is the tormented genius you could lift out of ‘7os rock and set down, with his fierce chops and raging vocals, anywhere you like.

Among the mixes for his next solo album, which is on hold as the band tours, is a cut that takes its title from the last word of the lyric “Think of me, sweet darlin’, every time you don’t come” and features a honking guitar workout that should serve as a do-yafeel-lucky-punk invitation to any doubting arrivistes who haven’t replaced their six-strings with samplers. Buckingham’s back-to-back performances of “Big Love” and “Go Insane” (the latter of which shows up only on the long-form, costs-money video version of the band’s new live album, The Dance) made the audience in Burbank stand up peering, midway through the generally sedate tapings, like a crowd watching stock cars flip over.

The wall chart of the Mac’s fortunes goes in its rough strokes by io-year jumps, at least in the Buckinghamcentric view of things: from 1967, their founding as an English blues band; to 1977, when Buckingham and Nicks invigorated the band’s 25 million-selling Rumours; to 1987, when, after the torturous Tango in the Night sessions at Buckingham’s house, he balked at touring and was sent away; and now to 1997, when Buckingham has been persuaded to join up again and co-produce The Dance. The question that hangs over the entire enterprise is whether the current U.S. sweep of 43 dates in major cities will turn into a world tour. And while Nicks and Christine McVie hint that they may yet opt out of the larger plan, it’s really Buckingham’s call to make.

“You know,” says Nicks, who still wears chiffon but is a good deal more battle-hardened (and speaks a bit deeper) than the hippie priestess of one’s former imaginings, “Lindsey made a whole lot more money than everybody else did because he produces. The producers get paid first. And he probably didn’t spend nearly as much money as everybody else did; he lives way simpler. So he didn’t have to do this for money, you know. The rest of us would all like to put something away for, you know, our golden twilight years. But he has to want to do it, or we don’t want to do it, either.”

If Buckingham is the brains of the operation, Fleetwood is the heart and viscera, keeping the beat going in every sense. Picture him just a few years ago, Rumours money squandered, brandy bottle near, coked out and lying in a borrowed bed in a damp cellar watching soap operas, and you know this is a heart through which hard times and bad habits could not drive a stake.

The reunion may have been inevitable from the moment that Buckingham invited Fleetwood to help with his solo album. “I had some ambivalence about Mick,” Buckingham says. “He was clearly into my album, and yet I knew he was to a substantial degree instigating this whole band thing. I couldn’t be mad at him, because Fleetwood Mac is his life’s blood, really. He’s spent his whole life trying to keep the ship afloat.

“Everyone has said to me, `This is going to be a good thing for you,’ and, of course, you kind of are suspicious of their motives, too. I’m a suspicious guy. I’m working on that.”

LINDSEY BUCKINGHAM WAS BORN TO RELATIVE privilege in Palo Alto, Calif., and raised nearby in Atherton. His father, Morris, ran a coffee plant (“Small and slowly not doing so well and eventually went under”); two older brothers were golden, suburban jock types – brother Greg won a silver medal for swimming in the ‘68 Olympics. Lindsey was a high school junior singing “California Dreamin’ “ at somebody’s house when transfer student Stephanie Nicks, a senior, saw him. Two years later, she was the chick singer and he the bassist in a post-high school band called Fritz. It was understood that none of the guys would hit on her. But when Nicks and Buckingham migrated to Los Angeles to shop the band’s demo (he was on guitar by now), they were tapped by the Polydor label – without their band mates. In Nicks’ room at the Tropicana Motel, confusion was sown, innocence lost. “Why it happened between me and Lindsey was because we were so sad that we had to tell the three guys in the band that nobody wanted them, only us,” she says.

Once they’d broken up with the band and their respective steadies, “our relationship was great,” says Nicks. “We had other problems: didn’t have a lot of money, alone in L.A., didn’t have our families, no friends, didn’t know anybody. But we had each other. “I knew that we were going to be somebody,” says Nicks. “I think that he had a little bit less belief in the fact that we would really make it big. I always knew.”

This particular crystal vision did have to wait. When Buckingham got mononucleosis, they moved back north, short on cash. Nicks continued college but often stayed with the Buckinghams in their living room. The two cut tracks, working nights in a spare room at the gloomy coffee plant. “It was scary there,” says Nicks. “Good acoustics, though.” Working with a four-track Ampex tape machine, they built songs one channel at a time, the old Beatles way. The tracks would form the basis for their 1973 album, Buckingham Nicks, but the musical idyll was interrupted by his father’s heart illness and death, at age 54. “His dad died within a year, as we watched, and it was awful,” Nicks says. “I picked up the phone and had to hand it to Lindsey the morning his father died. Devastating. Changed all of our lives.”

The singing duo set up shop in a slightly beat section of L.A. with engineer Keith Olsen and another musician friend, and despite the occasional passed-out session man on the floor, Nicks and Buckingham grew domestic. “From ‘71 through ‘75,” says Nicks, “I lived with Lindsey all those years. We were absolutely married. In every way [but for the ring]. I cooked, I cleaned, I worked. I took care of him.”

Buckingham Nicks, made with credentialed studio players like Jim Keltner, had an almost Delaney and Bonnie Southern twang and even got a pocket of rabid fans in Birmingham, Ala. This aberration may have been what led to an odd New York meeting with a Polydor A&R type who told them, “I think you’d be better off, you know, if you did something more like this,” and put a 45 on his office turntable Jim Stafford’s crackerbilly hit “Spiders and Snakes.” They had a tenuous spec deal to make a second record, but even as the advisers “were trying to glom us off on the steakhouse circuit, the one-way ticket to Palookaville,” as Buckingham says, Fleetwood was making his legendary visit to Olsen’s studio and hearing “Frozen Love,” from the duo’s LP. A week later, when Bob Welch left the band that Fleetwood had been nurturing since 1967, Buckingham got the call, and within days, the newly minted Mac were in rehearsals. What would become a sturdy friendship between Nicks and Christine McVie took immediately, in a let’s-see coffee-shop meeting. By contrast, John McVie, who still missed the band’s original but now acid-damaged guitar god, Peter Green, found Buckingham – who began by advising him to play “simpler” – brash.

John McVie, a man of wry and placid, not to say mournful, aspect, misses Green (now embarked on a low-key comeback) to this day. He distinctly recalls the fateful trip to Germany where Green went astray. “We had been selling more records than the Beatles,” he says. “It was an amazing time.” Then, one night at a gig, came “German jet-set kids, hippies with money, and they had a whole ploy. They dangled a carrot in the shape and form of a beautiful young German model in front of him, and they got him away for two or three days in a studio in a basement. And if I ever meet those bastards…because what they did is unforgivable.”

“Somebody gave him some bad acid,” says Christine McVie, who was married to John but not yet in the band, “and it freaked him out. I saw one Peter Green leave and a completely different one come back – pale, wan, depressed. A little mad, really.”

This was far from the end of sex, drugs and rock & roll for this most tumultuous of bands, but the fivesome’s honeymoon produced 1975’s Fleetwood Mac, with its suitably goofy cover art and, despite its pop accessibility, curiously dour demeanor. Christine McVie’s “Say You Love Me” thrummed irresistibly; Nicks”‘ “Rhiannon” was an obvious FM classic, and her “Landslide,” written in Aspen, Colo., during a bittersweet moment in relations with Buckingham, seemed to herald the arrival of a rock goddess just spooky enough for a generation’s second stoned decade. With the abruptly successful band trapped between its new hordes of hangers-on and its own romantic troubles (not just the couples: Fleetwood’s marriage had been running erratically ever since his wife, Jenny, briefly ran off with his pal, lead guitarist Bob Weston, from two lineups previous), Commander Fleetwood mandated that the record would be cut in the slightly remote outpost of Sausalito, just north of San Francisco. What they did there is one of the legendary blood-and-glory tales of rock-album making. “We had a good time, bad time, fun time, sad time,” says John McVie. “Something great came out of it.” Twenty-five million records later, Rumours carries its own bona fides; among its many attributes, it would seem to be the most inescapable album of its era.

Nicks and Christine McVie encamped in a pair of nearby condos. “All we had was each other, really,” says Mc Vie. “We certainly weren’t getting on with our respective husbands or boyfriends.” Meanwhile, says John McVie, “we lads had our thing, too.” In a residence that was part of the studio complex, the boys set up shop – “with parties going all over the house,” says John. “Amazing. Terrifying. Huge amounts of illicit materials, yards and yards of this wretched stuff. Days and nights would just go on and on. It was very loose.”

It got to the point where the craziness seemed normal. “In those days,” Christine McVie says, “it was quite natural to walk around with a great old sack of cocaine in your pocket and do these huge rails, popping acid, making hash cookies.” Oddly enough, Nicks’ “Gold Dust Woman” had been written several years before, when she had little experience with cocaine. By the time she cut the song, she still wasn’t fully wise to the drug. Even singing, “Take your silver spoon and dig your grave,” she says, “we did not realize how scary cocaine was. Everybody said it was OK, recreational, not addictive. Nobody told you that you may end up with a hole through your nose the size of Chicago.”

The steady drugging, combined with the pressures of recording under the band’s highly collaborative system, tore at the already weak fabric of the couples’ relationships. Though she’ll hint that Buckingham was at least somewhat possessive and controlling, Nicks says, “I don’t even remember what the issues were; I just know that it got to the point where I wanted to be by myself. It just wasn’t good anymore, wasn’t fun anymore, wasn’t good for either of us anymore. I’m just the one who stopped it.”

She remembers the day quite vividly: “In Sausalito, up at the little condominium. Lindsey and I were still enough together that he would come up there and sleep every once in a while. And we had a terrible fight I don’t remember what about, but I remember him walking out and me saying, `You take the car with all the stuff, and I’m flying back.’ That was the end of the first two months of the recording of Rumours.”

Back in L.A., in a Sunset Strip recording studio, Buckingham added the vocal to his “Go Your Own Way,” an outburst of a song to which Nicks dutifully added backup vocals. “I very, very much resented him telling the world that `packing up, shacking up’ with different men was all I wanted to do,” she says. “He knew it wasn’t true. It was just an angry thing that he said. Every time those words would come out onstage, I wanted to go over and kill him. He knew it, so he really pushed my buttons through that. It was like, `I’ll make you suffer for leaving me.’ And I did. For years. Lindsey immediately got girlfriends. I never brought men around, because I wasn’t going to tick him off any more than I had already.” Back and forth it went. When Nicks wrote a song, she’d bring it to him, and he’d ask, “Who is that about?” “You don’t really want to know,” she would say. “So I’m not going to tell you. It’s just about nothing.” Even so, without Buckingham’s help, some of those songs she was scrawling in her notebooks never quite got finished. Her productivity plunged. “That’s where the double-edged sword came,” Nicks says, “whether he wanted to help me or not: `So, you don’t want to be my wife, my girlfriend, but you want me to do all that magic stuff on your songs. Is there anything else that you want, just, like, in my spare time?’“

Meanwhile, Christine McVie remembers, “Mick was sort of holding everything together. But the music was, also. The music was very rewarding. It was very powerful to be there recording these songs.” Somehow, amid the emotional devastation, her signature tune, “Songbird,” arrived gift-wrapped. “I wrote it in half an hour,” she says. “Just stayed up late one night. I think I just was thinking of all the band members – `God wouldn’t it be nice just to be happy?’“

There was little chance of that, as she reluctantly prepared to split with John. “I dare say, if I hadn’t joined Fleetwood Mac,” she says, “we might still be together. I just think it’s impossible to work in the bared with your spouse. Imagine the tension of living with someone 24 hours a day, on the road, in an already stressful situation, with the added negativity of too much alcohol. It just blew apart.”

“John,” says Nicks, “drinks too much. And that’s why Chris and John aren’t together. Period. And John knows that he needs to quit, but you know none of us are going to go over there and nail him to the wall. So hopefully it will all be OK. You know, I pray every day, `Please, God, just take care of John.”

FROM THE TIME THAT RUMOURS WAS released and had its quick, massive success until Buckingham ducked out, in i987, Fleetwood Mac were imprisoned by their own near-mythic popularity. Behind the tinted glass, things could get ugly. “It was just having to be together and being so unhappy,” says Nicks. “You don’t want to sit in the same room, be on a plane after a show, with somebody who hates you. It was not fun.”

As frontman for the band, Lindsey Buckingham gave performances that were more like exorcisms; toward the end of the U.S. leg of the 1977 Rumours tour, he collapsed in the shower in a Philadelphia hotel room and was later diagnosed as having a mild form of epilepsy. By then, Fleetwood and Nicks had a serious flirtation cooking – despite his marriage and her relationship with a record executive. On the band’s Pacific tour that fall, after a show in New Zealand, they went back to her room and began a covert affair that moved from there through Australia and back to the U.S.

“Mick and I,” says Nicks, “were absolutely horrified that this happened. We didn’t tell anybody until the very end, and then it blew up and was over. And, you know, Lindsey and I have never, never talked about Mick. Ever.”

That wasn’t the only psychodrama Australia would see; one evening, as Nicks performed her patented witchy dance on “Rhiannon,” twirling under her hooded poncho, Buckingham wrenched his jacket over his head and began dancing in a crude, crowlike imitation of her. “Lindsey was angry – just mad at me,” recalls Nicks. “That wasn’t a one-time thing. Lindsey and I had another huge thing that happened onstage in New Zealand. We had some kind of a fight, and he came over – might have kicked me, did something to me, and we stopped the show. He went off, and we all ran at breakneck speed back to the dressing room to see who could kill him first. Christine got to him first, and then I got to him second – the bodyguards were trying to get in the middle of all of us.”

“I think he’s the only person I ever, ever slapped,” says Christine Mc Vie. “I actually might have chucked a glass of wine, too. I just didn’t think it was the way to treat a paying audience. I mean, aside from making a mockery of Stevie like that. Really unprofessional, over the top. Yes, she cried. She cried a lot.”

Without quite denying such incidents, Buckingham looks genuinely a bit puzzled to hear them played back. “What I do remember,” he says, “is a show where I purposely sang much of the set out of tune. We got offstage, and everyone was irate, obviously. They were talking about firing me and getting Clapton. Very well founded, because it was not a professional thing to do.” Ultimately, the guitarist’s voluntary departure, in 1987, stopped the toxic brawls. In fact, except for a couple of weeks in the studio when the band cut Tango in the Night, in 1986, Nicks says she spent little time in the ‘8os around Buckingham “and his insane kind of going-insane thing.”

Nicks had her own battle to wage – against the cocaine that had become her key companion during her solo years. “I haven’t done cocaine since 1985,” she says, “when somebody advised me to go and see a plastic surgeon. He said to me, `The next toot that you do could be your last. The tissue in your nose is very delicate. It could go straight up to your head, and then you could drop to the floor and die a lousy, two-hour death.’ So what I did was finish my tour. I had to be very careful just a tiny little bit, very careful.”

Nicks came off the road and packed her bags for 28 days of rehab at the Betty Ford Clinic. “They are hard-nosed,” she says. “They’re harder on you if you’re famous – `Oh, if it isn’t Miss Special.’ It’s awful. But it works. Now, I don’t do things that make me feel bad, ‘cause I have way too much work to do. When they told me that my brain might blow up, it was very easy to quit.

FOR FLEETWOOD, THE WARNINGS would take longer to arrive. His marriage to Jenny Boyd was in trouble, his father was dying of cancer before his eyes, and he was spending the $3 million he’d already made from Rumours on cocaine and real estate. And despite, or almost because of, his cash influx, Buckingham was writhing uncomfortably as the band got huge. Distracted though he was, Fleetwood could see that Buckingham, “our chief architect and creator,” was under the spell of the Clash and other Brit-punk bands, and intended to kick the next album well to the left of Rumours. Buckingham told Fleetwood that he felt stifled by the band format and wanted to record some of his tracks at his home studio; further, he was sick of pouring his best musical ideas into the others’ songs.

Yet there were plenty such songs, and the band was ready to make the double album that would be named Tusk, after Fleetwood’s slang for an erect male member. (“We just liked the sound of the word in the abstract,” he later lied to People.) His father died, in the summer of 1978. In the life reassessment that followed, Fleetwood confessed to Jenny about the now-cooling Nicks affair; Jenny went back to England for good soon after. By year’s end, he had taken up with Nicks’ pal, model Sara Recor, who happened to be married.

The band was making new music: Buckingham’s plaintive “Walk a Thin Line” (“I said, `Stay by my side’/But no one said nothin’ “) and lurching “What Makes You Think You’re the One” and “Not That Funny”; Nicks’ “Sara” (where the libidinous Fleetwood appears “just like a great dark wing”); Christine Mc Vie’s poppy “Think About Me.” The title track was recorded with the USC marching band. The persisting joke is that Warner Bros. execs heard the scattershot, challenging two-record set and saw their Christmas bonuses fly out the window. To make the battle more uphill, Warner Bros. issued it in September 1979 with a price of $16, about three bucks more than was typical. Fleetwood Mac survived another wearying world tour the ailing Buckingham undergoing a diagnostic spinal tap that left him on all fours in pain and caused the cancellation of a gig for 8o,ooo people in Cleveland and fetched up back in L.A. so worn out that Buckingham impulsively told a crowd that it would be a long time before anyone saw the band again. Within days, after the four other band members told Fleetwood that they wanted more professional counseling than his Seedy Management could offer, the band agreed to take nine months off.

Fleetwood flew to Ghana to make a record with some pals and the local hotshot players. He drummed all day and led sprees all night. On one, grousing about poverty, he took off his $8,ooo Rolex President and smashed it to bits with the heel of a beer bottle. Buckingham immortalized the expedition in his sardonic solo song “Bwana.” “We all have our demons/And sometimes they escape,” he wailed. “The jungle cries for more.”

Fleetwood’s demons were definitely about. He bought a house in the same L.A. canyon as Don Henley and Barbra Streisand, dubbed it the Blue Whale and made it the clubhouse of his Zoo band – many musicians, too much coke. Making payments on two sizable homes, running the parties, he was finally forced to declare bankruptcy. Christine McVie remembers the sad epoch when Big Daddy became Little Daddy: “Everything about him became little. He wasn’t walking with his shoulders straight like he always used to. It was sad to see that. He didn’t seem happy, didn’t know how to function unless he was high. He would just sleep the whole time – just hooked on drugs, about as low as he could get. I remember him telling me he was living in somebody’s basement with a damp carpet. The carpet was soaking wet, and the bed was damp, and he used to lie in bed watching soap operas all day long.”

For the recording of 1987’s Tango in the Night, Fleetwood was functional enough to play the drums. Buckingham, encouraged by the band’s willingness to come to his home studio, labored long and hard to produce the album’s rich sonic sheen. His own unfettered “Big Love” featured overlapping sex moans (Buckingham’s voice equalized into something many thought was Nicks’). Christine McVie’s “Everywhere” took the band’s vocal formula to a teeth-achingly pretty extreme. But Buckingham had put off his third solo record – for 17 months – and torn his favorite songs out of it for Tango. Here’s how he remembers those era-closing sessions: “I think the final snapshot I have is from that period of time, making Tango up at my house. We had a Winnebago parked in front because we didn’t want the whole house to be used for a lounge, so to speak. I had a girlfriend then who was very threatened by the whole situation, and that didn’t really work very well, either. But the snapshot would be us trying to get things done in an atmosphere where there was just a lot of crazy stuff going on and not a lot of focus, and not a lot of unity and certainty. And no sense of us wanting to do this for . . . for the reasons we originally got into it for. That’s my last snapshot of 1987. And then a little 10-year vacation.”

THE NIGHT AFTER IT AMAZED Winona Ryder, the band reconvened for another show. Once again, the invited 400 seemed to want the Mac thing very much. Brought to attention by “The Chain,” stroked by “Everywhere,” almost chastened by the rigors of “I’m So Afraid,” the band settled in during the deceptively peaceful opening strains of “Silver Springs.” But Nicks, who had shown a good deal of power the previous night, was clearly going for the whole enchilada this time. “Time has cast a spell on you, but you won’t forget me/I know I could have loved you, but you would not let me,” chanted all three singers as Nicks gathered herself, then gripped the mike and turned toward her ex-lover with every semblance of smoldering anger and hurt: “You’ll never get away from the sound of the woman that loved you.”

By the time Nicks was virtually shouting, “Was I just a fool?” and “Give me just a chance,” Buckingham was peering sideways as he sang his part, eyes guarded behind whatever masking his guitar and mike stand could afford him. “ `Silver Springs’ always ends up in that place for me,” says Buckingham later, “because she’s always very committed to what those words are about, and I remember what they were about then. Now it’s all irony, you know, but there is no way you can’t get drawn into the end of that song.”

It’s four months later as night settles in outside Stevie Nicks’ L.A. house, and a couple of dozen candles stacked around the room flicker in the breeze coming through the open French doors. “At night the ocean gets really loud,” Nicks says. “And then you realize how close you are to it.” An oversize original print of her and Buckingham bareshouldered, as they appeared on Buckingham Nicks, sits nearby, awaiting shipping to a museum. She’s discussing he performance of “Silver Springs” that will be seen in a few days on MTV. “I never did that before,” she says of he fervent, face-off reading of the song. “I left that for Friday night. The earlier shows were good. I just paced myself. They weren’t the show I wanted to leave behind for posterity, just in case Fleetwood Mac never did another thing.”

“I think,” says Buckingham, “some people are probably getting the impression that we are back together or something along those lines. Which is certainly not true. Not yet, anyway. You never know. I don’t foresee that at all. But, you know, things…”

Stevie Nicks sits up very straight when she hears that notion: “Over my dead body. See, I don’t want to be part of that darkness. He knows that. When we’re up there singing songs to each other, we probably say more to each other than we ever would in real life. If you offered me a passionate love affair and you offered me a high-priestess role in a fabulous castle above a cliff where I can just, like, live a very spiritual kind of religious-library-communing-withthe-stars, learning kind of existence, I’m going to go for the high priestess.”

MICK FLEETWOOD HAS INVITED Lynn, his wife of two years, to come out on the road and see a few shows – just not the early ones. “Lynn and I were talking to someone who is new to this whole thing called Fleetwood Mac,” he says. “And she said, `What you’ve got to understand is that these people have something in between them that is extraordinarily theirs. And you will never know. It is you and them, but you have to get used to it, because when these people are together, there is an unspoken thing that absolutely exists.’

“You know, this whole thing is not happening as a bunch of corporate decisions. The celebration that Stevie and Lindsey are now able to have is interesting to watch. It’s good – an understanding of where they’ve come from. I would hate to see anyone walking away or something going wrong, because now they’re at the point in their lives where they can relate to the fact that they did come as a couple – first as a couple musically, then they joined this thing called Fleetwood Mac. And then they went to hell and back, basically. And now they are able to talk about that. It’s also a celebration for me and John – I sometimes go, Wow, this man has been standing next to me for 30 damn years: Christine, too. It’s something to be proud of.” Christine McVie, singing a couple of songs at stage front for the first time, says she occasionally feels “like I’ve stood up in an airplane that’s in turbulence.” But back behind her keyboards, she thinks of history, too: “I do have flashbacks occasionally. The beast might have had its nails clipped a bit – I don’t know. We’re certainly not as dangerous for each other as we used to be. If anything, I’m hoping that we’re now going to be good for each other. Wouldn’t that be a nice way for things to turn out?”

Copyright Straight Arrow Publishers, Inc.