THE REBIRTH OF FLEETWOOD MAC
There's something about the number 20; it inspires nostalgia, celebration, rebirth. In the musical world the number 20 means all these things and more: 20 -- years, albums, whatever -- is a turning point, and only true artists, and survivors, face the challenge of reinvention and win. Fleetwood Mac turned 20 three years ago. Tango In The Night, 1987's moody, polished gem, had the feel not of a rebirth but of a celebratory commemoration, the perfect capper to two decades of glittering success. Some questioned the album's very existence, but we'll get to that. Tango In The Night seemed like a reaffirmation, a bold statement from five gifted musicians that they could still be vital in an ever-changing marketplace. But then, just as they were welcoming back old fans while enticing new ones, Lindsey Buckingham up and split -- he had had it, he had given too much of himself, both emotionally and artistically. Or so he says. Tango In The Night was a hit, but Buckingham didn't want to devote his life to Fleetwood Mac anymore. Besides, it was noted, the others had other options. Everyone predicted that Christine McVie, John McVie, Mick Fleetwood and (especially) Stevie Nicks would exercise them and chuck Fleetwood Mac, the "group," out the window.
Maybe critics spoke too soon. The Mac wasn't going to let its rediscovered success go to waste; they hired guitarists Billy Burnette and Rick Vito for an extended tour wherein the group went right ahead and played the old stuff, including some Buckingham/Nicks contributions. But what a surprise when they kept Vito and Burnette and recorded Behind The Mask! Surely it wouldn't be like the old days with Buckingham writing, producing and focusing the material in his own unique vision. Well, yes and no. No, it's not like the Buckingham days, but yes, Behind The Mask is reminiscent of old Fleetwood Mac, pre-Buckingham/Nicks, when Peter Green's fiery, blues-powered guitar fueled the band. Listening to Behind The Mask reveals many things, not the least of which is a group of people committed to experimentation, pushing boundaries, innovation and integrity -- qualities some say Fleetwood Mac has been lacking in recent years. So maybe Burnette and Vito have been good for the band and the music; it's different, but the quality is still there, maybe more so.
When Fleetwood Mac started 20 years ago, they were a blues band in the grand tradition of every other blues outfit, although not as hard as The Yardbirds or Cream. After several years of testing the musical waters, a young couple came to the attention of Mick Fleetwood. And so, in 1975, Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham joined the band, and nothing was the same after that. The album Fleetwood Mac out-sold all previous Mac albums put together, and the five of them became superstars, as only musicians in the '70s could be. But soon things began to fall apart; marriages (Fleetwood's and the McVie's) and relationships (Stevie and Lindsey's) became strained, then collapsed. And yet they managed to put together Rumours, that brilliant chronicle of lost love that sold 16 million copies. The romantic love had ended, but the marriage of convenience continued, as it were. 1979's Tusk, erratic but compelling, was followed by a stopgap live record and then Mirage, the most Rumours-like album they've made since that magical time 13 years ago. But, as is often the case with superstar ensembles, the members of the Mac looked towards other outlets for their creative expressions,. Just about everybody in the group made solo albums; Buckingham's was even more eclectic and unusual than Tusk (the album that marked the beginning of his creative manipulation and direction of the band), Christine McVie's record sounded like a pale imitation of Mirage, and no one could explain Mick Fleetwood's Zoo. But it was Stevie Nicks, perhaps the most enthralling and charismatic of the bandmembers, who found true success as a solo artist.
Nicks has always had a twisted, surreal image of the world, and her songs have reflected a metaphysical, beguiling message. Her first two records were filled with poetic, sometimes cryptic lyrics coupled with enthralling pop melodies, the kind of which hadn't appeared on a Mac album for some time. Nicks' solo success called into question the survival of Fleetwood Mac, and as the years ticked by, people began to wonder if the band was indeed dead and buried. But in 1987 they released Tango In The Night and all seemed well. But, of course, as we all know, it wasn't. When I spoke with Stevie recently, I asked her about the departure of Buckingham, why she felt compelled, as the others apparently did as well, to continue as Fleetwood Mac, and how this new record was better in many ways than the group's past few efforts. It quickly became obvious that Stevie Nicks doesn't view Behind The Mask as a comeback at all, rather it's a rebirth, a celebration of what's really important. . .the music.
THE MUSIC PAPER: How has the addition of Billy Burnette and Rick Vito changed the direction of Fleetwood Mac?
STEVIE NICKS: Having Rick and Billy in the band has made it very different because there is no longer that high tension that makes everything uncomfortable. What there is now is "electricity" and that makes for high creativity. Whether or not it is better or worse is something that I cannot answer. . .that is up to the ones that love and listen to Fleetwood Mac's music. The most important thing to me is that it is much more fun for me to be a part of a band that is built on harmony as opposed to disharmony. I think that the quality of your life becomes more important as you get older, and certainly, the quality of this band's life is far more easy to deal with, and I, personally, am much happier.
TMP: Why did it take two guitarists to replace Lindsey? And what do they bring to the band and to you as a singer and songwriter?
NICKS: It didn't take two guitarists to replace Lindsey; Fleetwood Mac has had as many as three guitarists, even four, in its long history. However, having a rhythm guitarist and a lead guitarist makes the live shows much more true to life, [it] gives the band that extra fullness that we have on records so what you do on stage sounds very much like the record. I feel that the audience has to appreciate that factor, since I appreciate it so much, and once again, this means you are giving more to them, and to me, that is the most important thing of all. Again, the quality of all of our lives improves. This makes us happy campers. As far as the writing of songs together, this is a dream come true because I always wanted it to be that way, but it never was. Solidarity. . .the songs were good, but the separatism was consistent.
TMP: Why exactly did Lindsey Buckingham leave the group?
NICKS: Lindsey left the group because he could no longer deal with the pressure of feeling responsible for it, though he need not have taken it so seriously, but he did. So that was the way he looked at it. . .and I feel that it was just too much for him. When he and I split up in the very beginning, Lindsey was never quite able to understand what had happened to us, and that in itself had to make day-to-day living very difficult for him, and it did for me. I feel that after 12 years, Lindsey and I finally broke up, not Fleetwood Mac, and that is the tragic part. We continued because Fleetwood Mac does not and never has been one to quit anything. I think we were probably more surprised at Lindsey's departure than the whole rest of the world.
TMP: Did you at any time consider leaving Fleetwood Mac to pursue your solo career full time?
NICKS: When and if I decide to leave Fleetwood Mac or to back away from my own solo career, [that] would be a decision I would make so spontaneously that I could never plan it. When I make a decision to walk away, I walk, and I never question it. Nor do I ever look back. I want everything, all the time, so I guess for now I'm here to stay.
TMP: So is your solo career on hold for now?
NICKS: My solo career is never on hold; I am always writing for whatever cause I am involved in at the time. I will start my next solo record at the beginning of next year and probably be done with it by midsummer. "Nothing ever changes. . ." (Thank you, Mr. Petty).
TMP: How do you decide which songs to bring to Fleetwood Mac and which ones to keep for your solo albums?
NICKS: I make no decisions on what songs go to Fleetwood Mac or just to me. I have always let Fleetwood Mac have their favorites because I believe in my heart that people do a far better job on songs that they particularly love than on songs that I would insist that they do. I write because that is my greatest love. The songs just are. They have never belonged to me, they have always belonged to the world.
TMP: Was the new album easy to record; that is, did the recording process go more smoothly with Rick and Billy? How did making this record differ from making previous Fleetwood Mac albums?
NICKS: In comparison to the recording of all of our other albums, this album was extremely easy to record, and also a lot of fun. It's not that we didn't take as much time, it's more that the time that we did take was quality time, so it therefore did not seem to take nearly as long. Being in the studio with two brand-new personalities made it a lot more like being in a new band of sorts again, new people, new friends. Going to the studio goes back to being a good time as opposed to hard, difficult and grueling work.
TMP: Do you feel that after 20 years of Fleetwood Mac and after 15 years of your involvement that Fleetwood Mac is having a rebirth, a fresh start?
NICKS: It's definitely a rebirth, being born into something new again, with all the excitement of how you feel when you meet someone new that you really like. You find yourself smiling silently to yourself at your good fortune. Suddenly you don't feel that "this is the end. . .of the innocence. . ." [Don Henley]. Maybe it's the beginning. . .
TMP: When will Fleetwood Mac be touring in the States? And will you be presenting old and new songs?
NICKS: We will tour the United States through the summer, then we will go to Europe and then return to the States to do a few more shows. The tour should end right before Christmas. It's a long tour, but unfortunately, I'm afraid that we have all become more comfortable on the road than we are at home. It's a hard job, but someone has to do it -- we love it. Also, yes, we will be doing old and new songs. Hopefully, everyone will be pleased with our choices. It's not easy to put all that material into two hours, so we do the best we can.
TMP: The new album contains some of your most personal writings. How have you grown as a songwriter, and has the new age movement affected or enhanced your views towards music?
NICKS: I promised myself when I wrote my first songs, when I was 16, that I would never lie in my songs. If I were going to relate an experience. I would truthfully relate it or would say nothing at all. I have lived up to that promise. One lie creates two lies, and you are on your way to becoming a very big liar. My songs fly out on the wings of a dove and always have; I am blessed. As far as new age music influencing me, I would say no. I remain quite the same except that I feel that I have grown in wisdom and understanding. And, of course, my greatest flaw, patience. I truly try to become a little more of a patient person every day. Whether or not I succeed or not, I cannot tell you, but I really do try.
TMP: As a society, do you feel we are growing more harmonious due to events such as Earth Day, Farm Aid, etc.?
NICKS: As a society, I believe we are trying very hard to grow more harmonious, and we in the "rock world" have a great opportunity to gather people together in a grand scale, to play music for them and to make them aware of some of the great problems we are facing. Fleetwood Mac is especially interested in furthering the Greenpeace movement. If we have no air, we have no world, we have no music. I would like to feel that we involved here will leave behind us a legacy to save our world so that the children will carry on our work. That is our prayer.
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