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The Ghost of Fleetwood Mac
  • March 15, 2012 : 20:03
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Nicks’s change of heart comes with a steep cost, though—one that even such rock royalty as Fleetwood, Buckingham and McVie can’t deny. The last time the band’s entire 1970s-era lineup toured was in 1997, after recording The Dance, which remains one of the top-selling live albums of all time. They played 44 shows in the U.S., a tour that raked in $60 million, which would be roughly $84 million today. After that tour Christine McVie retired from show business, but she did vocals on one more album, 2003’s commercially successful Say You Will; when the band toured, however, Nicks and Buckingham were obliged to cover Christine’s vocals. The band played intermittently in the years that followed. It is safe to assume that the fans will be rabid for the next tour. One promoter estimates that Fleetwood, Buckingham, McVie and Nicks would take home $10 million apiece from an eight-month arena tour. A tour that apparently will never be.

“It is certainly a blow to all of us financially,” Fleetwood says wryly. “I don’t care what you have and what money means to you, we’re talking about a very sizable, profitable tour. We’re talking about being paid well to do something that, unless I’ve misread things in this band for the past 30 years, we all love to do, because we’ve continued to do it even during our most difficult times individually and as a group. As a band we don’t work very often, so we never became some big moneymaking machine like the Eagles. The Eagles are absolutely brilliant—they work relentlessly, they put on a great show and they have all the money in the world to prove it. We just never fucking did that.” He turns to look down the mountain at Maalaea Harbor, resplendent in the afternoon sun. “Fleetwood Mac could have been that and still could be today if we choose to, but we’re not and we won’t. Instead we are the worst-run franchise in the rock-and-roll business.”

Fleetwood has, by all accounts, been the ringleader of this eponymous institution since its earliest incarnations (of which there have been many). He did a short stint in the iconic British blues ensemble known as John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers before being released, as legend has it, for chronic insobriety at gigs. Around this time, Fleetwood befriended lead guitarist Peter Green, who replaced Eric Clapton. Green, Fleetwood and bassist John McVie began recording on their own and eventually, in 1967, came together as a blues band dubbed Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac. So began a long and storied history in which the outfit morphed from an instrumental blues band into a vocal blues band into a rock band and into the pop music juggernaut it became in the mid-1970s and remained through the late 1980s. Members have come and gone, including Bob Welch, Jeremy Spencer, Danny Kirwan and the recently deceased Bob Weston. Relationships have done the same: The McVies’ marriage dissolved in 1976, as did Buckingham and Nicks’s long-term romance. Fleetwood has also had his share of heartache and complications. He married, then divorced, then remarried Jenny Boyd, younger sister of Pattie Boyd, who was famously married to George Harrison and Eric Clapton. Fleetwood and Jenny were on and off for about 12 years and had two daughters before parting for good in 1976. In 1978 Fleetwood fell in love with Sara Recor, a model, singer and friend of Stevie Nicks’s (and the inspiration for Nicks’s song “Sara”), and married her in 1988, only to divorce in the early 1990s. Fleetwood married for the fourth time in 1995, this time to Lynn Frankel, with whom he has two daughters. In addition, a number of affairs—among them Fleetwood and Nicks’s and Jenny Boyd and Bob Weston’s—added to the insanity and pressure within the group. It also didn’t help matters that two of the group’s earliest guitarists (Green and Kirwan) had mental health disorders and that one (Spencer) simply walked off and joined the Children of God cult on his way to a bookshop. Green, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia, has dabbled in music minimally and noncommercially ever since. Despite Fleetwood’s best efforts, Green doesn’t see the point in playing for profit. Spencer is still a member of the Children of God (now called the Family International), for which he records music, attends gospel conventions and writes and illustrates books.

Green was the man who enlisted the rhythm section for which the band was named, but today Michael John Kells “Mick” Fleetwood is one of the outfit’s two remaining original members. This group, for all intents and purposes, is as much his family as are his blood kin.

“The news that this tour might never happen was devastating to me,” Fleetwood says. “We have been through so many ups and downs and false starts that, really, it’s almost a part of our process. Nearly every Fleetwood Mac album going back to the mid-1980s began as a Lindsey Buckingham solo project that we’d all end up playing on, until before our eyes it was transformed into a Fleetwood Mac album.”

This time was different, however, even though the motions, at first, seemed to be the same. “We all played on both Lindsey’s and Stevie’s records, so I thought nothing had changed. But as time stretched on, something didn’t feel right. Still, I was not prepared for that blow: essentially the realization that I no longer had a band. I’ve had a band—this band—since 1967. With all else coming apart in my life, it was not something I was prepared to stomach. But like the other guys, I’m getting over it.” He takes another of the long, thoughtful pauses that characterize his speech. Fleetwood is a man who talks easily, but before he says anything of significance, he weighs his words deliberately, his dulcet baritone rolling out in crisp, clipped King’s English. “The act of getting over this shock has proven to be a great catalyst in changing my life for the first time in decades. It inspired me to say, finally, ‘Enough is enough.’ For the first time ever I have refused to do what I’ve done in the past—anything it took to make a Fleetwood Mac album and tour happen. I was always the one to jump through hoops, to get down and beg, to play the fool or be as charming as I could. I literally did whatever was needed to keep the band moving forward. But not anymore.”

It’s easy to see how Fleetwood successfully played the role of cheerleader, organizer and crusader. His excitement is tangible when he is consumed with a topic, be it past-life regression therapy, Indian food, African music, politics, local ukulele sensation Nick Acosta or his theories about the likelihood of an apocalyptic pandemic destroying the human race. He is engaging in conversation, and for someone who has seen it all, lost it all and gotten it back (then lost it and gotten it back again), he’s never jaded, world-weary or bitter.

In fact, Fleetwood sees his greatest character flaw as the impetus of his musical legacy. “I’m addicted to co-dependent relationships at every level,” he says. “My main co-dependency has always been Fleetwood Mac, and I haven’t been able to detach myself from it since day one. A lot of co-dependents—the caretakers—suffer more than the others because they are more deeply vested in the co-dependency. I’ve been very proficient at creating those situations for myself for as long as I can remember. It’s just what I do—usually I’m the one giving all I have. And it’s not necessarily a bad thing. I was fine accepting that type of co-dependence in order to create a platform that I knew was fundamentally good. I had faith in the result, so I didn’t care what the cost was to me. If you think about it, I don’t function in a musical sense unless I have a band, so by nature, as a drummer, I am co-dependent.” He looks sidelong and shoots me one of those trademark wild-eyed grins.

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read more: entertainment, interview, music, musician, issue april 2012


  • anonymous
    An excellent read on a living legend. Really a good time for reflection.