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The Ghost of Fleetwood Mac
  • March 15, 2012 : 20:03
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As the sun begins to set, Fleetwood takes a walk around the grounds, up to the guest cabin, built from local logs in the 1970s, which he restored two years ago. It has an authentic wood-burning stove and a collection of vintage radios, and other than the flatscreen on the wall, it could be a secluded hunter’s getaway. As we approach, as if on cue, a clucking pheasant rustles the brush and runs along the grass before flying back into the cover of the trees. I’m no zoologist, but the bird seems out of place; then again I’m somehow on an English estate in the tropics. “You’re right, pheasants are not indigenous to Hawaii, but they are now,” Fleetwood says. “A few imperial-era English settlers brought deer and pheasant here strictly for sport. There are plenty of them on my property, and just so you know, it’s legal to hunt them freely if that interests you.”

In the closets and in the storage shed next door hang racks of the custom-made velvet suits Fleetwood has donned over the years, all of them aristocratic shades of purple, red and green. There is also a set of the wooden balls he typically attaches to his belt by way of accessorizing said suits. “Those are not a very veiled symbol,” he says, smirking. “When John, Peter and I first started the band, we were ridiculous. We wanted to stand out from all the other Englishmen playing traditional blues, so we never held back. I used to play with a massive black dildo stuck to the top of my bass drum so the thing would wiggle front and center through the entire set. We used to cover Elvis, and for John’s number he’d pull his bass up high and put that thing through his zipper. He’d be there doing Elvis’s hubba-hubba routine with this massive black cock hanging out of his trousers. That little gag almost got us killed by the sheriff’s department when we played some Christian college in Texas.”

Fleetwood loves this cabin. He’s cleared several tall trees that blocked the view to the ocean, and he often spends nights up here on the pullout couch instead of on the California king in the master bedroom. “The cabin is a sanctuary within a sanctuary to me. I can be the only one in the house, but still some nights I’d rather be here than over there,” he says, gesturing down the hill.

Fleetwood has been introspective of late, thinking of those still with him and those who have passed on. And when he finds himself in a sentimental mood, he comes to this cabin to be alone with his thoughts. “I’ve been thinking about George Harrison more than ever since he died,” he says. “We were more than just brothers-in-law for a time; he was one of the very best friends I’ve ever had. We both loved Maui and Hawaii equally, because we both understood how special this place is. His song ‘Cloud 9’ really captures how he felt about this place, and I find myself thinking of the line ‘I’ll see you there on cloud nine’ when I think about how much I miss him. George is the reason I’m playing ukulele lately too. He was such a great player, and he was obsessed with it. He used to drive around Maui with literally 20 of the things in his trunk, handing them out to friends, hawking the wares of this local guy who made them.”

Though Fleetwood’s wife and children are moving into the family’s Los Angeles home now that the couple is divorcing, Fleetwood will not live here alone: He plans to move his 95-year-old mother up-country and sell the beachside property. “Mom is an angel. She is a very vibrant woman. Her eyesight is nearly gone, but it doesn’t stop her at all,” he says. “She was in the studio with me the other day. She was dancing, spinning around and banging on a tambourine. I take her swimming three days a week and out to dinner. I’m so lucky to still have my mother at my age that I get as much time with her as I possibly can.”

Up in the cabin, Mick also visits with his father, despite the fact that Wing Commander Fleetwood died in 1978. The senior Fleetwood was more than just a decorated leader in the Royal Air Force; he was also a writer, and though he never published a book, at the encouragement of his son he recorded his best short stories for posterity. “Dad was very humble. He wrote on his own and didn’t really make the push to get published as hard as he could have. Before he died, I bought him a recorder and insisted he read dozens of these stories he’d been writing for decades so I’d have them for the rest of my life,” he says. “Dad was a dreamer, like I am, which is clear from his writing. He had a dreamy Irish manner of speaking and storytelling and, similarly, that same Irish idealism that led him to feel he could have done more and tried harder to make the world a better place in his lifetime. He never bragged about anything he’d done, though he did so much.” Fleetwood pauses, visibly choked up. “He’d nurtured troops through war and saved countless lives. In his retirement he became a craftsman who repaired anything that anyone in the neighborhood needed fixed. But he never felt he’d done enough, and toward the end of his life, he became...almost bitter about it.”

Fleetwood says quietly, “I think of Dad a lot now because this period of time for me is about being honestly vulnerable. One of the great misconceptions we have as human beings—men especially—is that being vulnerable is a position of weakness. Quite the contrary, it’s a place of strength. In my experience, being vulnerable is like a profound stillness. The only way I’d ever gotten there in the past was through extremity. When I’d been up and out of my mind on cocaine for eight days straight, I would arrive at this frame of mind, and I got to know it and like it quite well. It was an out-of-body experience in which I would transcend my earthly shell. I would be disarmed completely and enter a meditative state that came only after I had disintegrated everything around me and become so deconstructed that I ended up totally in sync with the universe and myself. I’m not making excuses for getting loaded, but I had a process and I did what I had to do to get into a zone where I felt connected.”

In those moments when it all became crystal clear, there were only two things Fleetwood wanted to hear: recordings of Peter Green playing guitar and of his father reciting his stories, both of which made him feel deeply alive. “I’ve spent time on many psychiatrists’ couches and never said anything to them other than ‘I’m okay.’ I wasn’t capable of explaining more or of accessing those feelings any further. That is probably why back then I needed to go to such lengths. Thankfully I don’t need to put myself through those paces anymore to get in touch with my emotions.”

No, it’s pretty clear, even if you spend just five minutes with him, that Mick Fleetwood is in touch. As an older and wiser wild man of 64, he has finally let himself off the hook in order to become all that he can be. Impossible as it sounds coming from someone who has sold tens of millions of albums and whose music has defined and influenced four decades of rock and roll, Fleetwood says he’s only just accepted the idea that he’s good at his job, and I believe him. “I still find it hard to say without reservation that I’m a good drummer. I see my career as a case of someone becoming good out of necessity. I learned to function with very little,” he says, “which was a side effect of tirelessly plugging away. I see myself more as a guy who happens to play drums than a natural-born drummer who also happens to be a guy. It’s very liberating to look at myself in the mirror that way. Taking that step back has allowed me to understand that, for the style I play, which has everything to do with soul and feel and nuance, I’m actually quite good.”

He stands up and walks to the edge of the porch, staring down at the pink-and-orange sunset leaking across the horizon and coloring the valley miles below. “I don’t feel like I have a band anymore, and I don’t have those relationships that defined me, those things I was a junkie for. They’re all gone...but now I have all the energy I’ve instinctually spent on others all to myself. And I’ve got more than enough ideas to keep me busy. The Fleetwood Mac legacy does not end here at all. There are avenues I’m investigating to bring it into the future while respecting the past, everything from film projects to a line of accessories and furniture for the home. I look at my life now as a new start, as a chance to be here now, as the saying goes, to be in the right location at the right time in the right way. After all I’ve seen in this life, I keep returning to a simple idea: As long as you can walk out your door and feel lucky to be where you are, you are blessed. If you obtain that sense of self in your lifetime in any way, shape or form, consider yourself lucky, because so many people never get there. I can say honestly that I have nothing at all to complain about. Not just because I’m standing here in paradise but because I’m in a place where I know I should be within—and what’s more, I’m aware of it. I ask you to tell me, what else could any person want than that?”

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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.