Warning: Other than the title, this blog post is not about travel. It is about my long term devotion to the group Fleetwood Mac. If you’re a fan, or you want to learn about the band, you may enjoy this. If not, you’ll probably be happier back in the Travel Blogs section! 😊
Back in the early to mid 1970s, my musical tastes were what some might call “white bread”: Cher’s Half-Breed, John Denver’s Greatest Hits, and Olivia Newton-John’s Have You Never Been Mellow were among my favorite albums back then. OK, so I was not exactly one of the “cool kids” during my adolescence, but that changed one day in the spring of 1975 when a song, called Over My Head, hit the airwaves. It was by a group I’d never heard of before called Fleetwood Mac, from an album simply titled, Fleetwood Mac. Now, mind you, the lush vocals of singer Christine McVie and the soft-rock tempo of the song did not make for exactly “edgy” music, but there was something new and fresh about this group, which featured three singer-songwriters who took turns on lead vocals. Stevie Nicks swirled across stages draped in black chiffon singing the haunting story of a Welsh witch, Rhiannon. Lindsey Buckingham provided the solid, rock-oriented Monday Morning, and McVie sang the bouncy Say You Love Me, with Lindsey and Stevie providing infectious background vocals and harmonies. It was impossible to get tired of the album because the voices and songwriting styles of each of the three songwriters were so different; it was like three albums rolled into one. By that summer, I was totally hooked and this album was the musical centerpiece of the summer of 1975 for me. Given the album’s huge popularity, for the first time in my musical life I was met with looks of camaraderie instead of pity when asked what my favorite album was!
I learned that Fleetwood Mac had been around for several years, but with a variety of different guitarists and vocalists on almost every album. When Buckingham and Nicks joined founding members Mick Fleetwood (drums) and John McVie (bass), and John’s wife, keyboardist and vocalist Christine McVie in 1975, it was the first time that the band achieved such widespread success. Who‘d have guessed that the long awaited second release by these five people, 1977’s Rumours, would spawn four Top 10 hits, catapult the band to an unthinkable level of popularity and would reside among the top selling albums of all time? Rumours was at the #1 spot on the Billboard charts for over 30 weeks. As the album was being recorded, band members Christine and John McVie were in the midst of a divorce, Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks were ending their long term relationship, and Mick Fleetwood was divorcing his wife. The music was powered by this emotionally charged atmosphere. In Dreams, Stevie Nicks sang to Lindsey, “Now here you go again, you say you want your freedom…” In Go Your Own Way he responded with, “If I could, maybe I’d give you my world. How can I when you won’t take it from me?” Meanwhile, Christine McVie beamed about a new love interest in You Make Loving Fun and said goodbye to her broken relationship and wished all of the band members love in the poignant Songbird. Another famous track, The Chain, became one of the band’s signature songs because it was jointly created by all the members and represented their determination to stay together despite all the turmoil. They defiantly sing the refrain, “I can still hear you saying you would never break the chain.”
I was in college then, and was steeped in the world of Fleetwood Mac. I saw them in concert in Boston, I purchased many a Fleetwood Mac t-shirt, and even adopted the CB radio handle “Fleetwood Matt” as I chatted with truckers and ham radio operators across the airwaves. I was fanatical in my love for this band, and because of their enormous popularity, I didn’t have to hide my adoration for them in the way I’d had to for Olivia Newton-John or Cher.
After 4 years of listening to the glossy, impeccably crafted tunes of Fleetwood Mac and Rumours, I eagerly awaited their next album, and at long last a new single was released in 1979. I heard Tusk one day on the radio and when I told a friend who had yet to hear it, he excitedly asked, “So, is it a Stevie Nicks song? Or is it Christine? Lindsey?” I had to answer that I really didn’t know! For those of you have not heard it, Tusk is a bizarre mix of barking dogs, random shouting, African-sounding drums, the USC Trojan Marching Band, and a strange, guttural vocal that sounded sort of like Lindsey, though the women could be heard in there too somehow. This was perhaps the Mac’s most controversial record, a double album of 20 tracks, labeled by critics as “experimental” at best and as just plain “odd” at worst. Lindsey Buckingham had taken creative control over this album and was being blamed for its ‘failure”, as It was not the whopping success that Rumours had been, selling a “mere” 4 million copies or so. But to me, it is the band’s masterpiece, and for the last 40 years I’ve probably played at least a couple of songs from it every week. The title song, which was one of Lindsey’s, grew on me considerably after a few listens, but beyond that there was Sara by Stevie Nicks, which induces a beautifully melancholy, trance-like state for six and a half minutes. I’d park down at the beach and play her ballad, Storms, pensively thinking about life as she sings the lyrics, “So I try to say goodbye, my friend. I’d like to leave you with something warm. But never have I been a blue calm sea… I’ve always been a storm.” I’d drive home on a snowy night listening to Christine’s dreamy Over and Over and imagine sitting by a crackling fireplace with someone I loved, watching the snow falling outside. Lindsey made me laugh with Not That Funny and provided all sorts of wonderful backing vocals and guitar riffs on Christine’s Think About Me and Stevie’s Angel. After all these decades, I still think it’s one of the best albums I’ve ever heard by anyone, period.
Over the next few years, Fleetwood Mac would vanish for awhile and come back with something new when you least expected it. There was a Live album in 1980 and then Mirage in 1982, which contained probably one of my favorite songs of all time, Gypsy by Stevie Nicks. In grad school a group of friends and I played the fantasy role playing game, Dungeons and Dragons on a weekly basis for almost a year, and my character was a Druid witch named Rhiannon, whose spell incantations featured haunting lines from a variety of Stevie Nicks’ songs. I painted portraits of Stevie and even sold some of my work to avid fans at local flea markets and fairs. I wasn’t just a fan; I was a fanatic.
As the 80s progressed, Stevie, Lindsey and Christine all released solo albums that were met with varying levels of success, with Stevie’s work experiencing the greatest popularity. While there were some great songs on all of these records, I always thought to myself, “This song would have been so much better if it was a Fleetwood Mac song rather than a solo number.” Something about the chemistry among these five people elevated the music to a whole new level. Truly, the whole was greater than the sum of its very talented parts.
The group experienced rocky waters as the 1980s came to a close, with Stevie Nicks dealing with addiction and the group beginning to splinter. After 1987’s Tango in the Night, Lindsey left the band, citing both his seemingly unappreciated efforts to produce that album with little help from the others and his dismay at watching both Stevie and Mick losing their souls to cocaine. He was replaced by not one, but two guitarists and vocalists, which is of course a testament to his amazing abilities. It was sad for me to see him go, but truly, Stevie was still my favorite member of the band and so I still enjoyed 1990’s Behind the Mask, despite Lindsey’s absence. And then, Stevie quit the band, the two new guitarists were out, Christine McVie was arm-wrestled into recording a few tracks for the 1994 album, Time and then she also quit. A totally new and rather forgettable line up replaced Buckingham, Nicks and McVie. The chain had very definitely been broken.
Ten long years passed with nothing new from the band except for some solo releases by the various members and an exciting but brief reunion of the Rumours line-up to perform Don’t Stop at President Clinton’s inauguration gala in January, 1993. Despite their long absence, Fleetwood Mac had remained my favorite group, and truly, not a week went by without me playing something by them. Their music had become part of my life’s soundtrack, and so many events and relationships in my life are associated with particular songs.
And then, in 1997, by some strange alignment of the stars, the original “Rumours Five” reunited to do a series of concert tours that were captured on a new, live album and DVD set called The Dance. The album shot to #1 on the charts and is among the top 10 best selling live albums of all time. The band looked and sounded amazing, taking us on a trip down memory lane through new, revitalized versions of all their best songs. Say You Love Me shines, featuring Lindsey on banjo and in the DVD, the whole band stands in a line at the front of the stage singing and playing together. I think this version may be even better than the original. Lindsey’s work on The Dance made me sit up and take notice of just how talented a man he is, with show-stopping acoustic guitar work and vocals on Big Love and Bleed to Love Her. For old time’s sake, both Tusk and Don’t Stop featured a guest appearance by the USC Marching Band, while an older and wiser Stevie Nicks sang about getting even older and wiser in fantastic renditions of Landslide and Gypsy, with brilliant guitar accompaniment by Lindsey. Perhaps the most amazing track is Stevie’s Silver Springs, a gem from 1976 about her break-up with Lindsey that was omitted from Rumours due to a lack of space. The interplay between Nicks and Buckingham is enough to give you the chills as the song comes to its dramatic climax, with Stevie glaring at him and virtually shouting the words, “You will never get away from the sound of the woman that loves you!” I have rarely been a fan of live concert recordings, but the quality of the production on this one results in a fantastic album.
So Fleetwood Mac was back again, and all was right with my musical world… until Christine McVie decided to retire at the end of the tour, leaving the band a foursome that returned to hibernation another five years until the release of Say You Will in 2003. It was an excellent album with some great new material, including the very poignant Lindsey tune, Say Goodbye, which to this day makes me cry. But something seemed lacking without Christine’s earthy balance. One of the best songs on the album, Lindsey’s Steal Your Heart Away, features some previously recorded backing vocals by Christine, and that full, rich Fleetwood Mac sound is there, if only for an instant.
Other than a four song mini- album and more solo releases, Fleetwood Mac was gone again for another 11 years until Christine decided she was bored with retirement and wanted to return to the group. They began a reunion tour and I was lucky enough to see them in Boston. They were all getting a bit “long in the tooth” by now, and Christine’s vocals sounded weakened by age and perhaps her long hiatus from singing. Stevie also struggled with the high notes and often dropped an octave or two, but still made the crowd go wild as she did one of her famous twirls at the end of Gypsy. Lindsey, the youngest of the band members still had his infectious energy, and the show was a nearly three-hour long reunion with old friends.
As the tour came to an end, there was talk that Lindsey and Christine had begun co-writing a few songs for a new Fleetwood Mac album, and were waiting for Stevie to finish a solo tour so she could contribute to the new record. But as more time passed, it became clear that Stevie wasn’t interested, and in interviews she stated that she didn’t want to record new music anymore because of internet piracy and the fact that records no long make any money. To say that I was disappointed in her was an understatement; a perfect way to end the band’s legacy would have been for these five amazing folks to record one last album together, a gift that fans would treasure always. Now that seemed unlikely to happen.
Ultimately, Christine and Lindsey, backed by Mick and John released a duet album called Buckingham McVie in 2017. Some of the songs on this album, especially Red Sun, Lay Down for Free and In My World would have been at home on any previous Fleetwood Mac album, and I loved it, though again was plagued by that nagging thought, “Now if there were three or four of Stevie’s songs on this album and her backing vocals on some of the other tracks, this would be awesome!” My disappointment in Stevie’s absence from this album was reflected in one of Lindsey’s songs, On With the Show. His lyrics, “As long as I stand I will take your hand, I will stand with my band, stand with my band. There’s nowhere to go but on down the road… let’s get on with the show…” I was touched by his resolve to keep the band together and forge ahead, and while it felt like Stevie had for all intents and purposes left the band, he was hopeful that one day Stevie would reconsider and come back to the fold. Little did I know how strangely ironic these lyrics would become.
In early 2018 news broke that Fleetwood Mac would be going out on tour again in the fall, but almost immediately the tour was canceled and we heard that Lindsey had “left” the group. Mick and Stevie appeared on TV, citing a disagreement over when to start the tour and claiming that Lindsey wanted a delay so he could finish a solo project. The band, they said, wasn’t willing to wait. In a case of déjà vu all over again, they hired two new guitarists/vocalists to “replace” Lindsey: Mike Campbell, a former member of Tom Petty’s band, and Neil Finn, a former member of Crowded House. This new iteration of the band appeared on Ellen and performed a dreadfully lackluster version of Gypsy and an almost sacrilegious rendition of The Chain that lacked any energy or emotion. All it proved was that Fleetwood Mac should NEVER have broken that chain.
Things got more complicated when Lindsey shared his side of the story, which to me, sounded a lot closer to the truth than what the band members had said. He claimed that he’d agreed to postpone his solo work (as he has done many times) to tour with the band, but despite this, Stevie had given the band an ultimatum. The band’s manager called Lindsey and simply said, “The tour is off. Stevie never wants to be on a stage with you again”. Lindsey, assuming that Stevie was leaving the band, shot e-mails and phone messages out to the rest for the band to reassure them that they could regroup and move forward together (“I will stand with my band…”), but got no responses at all until their manager finally called him back and said, “You don’t understand. You’re the one who’s fired.”
Why Stevie made such a move and why the other band members betrayed Lindsey in this way has been the subject of many theories and rumours. Some say that while she was giving an overly long speech at a music awards show, Lindsey “smirked” behind her back. In reality, as the speech wore on, Mick and Christine kept looking at their watches and laughing and then began to slow dance together behind Stevie’s back. Lindsey then asked John to dance, but was playfully rebuffed. Others claim that Stevie, grief-stricken over her friend Tom Petty’s death, wanted Mike Campbell to join the Mac and Lindsey said no, so she chose Mike over him. News also leaked that the decision to fire Lindsey was made without Christine and that when she was told, she tried to quit the band out of loyalty to Lindsey, but was persuaded (or threatened) into staying. Later she stated that she agreed with the decision and that things between “certain members of the band” were so bad, there was no other choice than to fire Lindsey. Of course, no one but these five people knows the actual truth, but Lindsey filed a lawsuit against the band for wrongful termination, and while the band announced that they looked forward to their day in court, they immediately settled the lawsuit out of court and paid Lindsey about $12 million. This suggests to me they did not really want their day in court after all and that they were lying through their teeth when they claimed the issue was a tour schedule conflict.
Lindsey went out on a critically acclaimed solo tour, while what has been referred to by angry fans as “Fakewood Mac” or a “Fleetwood Mac cover band” went on their tour at the same time. Supposedly ticket sales have been good (some speculate that many people didn’t even know of Lindsey’s firing until after buying tickets; others say that younger fans are unaware of the band’s history and didn’t care so much about Lindsey being replaced). But concert reviews have been mixed. As a fan for 43 years, I can say that almost every single YouTube video I’ve seen of their concert performances has bordered on embarrassingly bad. The band looks tired, there is no energy or chemistry, and that becomes even more obvious when they perform some of Lindsey’s songs. Why they need to do Lindsey’s songs at all is a mystery to me, since Nicks and McVie have more than enough songs to fill a concert and performing Lindsey’s songs like Second Hand News and Monday Morning after kicking him to the curb seems cruel. But Neil Finn, delivering angry lyrics written by Lindsey to Stevie 40 years ago, all with a Kiwi accent and a more mellow vocal style just does not work. It’s frankly, a disaster.
The last straw came when news broke that Lindsey had undergone emergency open heart surgery, resulting in damaged vocal chords. While he is slowly recovering, his professional future is in doubt, Both his father and brother died of heart problems at young ages, indicating a genetic issue, but many speculate that the year of hell Fleetwood Mac’s actions put him through sure didn’t help prevent this problem. Publicly the band posted a generic “Thoughts and prayers are with Lindsey” social media message and at a recent concert Stevie mentioned something vague and silly about sending fairy dust his way, before launching into emotional tributes to the deceased Tom Petty and song dedications to anyone else BUT Lindsey. Fans have divided into two distinct and polarized camps of those who support Stevie and blame Lindsey for everything, and those who stand with Lindsey and are furious with Stevie for orchestrating all of this. Surprisingly, despite having been such a devoted fan of Stevie’s for so long now, I have to say that I stand with Lindsey.
I guess it’s difficult for anyone who isn’t a huge fan of Fleetwood Mac to understand how these developments have affected me. For 43 years, Stevie Nicks was my favorite vocalist, bar none. Fleetwood Mac has played on my car stereo incessantly. Now, I’m struggling to even look at Stevie’s face and I have zero interest in the band’s current tour. I am profoundly disappointed in what these people have done to someone who played a gigantic role in keeping the band together all these years, who gave his heart and soul to craft the band’s unique sound, and to help make his bandmates’ work shine through his remarkable production skills. And of course, his vocals and guitar work are an integral part of the music which not even two replacements can come close to replicating.
I guess loyalty means a great deal to me, and the band’s lack of it is unforgivable. This is especially true given that when the band needed a new guitarist back in 1975 and asked Lindsey to join, he refused unless they accepted his girlfriend and singing partner, Stevie into the band as well. Of course it was her stage presence and unique voice and song writing ability that helped rocket the band to success, but without Lindsey’s ultimatum to the band back then and his beautiful way of helping shape and develop her songs, we might never have heard of Stevie Nicks. Now for her to destroy the band’s legacy by first refusing to record a last album with them and then depriving fans of one last chance to see them all together on tour again, it’s left me deeply sad and angry. I only wish I had managed to see Lindsey’s solo concert last year and I pray that he makes a full recovery and gets back out on the road again soon.
I could not bring myself to attend a show by the new version of the band if you paid me, and I’m totally disinterested in anything new they might record together in the future (Oh yes, Stevie now says she’s open to making a record with the new band!) That I can no longer follow the band’s future from here on is bad enough, but given what has transpired, I only hope I can keep my anger and disappointment over what has happened from destroying my love for the music that has been such a comfort to me for the majority of my life. Otherwise, I may just have reached the end of the very long road I’ve traveled with Fleetwood Mac.