New York Times, There's No Stopping Tomorrow for Mick Fleetwood

New York Times, Business Section, November 30, 1997

There's No Stopping Tomorrow for Mick Fleetwood


Don't stop thinking about tomorrow
Don't stop, it will soon be here
Open your eyes, look at the day
You'll see things in a different way

-- From "Don't Stop (Thinking About Tomorrow)" by Fleetwood Mac

Mick Fleetwood is trying, maybe for the first time in his life, to think about tomorrow.

It's an about-face in the 50-year-old drummer's attitude toward money that could make him rich. By rights, Fleetwood should already be a zillionaire. For 30 years, the 6-foot-6-inch Briton has been the heart of the Fleetwood Mac band, which has sold about 55 million copies of 23 albums, including "Rumours" in 1977, its first mega-hit and one of the 20 best sellers of all time.

But in those early days of glory, Fleetwood always lived for the moment, going through thousands of dollars of cocaine a month, refusing to listen to financial advisers' prognostications and impulsively buying up several homes, a $400,000 spread in Hawaii and a $1.8 million farm outside Sydney, Australia. His buying spree eventually helped lead to disaster, forcing him to declare personal bankruptcy in the mid-1980s and put his "kingdom up for sale," as one Fleetwood Mac song described it.

Then the go-go '80s gave way to the sober '90s, and Fleetwood, going with the flow, did likewise. Six years ago, he decided to take charge of his life, and in an impressive turnaround, gave up cocaine and liquor cold turkey. "After a while, it turned into a nightmare," Fleetwood recalled. "The party after the gig was sometimes more important than the gig." He has said that in those days, "I'd get off a plane.I'd have to meet a dealer. It was horrible, and you become beholden to it."

And then, finally, he continued, "It slaps you around the face, and you go: This has got to stop."

To be sure, sobriety has had its price. "I think life is more on the edge when you are horribly aware of what is going on all the time," Fleetwood said in an interview in Boston, one of the stops on a tour that brought Fleetwood Mac to New York last week. "If something is going to hit you, it will hit you head on when you are not stoned." Even so, he said, the price is worth it. "Don't kid yourself," he said. "Life is a lot more interesting now than the crazy things that one can remember, and I mean that one can remember."

Dressed in a blue cotton suit and a yellow gauze shirt, Fleetwood tucked his giant frame uncomfortably into a too-small chair in the dining room of the Bostonian Hotel. He repeatedly crossed and uncrossed his legs, as if nervously recalling incidents he would just as soon forget.

Not only that, Fleetwood figures his sharper mental focus should enable him to hold onto his money this time around. And there should be plenty of it. A 44-city reunion tour of Fleetwood Mac's most famous five members, began on Sept. 17 in Hartford, and ends Nov. 30 in Washington. It is expected to bring Fleetwood, Stevie Nicks, Lindsey Buckingham, Christine McVie and John McVie about $3.5 million each, according to several industry experts. In addition, the tour should pump up sales of their old albums and generate about $600,000 more apiece in royalties.

Perhaps Fleetwood's biggest challenge in securing his financial future will be to avoid the temptations endemic to the business in what he calls "the Chuck Berry Syndrome" -- the tendency of high-rolling musical performers like Berry, the rock-and-roll legend, to live from one big payoff to the next.

"Chuck would never walk on stage without having the cash handed to him. It's not what happens now. But it kind of is," Fleetwood said. "It's the psychology of being a gigster. You play the gig and go back to the dressing room and say: 'This is for you, and this is for you.' It is very of the moment."

That freewheeling mentality made it easy for Fleetwood to throw his money around. And throw it around he did. "Mick likes real estate and restaurants," said Carl Stubner, Fleetwood's new manager, thinking back to his client's spendthrift days. Fleetwood's impulsive, real-estate purchases led to his bankruptcy, and two subsequent restaurant investments turned out badly.

This time around, Fleetwood is convinced he has a savvier team behind him. Stubner, 34, is a former stock broker and an agent at Deluxe Management, an artists' management firm in Los Angeles. And Fleetwood is now planning to turn over the bulk of his funds to David Manashe, a friend of Stubner and a stock broker at Dean Witter Reynolds, a unit of Morgan Stanley, Dean Witter, Discovery & Co.

Stubner said he acts as a financial gatekeeper for Fleetwood, who is frequently approached with deals. "People solicit me," Stubner said. "They park themselves on my doorstep. I want to align him with people who have credibility." leetwood has already met with Manashe and believes him to be a thorough researcher and will generally follow his investment approach.

Stubner sees his role as more than just doling out financial counsel. He has helped Fleetwood put together a record label called Fleetwood Music, which is already working on its first album, "A Tribute to Fleetwood Mac." Happily for Fleetwood, "I am not putting my own capital up," he said. "I have partners." Atlantic Records puts up the money and, once it is recouped, shares the profits with Fleetwood. Such "tribute labels" are a common strategy these days of performers heading into middle age -- from the Rolling Stones to Bob Dylan -- who try to leverage their superstar status into a rich payoff.

Neither side would disclose details of the arrangement. But it is the venture's musical possibilities, not its financial potential, that seems to animate Fleetwood.

"It is a whole creative thing. The artistry behind it. I am going to do the artistic direction, not a record company," he said. Elton John has already recorded one track, while Jewel, Matchbox 20, Shawn Colvin and the Cranberries are also contributing to the compact disk that will be out in March.

Stubner views one of his tasks as cooling his client's high-risk passions for restaurants and real estate. Fleetwood currently owns a home in Los Angeles and another in Hawaii, and Stubner thinks that is quite enough. He may not be able to keep Fleetwood away from restaurants, however.

"I will probably venture into that again," Fleetwood said. "For me it is like having a gig every night." As to his failed 1994 restaurant venture in Washington, he acknowledges: "Carl wasn't real happy about it."

The one gig that doesn't hold much charm for him is poring over his investments. For that, he relies on Stubner and his third wife, Lynn Frankel, a 34-year-old former public-relations executive, whom he married in 1995 after a six-year relationship. Her late father had overseen Fleetwood's investments until his death two years ago. Fleetwood's lack of curiosity about the way Ms. Frankel's father handled his money says much about his interest in the topic. "I don't know the specifics," Fleetwood said. "My wife's father had an adviser. Her father was very much into that whole New York Wall Street thing. He did very well."

That willingness to trust others is unusual even by celebrity standards. Fleetwood and Ms. Frankel never signed a prenuptial agreement, he says. And according to Brian Adams, a friend and former partner of a Los Angeles accounting firm and now a sole practitioner, in the 1970s, "He never read a contract agreement," preferring to put his faith in his advisers. His dyslexia may have played a part in his deference to others on financial matters, Adams added.

Fleetwood attributes that inattention to his "crazy, hazy period," rather than to dyslexia, and says he now does read agreements.

Several industry executives believe the current tour is more of a financial imperative for Fleetwood than for other members of the band. Though he declined to comment specifically on his net worth, he would say only half-kidding, "I'm not broke if that's what you mean." Whereas in contrast, Buckingham is said to have held onto his money, and Ms. Nicks has earned income from hit solo albums and royalties for songs she wrote.

Aside from his expected take of several million from the tour, another possible windfall awaits Fleetwood. In 1987, he said, he invested about $400,000 in the Hotz Corp., a producer of computer software to make it easier for starting musicians to play music, started by his friend Jimmy Hotz. Suddenly, that move is looking smart. Last year, the Intel Corp. and other investors put up $2 million to help bring the product to market. If it takes off, the value of Fleetwood's stake could multiply.

Fleetwood realizes that the public, dazzled by the luxuriant life styles of some rock stars, would be disappointed by details of his own somewhat reduced circumstances. "We want to believe other people have grandeur," he said "Why not? It is question of whether you let that take over your life or you temper it and have fun with it."

Perhaps because he focuses so much on music and his fellow musicians rather than on his portfolio, his financial standing doesn't seem to be uppermost in his mind It is his personality, after all, that is the glue that held Fleetwood Mac together in its early days and that has helped bring the members back together. "I'm really good with people," he said. "That's what it's all about. That creates vision and involvement and energy with other people."

His love affair with music began in his adolescence. Born in Cornwall, England, in 1947 to a career army officer and his homemaker wife, Fleetwood was sent to boarding schools and almost immediately encountered difficulties with his studies, the result, he later learned, of his dyslexia. Frustrated by his academic failure, he found solace in playing the drums, and by the age of 16, had run off to London to make his fortune in rock and roll.

Within four years, he had joined John McVie, Peter Green, Jeremy Spencer and Danny Kirwan, to create Fleetwood Mac. Though the group was immediately successful in England, it did not hit the United States until 1969. But a year later, Green left to lead an ascetic religious life. Then Spencer disappeared in Los Angeles and turned up as member of Children of God, a religious cult.

Though the group reconfigured several times, it was not until 1975, after Fleetwood asked the guitarist Lindsey Buckingham and the singer Stevie Nicks to join the band, that it hit the big time. The new group's first album, Fleetwood Mac sold five million copies and hit No.1 in November 1976.

Intimacy bred its own problems. Buckingham and Ms. Nicks, who had been romantically linked, separated. John and Christine McVie divorced. Drugs and liquor were a staple of life fom some members. At first the emotional turmoil seemed only to fuel the band's success. Its next album, "Rumours" sold 30 million copies. Tours were sold out.

But for Fleetwood, the addictions to drugs and spending were beginning to take their toll. Becoming a heavy cocaine user in the late 1970s, he would buy drugs not only for himself but for friends, according to Adams, the accountant and one-time adviser to Fleetwood. "I will tell you that he was very generous," Adams recalled in a recent telephone interview. "There were a lot of people that glommed off him."

As his success grew, so did Fleetwood's appetite for real estate. He had a home in Bel Air and one in Malibu in California, land in Hawaii valued at $400,000 and, in 1980, the farm in Australia. In none of the cases did he have any particular purpose in mind.

Even Fleetwood has a hard time explaining his obsession with land, but he seems to have regarded it as a refuge from the turmoil of his life. "I was finding a way to create a creative kingdom, a safe harbor from what was a very crazy world at that point," Fleetwood recalled. "Australia was a very safe place."

His advisers warned him against the purchases, but Fleetwood now says that they didn't speak up enough. Celebrities, in his view, are sometimes indulged, just as children. "You often go out and buy them candy, and you know you shouldn't, because they're moody and crazy," he said. "But you still let them have it."

"In anyone's language, it was a lot of money," he added. "But I was not into doing a major amount of bean counting."

Had he been, he would have noticed that all his expenditures were eating up his shrinking cash flow. Most of his money flowed into property, not his drug habit, Adams calculates. Fleetwood, by contrast, told The Washington Post in a recent interview that he had spent $8 million over the years on cocaine.

After "Rumours," the band had negotiated a megadeal for "Tusk" in 1978. He took a $2 million advance, but by the time he saw the Australian property in 1980, he had apparently spent it and had to borrow the $2 million purchases price from Security Pacific Bank. That loan was based on a guarantee from Warner Music, which in turn took all of Fleetwood's assets as collateral, according to documents filed in connection with the bankruptcy. Payments of interest and principal on the loan were running at about $800,000 a year. Fleetwood's other expenses, including his various mortgages and alimony payments, brought his budget to about $1.6 million a year, according to Adams. And looming on the horizon was the huge tax on the $2 million advance.

Meanwhile, "Tusk" did not match the success of "Rumours." By 1981, it was clear to Adams that Fleetwood was headed for bankruptcy. So he flew to Australia to inform his client of the direness of his financial situation. He found a man in denial. "He told me that it was not possible," Adams recalled. Staying with the drummer, he woke up one morning and found Fleetwood gone. A note read:

Oh Brian, Brian, we've something to say.

We stopped in Singapore the other day.

To a hotel we went, the best in town.

Amusements we sought, amusements we found.

It was fairly obvious where his client had flown off to for a little rest and recreation. But Singapore was only the first stop on his itinerary. From there, he headed for Africa, where during one drunken binge, he smashed a $7,000 Rolex watch to bits with a beer bottle.

Over the next three years, Adams says, Fleetwood continued having trouble facing up to reality. And Fleetwood concurs that he was living in something of a fantasy world. "I just didn't care because the roller coaster took precedent," he said. "You felt untouchable."

But that couldn't last forever. Finally, in 1984, Fleetwood declared bankruptcy in a federal court in Los Angeles. It would take him nearly a decade to climb out of his personal and financial morass.

For one thing, he had less career flexibility than some other group members. He could neither write songs nor perform alone. "It is a very specific thing that I do," he said. "I cannot play without people. I am a drummer. I can't play in my living room."

For another thing, he was still using drugs and drinking. He testified in court papers that the bankruptcy was financially and emotionally devastating. And, in a recent interview in Rolling Stone magazine, Ms. McVie recalled that Fleetwood had told her back then that "he was living in somebody's basement with a damp carpet ... and he used to lie in bed watching soap operas all day long."

In the interview for this article, Fleetwood said he quit drugs "like that," six years ago, and snapped his fingers. Though he is vague about his motivation, he attributes much of it to a desire to build a relationship with his wife, Lynn, and his love of being a musician.

Once he was clean, it was easier to talk with former band members about the reunion tour. Lindsey Buckingham said he felt as though he were finally talking with the old Fleetwood. And the success of the road show has given him a second shot at fame -- and modest wealth. This time, at least, he is likely to hold onto some of it.

Not that he has the financial sophistication to go it alone. While he admires the financial acumen of Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones, who attended the London School of Economics, his own economic views are simplistic, with occasional lapses into conspiracy theory boilerplate. The "real elite are the people who run this planet. You don't hear about them," he said. "Two hundred million dollars is a lot of money, but it is not in the big picture, It is peanuts. There are people with huge dynasties of wealth. They earn that in a week in oil.

"It's the banks that run the planet, the Trilateral Commissions," he added. "Who do you think runs all the governments? Banks, and when it comes down to it, probably not that many."

Such musings suggest strongly that Fleetwood will remain as dependent on advisers as he was a decade ago. But he is betting that he has picked a better team. And now that he leads a somewhat calmer life, he should have the time to listen to them.

Thanks to Emily Andler, Lisa Wellman, and Annie Gottlieb for sending this article to us within an hour of one another.