CREEM MAGAZINE - February 1983

"Gypsies, Tramps or Thieves? The World According to FLEETWOOD MAC" By John Mendelssohn

One day soon, there will be no more stuffed animals in the world. No stuffed koalas or pandas or ocelots or giraffes will remain for parents to bring their brave little tykes in the pediatric wards of hospitals. Pubescent girls will have no more stuffed leopards or ponies or lynxes to snuggle while they jabber on the telephone. And no stuffed teddy bears will be found in the rooms of Elvis impersonators who are intent on recreating every phase of the King's life.

One day soon, all the stuffed animals in the world will have been presented to Stevie Nicks while she is on stage with Fleetwood Mac.

Or on stage without Fleetwood Mac. Industry insiders assure us that it won't be long before Stevie goes her own way, for she has her own manager, who won't let her talk to Rolling Stone, and a hit solo album and a tour to her credit.

Likewise, Lindsey Buckingham, the other half of the duo whose recruitment in 1976 transformed Fleetwood Mac from the blues band that time forgot into mega-platinum ultrasuperstars, makes no secret of the fact that he much prefers working on his own projects these days.

And John McVie gives the very distinct impression of not being long for this world, let along the group.

Which means that the time to get to know these five nice people who make nice music is right now, before they scatter every which way.

An electrician who did some wiring in her home assured CREEM that keyboardist Christine McVie, in marked contrast to her boyfriend at the time, Dennis Wilson, is as unaffected and gracious a person as one might yearn to do wiring for. Her deportment on stage serves to affirm this impression. The only time she gets stuffed animals or bouquets is when somebody who's about to be throttled by a security gorilla despairs of getting Stevie's attention. But she neither glowers or sulks about this, nor makes a spectacle of herself in an attempt to pilfer some of Stevie's thunder. In doing so, she represents the English temperament at its noblest.

She was the long female instrumentalist in an otherwise all-male group while Gang Of Four's Sara Lee was still in Pampers (assuming they have Pampers in the U.K.), if barely into puberty herself when the Honeycombs ("Have I The Right?") comprised a female drummer. But Honey of the Honeycombs probably wouldn't have looked nearly so cool with an accordion in her hands, as Ms. McVie has for the great Fleetwood Mac hit "Tusk." And she sings on key a lot more than Stevie.

Schedule conflicts precluded CREEM's chatting with her personally, but her former spouse and namesake, John, did make himself available, for what the group's publicist swore was the only time on their 1982 tour, in spite of the fact that the then-current Rolling Stone's piece about them positively bulged with wry and ribald quotes from the bewhiskered bassist.

At the moment of our introduction, deep in the intestinal tract of the Fabulous Forum, where their nice music would soon drive 17,505 nice kids wild with glee two evenings running, McVie regarded CREEM warily from beneath a cap such as might be worn either by a baseball player or a sports fisherman. His vanishing silver hair and dour countenance gave him an unusually mature appearance. He looked like someone's dad. When asked what he liked most about being in Fleetwood Mac in 1982, he sipped from a plastic glass of vodka, hesitated at great length, and murmured, "Being with my friends," which struck CREEM as rather a curious reply. When asked what he liked LEAST about being in Fleetwood Mac in 1982, he sipped his drink once more, hesitated even longer, and murmured, "Seeing them sick." (Poor Stevie was thought to have had walking pneumonia the day CREEM came to call.)

Later, when CREEM wondered what gave him the most pleasure away from music, McVie looked perplexed, put upon, and perturbed for a while, before asking that the tape recorder be turned off. "Getting up," he muttered at last. By and by, he haltingly explained that doing so was no easy thing for him, and meaningfully held his plastic glass aloft when CREEM wondered why. "We party hard," he revealed with a rueful smirk. Pressed to continue, he confessed that he also relished "a good dump, sailing and sex" with his wife of four years.

What a down-to-earth guy.

Having seen her "Bella Donna" LP soar to the pinnacle of the charts and toured successfully on her own, Stevie Nicks strikes lots of longtime McVie fans as more confident than ever on stage these days. But CREEM wondered if this is such a good thing. While the years have roughened up her voice in rather an agreeable way, she still often allowed her vibrato to get carried away with itself, and what could be less agreeable than the uninhibited bleating that results? Indeed, there are those who enjoy her most when someone else is singing, leaving her free to make a very big production of playing a tambourine that you wouldn't be able to hear if you were in her dress with her.

CREEM longed to engage her in conversation, but she had to conserve what little strength her walking pneumonia had left her for her adoring, stuffed-animal-wielding public.

If only Mick Fleetwood were the group's singer rather than its drummer, you'd see members of the casts of all your favorite late-night comedy programs doing impressions of him every week of the year. Nine feet tall though he seems to be, his drums obscure him to the point at which few notice that he makes as rivetingly grotesque a spectacle of himself on stage as Joe Cocker used to. He's rather less handsome than, say, Billy Idol to begin with, and when he really gets INTO his playing -- contorting his face, bugging his eyes, and opening his maw so wide that Stevie could lose her tambourine down it -- it's strictly a stare-if-you-dare situation.

If he didn't exist, one suspects, John Cleese would have invented him. While being interviewed, he likes to flip his long, straggly hair up in the back. He tells CREEM that, in the 15 years he's been a member of Fleetwood Mac, "there've been unhappy times, but it's never gotten distasteful." He's glad that he isn't a songwriter, since songwriters are prone to paranoia when their songs aren't coming together as smoothly as they might wish. He has recorded an album in Africa with African musicians, and hopes to do one in South America with South American musicians. And he has this to say about his great wealth: "The other day, when my house nearly burned down, I almost wanted it to happen, just so that I'd be free from any feeling of clutching at my possessions. I certainly enjoy having money, but I'd hate to think it was part of my character."

There are those who'll tell you that avarice is indeed a part of his character. It's said that when the rest of the group discovered he'd been helping himself to a much larger cut than he'd let on at the end of his six-year tenure as the group's manager, the rest of the group were so upset that they'd have throttled him with their bare hands except for the fact that none of them could reach his neck.

A candid sod, Lindsey Buckingham doesn't try to tell CREEM that the chances of Fleetwood Mac soon ceasing to be aren't pretty good. "I think everyone in rock 'n' roll understands that popularity has a limited lifespan," he notes. "I think all of us are conscious of the danger of being trapped in a dead end."

The sight and sound of tens of thousands of fans squealing with delight at the sight of him, he claims, isn't so terribly exhilarating to him anymore. "You get used to it," he shrugs, "and you start to take it for granted. Not that people go CRAZY every night, because we DO draw a more...refined audience.

"Basically you enjoy either the adulation or the work. For me, the work is more important. I can't deny that, once I get up there on stage, I do enjoy it, but I prefer being in the studio, facing new challenges all the time. You don't really learn anything on tour, except maybe in a sheer playing-of-instrument way. The main challenge of performing is to create the illusion that it's fun every night, to keep the audience from seeing the wheels turning."

The night CREEM was in the audience, it ought to be noted, the blase Mr. B. came across as nothing less than one of the most wonderful live performers in pop today. Vaguely Chaplinesque in ill-fitting trousers and a rumpled fedora perched atop his dark chestnut curls, he howled joyously, stamped his feet like an ecstatic infant, duckwalked as though kneeless, and generally seemed to be having as much fund as it's possible to have without passing out, or being Bruce Springsteen.

He concedes that being a member of Fleetwood Mac has come to feel more and more like a day job. "It's getting more and more like that," he says, "since my tastes run much more to the progressive and the exotic than the group's image allows."

Much as he adores being in the studio, he'd much rather be there on his own -- as he was for whole great hunks of "Tusk" -- than with Stevie, Christine, John and Mick, since "making a Fleetwood Mac album is sort of like making a movie -- everything is thought out on a conscious level, and then second- or third-guessed. The approach I prefer, though, is more like painting. Painters will tell you that they often begin work with one thing in mind, but that, after a while, the work leads them in a completely different direction.

"It's more of a subconscious process. Working that way, I find that I experience the work a lot more intimately. Being that connected can't help but have a vitalizing effect on the music."

Of his former leading lady, he cops to no jealousy. "In some ways, I suppose that I'm not as appreciated by the audience in general as Stevie. But I'm very much appreciated by my peers both in the group, and also by other peers in the industry who know what I'm about. Not being one of the most visible...well, obviously I AM a visible member of the group, but not as much as Stevie, or even Mick, so I can still walk down the street without anyone bothering me, which is great."

Away from the group, he loves to return to the scene of his happy youth in the wealthy San Francisco Peninsula community of Atherton. "But every time I do," he titters, "I seem to get sick. I suppose I let my defenses down or something, and whatever's floating around in my body attacks me."

What does he forsee for himself? "Well, I definitely don't want to be out on tour when I'm 45. My main contribution to the band has always been as a producer, and I think that the sense of what will or won't work that's involved in that may be transferable to other forms. Movies, for instance, interest me greatly. But I wouldn't want to just play at something -- to do something that I wasn't knowledgeable about. I do know that I'll always want to make records -- provided that records continue to be made!"

Thanks to Kayde for posting this to the Ledge.