Lexington Herald-Leader, December 14, 1997
Thinking about tomorrow
Mick Fleetwood tries to break the chain of debt this time out
By Geraldine Fabrikant
The New York Times
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 Briton has been the heart of the band Fleetwood Mac, 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 near 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 said, "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, a stop on the 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. Fleetwood figures his sharper mental focus should enable him to hold on to 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 Sept. 17 in Hartford and ended 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 such as Berry, the rock-and-roll legend, to live from one big payoff to the next.
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 stockbroker 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 stockbroker at Dean Witter Reynolds.
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."
Stubner views one of his tasks as cooling his client's high-risk passions for restaurants and real estate. Fleetwood now 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 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."
Where did the money go?
Fleetwood 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 he had already spent it by the time he saw the Australian property he wanted in 1980. He had to borrow the $2 million purchase 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, Adams said. 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. Over the next three years, Adams said, 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, Christine 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."
Fleetwood said he quit drugs -- "like that," he said, snapping his fingers -- six years ago. Once he was clean, it was easier to talk with former band members about the reunion tour. And the success of the road show has given him a second shot at fame -- and at modest wealth. This time, at least, he is likely to hold on to 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. "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 Karen for posting this to the Ledge and to Anusha for formatting and sending it to us.