Record Magazine, November 1984


Lindsey Buckingham seeks peace of mind

By Duncan Strauss

One of the great things about rock star Lindsey Buckingham is that he acts nothing at all like a rock star. A member of Fleetwood Mac for the past decade, the singer-songwriter-guitarist is a rock 'n' roll curveball:

--In conversation, rock stars tend to rely heavily on a certain word ("man") or phrase ("you know"). Buckingham overuses the word microcosm.

--For a lot of handsome rock stars, "romance" means never having to wake up with the same woman. Buckingham has been involved in two lengthy romances: five years with Fleetwood Mac's celestial caped crusader Stevie Nicks, and six with woman named Carol Ann Harris-a relationship that unravels before your very ears on his impressive new album, Go Insane.

Although in the world of rock the prevailing attitude is "nothing succeeds like excess," the low-key Buckingham says "I don't go out a lot; I like to stay home. I read, see films, do laps in the pool." He thought flying over to England so producer Roy Thomas Baker could hear rough tapes of Insane was "overly theatrical."

--As part of the Big Mac operation, he played a major role in crafting Rumours, one of pop's biggest-selling albums in the pre-Thriller era. Yet he maintains "I didn't get the sense that I achieved that much" with Rumours, adding "the reason to create is to experience the process of creating."

At this point it wouldn't be too surprising if Dave Lee Hedonism wanted to grab Buckingham by the lapels, give him the Moe Howard treatment across the chops and scream "Lindsey, Lindsey! What are you trying to do, give rock 'n' roll a good name?! I mean, 'the reason to create is to experience the process of creating.' Come on, man-have you gone insane?"

Well, in a matter of speaking, Lindsey Buckingham did indeed go insane. His insanity was the kind that accompanies the shattering of a serious relationship, that disquieting emotional blackout that is always more crippling for an avowed romantic like Buckingham.

In a display of the most admirable heavy mettle, he exorcised those emotional demons by meeting them head on and transferring them onto Insane, which takes some basic pop conventions-both lyrical and musical-and neatly turns them over, under, sideways, down.

Two things, then, are clear and significant upon meeting Buckingham in the cozy cottage attached to his manager's Hollywood office. First, he went through hell before, during and after the split from Harris. (Nationally inquiring minds wanting to know exactly what happened to the relationship will no doubt latch onto such lines as "surprised to find someone willing to lose/Just to keep herself from falling apart" and "I just can't seem to get through/Hey little girl leave that little drug alone" and decide they understand the roles and twisted plots in this drama.)

Second, it's clear that Lindsey is fine now, or at least much better. Dressed in grey t-shirt, jeans and boots, he looks fit and relaxed. He also appears to be quite pleased. Pleased with his life. Pleased with his album. Pleased with his emergence as a songwriting and studio maestro a la long-time hero Brian Wilson.

Comfortable and recovered as he is now, Buckingham knows that his personal crisis supplied Insane's emotional core. "A lot of the album was derived from things that were going on in my personal life," he explains. "My girlfriend moved out several months ago, so I'm a bachelor for the first time in six years. Without getting into specifics, I experienced some situations where everything became grey-the blacks and whites totally dropped out. My sense of the album is that if you make a commitment to a relationship, and one side of that relationship goes haywire, you're going to go haywire with it. At some point, altruism can become a form of self-destruction."

Of course, Buckingham doesn't think he has the corner on the temporary insanity market. "I think everyone goes insane from time to time," he observes, "but usually you can reel yourself back in, usually you have a handle on what the context is. In other words, insanity is pretty relative: the acceptable or even expected behavior for people in a rock band or that kind of microcosm would, I imagine, probably be grounds for committal (sic) if you were working in a bank."

It was yet another kind of "insanity" within the rock microcosm that prompted Buckingham to co-produce Go Insane with an engineer he'd never met rather than with Richard Dashut. Dashut shared production credit with Lindsey on such Mac albums as Rumours, Tusk, and Mirage, and co-produced his 1981 solo debut Law and Order. Originally, Buckingham had every intention of continuing the association.

He had assembled some rough tracks at L.B.'s Garage, his 24-track home studio, then stopped working on them and waited for Dashut to complete Mick Fleetwood's I'm Not Me LP. Work on that project "drew out interminably," and finally when it was finished, so was Dashut, who told close friend "I am so burned that I just cannot bring myself to go back into the studio."

So, at his manager's suggestion, Buckingham called Roy Thomas Baker, who seemed like a logical solution to the dilemma, as much for his connection to Lindsey's label (Elektra, where Baker serves as senior VP of worldwide production) as for his production credits (Queen, Cars, etc.). At the time, Baker was in England up to his eyeballs in projects, which required Buckingham to make the "overly theatrical" move of flying overseas with his tapes.

Of the 12 tunes presented to Baker, he tossed out eight, leaving "Play in the Rain" (probably Insane's most experimental track) and "Go Insane" (the first single and, not surprisingly, the most accessible, dressed-up tune), as well as "I Want You" and "I Must Go" (which land somewhere in between). Now acting as executive producer, Baker paired Buckingham (who, as on Law and Order, played all the instruments on almost every cut) with engineer Gordon Fordyce to complete the record.

Buckingham and Fordyce hit it off, and the artist soon locked into a new creative groove. The upshot? Buckingham began developing a sense of excitement about the work he could do entirely outside the Mac machine. "I punched my way out of the microcosm that I had been locked into for 10 years, which was quite an accomplishment, because for whatever talent I have, it was very difficult to separate what I was from what everyone else in the band was. So it was a very constructive transition to have made.

"Working on the album," he continues, "was one of those fateful things where you're being pulled alone without really having control over it-which are the times when the best work is done. I can remember feeling that way toward the end of Rumours, sort of 'God, something is going on here.' Which isn't to suggest the end result will be similar in any way. But the feeling is there."

That feeling stands in sharp contrast to his attitude about Fleetwood Mac, an ambivalence surely influenced by Insane heralding his arrival as a pop innovator. Of course, it's possible to advance a convincing argument that Buckingham's arrival came much earlier: say, on '79, when he almost singlehandedly constructed Tusk, Fleetwood Mac's most adventurous, least saccharine offering; or in '81, when his idiosyncratic Law and Order LP had critics comparing him to Harry Nilsson, John Lennon, and the early Beach Boys.

The difference now is that, without being arrogant or smug, Buckingham himself knows he's arrived. The obvious question, then, is what happens to Fleetwood Mac? Does Lindsey Buckingham need 'em? In the course of a two hour interview, the response shifted considerably.

As the conversation periodically drifted back to Fleetwood Mac, his comments moved from "speaking hypothetically, if there were no more Fleetwood Mac, the ideal thing would be to go right back in the studio and start another record," to "all the magic is gone" to (laughing in response to a rather flip question) "I don't know if I want to go on record as saying we're 'beating a semi-dead horse,' but in a sense that would seem to be the case.

Just the same, when Buckingham discusses his plans, both short- and long-term, nearly every possibility hinges on what becomes of the nebulous Fleetwood Mac game plan. At the moment, he's most certain of things he won't do. He's opting not to tour behind Go Insane, feeling he's probably one album shy of enough solo material to make both a strong statement and a well-defined musical departure from the band. And he probably won't contribute individual songs to movie soundtracks. He's more interested in composing an entire film score, and Insane may well thrust him into demand as a jack-of-all-musical-trades, particularly in the studio.

In the meantime, he's waiting to see what happens with Fleetwood Mac, and indulging in those noted rock star pursuits like reading a lot, seeing films, swimming laps in the pool. He simply wants to keep matters simple. And solitary.

"Things are simplified right now, partly because I'm a bachelor again. And I don't even want to see anyone in the sense that if you make a decision to be alone, and sort of bind your heart up, I think it allows your spirit a few more liberties.

"That's not necessarily an answer to anything," Buckingham smiles, "but for the time being that kind of simplicity is quite attractive."

Thanks to Karen for posting this to the Ledge and to Anusha for formatting and sending it to us.