The San Diego Union-Tribune, March 7, 1993

Buckingham breaks from Mac pack, flies solo



Before he was old enough to play the guitar, Lindsey Buckingham drew pictures of guitars.  Before he was brave enough to join a band, he played alone in his brother's bedroom.  Things got complicated after that, but in the end, the story of Lindsey Buckingham still boils down to a man, his guitar and the music they make together.

"A few years ago, somebody from Rolling Stone interviewed my brother Jeff for a story they did about me, and he said to the writer, You know, Lindsey was always such a loner.' And I remember thinking, Jesus, was I?' Because I don't remember it that way," said Buckingham, who performs tomorrow at the Belly Up Tavern.

"But there must have been some emotional connection to music that made it imperative that I make it a part of my life.  I couldn't tell you why that is, but it must have something to do with needing to carve out some sort of sanctum for myself somewhere, and music was the way I did that."

He is a solitary man who joined one of the most successful group scenes in pop-music history.  But with a solo album in the stores and his first solo tour on the road, the former singer and guitarist for Fleetwood Mac is alone for the first time in more than 20 years, and he likes it just fine.

"If you want to take an overview of what I'm doing, you could say I spent 12 years with Fleetwood Mac doing thesis work, until I was able to see what was going on and was psychologically and financially able to reject certain aspects of what I saw," Buckingham said from his home in Los Angeles. "I'm in the position now to make the kind of choices that I feel are important."

Full-blown obsession When he was 7, the youngest of the three Buckingboys began strumming along to his brother's Elvis Presley records, picking out tunes by ear when the beginners' chord book failed.

Nearly a decade later, the childhood hobby turned into a full-blown obsession when the teen-aged Buckingham spent a $12,000 inheritance on a four-track tape deck that he stashed in a back room of his father's Daly City (Calif.) coffee plant.

As he spent countless hours in that makeshift studio, Buckingham cultivated the sweet pop sensibility and sweatshop mentality that helped him turn so many Fleetwood Mac songs into hits.  Then, as now, the most important thing was the painstaking process of making music.

"I was always fascinated with guitars, and I don't even know why," Buckingham said, his airy voice breaking into a chuckle.  "I remember that my brother Jeff and my father were real sports fanatics, and since I didn't enjoy that at all, that left a lot of time for me to sit around and play records over and over again until I learned them.

"It was never about technique or style, it was about learning how to play the songs as I heard them in my head, which is probably why I have some fairly decent pop sensibilities.  After that, I just kind of faked it.  I still fake it."

Buckingham didn't perform in public until the early '70s, when he started playing bass in Fritz, a Bay Area band that also included future girlfriend and Mac mate Stevie Nicks.  When Fritz fizzled, Buckingham and Nicks persevered, recording an album of edgy folk rock that didn't do a thing for their fledgling careers, until Mick Fleetwood heard a bit of it and asked the duo to become a part of his band.

Five strong individuals Californians joined up with drummer Fleetwood, keyboardist/vocalist Christine McVie and bassist John McVie in late 1974, Fleetwood Mac was a hard-working blues-pop outfit with a loyal cult following. Three years later, Fleetwood Mac was something else entirely.

Sparked by Nicks' spooky "Rhiannon," Christine McVie's comely "Say You Love Me" and Buckingham's arranging and producing prowess, 1975's "Fleetwood Mac" album sold more than 5 million copies, an impressive leap that only partially prepared the band for the stampede to come.

By the time "Rumours" was released two years later, Buckingham and Nicks had broken up, the McVie marriage had dissolved and Mick Fleetwood divorced his wife, Jenny.  All that was left of three separate unions was one rock 'n' roll band and the will to carry on.

"Fleetwood Mac was a group of five very strong individuals who never really should have been able to work together at all and somehow did," Buckingham said. "It was an emotionally charged situation from start to finish, because you had these couples who had broken up and somehow summoned up the character to separate their priorities and keep going. It screwed us all up a little bit, but I wouldn't have missed it for the world. It was better music through chemistry."

The music may have been great, but the chemistry was often corrosive.  There were times during the "Rumours" recording sessions when the band members only spoke to each other through their songs, as Buckingham, Nicks and McVie tried to turn heartbreak into record-breaking hits.

The hours were too long, the drugs were too plentiful, and the pressures too numerous to mention.  The result was the best and most successful album of the band's career.

From Buckingham's caustic "Go Your Own Way" to Nicks' poignant "Dreams" and McVie's bravely optimistic "Don't Stop," 1977's "Rumours" was awash in tears and intrigue, and the public tuned in Fleetwood Mac's musical soap opera in astounding numbers.  The album stayed at No. 1 for 31 weeks and sold 21 million copies, turning a fragile and fractious bunch of pop artists into million-dollar rock stars.

Taking the blame frantic spirit of the punk and new-wave music that was spreading from England to the United States, Buckingham egged the band into following the glossy "Rumours" with the not-so-glossy "Tusk." Thanks to Buckingham's recording experiments (some of which were conducted in hotel bathrooms and closets), "Tusk" had a restless energy and spiky sound that was met with grudging respect from the critics and a crashing indifference from the record-buying public.

Although "Tusk" featured some of the group's best work (Nicks' "Sara,"McVie's "Think About Me," Buckingham's clattering "Not That Funny"), the ambitious double-album set sold a mere 4 million copies, and the studio wizard ended up taking the blame.

"I was so exhilarated during the making of Tusk' because it was a chance to say, Let's try some stuff that, if nothing else, could to be a mechanism for growth,' " the 43-year-old Buckingham said.  "When it was finished, everyone in the band was totally turned on by what we had done, but when it didn't go on to sell another 21 million albums, there was sort of a backlash from the group, and people were saying, Well, Lindsey, you can't do that anymore.'

"If you look at what happened between Rumours' and Tusk,' you would see that I was saying, No, we're not going to make "Rumours II." ' The choice of doing something that was more to the left set the tone for the things I have tried to do ever since.  I want to do the work for the work, to try to make something that is reflective of growth, and that avoids at all costs the adage, If it works, run it into the ground.' "

 Out of the Cradle'

Eight years and three albums later, Buckingham got his chance to do his work his way.  After the release of "Tango in the Night" in 1987, Buckingham left Fleetwood Mac. In typical Mac fashion, the parting was not harmonious (after agreeing to tour with the band, Buckingham abruptly backed out), and the band quickly replaced Buckingham with Rick Vito and Billy Burnette. Buckingham didn't replace the band at all.

Instead, the workaholic took a break.  From recording.  From touring. From having his picture turn up on magazine covers and his private life spinning on public turntables.  He even had time to think about the last 12 years, and when he was done, he returned to the studio -- a free man at last.

With longtime Fleetwood Mac studio whiz Richard Dashut co-producing (and often co-writing), Buckingham emerged last year with "Out of the Cradle," an arresting set of ballads and rave-ups that got its name from a Walt Whitman poem and its soaring spirit from Buckingham's renewed acquaintance with his past and his enthusiastic hopes for the future.

"There were certainly a lot of things that I thought I had put into place about the band and about people in the band that I realized after having distanced myself for a while that I hadn't really put to rest.  I didn't really work on anything for a year after I left, and by removing myself from that situation, I was able to appreciate other people's struggles a little more and have a sense of compassion.  By losing some of that baggage, I was able to move ahead with a little more clarity."

Buckingham and the band declared a very public truce during the inauguration festivities, when he joined the band in a rousing (if not particularly melodic) version of "Don't Stop," which had become the surprise theme song of Bill Clinton's new administration.

"It was odd being there, and there was something inherently uncomfortable and show-bizzy about it," Buckingham said. "But, what the hell?  It was fun."

It was fun, and when it was over, Buckingham went back to "Out of the Cradle" and life without Fleetwood Mac.

Like his previous solo efforts (1981's "Law and Order" and '87's "Go Insane"), "Out of the Cradle" is essentially a one-man show, with Buckingham on vocals, acoustic and electric guitars, bass, keyboards and assorted electronic gadgets.  And like all of Buckingham's minipop symphonies, the carefully constructed melodies fill in whatever details the elliptical lyrics leave out.

"Don't Look Down" sets a story of liberation and promise to shimmering strands of guitars and sampled vocals, while "Wrong" blasts rock-star bombast with a relentless beat and Buckingham's steely falsetto shriek.  "You Do Or You Don't" is a reality check with a sweetheart of a chorus, and "Say We'll Meet Again" ends the album with a wistful lyric and the soft sigh of a tropical melody.

"I don't know what to say about lyrics," Buckingham said sheepishly.  "For me, a lot of the message is in the form of the music.  If you really wanted to understand a classical piece, you would be listening to the way the parts work together.  In some ways, the construction of what I'm doing is as much the message as anything else.  This album may be the most sophisticated thing I've ever done.  Some people will hear that, and some people won't."

While he was making "Out of the Cradle," Buckingham made an unexpected discovery. After years of wanting to be alone in the crowd, the dedicated isolationist might just be ready to open the door to his sanctuary, where the man and his guitar will be waiting to welcome a few guests.

"All of the elements that went into Fleetwood Mac -- not just the relationship things but the level of success and the sense of having to do what people expect you to do -- all of that tended to make me pretty protective of myself and my music.  In the process of making this album, I've come to the point where I'm more comfortable with my own abilities, and I'm becoming more interested in allowing other things and other people in to influence me more than I've ever done before.

"I think that probably applies to all facets of my life. I've never been married.  After Stevie and I were together, I was with another girl for about five years, and that ended sort of badly because she didn't really have a structure around her to handle some of the craziness that was going on during those years.  Then I was with someone else for seven years, and that had an end to it, too.  Now I'm seeing someone else, and there is a sense that I can redefine myself a little bit.  The growth hasn't been just musical, and it's a nice feeling."

Thanks to Anusha for the submission.