Fleetwood Mac and their 'sweet little lives'

Image credit: DrJazz.ch

It’s been over forty years since Fleetwood Mac formed in London, thirty since the release of Rumours, and about ten years since I first fell in love with the band and the copious amount of music that they’ve made. It makes me incredibly sad to see that following Lindsey Buckingham being fired from a US tour, he’s reportedly suing his former band-mates. Claiming his expulsion from the tour was at the hands of his former girlfriend and fellow musician, Stevie Nicks, I come to wonder about the number of bands and musical collaborations that have suffered at the hands of romantic upset, and whether this is a sacrifice that must be accepted for the price of great art and music.

If the band had not endured the tumultuous relationship of Buckingham and Nicks, it is unlikely that we would have favourite tracks such as ‘Dreams’ and ‘Go Your Own Way’ today. But of course, Nicks and Buckingham were not the only couple romantically involved in the band; John and Christie McVie sported their own rollercoaster relationship that inevitably contributed to the bands’ discography, particularly as their marriage began to disintegrate. I begin to wonder if perhaps a level of my fascination and obsession with the band is partially born from the musical conversation that can be had between tracks, between albums – a desire to understand the complicated and romanticised tumult that categorised much of this era of music; the relationships, the addiction, the bankruptcy… I can watch documentaries and listen to interviews, but ultimately it’s the way in which the music interacts with itself that draws me to it: we long as listeners to be part of the conversation.

The idea expresses itself most clearly, I think, in ‘The Chain’ (Rumours), the only song attributed to all members of the group. Naturally, the song’s title is evocative of this very concern: how the musicians related and ‘linked’ to one another. Written in a rather eclectic manner (it was pieced together with various parts of rejected songs), the nature of its composition mirrors the organised chaos of the band’s relationships that would in turn produce some of their greatest material. Although Nicks and Buckingham, John and Christine McVie and even Fleetwood and his wife were each suffering their own romantic problems, they were united in their musical expression.

Yet, I am perhaps raising concerns about the cheapening and diminishing of art itself through the desire for contextualisation, and what is essentially ‘celebrity gossip’. Is the music not enough to stand alone, brilliant enough for it to spark my interest, even without the knowledge of what went on behind closed doors? It is, of course, or I wouldn’t be listening in the first place, but there’s something fascinating to me about the idea of these personal issues being translated into music, created by those who were suffering together. You can picture the tension in the recording studio, the sparks of inspiration generated by the anger and emotional upset that had occurred between band members. I feel more connected to the music as a result of my (partial, and probably to some extent, imagined), understanding of the emotional context of its production. 

The most active years of Fleetwood Mac span a period of music that has long captivated my interest: it’s the age of The Velvet Underground and Blondie, and a world so distant from my own that it’s incredibly easy for it to be romanticised and idealised as the era of music almost untouchable. I’m not living out in an abandoned New York apartment, suffering a heroin addiction and producing album after album of timeless music, but the emotional insight that the band allows the listener (even if with hindsight), is something that allows me to feel connected to this time past, and still included in the musical narrative.

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