TAKING THE STARS DOWN
Why is Rumours so different from the slew of West Coast AOR records released in the mid-70s? How has it gone platinum 19 times in the US and 9 times in the UK ? And this is not a question of statistics : how exactly has it found its way into the CD racks of punks and hippies, drop-outs and yuppies, Carpenters fans, hardcore-nuts, functional families, fucked-up loners, cokeheads, Christians, and my parents – both of them?
Mick Fleetwood and John McVie had been there since the late 60s, when Peter Green was genius-in-residence. They had given the band its name ; it was their band. Along with John´s wife Christine, they had looked on in the early 70s as the band lost Peter Green, and gained a succession of ill-fitting guitarists (one of whom decided to go it alone after being caught fucking Mick´s wife). In 1975, Mick was introduced to two Californian singer-songwriters : Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks. They had released a pleasant, unremarkable album called Buckingham-Nicks which had been roundly ignored but Mick liked the sound of Lindsey´s guitar playing and thought Stevie was cute. They were duly recruited, and their first album achieved a chart-placing 33 positions higher than its predecessor. The stage had been set.
Rumours beings with "Second Hand News," and it treads the path which the band have been following in the 30 years since : turning their human incompetencies into something amazing, to us and to themselves. The errors of their relationships, of their ways, are prized, condensed into songs of paranoia, neurosis, hysteria, distance, absence. "Been down so long, I´ve been tossed around enough, couldn´t you just let me go down and do my stuff?" sings Lindsey, and in the very next verse he tinkers a little : "When times get bad, and you can´t get enough." From claiming that oh-I-can´t-be-with.you-I´ve-been-hurt-too-many-times, he changes his tune to I-can´t-be-with-you-I´ll-be-too-much-for-you! "Go Your Own Way," a 4/4 song with what sounds like a 5/4 drum progression, is similarly discrepant : there´s the famous "packing up, shacking up´s all you wanna do", but what about "If I could, honey I´d give you my world ... how can I when you won´t take it from me?" for a Lacanian line?
All of which sets up his (by this time ex-) lover to launch her riposte (the great fascination of Rumours is that you never quite know who is addressing whom ; Lindsey and Stevie had split, as had John and Chris, yet they all remained in the band, all writing songs about each other). Watch this : it´s a live version of "Dreams".
Stevie looks other-wordly, stunningly beautiful in a way that leaves me illiterate. Even without Lindsey´s shimmering slide-guitar, even without John and Mick´s embalming drum´n´bass (listen as they wrap themselves around her lyric "wrap around your dreams"), you have this :
It´s only right that you should play it the way that you feel it,
But listen carefully to the sound of your loneliness
Like a heartbeat ... drives you mad
In the stillness of remembering what you had.
Nice try, Lindsey, but you goddit wrong : it´s me who´s too much for you. And to prove it, 2´54" into the performance, after that very lyric, Stevie lets slip the most sexy sound you will ever hear, a heavenly "ooh," just to remind Lindsey of what he had ... and what he lost ... It´s the perfect impasse : the Lady has become, to quote Zizek, "not as she is, but as she fills his dream."
You dont love me now
You will never love me again
I can still hear you saying
You would never break the chain.
If they´re about love, Lindsey is undoubtedly the author. But they could also be about the band itself, in which case Stevie is the surer bet. Anyway, after those lines are sung for the last time, there´s the bit you all know : John McVie´s intimidating bass line, Mick Fleetwood´s ticktickticktickticktickticktick hi-hats, and then a howling solo from Lindsey Buckingham, one note torn apart 68 times. That song still freaks me out, and still delights me, as much as it did when I was four.
And Christine - oh, Christine - what to say about FM´s third songwriter (inevitably, she´s always relegated to third)? She has always cut a schoolmarmish figure, awkward and diffident at being the band´s chief melodist. But her songs are hardly conservative : "Oh Daddy" is the best of her ultra-masochistic songs (and there are plenty to choose from) ; "Songbird" is nakedly beautiful, a forlornly emphatic vision of harmony ("And I wish you all the love in the world, but most of all, I wish it from myself") ; and "Don´t Stop," supposedly a note of positivity on Rumours, sounds to me utterly poisonous : "If your life was bad to you, just think what tomorrow will do." (I bet the American working-class loved the irony of that line when Clinton used the song at his inauguration). And Christine´s "You Make Loving Fun" is the hidden treasure of the record. Check out the frazzled hair and the empty wine bottle in this video. And you still think Chris is schoolmarmish?
And you still think Fleetwood Mac aren´t funky?
And I´ll pass the baton onto mark k-punk to describe the album´s closing track :
The track I’m continually drawn back, though, to is the closer, Nicks’ "Gold Dust Woman". It’s an ending to an album as suspended, as poised, as the dying shimmer of Roxy Music’s For Your Pleasure. An eerily, ironically prophetic future autobiography of Nicks’ addictions (first, to cocaine and later to prescription tranquillizers: ‘rock on gold dust woman/ take your silver spoon/ and dig your grave’), the track wouldn’t be out of place on Tago Mago. The Gold Dust Woman, a ‘dragon’, a ‘spider’, is the female anti-type to Rhiannon: imprisoned and imprisoning, quite literally a femme fatale, a life-denier rather than a fleeing free spirit.