Wednesday, April 18, 2007

TAKING THE STARS DOWN

When I was eighteen months old, my parents divorced. My dad got custody of the record collection, and my mum got me. In a spirit of generosity, my dad left behind one LP : Rumours by Fleetwood Mac. At the age of three, I knew all the words to Rumours ; and when I went to visit my dad every third Saturday, I would play it there too. It´s the one infantile obsession I have carried with me into adulthood (though the Freudians among you may beg to differ).

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."


"The Chain" is Fleetwood Mac´s "A Day in the Life" : a composite of unrealised verses and riffs. As a child, it was the song I was immediately drawn to, simultaneously freaked out and delighted by it. That acoustic guitar, bone-dry and rattling, sounds like a makeshift packing-case with barbed wire stretched over it. Mick Fleetwood´s 1-2-3-4 drum beat thumps away like he´s whacking the floor. It´s interminable : four notes followed by a hanging pause, then a kind of resolution. Over and over. The lyrics don´t sound like much at first - exhortations to "listen to the wind blow," "break the silence," "damn your love, damn your lies" that seem more like threats - but I wonder who wrote them?

And if
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.

Fast forward 20 years to 1997. The Rumours line-up had not made music together since Tango in the Night a decade earlier. Things had got so horrible between the band, that on one occasion Lindsey Buckingham reportedly chased Stevie Nicks around the room threatening to kill her. John McVie, always the quiet diplomat, suggested to Lindsey that he should just leave. John meant that Lindsey should just leave the room, but Lindsey Buckingham thought he meant the band, so off he went. But in 1997, the band re-formed for a series of concerts, which were released as the CD-DVD set The Dance.



"Silver Springs" was left off Rumours because it was too long. It was replaced by "I don´t want to know," certainly the weakest song on the album (though it´s not bad). The 2004 re-release returned "Silver Springs" to its rightful place (in between "Songbird" and "The Chain"), but the The Dance version is definitive. It´s a song about a woman scorned, kinda, but Stevie doesn´t sound scorned. Like in "Dreams," Stevie surrounds herself with a poise, she asks, almost conversationally, "And did you say she was pretty? ... And can you tell me was it worth it? Really, I don´t want to know."

For most of the disc, while Mick, John and Chris do their thing in what Mark calls "the engine-room," your eyes are fixed on Stevie and Lindsey, these two people who were in love for so long, who betrayed each other so badly, who are still sharing a stage, acting out their lives. But, apart from an oh-shit-I-think-she´s-gonna-turn-on-me look from Buckingham to Nicks at 2´24", they keep firmly to their parts of the stage for the first half of the song. And then ...

... Stevie turns to Lindsey suddenly, looks at him directly, advances towards him :

Time casts a spell on you, but you wont forget me
I know I could have loved you, but you would not let me
I´ll follow you down til the sound of my voice will haunt you
You´ll never get away from the sound of the woman that loves you

These would be great lyrics of retribution from anyone, but from Stevie, from Stevie to Lindsey, from Stevie to Lindsey when they´re together on the same stage, they are devastating. He shoots her a look of terror, but she carries on ... "You´ll never get away, NEVER get away, NEVER GET AWAY..."

Fleetwood Mac would follow up Rumours with Tusk, an act of commercial suicide. I wasn´t subjected to this as a child unfortunately - I had to discover it myself at Ipswich Library when I was 14. It´s no better than Rumours, but it is more extraordinary - a genre of one, so to speak. I may write something on it in the future, but really, you´d be better off scouring some second-hand book or record shops to find a booklet the Melody Maker (ah, nostalgia!) produced in 1996 called "Lost Treasures." In it, Simon Reynolds makes the case for Tusk - it is, as Reynolds´s studies usually are, as beautiful as its subject.

3 Comments:

Anonymous Lindsey B said...

Sorry Paddington but this post has been up for 2 weeks and I can hold my piece no longer!

Yes, she was an ethereal beauty but, lookism aside, Lindsey was responsible for some deeply important stuff. Direct your ears to the special moment, 1 min 43 sec into Second Hand News, where Lindsey inadvertently INVENTED HIP HOP!

And for all his oh-shit-she's-gonna-turn-on-me gurning, good old Linds never misses a note, despite being stared down (an possibly hexed) by a demented mooncalf.

Anyway, great piece.
More of the same please...

6:34 PM  
Blogger Jessica said...

Excellent writing Paddington. I had forgotten how good FM are.

7:24 PM  
Blogger Steve said...

Thank you so much for this extremely well-written essay; you said much of what I have long believed to be true—far better than I could have expressed it—about the genius of Fleetwood Mac, and the landmark masterpiece that is Rumours.

I have a similar memory-by-proxy to yours; one of my best friends grew up in Hong Kong. During a 1 day trip back to the US, her minister father, who knew nothing about popular music, ran into a record store with little time to spare to in order to bring an album back for his teenagers. You can guess which one he bought.

Here in the US it used to be a given that the ONE album pretty much guaranteed to be in everyone's vinyl collection, was Rumours. And it has stood the test of time.

Thank you as well for the Dreams video; it is far and away my favorite song.

Cheers from the US.

10:42 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home