Reading Music: The Exquisite Drama That Is Fleetwood Mac on Fleetwood Mac: Interviews and Encounters

Emily Nokes (Tacocat) delves into four hundred and ten pages of interviews spanning the entire career of one Fleetwood motherfucking Mac.

Finally, a book about a band whose members are as talented as they are dramatic! Here we take a break from the standard autobiography/biography rock-book genre and dive into Fleetwood Mac on Fleetwood Mac: Interviews and Encounters, four hundred and ten pages of interviews spanning the entire career of one Fleetwood motherfucking Mac.

The pieces are in chronological order from 1967 to 2014 and have been chosen by author/editor Sean Egan, who prefaces each one with a few sentences of context and even throws in an unpublished F. Mac interview of his own. This is a part of the “Musicians in Their Own Words” series, and though a more accurate title would be something closer to “Musicians in Their Own Words That Were Answers to Specific Questions that Were then Transcribed and Edited by the Original Publication Before Being Chosen for This Book, Anywhere from a Few Years to Several Decades After the Fact,” it’s nice of Egan to dig these up for us.

I only really have time for the lineup: Fleetwood, McVie, McVie, Buckingham and Nicks.

As a modern Fleetwood Mac fan who loves 1977’s Rumours and 1979’s Tusk as much as the next person who has ever heard the radio, I knew the band had been through a complicated maze of lineup changes, but I never bothered to untangle it because — spoiled early millennial that I am — I only really have time for the lineup: Fleetwood, McVie, McVie, Buckingham and Nicks. It’s simply hard to care that they used to be a blues band or whatever when you’ve got ALL THESE LOVERS WITH BEAUTIFUL HAIR BREAKING UP WITH EACH OTHER AND THEN WRITING SOFT-ROCK SONGS ABOUT EACH OTHER THAT THEY THEN HAVE TO PLAY ONSTAGE, WITH EACH OTHER.

But the early F. Mac story is fascinating, too, it turns out. Fleetwood Mac on Fleetwood Mac begins with a short primer from Egan on the band’s beginnings as an English blues rock band formed in 1967 by guitar virtuoso and vocalist Peter Green, who named the band after his fave rhythm section: Mick Fleetwood (drums) and John McVie (bass). Although a second guitarist — Jeremy Spencer — was enlisted in hopes that Green could deflect the hot spotlight his excellent shredding was attracting, the success of their self-titled 1968 debut caused Green to crumble under the expectations associated with being band leader. An acid casualty and diagnosed schizophrenic by 1970, Green unfortunately never really snapped out of it. Meanwhile, Spencer left the band to join a gnarly cult religious group called the Children of God (later named The Family) that he met on his way to the store. See, even the early Fleetwood was full of gossip!

This is where a flowchart would be handy: we then skip ahead several lineup changes, eight or so albums, seven years, a move to the USA, and a legal scuffle with an ex-manager who claimed that he owned the name Fleetwood Mac and cajoled a different band to tour under the same name. (GREAT IDEA.) The year is 1974. Fleetwood and McVie are still in this band they didn’t start, and a new McVie has joined, John’s wife Christine, who was recruited for vocals, keyboards and excellent songwriting (except for the song “Oh Daddy,” which I think we can all agree is the only major turkey on Rumours). Fleetwood then invited L.A. guitarist Lindsay Buckingham to join, who agreed, but only if he could also bring on his partner/musical partner Stevie Nicks. Ta-da! Three months later, they released Fleetwood Mac in 1975 (not to be confused with the aforementioned Fleetwood Mac debut album from 1968).

One thing made very apparent in these interviews is that people LOVE gossiping about this version of Fleetwood Mac.

Phew! And on this lineup is where the rest of the interviews more or less settle, in either group or solo formats. One thing made very apparent in these interviews is that people LOVE gossiping about this version of Fleetwood Mac — their lives are bananas and the band has no problem talking about it.

Most of the juiciness hinges on the fact that the 1977 smash-hit album Rumours was famously made while everyone’s relationships were falling apart — the McVies began their divorce process (Christine fell in love with their lighting director!); Nicks and Buckingham broke up/got back together/broke up for good; Fleetwood began his own divorce after discovering his wife Jennie Boyd was having an affair with Bob Weston, who was briefly in the band (I didn’t mention him earlier because I didn’t want your head to explode). OMG, plus Nicks and Fleetwood have an affair wedged in there somewhere. All this emotional turmoil, loads of money, plus actual velvet bags of cocaine and you’ve got yourself an adult-rock soap opera.

The Rumours follow-up, 1979’s wonky/experimental Tusk, is also a source of “scandal” and probably the most-mentioned album throughout the book. Not only was it the most expensive album ever made up to that point, but it only sold four million copies —definitely not reaching the expectations set by Warner Bros, who basically just wanted another Rumours (an album that sold sixteen million copies but features less audible drugs). The band’s initial stance is that they love the album, but everyone eventually turns on Buckingham since he had the biggest hand in how weird/awesome/over-the-top it was. But, fuck, guys, he would have left the band if not for Tusk because he needed to get a tantrum album out of his system. Much later, Fleetwood says it’s actually his absolute favorite of their records.

This kind of evolving story is pretty common throughout. The deeper into Fleetwood Mac on Fleetwood Mac we go, the more the members fine-tune their roles or their perceived roles, as well as their version of the narrative. Nicks and Buckingham often allude to unfinished business in their failed relationship that neither got enough time or space from to heal properly; the McVies echo this sentiment. Solo albums lead to animosity that oscillates between everyone resenting Nicks for never being around to everyone being pissed at Buckingham for not wanting to tour. Fleetwood fancies himself a sort of peacekeeper, but is usually too drunk to stay on top of it. Buckingham wishes to spend 100% of the time in the studio and is also a huge baby (a talented baby, but still such a baby). Everyone else, sans Nicks, just wants make albums that don’t take four years to record and then tour already because it’s their damn job.

Nicks feels she has to work eight hundred times harder at songwriting because it’s super hard for writers to focus on anything but her outfits.

Beyond the natural repetition in quotes/stories due to the repetition in interview questions, another byproduct of reading a book comprising a timeline of interviews is how styles of music writing change over time. What was once only hinted at in the early 1980s (“a nifty band with a taste for excess”) is full-on shouted in the 1990s and beyond (recording studios overflowing with cocaine; rehab for gnarly klonopin addictions; STEVIE SLEPT WITH THAT GUY FROM THE EAGLES!!!). There’s also, as you might imagine, latent-to-full-stop sexism surrounding the women in the band. For instance, much is made over the presumption that Christine McVie hated Nicks when she first joined since she was another woman…who everyone thought was way sexy. (She didn’t at all, they were and still are really good friends.) Oh, and Nicks feels she has to work eight hundred times harder at songwriting because it’s super hard for writers to focus on anything but her outfits.

All in all, Egan mostly chooses good interviews, but does throws in a couple “Musicdude Magazine Burns Up 2,000 Words Talking to Lindsey Buckingham About Not Using Guitar Picks or Whatever” pieces I couldn’t choke down. And at a certain point — I’d say around the Tango in the Night era in 1987 (an amazing album that I never went deep with until reading this book. I’m listening to it as I type right now) — writers spend less and less time on whatever new music the band is releasing and leave the most room for hashing and rehashing of the tales of insanity, heartbreak, drugs and fights. This only stops when something interesting happens, like when Nicks and Sheryl Crow start a best friend thing that for some reason makes me mad even though I enjoy both of them quite a bit.

By the time we make it to 2014, and the end of Fleetwood Mac on Fleetwood Mac, the Rumours-era gang is back together for the first time since Bill Clinton’s 1993 inauguration (he used “Don’t Stop” as his campaign jam lol). At this point, I’m finally over the perfunctory mentions of the band’s sordid past and much more eager to read about how much Christine McVie adores her dogs, how Buckingham has mellowed after having three children to focus on and how everyone feels easy around each other for the first time in forty years.

Emily Nokes is a musician, writer, graphic designer, illustrator, Libra, candy enthusiast and the singer/tambourinist in glittery feminist punk-pop band Tacocat. Her hobbies include giving pretty good home bang trims, puffy painting, stoned shopping and taking photos of her luxuriously large grey cat, Doctor O. As a writer and illustrator, her work has appeared in Seattle alternative weekly The Stranger, where she previously worked as music editor before deciding to tour basically all the time.

(Photo credit: Michael Lavine)