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Musician (09/1984), Lindsey Buckingham: Personal Brinksmanship and State-of-the-Art Subconscious < Lindsey Buckingham < Main Page

Musician (09/1984), Lindsey Buckingham: Personal Brinksmanship and State-of-the-Art Subconscious

Musician, November 1984

Lindsey Buckingham: Personal Brinksmanship and State-of-the-Art Subconscious
by Sam Graham

"We all go a little mad from time to time," says Lindsey Buckingham.  "And as long as you can reel yourself back in---it's okay.  For me, getting this stuff down on vinyl was a lot better than going to see a shrink.  You know, if you're one of those guys who's constantly suppressing your emotions, then maybe one day you get your machine gun and go take out a McDonald's."

For the moment, Lindsey Buckingham has canceled his reservations for insanity.  The events of the past couple of years --- in particular the torturous break-up of a six-year relationship --- took him perilously close to the brink of personal and professional madness, but Buckingham has reeled himself back in.  And the reel he used, the album appropriately titled "Go Insane," not only loosely chronicles those events but serves as a cathartic release from them.

Yet "Go Insane" is more than a powerful emotional cleansing; it's also a state-of-the-art technical triumph, a collection of tracks dense with musical invention.  That rare combination of mind and heart, chops and feel (as well as its direct Beach Boys references), makes this record a worthy successor to "Pet Sounds," blasphemous as that may sound.   (No, Buckingham isn't quite Brian Wilson; but then Brian could never quite reel himself back.)

Buckingham, of course, has spent the better part of the last ten years as Fleetwood Mac's jack of all trades --- guitarist, singer, songwriter, principal producer, and the guy whose arrangements have brought that band's more pedestrian material (i.e. Stevie Nicks' songs) to life. "Go Insane" is his second solo turn, after 1981's "Law and Order," and each time, Lindsey has handled virtually all of the vocal and instrumental work himself.  "The whole experience of Fleetwood Mac has been a sense of responding to other people's needs, sometimes ahead of my own," he's tactfully observed.

"It's a more political, more verbal, and more conscious process.  Working on my own," he goes on, "is like painting on a canvas; the likelihood of any particular canvas taking on a life of its own and leading you in a certain direction is far greater."

What is particularly surprising about this canvas, however, is not so much Buckingham's form --- he's long been a studio innovator and original pop texturalist --- so much as the raw, even tortured feeling that's splashed all over it.  In the past, Lindsey's always been a pretty cool number --- even while tearing  up the stage with Fleetwood Mac he managed to remain a paradigm of tasteful pop flash, while offstage he's an articulate, sophisticated and meticulous, if rather self-effacing pop craftsman --- in other words, everything that his ex-paramour Stevie Nicks is not.  His last album, "Law and Order," though specked with some unusual instrumental colors, was for the most part lawful and ordered --- spare, guitar-oriented, conventional pop.  And even as we speak he exudes the quiet confidence of a man comfortable with his own talent and quirky vision, the affably affluent yet modest mien of a successful California artist.

But check out the covers of "Law and Order" and "Go Insane," and you begin to get an idea of the personal changes Buckingham's experienced in the last three years.  On the former, an air-brushed and bare-shouldered Buckingham stares out at the world like some young innocent; on the latter, he is unshaven and intense, his hair in a modified "Eraserhead" cut, his tie undone and his jacket falling off.  Ironically, "Law and Order" was released on Asylum; Lindsey switched over to Elektra for "Go Insane."

A good deal of "Go Insane" --- the title song, "I Must Go," "Bang The Drum," "Loving Cup" --- reflects the strain that Buckingham and his former girlfriend, Carol Harris, were under as they struggled to find some common ground.  "I was just in a situation  that was getting a little out there from her point of view; and I was going insane as well, almost secondhand. 'I Must Go' is pretty much about that.  You get to a point where commitment to something starts to become self-destruction.  In a sense, that's what the whole album's about --- getting to that point, having your whole sense of reality tested on a daily basis.  "Of course," Lindsey points out, "insanity is a relative term.  Behavior that might be acceptable in a rock band might get you committed if you work in a bank."

Buckingham's "Go Insane" palette was expanded immeasurably by his use of the Fairlight CMI (Computerized Musical Instrument), the ultimate paint brush for the musical colorist.  Oh, he also plays "the usual array of guitars and basses," as he puts it, along with such esoterica as a nineteenth century "lap harp," but the Fairlight is mainly responsible for the record's remarkable depth and adventurousness.

On "Law and Order," Buckingham played a drum kit; he'd record a click track, play the drums to it, then build each song's arrangement from there.  The kit was eliminated on "Go Insane," in favor of a LinnDrum and the Fairlight's own storehouse of drum and percussion possibilities, but Lindsey continued to construct his songs from the drums up.  Typically, he would use the Linn to put down a metronomic high-hat pulse --- and then play the CMI "drums" by hand.

"I certainly can't play drums as well as a Linn can," notes Buckingham.  "And if I wanted to play something myself, it was just as easy to do it on the Fairlight, 'cause the sounds are already there and you don't have to set up a whole kit.  Not only that," he laughs, "being able to play drums with two fingers cuts down considerably on the fatigue factor."  Using the Linn and Fairlight drums also gives some "Go Insane" tracks --- including "I Must Go" and "Loving Cup" --- a febrile rhythmic intensity unmatched in anything Buckingham has recorded before.

Buckingham is a longtime Beach Boys admirer, and some of his earlier work --- like "That's All For Everyone" and "Walk A Thin Line" from Fleetwood Mac's "Tusk" --- echoed Brian Wilson's production and drum sensibilities.  "Bang The Drum," however, more than echoes the Beach Boys; it IS the Beach Boys, as if Lindsey had found one of the long-lost tracks from the legendary "Smile" album lurking somewhere in his subconscious and brought it to life.

"Bang The Drum" opens with two Fairlight keyboard parts, both using the computer's harmonium/accordion setting.  One of them is played straight ("I wanted a churchy sound, beacuse it's a fairly sad song"), while the other is gated to produce a steady throbbing effect. Those keyboards, and the slow, almost languid beat of "Bang The Drum," recall several Beach Boys tunes of the '70s --- but the real similarity is in the vocals, particularly the light "bum-bum-bum" and "chink-chink" parts backing the verses.  Each of those parts, Buckingham says, was recorded three times; "a triple-track sounds less multi-tracked than a double-track, since the third track tends to smooth over the discrepancies between the first two."

For lyrics, however, in a Laurie Anderson-style attempt "to make the vocals sound less like a person and more like an instrument," Buckingham broke the words down syllable by syllable from channel to channel; on a line like "surprise to find someone willing to lose," one hears "sur," "to," "some," "will" and "to" on one channel, and "prised," "find," "one," "ing" and "lose" on the other.  And instead of simply panning the vocal from side to side, Buckingham actually sang each channel separately, with startling (if slightly disorienting) results.

Such dazzling technical moves abound on "Go Insane," but not every unusual sound is the result of advanced studio wizardry.  If pounding the padding on top of his home recording console produced a better percussion than his various machines, then that's what was used.  Similarly, if the Fairlight's sitar program didn't do the job, Buckingham simply de-tuned his Stratocaster until the strings were as loose and pliant as a real sitar's (the sitar sound is at the center of "Play In The Rain," easily the album's most experimental song).  The guy's not a prisoner of technology; he just goes for whatever works.

This "whatever works" approach might also apply to the album's overall content.  Like many creators possessed by some degree of genius --- Brian Wilson, and especially Van Morrison, come to ming --- Buckingham seems to have tapped into an unconscious, only partially articulated realm of feeling on "Go Insane."  Fittingly, he's at a loss to explain it, other than to repeat the obvious:  that "Go Insane" is his most deeply personal work.  "I guess I'm not a well boy," he shrugs.

Indeed, the sequence of tunes on "Go Insane" seems to mirror a slow descent into madness, from the more conventional "Go Insane" and "Slow Dancing" on side one through "Bang The Drum" and "D.W. Suite" on side two, where "the whole pop structure is broken down."  The suite, dedicated to the late Dennis Wilson, is a pastiche of original ideas and traditional Irish melodies. "It starts out almost with a death wish, which IS D.W., and says 'If we go insane, we can all go together,'" Buckingham explains.  "I see all of the Wilsons as having gone insane together.  The whole group started out at such a young age, and Brian was under such pressure, not only to be everything to the band but to be financially responsible for his whole family.....

"I always felt Dennis was a very good person who didn't have much direction, because he didn't have the tools that Brian had.  He was always an outsider."  Yet the message of "D.W. Suite", through lines like, "Shadow all your hopes with love," is a positive, understanding one, delivered "from Dennis to everyone else, as if he were talking to his children:  'Do your best.'  By the end of the song," Lindsey continues, "you've got this sort of Irish wake soudn, which turns into a jig.  The message is, 'Well, let's pause for a moment, but then life must go on."

And so it does.  "My life is so simple now," Buckingham says.  "I'm living more or less alone, and all my focus is on this record [Fleetwood Mac's plans are uncertain at best].  That's fine for the time being, although it can get lonely.  I mean, I can't handle going down to Le Dome to meet people."  What he CAN handle is regaining some control over his life.  "I lost my power in this world," Buckingham sings in "Go Insane," "'cause I did not use it."  That power, he observes, is "the power of discipline, the power to progress.  There was a time when I really did think I'd lost it.  But in the end, making this album was a reaffirming experience.  I think I'm gaining some of that power back."

********[SIDEBAR]****** MENTAL HELP

Along with the Fairlight CMI and the LinnDrum machine, Buckingham's assortment of equipment on "Go Insane" included a variety of guitars, among which were Fender Stratocasters and Telecasters, a Martin D-18 acoustic and a Guild nylon-string acoustic.  Onstage with Fleetwood Mac, he generally plays a custom-designed Turner electric guitar equipped with flat-wound strings, but for recording purposes he uses both a standard Turner and a "double-octave" Turner.  Bass parts on the album were supplied either by a Turner bass guitar with round-wound strings or by the Fairlight; on "I Must Go," he used both the Turner bass and the Fairlight's cello program.  The nineteenth century "lap harp" used on "D.W. Suite" was a gift from Mick Fleetwood; it can also be heard on "Empire State," a track from Fleetwood Mac's "Mirage" album.

Much of the early work on "Go Insane" was done in the garage studio at Buckingham's L.A. home, which is equipped with Studer and MCI 24-track recorders and a Neotek console.  Additional recording took place at Cherokee Studios in L.A.

***********

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR -- MUSICIAN NO. 76 --- FEB, 1985

"NICKS KNOCKS"

Thanks for the piece on Lindsey Buckingham and his brilliant "Go Insane!  I must make a point, however, sure to appall Mr. Graham and other self-important arbiters of rock tastes:  "Nicks fan" and "Buckingham fan" are NOT mutually exclusive terms!  Many of us enjoy both, and find it unnecessary to censure one to appreciate the other!  I found Graham's snide bias regarding Stevie Nicks both jarring and intrusive in an otherwise informative article.

Thanks to Kayde for posting this to the Ledge and to Anusha for sending it to us.


Date: 1984-09-01         Number of views: 3305

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