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The Ledge (12/05/1997), (Exclusive essay by John B) < Fleetwood Mac < Main Page

The Ledge (12/05/1997), (Exclusive essay by John B)
Penguin

Post-concert reflections on the band, The Man, and the metamorphosis of a fan.

Posted by John B. on December 05, 1997 at 13:59:53:

boom. BooM. bOOm. BOOM!

Intro to The Chain?

No. That song's familiar downbeat is delivered with equal thumping precision.

The crescendo I've indicated in MY intro--a simple, flat beat building quickly to a chest-pounding fury--is, frankly, my heart.

It represents some kind of emotional timeline for me ever since I tuned in, with modest--not burning--curiosity, to what I presumed was a one-shot deal on MTV back in August.

MTV, of all places--a network with which I had lost contact about a dozen years ago--was showing a reunion concert of Fleetwood Mac, a band whose music I had certainly enjoyed (although I had always found the syncopation of Go Your Own Way a bit unsettling), but whose musical tapestry was of no interest to me and, consequently, whose essence had faded from my brain's active files.

Thus began a three-month odyssey in which five people and their music settled, undeniably, in the deepest recesses of my head, my heart, and my soul.

That might sound corny or hyperbolic, but it's the strange truth. I've pondered this quite a bit, and I know now that it has as much to do with my age (35) and decade-long musical dormancy as it does the music. But I also believe that many people around my age and a bit older can identify, however reluctantly, with some of what I'm going to say. The cloak of anonymity on this board frees us all to say things we wouldn't normally say in public, and I intend to do just that. It's liberating--cathartic, really--and, like I said in my very first post back in August, it's therapy among friends. We may disagree on various aspects of this group, we may all be virtually unknown to each other, but we're all here for a reason: something about this group has driven each of us to seek out others who enjoy their music.

When I last recognized the Mac as a vibrant musical force, they had just released Tusk to suspicious reviews--many people at the time didn't know what the hell to make of it--and then they just kind of dropped out of my head as I immersed myself in the music to which my various college roommates and suitemates were listening.

Then I became a grown-up, sort of, and entered the workforce, and I remember hearing on the radio one day a few years later the charming accent of Christine McVie, introducing the band's two new guitarists. I didn't care, since Lindsey Buckingham's contributions to the group were always a mystery to me. As I mentioned in a post a couple of months ago, I never knew who he was anyway, since I always figured Lindsey was one of the girls, and Stevie was one of the boys. It only made sense.

A fountain of musical knowledge I was not. But neither was I a trickle, having played the guitar for a few years, doing the garage band bit with some friends and a cousin, and knowing my way somewhat around the musical landscape that was emerging FM radio.

Zoom ahead to August 1997. Married twelve years, with three kids and a limited collection of cassette tapes (which, I soon learned, went the way of 8-tracks), and a long-ago discarded turntable that condemned our vinyls to an irreversible death, our musical explorations took my wife and I from one collection of children's music to another. I think our last purchase of anything resembling rock was around 1987, two years before the birth of our first child, and my guitar had been collecting dust for many years.

Then one night, I was flipping through the t.v. guide, a rare occurrence in our house as we are infrequent viewers, and the word "Rumours" caught my eye. I read the program's two- or three-word description, and for some reason I cannot comprehend I became immediately and immensely interested in the making of that album. I don't think I'd ever heard the whole thing played through, believe it or not. More unbelievable, but absolutely true, is the inexplicable nature of something that had always bothered me: my aforementioned lack of insight into Lindsey Buckingham's role in the band. It had never been clarified. This little fact lay dormant on a shelf somewhere way back in my mind, along with so many other mostly useless bits of information and unanswered questions, any of which is looking for some kind of trigger to set it back in motion and breathe new life into it.

The listing of this "Making of Rumours" was just that trigger. It held out the intriguing promise of answering my questions. The couple of brief times I saw Lindsey, he seemed to be playing without a pick, which made no sense to me, and he didn't seem to be playing any leads, and he wasn't singing, so I figured he was just along for the ride, and I wasn't surprised when I'd heard he left.

A brilliant analysis, I know.

Onto the special. Almost from the opening pictures, the transformation in me began to take place. I ate that special up, replayed it, and watched it with my wife, who was half interested.

Then came The Dance. Again, I figured it was a one-shot, and I didn't expect much. I had seen so many reunions that I was deeply cynical, and I fully expected an overhyped, underperformed, completely flat concert.

A keen prediction, I know.

Yet, for the first few seconds, I felt that my cynicism was justified. (I have to take comfort in those few seconds, since we all feel the need to be right once in a while.) Upon first blush, Mick looked too enthusiastic--like he was trying to sell me on the band--while John looked bored, Lindsey looked nervous, and the crowd looked like a giant living room of sedated guests.

Then that first gorgeous harmony hit: Listen to the wind blooooow, waaaatch the suuun riiiiise. So beautiful, so fluid, so perfect.

I've thought and thought and thought about what happened to me next, because it almost defies explanation. I say "almost" because it's taken me awhile to figure it out, and I think that's what this whole message is about, but onward...

I remember looking at them as they sang that harmony. Why did this sound so good to me? What chord in my soul was struck so profoundly that these few simple notes hit me right between the eyes? I remember watching Lindsey's fingers dancing on his strings. It all made sense to me. Suddenly, I knew what the guy and his guitar were all about. He wasn't about mindless, blistering leads; he was about textures. I remember my mouth stayed open--my jaw didn't drop, but neither did it close--and I watched these five, mesmerized, for the next hour and a half.

Mesmerized.

I won't go into specifics about the video, since I've blabbered previously on that much-trodden subject, but I will say that by the time The Chain got to the bridge--John's simple but menacing bass line, followed by Lindsey's hot twanging playing off Mick's intensifying lead-in on drums--my mind was absolutely racing. This moment is arguably among the most exhilarating in any Mac song anyway, and I was stunned at how well they pulled it off. Watching Stevie getting into it, I started thinking that maybe this reunion meant something to them. And by the time Christine got to her pitch-perfect rendering of Songbird, the resurrection, in my mind, was complete. I became, instantly, possessed by the band. I recalled the character in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, the guy who builds that structure in his living room, who can't get the vision out of his mind.

At the next available instance, I was searching the Web for information. Then I found this excellent site, and gathered information. And read. And read some more. Every article I could get my eyes on.

I started listening to Rumours and the white album, inhaling both of them, getting my kids and wife involved.

Then, an uncharacteristic purchase: We bought The Dance video. We never buy videos. And then, the unlikeliest twist: We took the plunge, and bought tickets to see them in Albany. Naive to the process (our first concert since 1984), I bought over the phone via TicketMaster, and wound up in, as I called it at the time, Binocularsville.

But I didn't care, because I was on some kind of bizarre mission. Logistics? I didn't know who was going to babysit, whether I could get the time off, whether to stay over in Albany--nothing. I had to see these people, and I didn't care what I had to do to get there.

Seven days before the concert, I received a fortuitous e-mail from a fellow Ledgie (a kind woman, actually) to whom I am eternally grateful. She relayed some posts from The Ledge that told of various people having last-minute luck with TicketMaster. I went to the Website but found nothing.

Until the next day, just as I was leaving work for the weekend. Just for the hell of it, I took a last shot, and was frozen with shock as two seats, seven rows from the stage, became available. Since I've never bought anything through the Web, and since I couldn't believe my eyes, it took me a couple of minutes to make up my mind, and since TicketMaster gives you five minutes to make a decision, I was sweating, knowing that I'd have to sell or eat my other two tickets.

Fortunately, it hit me that I was an idiot for even considering *not* buying them, so I bought them, and then called a laughing TicketMaster agent who was amused that I was so bewildered and dumbstruck by my good fortune. He referred to them as killer seats. They weren't quite that, but they were close to it.

We got to the arena at 7:45, and even though I figured the concert wouldn't start until 8:30, I still wanted to get inside. We made a less-than-half-hearted attempt to sell the tickets; the scalpers are a scary, competitive bunch, and I didn't feel like risking getting caught just to get a few bucks back. We even tried giving the tickets away, but, understandably, people looked at me like I had two heads and ran away from me. I remember visiting New York City almost 20 years ago with a classmate, and when I approached a couple and asked them in which direction the World Trade Center was, the woman looked frightened and she and her husband got away from me quickly, as did four or five others when I asked them.

We humans have really done a number on ourselves.

Anyway, we ate the tickets, walked inside, and sat right in front of Christine's area, seven magical rows back. I tried making conversation with some stiffs behind me and in front of me, but they reacted like I was going to perpetrate some violent act on them if they looked my way. I confess that their reticence gave me just those feelings.

I really don't understand why some people bother attending these things, since they look angry or upset that they're there. What's up with that?

Anyway, I told the kind woman next to me, who looked to be about 45, that I didn't know how I'd react, and I apologized in advance if I elbowed her. She was quite understanding and supportive. She looked like she'd been dragged there, and so did her husband. Which leads to the obvious question: Well, then, if they both look like that, which one of them did the actual dragging?

There was some psychotic-looking guy, front row center, and his biker-chick-type companion who were front row center. (I didn't see any cigarettes rolled up in her shirtsleeves, she wasn't spitting tobacco or using profanities, and there were no visible Harley tatoos, but you know the type. If you've never seen this couple, go to your next county or state fair and take a good look at the people hawking the $2 dart throw.) She was going around trying to enthuse everyone in our section. I wanted to put out my hand and shake hers, since I was simpatico with her attitude, but I was afraid she'd crush the bones, so I'd declined. I'm 6'2" and 215 pounds, but this woman scared me.

Then the lights went down, and the crickets sounded. I felt an adrenaline rush like never before. Never. My wife cautioned me about bad behavior--I don't think she wanted me to embarrass us--but I told her I was guaranteeing nothing.

And then, oh God. Oh Christ. Then, I saw Them. In the shadows. Not running--approaching. At the time, I was not wondering why I--a person of moderate intelligence who does not worship idols of any kind, who couldn't care less about famous people--felt the way I did. But I felt it.

Sounds emanated from my throat that I did not think possible. I put my hands over my head, clapped like a freaking lunatic, and screamed my bloody head off.

Mick started the downbeat, which continued for a sweetly torturous extended period of time.

Then, I watched in total rapture as Lindsey walked, with total majesty, in complete confidence and control, toward his microphone and stood there, almost as if he was posing. His tilted-back head and posture communicated loud and clear that he was in command, and he knew it. The reaction to his performances along the way had obviously influenced this, because he was the essence of Cool. He could've stood there another 20 minutes and done nothing, and it wouldn't have mattered. He was Cool. I mean, Cool.

I knew none of them could hear me, but I screamed Lindsey's name repeatedly. It was almost involuntary at that point. There was that weird ethereal magnetic pull you feel from the group, and vice versa, and I was somewhere in the stratosphere.

He hit those first few sparse notes, and I thought I'd start crying. It was that intense for me. My friends and co-workers would be shocked, but I gave myself up to that band, and I loved it.

I won't give a blow-by-blow account of the concert. You've all read that stuff over and over. I'll mention that our tickets should have been labeled "Acoustical Hell Zone," since the sound was incredibly bad. The mixers should be ashamed; the guitar was way, way, way, way too loud, and the bass distorted everything. When Stevie did her scream in Gold Dust Woman, we COULD NOT HEAR IT. Amazing. The quieter numbers were much better.

But honestly, I didn't care. I was there to drink in the five. Lindsey was a blazing comet throughout; more than anyone, he played like he had something on the line, and that's probably because he does: his upcoming solo album and tour.

I have to pause to say a word about this man. After watching him intently over the last three or four months, I can honestly say something that I probably wouldn't say in the company of others: he has affected me in a way that NO other musician has ever affected me. He's crept inside my bones, right to the marrow, and managed to mine the deepest well of my emotions.

And I have proof, as difficult as it is for a 35-year-old man to admit.

The first time I watched The Dance, I was struck by the tones in his voice. He doesn't have a great voice, but that doesn't matter. When he got to Bleed to Love Her, I was hooked solidly, never to go back. He puts so much of his soul into this song. When he sings the lines "Somebody's got to see this through/All the world is laughing at you," I always feel tears welling up. It happens every time--I'm like Pavlov's dog. I guess I'm Lindsey's dog. And the very end, where he wails with his eyes closed and his mouth wide open, is one of the most moving musical experiences I can think of. His vocal here sounds so plaintive, so sincere--it's filled with such raw emotion, like he's about to cry, like his soul really is bleeding.

Every time I hear this, it reminds me how deeply, deeply enmeshed Lindsey is and always has been in his music. When he sings "Lightning strikes, maybe once, maybe twice," his voice has that same quality. It's, for me, simply beautiful, and I am thankful for his devotion to his craft.

Anyway, back to the concert. When Lindsey was front and center, delivering a scorching lead on (I think) Go Your Own Way, Stevie was standing off to the side, in front of Christine, giving him that same sweet, pensive look she gives him on the video during his "Demon" speech. I started thinking about the two of them, in that living room at a party in someone's house where they met 30 years ago as he played his guitar, and I wondered how she felt looking at this man that she'd met when he was a boy, this man that she lived with, supported and probably nurtured to a certain extent, and now here he was, adoring fans at his feet as they fed off him, and vice versa. The mental juxtaposition of those two images was quite moving.

There was something else, something that, again, speaks more to what this whole thing has meant to me than what the actual event was, and it was this: When Stevie sang Gypsy, she delivered the "And you see your gypsy" line with extra poignancy, as she does on the video and did in other concerts. And I was laughing to myself, because the second time she sang it, she practically reached out and hit the audience on the head because they didn't seem to realize the first time that she was referring to herself. And, I must confess, it made all of these emotions swim, yet again, to the surface. She seemed like my big sister, and I was overcome with a feeling of wanting to rush the stage and put my arms around her, just to beg her to stay this time. I felt so drawn to her at that point; she has a way of engaging her audience anyway, but I wanted her to know that I didn't want her to go away. Especially because it might be forever.

And now the whole thing is over. I feel no optimism about the future of this group. I'm no great prognosticator, and on that basis alone, I hope I'm wrong. It wouldn't be the first time, and this time I'd be happy about it.

But one has to be realistic. Christine looked like she was having an okay time, but nothing she has said or done gives me any indication that she wants to go beyond this. I don't think she has a need for this, and at 54, she's probably had her fill. I'm sure she has enough money, and I'm sure she doesn't need the stress.

Mick, I'm certain, would like to keep going, and I think he will go forward in some way, with some group. John, I'm sure, will be along for the ride. Those two shouldn't be separated; they're too good together, and they're not singers or songwriters, so unless they begin to dislike one another, they're probably permanently joined at the hip.

Stevie has said that she prefers to be in the band, but she's signed a five-record deal, and she's used to running her own show. I don't think she'll be willing to cede much control to anyone anytime soon. It might depend on Lindsey, or it might not.

Lindsey has, I think, always been the most reluctant of the group. He reminds me of people I know who have an interest in one thing, but stick with a proven commodity to pay the bills until they have enough to go out on their own. From the massive amounts of reading I've done--and it doesn't require the skills of a brain surgeon to figure this out--I think he's always wanted to do his own thing. He feels compromised by the group situation, and that's why he's always taken as much control as possible on their albums. And yet, being in the group allows him to do much of what he wants. Just not all.

He has always resented the lack of credit given him for the group's sound and product, and I think this tour was his way of not only heightening his visibility but also showing the world his role in the group, and strutting his stuff.

I read a post on The Ledge the other day that said Stevie's not given enough credit for her songs, while Lindsey's now given too much--an opinion supported by a few people, one of whom said that that was his role as producer, and that nobody ever said George Martin was responsible for the Beatles sound or writing or something to that effect. The person, upset apparently that Stevie is getting buried in Lindseymania, stated forcefully that her songs were created by, and belong to, her, and that's that. Previously, people have taken issue with Lindsey's contributions by saying that Christine and Stevie have done just fine without him in their solo efforts.

I read all this with a few thoughts in mind, begging for release.

It is an irrefutable phenomenon in our society--in our world, really--that we feel protective of famous people and professional sports teams. We take sides and defend them fiercely. When I was a kid, I defended my favorite baseball and football teams to death. I used to have ferocious Lennon vs. McCartney arguments with my cousin (I was the Lennon supporter). And so on.

I don't think we ever really stop to question why we bother to get so worked up. But I think it probably has something to do with loving something or someone, and not wanting anyone else to interfere or show disrespect for our feelings. It's quite human, and I don't think there's anything wrong with it.

I think that these Stevie/Lindsey opinions stem from that real human emotion. But I also feel they're a bit misguided; I would encourage these people to give the following some thought: When you step back from The Ledge, a certainly UNrepresentative slice of America, and do some reading about music and this group in particular, you'll see that Lindsey Buckingham never received anywhere near the credit he deserved, and even now, the only people who realize the depth and breadth of his contributions to the band are rock critics, people in the business, and most of the people on this board. And, of course, the band.

Yes, on this board, it seems as if he's gotten tons of credit, maybe too much, but that's just a few rabid fans that visit this site. To most of the rest of the world, Stevie Nicks is the most visible member. I'm sure the tour has done something to improve his profile and credibility, but you really have to read to know what he's contributed to the records.

To whomever stated that those songs belong to Stevie, I cannot rebut that entirely--nor would I want to, since I don't want to argue. But consider this: She stated on one occasion that she read the name Rhiannon in a story, and ten minutes later she had written the song. It is a fact that Lindsey wrote the signature guitar intro--the most recognizable element of the song. It is a fact that she has said on many occasions that he "put the magic stuff" in her great songs; the ones in which he put forth no effort were, by her own admission, not great. He was, by the group's acknowledged consensus, the chief architect (Mick's words) of their sound. Now, how much credit should she get for the song? Obviously, the words are hers, and probably some of the melody, but just like in "Dreams," where--again, it's documented and acknowledged by the group--he turned two chords and some nice poetry into a brilliant song, it's not a black-and-white issue. The song is certainly not his, but definitely not all hers, either.

And I would disagree strongly with the George Martin hypothesis, because I used to be a Beatle fanatic, I've read volumes and volumes about them, and I've seen endless documentaries. The unstated truth, denied by Martin because he's a gentleman and would not want to tarnish the image of The Beatles, is that he had a HUGE uncredited hand in their music. I won't go into details, but trust me on this one.

And I cannot disagree that Christine and Stevie have done just fine without Lindsey, but that misses the point: Regardless of their solo successes and quality, his large footprints are all over their *Mac* music.

But again, this is not something to argue about. I don't feel protective of him, as much as I now adore the guy. I'm just adding a little perspective to the discussion.

I could go on, but I'm tired and you're restless. I think I'll close this novella with a thought that might have a little more resonance for people my age than the younger fans, maybe not. It's this: As I've said, I've tried to figure out why this whole reunion and tour have meant so much to me. I think in my first-ever post, I said that it felt like you could go home again. And I think that's the essence of why I've pounced on this whole thing.

When you see five people reunite and do so well and look so good again after so long, when you see a 55-year-old man drum his heart out for two-and-a-half hours with the enthusiasm of a ten-year-old, when you see a 48-year-old man having the time of his life enjoying a renaissance of his material and newfound recognition of his abilities, bopping around the stage like a kid, when you see a singer re-establish a bond with her audience and her one-time soulmate (yeah, I have opinions on the Stevie/Lindsey thing, but that's another time), you feel like a kid again. Like everything's going to be all right because things are, once again, the way they used to be. It doesn't matter that you're 35; there's a very real subconcious feeling that you've gone home again.

When my father died three terrible years ago, I was a long-married homeowner with a profession, kids, responsibities that I was carrying out, and so on. And yet, as the inevitable and yet unbelievably painful moment arrived, as I held his hand while he literally took the last breath of his life, just the two of us in his dreary hospital room, and I felt the warmth of his soft hands that I was squeezing, and as I smelled his hair and his face, I was not 35 anymore. I was a kid, wishing his daddy would please wake up. Please.

And so I think the parallel holds for this Fleetwood Mac experience. Many of us are kids again--teens, I guess--and the belief that people kiss and make up and reunite and have a good time together tells us that everything's all right again, if only for a little while.

I'll pass through this sentimental phase, undoubtedly. They are, after all, just a band. But for this one all-too-brief point in time, I am happy that this band awakened these feelings in me. I'm grateful for The Dance video, which captured that moment so well, and captured the soap opera that was Stevie and Lindsey so well--for I believe what we see on the video is, indeed, genuine, regardless of how it played out as the tour unfolded--and I'm glad for the tour. If lightning strikes twice and it happens again, I'm there. Definitely. And I'll do everything I can to see more than one concert. I'll be the first in line for tickets to Lindsey's solo tour, and his new album will be in my hands as soon as I can get it.

But for now, I thank them and their promoters for the ride. Unlike the critics who derided the whole enterprise as some cynical attempt to bilk baby boomers out of their money by mining their sense of nostalgia, I was only too happy to take part. I was not taken advantage of; I was fulfilled. Enormously.

If only for a little while.

Now, I think I'll go have a good cry.

Thanks to Bonnie for reposting this to the The Ledge.


Date: 1997-12-05         Number of views: 1232

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